We arrived in Canada in May hoping to have a little better weather. But the winter lasted longer than expected and it was very cold when we arrived, the nice weather did not come back until mid-June. So we enjoyed Canada as locals, not as tourists.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of what we have found, or things we have been told by French expatriates in Montreal.
We went there to test the ground and see if we really want to settle there one day. The answer is no😀
Apartments that aren’t too expensive but difficult to rent by the month like a normal Canadian
Expats also tell us that it is quite complicated, even when moving to Canada, to have a “normal” rental contract. They also go through Airbnb (or sublease) for the first few months, because you need to have a credit note (like you pay your bills well) and it is impossible to have it when you have never lived in Canada. You have to wait a few months before you have a “good reputation” and can rent an apartment.
One good plan that has been noticed is that many retired Canadians are fleeing the winter and spending their time in the sun in Cuba (where it is very hot and the price of flights is very cheap) or elsewhere. For 6 months, it is possible to sublet their apartment. But you have to love winter!
Wifi is fast, free and available everywhere. However, if I have an apartment, two phones, and I have to pay for everything out of my own pocket to get Internet access, it’s no wonder I’m getting $400 CDN a month. They have roughly the same rates we had in France before the arrival of Free, it costs an arm and a leg! Canada being so vast with a rather low population, it isn’t tomorrow the day before that a competitor is likely to disembark to break the prices.
By being in Airbnb, at least, we don’t have to pay for Wifi and asked for an almost unlimited connection (++100Go/month, which isn’t automatic, many offers have a limited data quota). On the other hand, for the phone, we had to use the Free Mobile offer in order not to ruin us (25Go/month + unlimited SMS phone to France and Canada for 20€, and it works very well cf. our opinion and debits here).
Apart from the supermarket, the pharmacy and the restaurants, I don’t think I’ve ever paid full price for anything before. At the checkout, the cashier always finds a way to give me a discount of 10%, 15% – without my expressing the request… Just give my email address and voilà, as a “VIP customer”, I get a discount. I’ve looked a little bit at loyalty programs – at Sephora for example – and I find that you can get gifts much more easily than in France. People seem to have a good command of new technologies e.g. almost all restaurants have a website with an up-to-date menu. Even the small beauty salon in the area sends out newsletters that make you feel TOO envious!
The declaration of income is done via a professional
Given the number of experts who are proposing to report income here, I thought, “But can’t Canadians count or what?”. In fact, there are SO MANY things you can deduct from income and pay less tax, that people just collect as many bills as they can – and it’s the accountant/expert who will read them, file them, and take care of reporting and getting deductions. I went to be massaged by “massage therapists”, and they all offered to bill me (like going to the doctor), and told me that some mutual insurance companies even reimburse massages. Wait, we’re talking about massage models, not physiotherapists! And they really like to send invoices by e-mail too: less paper, and easier to send to the accountant 😀
Books are expensive
Most of the books are imported from France, USA, UK… so the prices go up a bit. Most English books are in hardcover, it’s expensive and it’s quite big. For once, I realize how useful and accessible French paperbacks are. So, to save money, I keep reading and buying books on Amazon Kindle, it’s cheaper and lighter 🙂
I think people make a lot of effort when it comes to communicating with the French (in Montreal anyway). They speak a little slower and don’t take offense at having to explain certain Quebec words. Francophones speak good English, but Anglophones don’t necessarily speak French(or not at all). Very often, Francophones slip English words into the middle of a conversation – and everyone understands each other perfectly. By default, all children go to French school – except for children whose parents went to English school (they can choose between FR or EN school). I believe that at university, you can choose to be in a 100% English-speaking uni.
In any case, we were very surprised to see that EVERYTHING, absolutely EVERYTHING, is translated into French here. Even the STOP!! sign is called “STOP” here.
And when you log on to Netflix Canada, there are some movies I don’t recognize anymore, because the titles aren’t necessarily translated in France, but here everything is translated. For example, the title of the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” isn’t translated in France, but here it’s called “The Unknown of Las Vegas”.
The underground city
When I talked about Canada and the cold, several people told me about the “underground city” in winter. I imagined it as a real city, lively, with high ceilings. But in fact, it’s just a system of corridors (like subway corridors) to go from one building to another – within the downtown core. It’s impossible to stay only in this “underground city” all winter long, and you really have to go outside at -20°C. A myth collapses
A sweetness of life
In the beginning, we found the city of Montreal a bit uninteresting. The country is so big that to see something interesting, you still have to drive for 3 to 5 hours – with the same landscapes, the same roads… and then we started to find a certain sweetness of life here.
The people are really nice, and I think it’s like the United States, minus the violence. Work does not seem to be seen as a source of suffering, but as a livelihood in a nice atmosphere. You just have to do your job, the rest doesn’t matter. I have been told that it is a bit harder to build relationships with colleagues because everyone has a lot of activities after work – so you make friends through the book club, associations… and not necessarily at work.
We did some mini road trips here and there, renting a car. The rental isn’t very expensive (within 25$CA/day) and the insurance being covered by our American Express card, we took advantage of it. We could have travelled by bus (not expensive at all) but there is a satisfying side of being able to stop anywhere in front of the n-th lake in Quebec. The national parks become paying in Canada, but the tariffs remain very accessible (9$CA/day approximately) with the possibility of buying a card for all the parks.
Being very difficult, I was unfortunately not impressed by Canadian gastronomy. It’s quite close to what you can find in the United States (a lot of fast food). Quebec specialties (poutine for example), I don’t like at all! (sorry).
To eat well, you have to pay enough. Fortunately, there are some things that are really better than in France: lobsters, Asian restaurants, from viance to bbq to fall…
At the restaurant, the service isn’t included in the price on the menu. It is necessary to add about 15% tip, either in cash or at the payment terminal where you can choose if you want to leave 10%, 15%, 18%, 20%, … A very practical detail: when you bring the bill, the waiter will systematically ask you how you want to pay. You can answer “everyone pays his share” and everyone will get his bill with what he ordered. In France, it’s a big hassle when you do that, with the waiter pulling the wool over your eyes as a bonus
As for the paperwork to stay in Canada, it seems a little simpler than in Australia. We came on a tourist visa with the possibility to stay up to 3 months on the territory. We were asked some questions, but more to be sure that we have the financial means to survive for 3 months 😀
For those who want to settle here, it is recommended to apply for a residence card – before coming to Canada. Because as a PLHIV, there is less chance of finding a job.
It is true that the time it takes to obtain the residence card is a bit long and expensive, but it gives many privileges. With this card, you have the same rights as Canadians (except the right to vote). We have seen everywhere signs offering jobs (there isn’t a restaurant that isn’t looking for employees!). In my profession, my former colleagues managed to find a job 2 weeks after their arrival. I have the impression that salaries are lower vs. other parts of Canada, but the cost of living, especially housing is really cheaper (and for a larger surface) than in France. The purchasing power seems to me to be lower for an executive here than an executive in Paris – but the quality of life is much higher.
I say this because leisure activities (restaurants, outings…) seem expensive to me, with a quality/price ratio not necessarily at the appointment. Whereas in Paris, you could eat very well and a lot for 15€. Healthwise, it is better not to be sick, but the medical services are excellent. I spent a lot of time at my dentist in Canada, and frankly, I really got my money’s worth. Customer satisfaction was a big factor in the care I received. And it’s a very different approach: I was more of a client than a patient.
In short, while we enjoyed the city, the people, the warmth… it’s clearly not in Canada that we plan to settle down. Winter seems too cold and too long.