Written by Buddy McRae June 16, 2020.

What it’s like to live in Nanaimo

Outdoor lifestyle

Living in Nanaimo is great. It has a quieter, slower pace and attracts many people with its mild weather — there are no hot or cold extremes, so you get the best of both worlds.

Vancouver Island offers a relaxing, west coast lifestyle with an affordable cost of living, and Nanaimo is a hub for this with so many different outdoor activities: people enjoy boating, camping, skiing, golfing, and exploring the numerous trails and beaches the island has to offer.

Being centrally located on the island, Nanaimo makes it easy to plan day trips in any direction with easy access to parks, trails, lakes, and the oceanfront. You get surfing in Tofino, skiing in Mt. Washington, and the beaches of Parksville-Qualicum.

Demographics, industries, transportation

Nanaimo is home to a diverse age group with lots of young adults, families, and retirees.

Vancouver Island University’s main campus is located in Nanaimo with approximately 14,000 students, of which about 15% are international — a contributing factor leading to a low vacancy rate, a healthy rental property market, and high rents.

As an economic hub of central Vancouver Island, Nanaimo boasts a vibrant business community and exceptional quality of life. The city has transitioned from a commodity-based economy that relied on an abundance of natural resources from the forests and ocean to a service-based knowledge economy that relies on the skills, talent, and innovation of the local workforce. The city is now a regional centre for health services, technology, retail, construction, manufacturing, education, and government services.

Nanaimo is a central transportation and distribution hub for Vancouver Island: from the Nanaimo airport, Air Canada offers direct flights to and from Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. Seaplanes and Helijet go from Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver in 20 minutes, BC Ferries provides vehicle and passenger service between two terminals in Nanaimo and Vancouver as well as Richmond.

Overall, Nanaimo offers an enviable lifestyle with a variety of employment and investment opportunities, as well as a full spectrum of housing options, most with spectacular ocean and mountain views.

Population and real estate market growth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic*

In 2020, the City of Nanaimo surpassed 100,000 citizens and is currently at about 103,000 — a 13.5% increase since 2016. The city is expected to go up to just over 110,000 by 2025, an increase of 7.2%. The Regional District grew to just over 175,000 people in 2020 and is expected to reach as much as 213,000 by 2041.

Rental market

In 2020:

  • 67% of homes were owned, while 33% were occupied as rental properties.
  • Nanaimo’s average rent increased by 7%.
  • The vacancy rate dropped from 2% to 1%.
  • The number of housing units increased by 154, or 4% year-over-year. To compare, in the same period, Victoria went from 1%-2.2% vacancy and Vancouver went from 1.1%-2.6%.

The average two-bed rental in October 2019 was $1,170. One year later, in October 2020, it was $1,271, an increase of about $100 or 8.6%. The equivalent two-bedroom apartment rental in Victoria went up 4.1% and in Vancouver, it went up 2.5%.

Challenges to living in Nanaimo

Similar to many communities, Nanaimo is running into a lack of supply — both on the real estate sales and rental side. The low vacancy rate has increased and caused prices to escalate quite quickly.

From a liveability perspective, if you’re coming from a larger community like Vancouver or Victoria, you might not find not as many shopping options as you’re used to. But, with quick access to the mainland and only 90 minutes from Victoria, day or overnight trips are easy.

Salaries and cost of living in Nanaimo*

The average household income in 2020 was just over $88,000 and in 2015 was just over $72,000. It’s expected to reach just over $104,000 by 2025.

Nanaimo’s cost of living is much more affordable compared to places like Vancouver and Victoria. This goes beyond household costs to things like car insurance, groceries, and gas – these things create a much more affordable lifestyle on the island and in Nanaimo.

Ideal Nanaimo areas to live for:

Singles and couples without kids

The Old City/downtown area is very popular, with its many restaurants and pubs, a waterfront walkway, and lots of activities. This area is also close to many transportation hubs.

A growing family

Departure Bay, North Nanaimo, and Hammond Bay have many single-family homes and are all great areas for families with young kids. They have excellent schools (both elementary and secondary) and are close to many amenities.

Empty nesters

Lantzville, Nanoose, Parksville, and Qualicum are well-known and very popular retirement areas. All of them have many golf courses and resorts, along with picturesque beaches.

Tips for investors considering Nanaimo

You’ll find that Nanaimo, as compared to larger places, has many properties that cash flow. This is especially true around the university area, with single-family homes containing an upper and lower suite. It’s definitely harder to find this in BC’s rising real estate markets, but there’s still opportunity in Nanaimo.


*Source: https://www.nanaimo.ca/docs/doing-business/economic-development/2021-state-of-the-nanaimo-economy.pdf

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