Vancouver or Toronto: Where Should I Intern Abroad in Canada?

by Rebecca Murphy

Despite Canada’s image as a barren winter wonderland, it is home to many exciting cities that are perfect for students, not just moose, looking to secure an international internship. As two of Canada’s largest cities, many students struggle to choose between the west coast, seaside city of Vancouver and the fast-paced international city of Toronto. Since both cities are around the same size, sit on the shores of major bodies of water, and have easy access to natural beauty on all sides; how can you possibly be expected to choose between the two?

Canadian moose lying in a meadow

Va-moose and snag your dream internship in Canada!

The Basics

Despite their similarities as major Canadian metropolises, Vancouver and Toronto could not be more different in terms of location and type of environment. Lying on opposite ends of Canada and home to completely different demographics, there is a lot to take into consideration when choosing between these two cities. It is generally accepted that Toronto is Canada’s Big Apple while Vancouver seriously channels the famous U.S. west coast attitude of San Fran.

Toronto is the capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. Located north of New York, this massive city spreads along the banks of Lake Ontario and is home to over 2.6 million people, making it the fourth largest city in North America. Due to the size of the city, Toronto is known as an extremely global city and an international center of business, finance, culture, and art. Despite Canada’s cold and barren reputation, Toronto is often recognized as one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural regions in the world.

Vancouver, on the other hand, is located across the continent and north of Washington in the U.S. As the capital of British Columbia, Vancouver is home to about 700,000 people and is the eighth largest city in Canada. To many people’s surprise, this region is one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse areas in Canada, with over 50% of its residents having a first language other than English. As such a global city and important staple in the outdoor recreation world, Vancouver has hosted many important international events and conferences, including the Olympics and Paralympics. Talk about a good opportunity to become very familiar with après culture, right?

aerial shot of buildings along the bay in Vancouver

Vancouver is to Canada what San Francisco is to the United States.

Living & Working in Canada

As the largest city in Canada, saying that Toronto is bustling is quite the understatement. You will have the world at your fingertips while living and interning in Toronto, and will benefit from mingling and working with all types of people from all areas of the world. No one nationality dominates Toronto’s culture, making it an extremely diverse and exciting place to live. Interns will enjoy bouncing from Chinatown to Corso Italia or Greektown, and picking up unique varieties of Chinese and Italian cultures throughout the city. Never thought you’d be ordering aperitivos in Canada, did you?

Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the top five cities in the world for livability and quality of life, meaning as an intern in this region you are sure to enjoy physically living and working here. Due to Vancouver’s very ethnically diverse population, you’ll will have your pick of new languages and cultures to become immersed in. Known as the “city of neighborhoods”, this area has several hot spots each with a distinct ethnic and character mix. Currently, Chinese is the largest ethnic group with 30% of Vancouver’s population from Chinese descent, so you should be sure to explore its thriving Chinatown, Punjabi Market, and (formerly) Japantown. Similarly to how many people head to Montreal to get a pseudo-French experience, people flock to Vancouver to get a taste of Asia (literally).

Both Toronto and Vancouver are known for their proximity to the outdoors, and people from all over the world head to both locations to enjoy hiking, skiing, rafting, and camping. If you’re not an outdoor enthusiast, no problem! Both cities also have many famous museums, art galleries, and academic houses, including Vancouver’s Science World and Museum of Anthropology or Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum and Hockey Hall of Fame (#SoCanada, right?). There are plenty of options in both cities to entertain yourself when you’re not at work, so you have no excuse to ever be bored!

Toronto skyline with a view of the CN tower

Toronto has a NYC feel to it.

Ease of Adventure

International interns all have one thing in common: they want to explore and experience as much as possible. This means that your weekends and time off from work are going to include traveling to other nearby exciting places, which both Toronto and Vancouver have no shortage of.

Located right on Lake Ontario, Toronto is a major hub of water activities. Just a little over an hour’s drive from Niagara Falls, interns can enjoy exploring one of North America’s greatest natural beauties, as well as checking out smaller cities such as nearby Hamilton, which is home to over 100 waterfalls and tons of hiking trails. Toronto is also within driving distance of Point Pelee National Park, Flowerpot Island, and Bruce Peninsula National Park, all of which offer crystal-clear blue lakes, cliffs, caves, lighthouses, and shipwrecks all waiting to be explored. In the cold weather, don’t forget about all of the world-renowned ski resorts at your fingertips either. If you’re looking for a more exotic getaway than just a day trip, be sure to check out Montreal or Ottawa.

Vancouver is an ocean city, sitting right on the Salish Sea and surrounded by lush islands and deep blue straights. Take a ferry ride to a nearby island and hike, sail, and explore as much as you want. Popular areas around Vancouver include the fishing town of Steveson, the Korean and Vietnamese-dominated city of Richmond, or the famous resort town of Whistler. If you have some vacation days to kill, be sure to head to Calgary or Winnipeg.

Both cities are very close to the U.S.-Canadian border, enabling interns to experience two countries during their time here. It is common for interns in Vancouver to spend time in Seattle, Portland, northern California, and even Alaska, while interns in Toronto can enjoy New York City, Philadelphia, or any of the major cities along the Great Lakes (we know Cleveland, Ohio is on your list).

View of a green tree-lined valley with a river

In Vancouver, you’re never far from great hikes and even better views.

Internship Placement Tips

Liking where you’re interning is only half the battle, so do your research to make sure you pick a location and a company or program that fits your professional goals.

Being proactive will get you more invested in the experience and help it be more positive overall, so researching programs and reading reviews to help you find the ideal internship is STRONGLY recommended before selecting a location.

You probably already have an idea of what kinds of companies you want to work for, but for those of you who are going into this with a little less definition, start by browsing some of the internship options for Toronto and Vancouver (if you haven’t already). This will give you a general idea of the types of placements offered in both cities, and allow you to start formulating a plan and specific goals for your internship.

If you’re still at a loss, we suggest checking out internship placements with World Internships or Latitude International Education.

Both cities offer some real benefits for different types of interns, it is smart to focus your internship search based on the strengths of both cities. Toronto is home to some of the most prominent media companies in Canada, making it an ideal place for aspiring journalists and communication specialists to get some experience. On the flip side, Vancouver is known for its steady amounts of tourism, so if you’re interested in working in hospitality, you’ll have unlimited options.

Vancouver streetcar covered in ads

Getting around Toronto is a breeze with public transport. 

PLOT TWIST: Intern in Montreal!

If you’ve done your research, thought long and hard about it, and you’re still not sure where you should pick, how about throwing another option into the mix? Montreal is the second largest city in Canada and offers an amazing combination of colonial French environment with the hustle and bustle of a large North American city. Not only will you appreciate the laid-back, welcoming attitude of the locals, but the added French language component will really make for a unique opportunity.

Montreal offers a European experience within North America, so you can get a truly memorable experience on a budget. As the second largest primarily French-speaking city after Paris, it is a fantastic destination to become immersed in French culture and even obtain an internship in French. Score!

From a professional development perspective, Montreal offers an epicenter of tech and commerce and loads of international work experience opportunities. If enjoying the urban and historical architecture of Montreal mixed with the natural beauty of the Quebec countryside isn’t enough for you, don’t forget about the pounds and pounds of hot poutine just waiting for you. Montreal est parfait!

Truly, all of Canada is perfect for international internships, and students are sure to get a multicultural, challenging, and exciting experience wherever they choose. Whether you prefer the chill vibes of Vancouver or the rushing thrill of Toronto, both offer excellence internship options. Get out your snowboard, pick your hockey team carefully, pack as many hiking shoes as professional shoes, and enjoy your internship in either fantastic city!