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A Beginner's Guide to Living Abroad in Montreal, Canada

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Growing up I always heard great things about Montreal, so much that I was able to visit a few times as quick trips from the US, where I'm from.

Any expat or immigrant knows though, visiting somewhere for a few days and actually living there is always so, so different.

As a tourist, you hop through trying to see the top attractions and really just scrape the surface of a place. Once you decide to settle down and move somewhere new though, that's where the real fun begins!

You start to understand daily life and really get to immerse yourself in your new country's culture. Plus you have to deal with things like renting an apartment, getting a job, and dealing with work permits and visas.

This is why I've loved living in Montreal, Canada so much. I've loved uncovering all of the corners of this cosmopolitan city and really getting to know it at a deeper level.

Although I've visited here plenty of times, living in Montreal as an American has been completely different than just popping in for a weekend.

If you also dream of living in Montreal, stay tuned! In this article I'll walk you through the basics to help you settle into your Canadian home.

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

💭Dream of living in the Canada but not quite sure if Montreal is the right choice? It's super cosmopolitan, offers a unique culture and history, and is really unlike any other city in Canada.

🏠The best neighborhoods to live in are Le Plateau and Old Port of Montreal.

🛏️Start off by booking somewhere centrally located and easy to get around, like this Lovely 2-Bedroom Apt in Le Plateau until you find your long-term stay.

📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly.

☂️Although winters are cold and there can be a language barrier,

☀️Living in Montreal offers an experience and a lower cost of living that no other big Canadian city can offer.

Getting to Know Montreal

Montreal is located near the border of Canada and the United States, a few hours West of Quebec City, and about 7 hours East of Toronto by car. You can get to Montreal in 7 hours by bus from New York. And finally, Montreal is 2 hours South of Ottawa.

I find this city very well placed for a long-time solo traveler like myself because being based here means enjoying getaways through Canada and the US isn't too hard to do.

Granted, a 7-hour bus ride is not necessarily a quick weekend trip, but I have done a few nighttime buses on a Friday to Boston and then a night bus back on Sunday. Monday morning is usually a bit difficult and tiring but the thing about Montreal is, it has many lovely cafes with amazing coffee to perk me right back up!

Best Areas to Live in Montreal

If you are planning to move to Montreal from the US and you are not able to DIY there are moving companies that offer complete international relocation services.

Once you make it to the city, it's time to settle in!

Montreal is similar to many cities in that there are distinctive districts, all with their own feel. It is hard to see it geographically, but you'll definitely feel it in the vibe.

Since Quebec province is mainly French-speaking, there are still a fair amount of English speakers. The more eastern on the island you get, the more French-speaking it is and the more western you go, the more English you'll hear.

Yes, believe it or not, Montreal is an island.

The most popular or well-known neighborhoods that most people will somehow associate with are as follows. These are also the most popular neighborhoods for expats in Montreal to live in.

1. Downtown Montreal

Like most big cities, many jobs are located downtown. While it might not be the best area to live in, it is a convenient spot if you work is based here.

As I'm sure you imagined, downtown is full of big buildings and also two well-known English universities: McGill and Concordia.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living downtown is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: L'Appartement Hôtel: Enjoy a centrally located studio that offers a rooftop sundeck with great city views and an indoor swimming pool.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Hôtel Le Germain: Enjoy a more modern space in either their regular hotel room or by booking more room in a suite.
  • Luxury Stay: Cozy Oasis Apartment: Want to move right into the city center yet have space for your whole family? This 2-bedroom apartment is just what you're looking for.
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2. Old Port of Montreal

In Old Port of Montreal (sometimes called Old Montreal), you will find beautiful buildings full of history, as the name "old" suggests. You can also get a view of the waterfront and the amusement park, La Ronde.

You can think of this part of the city as the old town, full of historic charm instead of the urban character that swarms other areas.

There are also several museums in this area that are very informative. I highly recommend you check out these museums when you're new in town to get a better understanding of your new home abroad.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Old Port is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Maison Sainte-Thérèse: More than just a typical hotel room, these rooms also offer kitchens to help you live comfortably.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: David Hotel: Want more space? These ultra modern lofts will give you all the amenities you need but with plenty of added room to spread out.
  • Luxury Stay: Le Petit Hotel St Paul: Get more natural light and an incredibly charming interior just one block away from the Notre-Dame Basilica.

