Surviving four winters in Montreal

  • Expat in Montreal
  • Winter in Montreal
Published last year

Laurene comes from Marseille. Passionate about discovering new cultures and photography, she decided to move to Montreal where she has been living for four years now on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV). Laurene is quite happy with her new life in Montreal – even though she's had a couple of hard times – and speaks to about her plans to become a permanent resident.



Hi, Laurene. Where are you from, what are you doing in Canada and what were you doing before?

I'm 31, from Marseille and I'm a graphic designer. Prior to moving to Canada, I lived in Aix-en-Provence where I was working for a communication agency and as a freelancer. I flew to Canada out of curiosity.

What brought you to Montreal?

I've always wanted to know more of the world and discover new cultures – even though I wasn't quite ready to move overseas. I never really dared until I met a French expat in Montreal. I then came to realise that maybe it wouldn't be so difficult after all since Montreal is a French-speaking city. As it is, French is the only language I've ever known so far so I was hoping to find a job for which I wouldn't have to learn another language. I also liked Montreal's dynamism and it's North-American look.

What is the process to move to Canada?

I'm here on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV). I must admit that the pressure went really high between checking my e-mail every hour for the confirmation and the application. Back then, all relating documents had to be sent by mail. It went really fast and I was able to apply for the WHV the very next day. Conditions are the same as they were four years ago – you must be between 18 and 35 years old to be eligible, have sufficient funds to support yourself and a clear criminal record. I also had to write a cover letter which I think is no longer needed.

What is your favourite thing about Montreal and what is your least favourite thing?

I really like the safety here. I can come back home at any time without getting annoyed by anyone in the street. I also like the number of cultural activities that are available here, regardless of the season. The city and its streets are wide so you don't bump into one another. Montreal has a beautiful architecture and many parks.

What I like the least is the food. I'm not really a foodie but the average quality of products is not very appreciable. I also find it hard not to have many holidays. Most people here have a maximum of 2 to 3 weeks off.

Living in Montreal
© Laulinea

How would you describe Montreal in a few words?

A big dynamic city with a small village-like atmosphere.

What has surprised you the most about Montreal?

Besides red lights which are on the other side of the street and squirrels running all around the city, I'd say that the French accent surprised me the most! I found it really hard to understand people in the beginning – which is still the case after spending 4 years here! My first days at work were particularly stressful.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Montreal?

I moved in my first flat 3 days after visiting it. It's so easy to find accommodation in Montreal that I'm now in my 5th apartment. Relating formalities are quite simple and you don't have to pay a guarantee deposit or one month advance rent. Flatsharing is an affordable option. As a newcomer, it's best to find accommodation with electricity and heating as the winter can be quite harsh. Many flats have poor isolation so your bills can rise really fast. If you're staying for a year at least, a furnished flat would be the ideal option.

What are the year’s biggest holidays or events in Montreal?

Igloofest which is held in winter is an open air festival. We go there with a full survival kit: a hat, gloves, double panty-hose, snow pants, etc. There are many other events such as the Montréal en Lumière that include many activities such as art, cuisine, yodel, etc., over a couple of weeks. For my part, I prefer humour festivals like the Zoofest. Also, did you know that Montreal hosts a humour school? It's not a joke.

Winter in Montreal
© Laulinea

What do you think of the lifestyle in Montreal?

It's cool and respectful. It's one of the reasons why I'm still here. People here have a laid-back lifestyle. They are never harsh and will queue up for the bus. In general, people are helpful, tolerant and won't judge you. It's really a great place to live in.

How is the transportation system in Montreal? How do you move around?

Public transportation is very reliable. There are 4 subway lines and many bus companies – which makes it easier for me. In my neighbourhood, buses are available every 5 minutes. It's very costly to have a car in Montreal. You also have to learn about the parking system as you can easily be fined. Also, a car's maintenance gets time-consuming in winter. Whenever we have to go outside Montreal, we just rent a car.

Was it difficult to adapt to Montreal and to its society?

Not really as Montreal is a cosmopolitan city. People here are used to having expats all around, French people in particular. There is also a great cultural diversity here that makes it easier to adapt. It did get complicated sometimes at work though, but I was lucky to be guided by some French colleagues.

How is everyday life for you in Montreal?

