The Freelancer's Guide To Toronto

The Freelancer's Guide To Toronto

James Gribben reports back from Toronto, where a strong start-up culture provides fertile ground for freelancers

Toronto is a city that’s welcoming and full of opportunities for independent professionals. Visas are not generally required for British citizens visiting Canada for short periods. With the Canadian Government’s website stating that a visa is not required if you are travelling to take part in international business activities without being part of the Canadian labour market. Business visitors will usually stay in Canada for a few days or a few weeks, but are able to stay for up to six months.

There are regular flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Toronto Pearson International. If you are traveling from Northern England or Scotland, expect to take a connecting flight from Dublin. Once you arrive, there are direct, fast, trains with access to free Wi-Fi from Pearson airport, reaching Union station in 25 minutes. 

Like many North American cities, Toronto is laid out on a grid system which makes navigating its streets pretty straight forward, but if you plan to get around by public transport, be aware that stations can get pretty busy at peaks times. Toronto’s Mayor, John Tory, was elected on the promise to improve the city’s infrastructure, and to bring forward plans to introduce a new $8 billion CAD regional express rail line dubbed “the SmartTrack”. The new line is currently under construction and is anticipated to ferry 200,000 passengers per day when it comes into service in 2022.

Freelancer friendly? 

If you need to work remotely in Toronto you’ll find a lot of work hubs spread across the city. One such workspace is the Centre for Social Innovation, which operates out of four locations in the city. Their impressive Spadina Avenue hub covers four floors of a beautifully restored period factory warehouse. The inside has been designed to be eco-friendly, from indoor bicycle parking and a rooftop garden, to solar water heating. It houses every kind of working space you can imagine with board rooms, quiet spaces, regular office set ups and social spaces, all available to freelancers. Prices start at $125 for 20 hours of hot-desking rising to $880 a month for an enclosed private office, but you can work out of the space for free if you donate one day a week to helping to run the hub. 

UJ Ramdas, designer of the five minute journal app has been working out of the hub for around 18 months. “I like to be able to work part of the day at home then come here for the rest.” In fact, UJ works cross continentally, with his business partner being based in London. He cites the supportive working environment as one of the main reasons for working out of the hub “The people here really care.” The Centre for Social Innovation isn’t the only option. The Foundery on Bathurst Street and Workhaus on Front Street are also popular co-working destinations.

If you prefer working out of a coffee shop, you are in luck – it’s almost impossible to walk for more than a few yards without stumbling past a Tim Horton’s. For a more refined setting try Jimmy’s Coffee on Portland Street. The coffee served in yellow topped cups is fantastic, and you can even rent the top floor for meetings.

Where to go and what to do…

One place definitely worth a visit is the historic St. Lawrence Market on Front Street. Established in 1803, the market, which for a time housed Toronto’s local government, is home to 120 small businesses, many of them sole traders and family run businesses. In addition to great food, the South Market is home to the Market Gallery, an exhibition space for the City of Toronto’s Cultural Services. Toronto also has a strong microbrewery culture, with plenty of interesting beers to taste in its many bars. 

If you are only in Toronto for a short period, be sure to get involved with the local sports. The Hockey Hall of Fame is located downtown and the Maple Leafs are one of the leading lights in the North American hockey league. You’ll find games being played several times a week and if you fancy some minor league action, tickets can be as little as $10 CAD. The City is also home to the Ontario Gallery, which houses a substantial collection including works from Warhol, Lichtenstein and other pop art luminaries.

It’s worth remembering that Canada’s equivalent of VAT is added on to the display price of most goods you purchase. It currently works out at 13%, so be sure to have that extra 39 cents when you buy a $3 coffee.

Final thoughts

Toronto is a vibrant city full of opportunities for independent professionals and freelancers in creative industries. It feels like a city that has been designed for people who work on the go. It’s well worth finding an excuse to give it a visit.