3. Le Plateau

This fancy section of the city is situated just below the mountain, Mount-Royal, and is known as the fancy district because the cost of living is quite high.

Many French immigrants live in this section of the city so many shops have tweaked their products and style of serving to fit more European tastes. It also has a ton of street art.

If you want to live in a fancier area, Le Plateau might be the Montreal neighborhood for you.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Le Plateau is a good choice for you.

4. Notre-Dame-de-Grace

Commonly known as NDG, this section of town has one of the lowest costs of living in the city. Many immigrants live here and since it's on the western side of the city, it's also very English-friendly.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in NDG is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Cozy & Clean Apt: This 1-bedroom apartment rental offers a great deal for those booking for 1 month or longer, giving you plenty of time to find your long-term housing in the meantime.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Authentic Cozy 4 Bedrooms: Move abroad with your family in tow at this spacious apartment in NDG, plus it's even pet-friendly.
  • Luxury Stay: Modern King Suite: It's not just a great 2-bedroom apartment, it also offers a rooftop terrace, free indoor parking, and a gym.

5. Outremont

Just like NDG, Outremont is also another immigrant area that has a cheaper cost of living. It is also home to the Jewish Orthodox community.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Outremont is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Center of Outremont: Centrally located in Outremont with many restaurants, cafes, and shops right out the door.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Bright Top-Floor Loft: Love cities but also love nature? This apartment will give you trees outside, giving the appearance that you're not right in the heart of Montreal.
  • Luxury Stay: Classy and Elegant Apartment: If you're looking for a home with a high-end style and luxurious finishes, this 3-bedroom apartment should be top of your list.

6. Hochelaga

This area is well known because it's home to the Olympic stadium. Since it's on the eastern side of the city, more French-speakers live here.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Hochelaga is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: ♥Dream Stay♥: Enjoy cheap rent when you book your stay at this rental that offers a private room and bathroom and shared kitchen and common spaces.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Strawberry Stays! 1-Bedroom: Centrally located in Hochelaga, this condo is recently renovated and incredibly well-done.
  • Luxury Stay: Strawberry Stays! 2-Bedroom: Managed by the same company as the mid-tier stay, you'll get the same quality and location, just with an additional bedroom.

7. Verdun

Originally, this area was not very desirable to live in, but recently, it has gone through the gentrification process and is one of the cheaper areas to live. Locals will also say it is one of the most dangerous; however, most of the news stories I have heard since living in Montreal have been in Le Plateau.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Verdun is a good choice for you.

There aren't many options in Verdun so I recommend starting off at this 3-bedroom apartment while you house hunt for something in person.

Cost of Living in Montreal

When I first arrived in late September 2018, I didn’t really know about these different districts. I just wanted to find a nice apartment with nice roommates. I managed to find my first shared apartment in Le Plateau.

Here’s the thing, though Le Plateau is considered one of the more expensive areas of town, overall, Montreal is very cheap for living when compared to other major cities in Canada like Vancouver or Toronto.

A decent two bedroom apartment about 30 minutes from downtown by metro with electricity, water, and internet can be around $1,000 CAD - furniture not included.

My shared apartment in Le Plateau had three bedrooms, no furniture, everything else included was a total of $2,000 CAD.

This being said, you can also find a one bedroom, no furniture, utilities included for almost $2,000 as well, but that place will have a lovely view and new everything, probably a receptionist in the lobby as well.

There is a lot of discussion that says it is difficult to find housing as there are so many people looking and not enough homes, but I think if you are open to anything and anywhere like me, you will be able to find something.

After five months, I decided to move into my own apartment and after only a few weeks of searching, I managed to find the perfect one bedroom, also in Le Plateau.

For apartment hunting, I used Facebook groups and Kijiji (similar to Craigslist). For Facebook, you just have to search for apartments, co-share, etc. with Montreal - many will pop up!

