From the USA to Canada: An expat family's big adventure

Expat interviews
  • famille expat au Quebec
Published on 2022-08-05 at 10:00 by Nelly Jacques
Yasmine has been living in North America for multiple years. She first accompanied her husband to North Carolina, in the US, before recently relocating again to Quebec in the heart of winter. She talks to us about her experience in these two very different American countries.

How and when did your expat story start?

To answer your question, I have to acknowledge that I've been traveling all my life, first with my birth family (my parents and siblings) as my father was a diplomat, and later with the family I raised on my own. So, it's difficult to talk about my "first expat experience," which really happened when I was a baby. Traveling has since then been a constant in my life, you could say that the only constant element in my life has been changing the place where I live!

To answer your question, my first expat experience as an adult with my family was in England in 2008. We were 6 people to move as we have 4 kids. We returned to France in 2012 and remained there for two years before relocating to North Carolina in the States.

Can you tell us more about your move to North Carolina? What brought you there?

We moved after my husband decided to seize a job opportunity, as is often the case. We also wanted to see the world. I didn't plan what exactly I would do there, but I knew I wanted to work. That turned out to be much more difficult because there were no jobs in my field (investment banking). So, instead, I spent a lot of my time volunteering in schools, I made myself familiar with the American school system, I even started a blog about it, I went on hikes and explored the Triangle Township (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) with my dog when the kids were at school. I also taught French in a retirement home and a middle school. These experiences proved to be very meaningful. 

Tell us a bit about your life over there. What did you like the most, and what was the most difficult to adjust to?

The most challenging part was realizing that North Carolina is truly the "Deep South" USA. It doesn't match with the image we often have the of the United States, that is, of New York or California. I liked the least how we needed a car to go anywhere. It was impossible to get around on foot or even take public transport, which was nearly non-existent. So, we had to carefully plan every outing, as any destination takes some 40 minutes to reach when you live in Triangle Township. What I liked the most was the positive attitude of Americans; they are always smiling and in a good mood, no matter their difficulties.

And then came yet another adventure. What's the reason behind your move to Canada?

Once again: a job transfer. I loved the idea that in Quebec, we would have the best of both worlds: a bilingual environment (even if it's at risk), but also America, with its large spaces and a lifestyle quite similar to the one in the US, even though we are in another country. What scared me, of course, like any other person planning to move there, was the extremely cold winter.

How was your arrival in Canada?

We arrived in July and moved into a house we had chosen online, so I was a bit anxious. It was very hot, and there was no air-conditioning in the house. We were bathed in sweat from carrying stuff in, emptying boxes, setting up things, going down the stairs, etc. Also, I had promised to visit my parents, so we traveled across the Atlantic for a few days before coming back to Canada. I admit that the timing wasn't the best and that it was more tiring than anything else, but oh well, this is how things are.

Was your first encounter with the weather a shock after the very mild weather of North Carolina? Did you find it hard to adapt?

The infamous weather! Yes, winter was definitely cold: for example, last winter, the temperature hovered around 86°F for 2-3 weeks. On the plus side, we enjoy plenty of blue skies, and snowstorms are spectacular. We love seeing pure white snow cover everything; it makes everything look so beautiful and clean. You have to get used to it if you must go out every day; you just need to be dressed in enough layers. Besides, there are so many winter activities to do: ice-skating in parks or indoors, cross-country skiing right in the middle of town, downhill skiing a bit further out of town, sledge rides, snowshoeing (even in town). I even went to a concert in the dead of winter (Igloofest); it was magical under the falling snow.

North Carolina v/s Canada: your first impressions, the pros and cons?

They are so different that it's difficult to compare them. I find that the lifestyle is a bit like in the US. What can throw French people off is their misconception that Quebec is similar to France as the spoken language is French. The biggest change was that we were now living in an urban area and very close to a metro station, which changed our lives significantly. Montreal is a very lively city; all of its boroughs are different, which means that there's always something new to discover. It's much more bustling than North Carolina! And, of course, there's this proximity to nature. At a one-hour or 1.5-hour drive from Montreal, you'll find yourself in a forest or on the shore of a lake.

Another interesting thing is the incredible diversity of Montrealers: down our (small) street, we're able to meet Tunisian, Greek, Chinese, Portuguese, Lebanese, Filipino, Belgian people, and even a few natives of Quebec.

What are your views about the administrative aspects of living in the US and Canada?

It's much easier to obtain a work permit in Canada (depending on the status of the "main visa holder"). You can get it as soon as you cross the border when you enter the country. Another difference is that when the permit expires and needs to be renewed, your status remains pending until you receive your new permit, even after the expiration date of the old permit. Overall, it's much more flexible than in the States.

You can also be granted permanent residency (equivalent to a Green Card) much more quickly than in the US. You can get it in only 3 years if you meet all other requirements.

That being said, there is still red tape like everywhere else: taxes, social security card, etc. Moreover, during the pandemic, everything was being done online, so it took more time.

Do you have any advice for expatriates who want to move to Canada, more specifically to Quebec?

As always, when you move abroad, you need to have an open mind, as well as some savings to settle down. You also need to consider the climate if you do not tolerate the winters.

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