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It was a combination of work-related burnout, watching their friends leave Toronto in droves, and knowing they’d never be able to afford a house that led Slawko Waschuk, 49, and Pedro José-Marcellino, 45, to move to Portugal.Supplied

It was a combination of career burnout, watching their friends leave Toronto in droves, and knowing they’d never be able to afford a house that led Slawko Waschuk, 49, and Pedro José-Marcellino, 45, to move to Portugal.

Despite affordable rent at their Little Italy apartment – about $2,200 – they found themselves dreaming of home ownership while watching TikTok videos from MillennialMoron, an account that compares prices of run-down Toronto houses with literal European castles. (Spoiler: the castles are usually cheaper.)

“You look at houses [in Toronto] and say, ‘How can that be $1-million?’ We have good jobs and we couldn’t even come close,” said Mr. Waschuk, a pharmacist.

The couple moved to the Viana do Castelo district in October and are setting up a business they describe as a cultural hub, purchasing their own “castle” to use as a guest house. Mr. José-Marcellino describes the property, which they bought for about $1.05-million, as a “mansion with six suites, three stories, and a Great-Gatsby look.” It’s on a large property five minutes from the ocean.

They say other costs are lower there too, such as food and cellphone service. Mr. José-Marcellino, who grew up in Lisbon and is a Portuguese citizen, will apply for an income-tax break designed to lure citizens back to Portugal. The couple have found banks eager to give them a business loan, and they’re expecting to qualify for a $600,000 grant for restoration of their historic property. They’re still settling in, but expect their expenses to land somewhere around half of what they were in Toronto.

“I am very much looking forward to being able to try new things, set different priorities, and hopefully not feel like all I’m doing, day in and day out, is working and paying bills,” Mr. Waschuk said.

Mr. José-Marcellino and Mr. Waschuk are among those who are leaving the country at a time when Canada is experiencing record immigration.

Statistics Canada data estimate net emigration (which subtracts emigrants who have returned from the number of those who left) at 35,337 between mid-2022 and mid-2023, its highest number since 2017.

Some of those leaving say the high cost of housing and other essentials such as food are among the factors prompting them to seek to live somewhere where their money goes further. Analysis of federal data by the British Columbia Business Council, an association representing about 250 large B.C. businesses, suggests Canadians may be feeling those pressures for some time to come.

“Government forecasts do not expect a recovery in living standards in Canada or B.C. until at least 2027,” according to a recent report by the organization. “Canada’s real [gross domestic product] is now around $1,000 per person, or around $2,500 per household, below what it was prior to the pandemic.”

The council also ranks Canada’s pandemic economic recovery to be the fifth worst among the 38 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Canada is one of only eight advanced countries where average real incomes are lower than before the pandemic, as inflation outpaces growth in nominal incomes, the report said.

According to the United Nations, Canadians were most likely to move to the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand as of 2020. Recent data from Numbeo, an online platform that allows users to compare the cost of living in different cities, shows that after the U.S. and Britain, the countries that Canadians using their service are most curious about are Mexico, Spain, Portugal and France.

Danica Nelson, 33, recently sold her condo in Toronto’s Liberty Village and lived with her mother in nearby Brampton for several months in preparation for a move to Malaga, Spain, in early December.

In addition to the appeal of getting more sun, her decision to move to the coastal city about 140 kilometres east of Gibraltar was largely financially-driven, she said. The cost of living there is about one-third less, according to Numbeo, which she used in her planning. She also recently realized she couldn’t afford to move in with her partner if she stayed in Toronto.

“We want to live together but the rent for a two-bedroom condo in Toronto would be $4,000-plus,” said Ms. Nelson, a content creator and marketing consultant. She was also staring down a mortgage renewal at rates that had skyrocketed since she last locked in. “I would be paying something crazy. It made sense for me to sell it.”

Ms. Nelson and her partner can both work remotely, and got a one-year visa to Spain for people under age 35. They found a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Malaga for about $2,500, including water and hydro.

“The main goal is to see if life in Spain is going to be fulfilling for us in the year we are there,” she said, noting there are digital-nomad visas in various European countries they could apply for next. That type of visa is designed for people who want to live in one country while working remotely for a company located in another. “Is our mental health better? Are we going to be eating healthier? Are we going to be more active?

“Is it enough to consider a permanent move?”


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