Finding a Job in Montreal

When I first moved to Montreal, I was prepared to not be able to find a job due to my lack of French skills...I had none. Within a month, and many job applications later, I got my first job. Later, I decided to change companies and found my next job within 2 weeks of looking.

I write all of this to say, if you are determined, you will be able to find a job even without knowing French.

Granted, my profession is marketing and many business opportunities are in English, but there are enough English speakers and English jobs out there in other industries as well.

My main source of resources for job opportunities was Indeed and Linkedin.

Getting a Long-Term Visa

In order to work in Canada, a work visa is required. Once you have a work visa, one can apply to become a permanent resident and then a Canadian citizen. A lot of the requirements for this process will depend on your past experiences (for example, if you studied in Canada or Quebec province) and your nationality.

Please check Canada’s government website for more details.

If you are looking to just hang out for a month, depending on your nationality, you don’t need to apply for a visa, a regular on-arrival tourist visa is sufficient to rent an Airbnb.

If you are applying for permanent residence or citizenship in Quebec province, you will need to pass a French exam.

Speaking Le Francais

Once you have legal status to stay in Montreal, either be it as a refugee or permanent residence, you can take French classes at several locations. There is a government run program completely free or different public schools around the city that offer part-time French classes for really cheap.

I took French classes for 16 hours a week for two months when I first moved to Montreal.

It is quite immersive, but speaking French isn’t necessary to live. If you have a job in English, you can spend most of your life without being around French. The same is true if you are a French speaker. There are plenty of people who don’t speak English after living in Canada for years.

The classes are helpful, but to be truly immersed in the language, it is up to the person to find people who speak that language outside the classroom.

While the best way to really learn will be in-person lessons, I recommend getting started learning French as soon as possible to make the transition and language learning process easier. Mondly is a great app for this.

Things to Do in Montreal

Once housing and the job is settled, there are so many things to do in Montreal! In the summer, there are numerous activities outside - parks are full of music and laughter, festivals are ongoing throughout the city, and patios are open among the different bars, cafes, and restaurants.

Montreal offers not only fantastic things to do within the vibrant city but also plenty of options for day trips. Namely access to so many national parks. You'd be surprised how many great, free activities there are to do in Montreal, so even if you're on a budget, you definitely won't get bored.

In the winter, the excitement doesn’t end, so long as the cold doesn't scare you! There are more festivals, Christmas markets, and winter sports. One can do cross-country skiing or skating within Montreal city! There are also numerous ski resorts close by.

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Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Montreal

Canadian Healthcare

The hardest part of my transition into Montreal life was figuring out their healthcare system.

It is a public healthcare system and involves a lot of paperwork! You also have to wait over a year for a family doctor via the public online system or go to a walk-in clinic. Due to my stubbornness, I called many clinics until I found one that was accepting new patients. After 6 months, I had a family doctor.

Public Transportation

Public transportation is lovely in Montreal. The metro and bus are quite extensive.

Sometimes the snow can cause problems or the metro has problems, but otherwise, things run smoothly and there is always a way to get there without a car.

Having a car in Montreal is a bit difficult. The parking situation is complicated unless you're willing to pay to park most places.

Winter Weather

The best advice I can give for comfortably living in Montreal is to get a nice winter coat and boots! Make sure the boots have enough grip at the bottom for snow and ice.

The Culture & History

Come with an open and hungry mind for the history, language, and food!

Quebec province has a very interesting history from the French to British to Canadian then with the language police. They have also wanted to separate from Canada for a while.

The French language is a beautiful language and everyone who lives here should try to learn it! This being said, Quebec French is different from European French. The accent difference is quite striking once I started learning the language and I can understand why the French make fun of the Quebecois- even though it is rude to do so.

Will You Try Living in Montreal?

Although there are a number of fantastic Canadian cities to call home, Montreal really is such a special city. So few cities offer the uniqueness that Montreal can offer. It almost feels like it's own country, rather than part of Canada.

I hope this has helped your decision to come to Montreal or, if you are in Montreal already, I hope it has given you some excitement for living in this city! It is truly colorful, vibrant, and a fantastic place to call your home abroad.

All photos courtesy of depositphotos.com.

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