Besides having to pay for everything in dollars and wearing winter boots almost half a year, I don't really think my everyday life is different from what it could be anywhere else. The first two years, I never missed a single opportunity to go out and explore Montreal and its surroundings. I've been spending weekends in a lodge with my friends, attending events, etc. Nowadays, I just live here.

Park in Montreal
© Laulinea

What do you do in your free time?

My social life has become one of my priorities since I moved to Montreal. I go out a lot with my friends. We always find things to do, from having a drink in a pub to a weekend getaway. Since most of my friends don't have kids, that gives us plenty of time to do lots of stuff. I also read a lot since I subscribed to the UQAM library. As I mentionned earlier, photography is one of my hobbies, as well as blogging.

Are there good options for people who enjoy nightlife?

There are pubs, bars and nightclubs but everything shuts down around 3 am. So if you want to party, you better get started earlier. Subway is available until 1 am.

What new habits have you developed in Montreal and what old habits have you quit?

I now keep an eye on the weather bulletin. Back in Marseille, the only thing I had to do was to look at the sky. Here in Montreal, the sky can be blue while temperatures turn around -30°C.

As regards old habits, I'm no longer a fashion victim like I used to be in France. Fashion is really insignificant in Canada since you're more likely to wear the same coat and shoes for months. I'd say it's more practical since the only thing that really matters to me in winter is to keep myself warm.

Also, I don't watch TV anymore since I don't have one, and I don't moan about almost everthing as I used to.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Montreal?

In general, Montreal is cheaper than Paris even though the overall cost of living is quite similar to that of Paris. I found it really hard to survive here when I started to work with a really low salary. Rent is rather affordable even though it depends on the neighbourhood and the type of accommodation. For the rest, everything is relatively expensive. For example, count around $ 80 for public transport, between $ 8 and $ 10 for a cocktail and $ 2 for a bagel at the grocery store. For a landline, count between $ 40 and $ 80 and from $ 50 to over $ 100 for internet.

Montreal landscape
© Laulinea

What is one thing you would like to do in Montreal but you haven't had the opportunity yet?

I haven't been to the Omega Park yet. It's an animal park where different species roam around freely and you can move around by car and even feed them! I'd also like to take pictures of the Westmount greenhouse in Montreal.

Share your most memorable experience in Montréal.

There are so many but the best one is probably the day I landed in Montreal. I was so happy and excited since it was the first time I had ever been to North America. I didn't even feel like having a rest that day so we went out to visit the Plateau with a couple of friends and ate out. It was really fun!

If you could do the move to Montreal over, what would you do differently?

I would have moved to the Plateau from the start. It's the most popular French neighbourhood even though rents prices are rising. It's a really pleasant neighbourdhood.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

Unfortunately, there's no real local cuisine. Poutine, shepherd's pie and meatloaf are the staple of Quebec cuisine. Overall, there's a lot of fat which I don't like. However, I like having a brunch with my friends. What could be better than starting your weekend with eggs, bacon, sausages and toasts?

View from a lodge in Montreal
© Laulinea

What do you miss the most about your home country?

The French cuisine, the quality of life in the South of France and my family. Also, going to the beach will be my topmost priority during my next vacations in France.

Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from Montreal? How did you overcome that?

About a year and a half following my move, I started feeling quite uncomfortable at work. I had the choice between finding another job and going back to France even though I really liked my social life here. As I started updating my portfolio, things got better by themselves. Since then, I feel more accomplished.

Give us some useful tips that expats-to-be in Montreal will benefit from.

Be curious, attentive and give up your misconceptions. These apply not only to Montreal but to anywhere else in the world. As regards Montreal more specifically, don't let the cold scare you away. There are so many things to do here in winter and you wouldn't want to miss them.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them in Montreal, which would that be?

Some cheese, wine, chocolate, cosmetics and your passport. Everything else is available here.

Living in Montreal
© Laulinea

What are your plans for the future?

My work permit is valid till 2018 so I'll be here until then. I've also applied for a resident permit which will determine whether I'm going to stay here longer. I don't really plan to be here in 10 years but I can't imagine going back to Marseille next year.

What is one thing that you will take with you from Montreal?

My cat! I legally adopted Yeti 3 months following my arrival.