10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving To Montreal

When I decided to move to Montreal from New York City for school, I didn’t know much about the city. I had only visited once, many years before seriously considering to study here. When I decided to move, I came down for a few days, but got sick and didn’t get to explore the city at all. I also am not living in residence. Instead, I rented an apartment with no roommates.


It was quite stressful at first, but my experience has been great so far. I’ve definitely made a few mistakes, though. So, if you are new to Montreal, let me save you some trouble.


1. You don’t need to know as much French as you might think 

Yes, knowing French can be very helpful and you should know a few key phrases. It’s always good to know another language, but, based on my experience, you don’t necessarily need to be fluent in French if you’re just moving here for school. When I first got here, I thought I was going to have to speak French all the time, even though Montreal is a bilingual city. I found out that it isn’t the case at all. I speak French when I do groceries or greet people in my apartment building, for example, but otherwise, I don’t speak much French in my everyday life. 


2. Phone plans are really expensive 

This might not apply to people from other countries besides the U.S., but if you are American, chances are your phone plan is much cheaper and better at home than the ones you could find here. 

When I moved, I thought I had to switch to a Canadian phone plan. I wasted a lot of money on a plan with limited data that doesn’t include service across the border, instead of sticking with my original U.S. plan, which had unlimited minutes and data, and was considerably cheaper. I found out that I could have simply notified my wireless provider that I would be studying in Canada and staying for longer than three months at a time. So, it might be wise to keep your phone plan from home or at least do some research before switching to a Canadian plan. 


Hands holding phone Oleg Magni on Unsplash


3. Sales taxes are high 

Canadian -- and especially Quebec -- taxes are considerably higher than I expected. It can add a rather significant amount of money to the final cost of a purchase. To put it into perspective, in Quebec, the goods and services tax (GST) and the Quebec sales tax (QST) amount close to 15 per cent. Comparatively, the sales and use tax in the State of New York is four per cent plus an additional sales tax in each city -- in New York City, the total sales tax comes up to 8.9 per cent. Quebec’s sales tax is close to double what I’m used to paying, which is something I did not expect. 


4. The metro stops running at night... What? 

In my hometown, the metro, which we call the subway or train, is always running -- no wonder it’s nicknamed “the city that never sleeps.” The service slows down at night, but it doesn’t actually stop. I had never even considered that the metro couldn’t run 24 hours. Imagine my surprise when I stayed out late for the first time and realized I had to pay $20 for an Uber because the metro was closed.  


5. You might get a ticket for jaywalking 

One time when I was in NYC, a police officer yelled at me because I didn’t cross the street on the red right. Even though no cars were coming, I waited for the green light before walking across the road. Well, the officer told me to jaywalk because I was holding him up. 

I’ve learned that a situation like this wouldn’t happen in Montreal. As it turns out, people have gotten tickets from anywhere between $37 to $130 for jaywalking. I’m very glad I found this one out before getting a ticket myself. 


6. People compost here 

Not a single person I knew before moving here ever separated organic waste from the rest of their trash. I was impressed to see that it’s such a common practice here. It’s a great thing to do and I believe more people should do it, even back home. 


7. The cold

My friends warned me about how cold the winter was in Canada. I brushed it off, at first,  because my grandmother lives in Maine and I’ve visited her in the winter. I couldn’t imagine Montreal being much worse. 

For the most part, it wasn’t, but in January and February, it got really rough. As soon as I would go outside, I was beyond ready to go right back in. 

Brace yourselves, this winter might be harsher than last year’s, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which gives long-range weather predictions. 


Girl In The Road Winter Anna Thetard / Her Campus

8. I wish knew the slang

Montreal slang has caught me off guard many times. Unlike other places I’ve visited or lived in, Montreal slang is a mix of French and English, which makes it even more difficult to understand. I frequently have trouble keeping up when someone uses slang words. I find that it often makes no sense to non-Montrealer, like me. Here are some examples:


  • “Blonde” means girlfriend 

  • “Steamies” are hot dogs -- like, really? 

  • “Dep” is short for depanneur, which is a convenience store

  • “Terrasse” is a patio at a restaurant


9. Shipping costs a fortune

I like to shop online. In fact, I do most of my shopping online. It’s more convenient than going to a store or a mall -- I can’t stand malls. In the states, I usually get free shipping, if not, I rarely pay more than $5 for something to be delivered to my door. Here, however, I usually pay at least $10. On more than one occasion, shipping has been almost equal or even higher than the item I wanted to purchase, in which case, I usually don’t bother buying it and try to find it elsewhere.

On one hand, this means I can’t get all the things I would if I was back home, but on the other hand, I end up saving some money. There’s always a silver lining!


shopping bags Jacek Dylag


10. Almost everything closes early

Let’s say I wanted cookies at 3 a.m., it wouldn’t be a problem back home, but here, things are slightly different. Many cafés close around 6 p.m., for example, and most pharmacies close by 10 p.m. While this isn’t a big deal most of the time, it has taken me some time to adjust.