What I Wish I’d Known Before Moving to Montreal
Moving from one Canadian city to the next can be overwhelming. Here are some helpful tips to consider before moving to Montreal.
11 things to consider before moving to Montreal
Six years ago, my partner and I moved to Montreal from Halifax. Having visited the city numerous times before, we assumed the transition to this new, albeit much larger city, would go smoothly. At the worst, we’d mispronounce a few French words along the way, but that’s to be expected. As it turned out, there was more than just the language barrier we had to overcome if we wanted to feel at home here. So before you consider moving to Montreal, here’s some things you should know.
Montreal winters are infamous for good reason
Coming from the seaside province of Nova Scotia, where winters are long, cold, and wet, we thought we were prepared for the seasonal temperature dip. But as we quickly found out, in Montreal that’s more of a plummet. In fact, during our first winter in 2015, the temperature in February averaged -15° C. I managed okay, but the next year I spent the fall shopping for garments I would never have considered purchasing in Nova Scotia. This included multiple thermal layers, a down jacket, thick snow pants, rubber boots and insulated mittens, all of which left me looking like a cross between an Arctic explorer and a plush toy. Still, I was warm. My advice? Don’t spend even one winter suffering and stock up on gear upon arrival.
Summers? Hotter than hot
After winters as treacherous as those I’ve just described, a warm summer is more than welcome. Be warned, however: Montreal can get blisteringly hot. After experiencing some dizzy spells and dehydration after biking the 30 minutes from my home in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce to the Plateau during a 40° heatwave, I realized it’s wiser sometimes to take public transit. Thankfully, free public pools are peppered throughout the city, so there’s no shortage of places to beat the heat.
The metro does not run 24/7
This is my first time living in a city with a subway system (called “the metro” in Montreal) and so of course I planned to take it home on my first big night out in a different part of town. Imagine my shock when I discovered at 1:30 a.m., far from home, exhausted and cranky, that the metro was no longer running. This was especially surprising considering Montreal is a city renowned for its night-life. Thankfully, buses do run all night long. Alternatively, you can hail a cab, which will cost you around $1.70 per kilometre.
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July 1st is not just Canada Day
In other Canadian cities, July 1 is marked on the calendar as a time for public celebrations in the name of Canada Day. In Montreal, however, July 1st is also known as Moving Day. In a tradition that dates back to 1750, all rental leases in the city are supposed to end on the same day. (That day was May 1 until 1973, when it was moved to July in order to not conflict with the school year). The result of all of this is predictable: an estimated 130,000 people each year renting vans, clogging streets and slowing everything to a crawl. I recommend making arrangements to move in a day before, or after, if possible.
It’s Canada’s “City That Never Sleeps”
When you arrive in Montreal, you’ll find yourself inundated with invitations to parties, concerts and events of all varieties. Every major street hosts numerous street fairs, shopping districts organize sidewalk sales, and the restaurants are renowned for being both and world-class and affordable. Maybe you’ll even want to join your friends or coworkers for a “5 a 7” (cinq et sept)—Montreal’s version of Happy Hour. Take it from me, though: pace yourself. Those events aren’t going anywhere, so treat yourself to a quiet evening every once in a while. If you want to still get out, take a walk or bike ride along the Lachine canal or walk to the top of Mount Royal, where you can look out over the entire city.
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A happy life, yes, but higher taxes
Why did I move here? In 2016 the average rental price for a two-bedroom apartment in the Montreal metro area was just $760, compared to Toronto’s $1,288. The second reason had to do with the amazing social benefits (Quebec is the only province with subsidized child care, which drastically reduces costs for new parents). But while Montreal might be a famously affordable city with great social benefits, citizens still have to pay their fair share. Recent studies have revealed that the residents of Quebec are some of the highest taxed people in the world. Be sure to set aside a bit of your savings come tax season.
Jaywalking is taken seriously
Despite its reputation as a laid-back city imbued with a European sensibility, Montreal’s police force is tough on jaywalkers. Don’t even take chances on those quiet side-streets, or you might find yourself paying a $50 fine.
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Waiting lists for family doctors are very long
Everyone praises Quebec’s strong social safety net, but few will tell you how long it takes to find yourself a family doctor. I registered for the provincial registry, guichet d’accès à un médecin de famille (GAMF)—created in 2016 to pair citizens with family doctors—and I am still on the waiting list. The reason? Family physicians say this is because the province has not assigned enough permits to new, young doctors. According to those who’ve secured their own doctor sooner than I have, the trick is to make good friends with any doctor you come across and pray that they’ll do you a favour. In the meantime, there are plenty of serviceable walk-in clinics throughout the city—just be sure to get there early.
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You can get beer at the corner store
Don’t waste time trekking 15 or 20 minutes to the nearest liquor store—called the Société des alcools du Québec, or SAQ—for your drink of choice like so many newcomers do. In Montreal, you’ll find a varying selection of beer and wine at any of the corner stores in your neighbourhood. Only don’t call it a corner store; in Montreal it’s the depanneur, or just “the dep.”
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The construction is constant
Montreal’s roads are in a state of perpetual repair. Having under-funded roadwork and construction for more than 30 years, the city is now paying the price. Recent reports reveal the intensive roadwork is expected to continue until 2040–and that’s only achievable if the city triples its proposed construction budget. My advice? Avoid the roads and take the metro whenever possible.
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Sign up for a French course
If you’re an Anglophone who only knows a few words in French, you’ll be able navigate the city with ease and can likely even find a job in which you only need to know English. That said, there are still times when not knowing French can be an issue. In my experience, navigating the public health system, government bureaucracy, or even speaking with a car mechanic were all quite difficult until my French improved. Plus, if you ever want to explore the Francophone communities in Montreal or the surrounding area, you’ll only benefit from strengthening your French skills, too. In Montreal, there’s plenty of places you can learn French in a casual or classroom settings for little cost. Depending on your eligibility, you might even be able to get paid to learn French through the YMCA or Commission Scolaire de Montréal like I did.
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