American Expat Moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada


I have recently found helpful blogs from other expats and decided to create a St. John’s, Newfoundland overview for future Americans to help give them a better overview of what you are coming into and what to expect. I am writing from my past experience and point of view and do not mean to offend anyone, but an honest opinion on my side is coming.

My husband moves every couple of years due to his job (it happens to many of us I know). We all know there are ups and downs in moving but I’d like to pass along my experience to make living up here more fun and finding fun a little easier to do, as well as give you feedback on what you are getting into.

St. John’s is a beautiful old town, but you’ve probably never heard of it. It is heavier on the Irish charm than the Canadian – accents, pubs, music etc. It’s right on the Atlantic Ocean and is considered one of the top eleven most colorful cities in the world. It also boasts of being the oldest city in North America. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and in the smack middle of nowhere. I used to think Kansas or Wyoming was in the middle of nowhere until I moved 800 miles ish north of Maine on an island. It’s all on your perspective and experience. It is definitely quirky and if you can brave the winters and have a bit of an adventuring spirit and curiosity, you’ll be just fine.

The views are breathtaking and we’ve heard a lot that “This here is God’s Country” from many locals. That’s something I can’t really argue if by God’s Country you mean an unending view of water, hills, forests, waterfalls, light houses, ocean, lakes, and a natural beauty that you don’t often see in other places. Being able to hike along a cliff overlooking the Atlantic is something spectacular. If you are a lover of the outdoors you are in for a spectacular treat. Summer is short, so get out while you can.

There is an overall friendliness to this island. Checkout clerks will call you “love” and strangers are perfectly comfortable with striking up a conversation or asking if you need help. (An older gent was walking one day asked me if I wanted help shoveling my driveway in the winter.) Though I have found everyone to be quite pleasant, it was harder to me to make friends due to a feeling of everyone had their “group” they were used to. Which is understandable. Don’t give up! It does take a while to meet friends – tips on how to is yet to come. Their sayings are great. Check out Newfinese here.

You are moving to Canada on an island up north so expect everything to be more expensive. Certain items will not be available over winter as well (mainly in the fruit and vegetable area.) I was floored in September when cherries were $9.00 lb and lobster was $7.00 lb. To add salt on the wound there is a 13% tax on everything. Winters can miss certain foods and a lot of items can be moldy or rotten in the rougher months. It. Is. Pricey.

There are of plenty of grocery stores here. Sobeys & Dominion are the main contenders. In my opinion, Dominion is a bit better and cheaper. I found my favorite place for produce to by Costco. The best Dominion location is across from Costco, they tend to have more sales. A few times they have “no tax” weekend (and at 13% sales tax that was a bargain.)  There are two great farmer’s markets that have the freshest produce at solid local prices. Ask a local, they are more than happy to tell you where to go.

Garages are a rarity and many downtown are 50+ years old. There has been a boom since the oil industry has brought it back to life. (There was an over fishing crash and shut down in the 90’s.) New homes and new apartment complexes are rampant, so there may be an easier time of finding a rental if that is what you are looking for. There is no gas on the island (no forced heating) you will see mainly electrical base board heaters. Even if you do find a home outside of downtown don’t expect to get more than a one car garage.

The postman won’t pick up your outgoing mail. You have to drop it off at the “Post”.

George Street is the famous street here that is all bars (no cars are allowed to drive on this street.) It’s more of a college crowd and overpriced, but most things are overpriced in my view. $8 for a beer or the shots are measured out exactly, drinks are extremely weak. I’d avoid it and go elsewhere downtown. There is a plethora of local Irish music and live bands everywhere. There are art galleries to browse and small local shops good for window shopping.  The charm is thick since it’s the oldest city in North America, definitely not cookie cutter!

Restaurants and pubs I’d recommend to  check out:
Gypsy Tea Room
Basho (sushi)
Grapevine (bar)
By the Beach on Portugal Cove has the best fish & chips
Jack Astors & Kelseys are chains and kid friendly
I never found the food to be all that great anywhere unless you pay a high amount downtown

You guessed it, limited and expensive. Most of my favorite U.S. sites won’t ship up by us.

Check out this very helpful link to just about everything.

I had more, but perhaps later gator.

About the author

Besides being pretty quirky, I try to cook cleaner and work on graphic design when I'm not taking care of my two stellar tiny tot daughters age 3 and 1. I paint for fun, contemplate life a lot, laugh loudly, go on bike rides, and try to experience hygge. I'm far from perfect, and I'm working on being kinder both to myself and others in this world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.