How to Survive as an American: 5 Tips for Americans Coming to McGill

If you’re considering joining the over 2400 American students studying at McGill University, you’ll want to check out the following tips. Although Canada seems like barely “studying abroad”, there are some things that may trip you up when you’re coming to study here. Montreal is a beautiful and amazing city to study in, but there’s definitely a lot of work that international students have to get done that the Canadians don’t. So, read ahead for some tips to make your life a little easier.


 1. Get your CAQ and Study Permit EARLY.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen students have to delay their acceptance for a semester or sometimes an entire year because they didn’t get their immigration documents on time. The CAQ, or the Quebec Acceptance Certificate, is a required permit for students intending to study in Quebec. It requires you to apply online and send in a bunch of legal documents. The CAQ takes about 6-8 weeks to get approved, so definitely don’t leave it until August, or even July. It won’t be enough time for you to get your application approved before move-in weekend or Frosh week (which you definitely don’t want to miss).


2. Get a Canadian debit card.

A lot of places in Montreal will only take cash or Canadian debit cards. Credit cards are accepted in limited places, so you don’t want to risk it. Plus, American credit cards will usually charge exchange rates for each purchase, which can add up to some hefty bills by the end of your four years. There's a variety of banks to choose from, but I personally recommend TD Bank since it’s used in the States and Canada, so it’ll make it easy to transfer money from your home account to your Canadian account. I’ve had a good experience with it so far and a lot of my American friends use it as well.

3. French is not necessary, but it does help.

In the Milton-Parc area, aka the “McGill Ghetto” or the “McGill bubble”, no one will notice if you speak zero French. As soon as you go anywhere else in Montreal, however, French will be the primary language. You should expect most signs to only have French and for shop owners to greet you in French only. Also expect to struggle a little with menus, directions, and information boards since most of these will be in French as well. If you have any basic French or Spanish background, you’ll be able to guess most of the words and figure out your way. If not, the majority of people can switch to English if you ask them any questions and they’re usually very nice about it (they are Canadian, after all ;)).

4. Learn some Canadian lingo.

It’s not just a stereotype, Canadians do use the word “eh” excessively and get used to it because within a few months, you’ll be saying it too (“It’s not bad today, eh?”). Some other terms I hear a lot are “toque”, “dart”, “loonie”, and “toonie”. Canadians don’t have dollar bills, but they do have one-dollar and two-dollar coins, which are loonies and toonies, named after the bird on the Canadian one-dollar coin. A toque (pronounced “too-ke”) is any type of knit winter hat, most often with a pom-pom on top. A dart is a cigarette (a lot more people smoke here than America). Oh, and they also pronounce the letter “Z” like “Zedd”, not “Zee”. That one tripped me up a bit since people kept getting confused when I tried to spell my last name out loud to them.

5. It gets cold. Really cold.

I’m from Boston, so I thought it wouldn’t be that bad, but it’s bad. The snow falls fast and hard here in Montreal and the city doesn’t stop for anyone. Invest in some good winter boots and a warm parka, and don’t be that girl that wears sneakers through the foot of snow. I suggest buying some long underwear or wearing leggings underneath jeans or sweatpants as well. Just last week, windchill reached -38 degrees Celsius (-36.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The entire city may be covered in a layer of black ice and the snow may be blowing over 10 mph sideways at your face, but you’ve got class to go to and so does everyone else. There are ways to make this easier with McGill’s underground tunnels and getting the proper gear, but make sure you mentally prepare for this when moving to Montreal.

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