Moving to Montréal 101

September 6, 2022

Let’s face it, moving halfway across the world to study is a stressful experience and you’ll probably have lots of questions. Luckily, everything is doable and, once you’ve completed the immigration process, you can start your new life.

Study permit, CAQ and plane ticket in hand, I still had a few things to take care of, including finding a place to stay, a phone and Internet service provider, a Canadian bank, getting the famous OPUS card, applying for a SIN and, of course, registering with the RAMQ.

Seems like too much to handle? Don’t worry, everything went smoothly!

How to find a place to stay in Montréal?

If you’re looking for housing in Montréal, you’ve got tons of options. Most people recommend renting an Airbnb so you can visit your future place and check for any hidden defects. That’s great advice, by the way.

Still, depending on what your circumstances are, you might prefer another approach. Personally, I found what I was looking for on Kijiji. The website features all kinds of ads and a search filter that will come in very handy and will help you save time. I was moving with my two cats and, in Canada, owners are allowed to ban tenants from owning pets. If your lease does not allow pets, I strongly suggest that you comply with that provision. Otherwise, you could end up on the streets as soon as your plane lands. You can also check out Facebook Marketplace.

I was lucky enough to do a virtual tour of the condo I had set my eyes on. One week later, the lease was signed and the place was all mine. Be careful, though, because such sites are prone to scams. Personally, I leased the condo directly from a company and I was able to make sure that the ad was authentic and the company was serious before I committed to it. I also decided to hire someone to deliver my furniture and groceries so I could travel worry-free and would have nothing else to think about except unpacking. Again, be careful who you trust.

What furniture stores should you go to?

Shopping at IKEA is a must for any self-respecting expat student. And, if you order online, you won’t get a shock at check out. Plus, you’ll only buy what you need. That’s something to keep in mind because, when you’re a student, you’re on a budget—generally, anyway.

Another store I recommend is Structube. I would say their products are of similar quality, just a bit more stylish and a bit more expensive.

I can’t talk about moving and not tell you to pop into Dollarama! This store is like Action in France. You’ll find everything there at very reasonable prices. I even got my winter socks at Dollarama. Whether you’re looking for kitchenware, little treats, pet items or stationery, Dollarama’s got something you can use at prices that are hard to beat.

Finding a phone and Internet service provider

One thing you should be aware of before you move to Canada is that your phone and Internet bill will skyrocket. In France, you may pay 5 euros for a phone plan and 2 euros for an Internet plan (at least that’s what I paid for monthly unlimited service). In Canada, however, things are quite a bit different. Let’s just say the bill will sting a little.

The main service providers are Videotron and Bell, but you can also go to other companies. Furthermore, you can easily find online comparison tools to help you pick the right plan for you.

Before arriving in Canada, I went ahead and got an Internet plan. I asked the technician to come when the person I had hired was also there to deliver my furniture. Once I got home, all I had to do was connect to the network. Remember that service providers are open to negotiation. Contact the ones that interest you and drum up some competition. Remember to point out that you’re a student on a budget.

You can often lower your bill by signing up for a phone plan. That will save you a few dollars that you can spend on something else.

Do I have to change banks?

In Canada

What scared me most in this whole endeavour was choosing the right bank. Putting all your life savings in a new bank can be unsettling. And rightly so. I contacted the bank I had picked via their contact form and they got back to me very quickly. After a phone appointment to make sure everything was set up for my arrival, all I had to do was go to the branch to get my card and sign the agreements.

All Canadian banks have attractive student offers. I, for one, pay no transaction fees in Canada. If, like me, you’re over 30 and going back to school, your first instinct would be to check the age limit for student offers. Well, I am pleased to inform you that in most cases, if you’re a student, your age doesn’t matter.

One last thing that will come as a surprise (maybe): in Canada, there are two types of cards. Here you’ve got credit cards and debit cards.

  • Debit cards are very similar to our French credit cards. Your debit card is tied to your bank account and, when you make a purchase, the amount is debited from your account.
  • Credit cards are exactly what their name says they are. When you charge a purchase to your credit card, it’s the bank that pays your bill. You then have to log in to your account and make a transfer to clear your debt.

Why complicate things when it’s faster to just use your debit card, you might ask? Because rights and obligations under employment contracts are very different here and don’t provide any guarantee to employees, or to banks. So, among other things, your bank will look at how you manage your credit limit before approving you for a home loan, for instance.

In France

If you want to make international wire transfers, things will go more or less smoothly depending on your bank. I strongly suggest that you talk to your bank advisor about your plans as soon as possible.

Check what credit card security measures your French financial institution has in place. You need to be aware of them when you make the switch. My bank, for instance, would block every payment in dollars. So, each time, I had to call and ask the banking officer to let the payment go through. The bank wasn’t able to set up a permanent authorization.

Be sure to check these “details” beforehand so you can avoid the financial nightmare I had to deal with.

What’s a SIN?

Your SIN is your social insurance number. Not to be confused with your French social security number, which is tied to the CPAM health insurance fund. Your Canadian SIN has nothing to do with health care. It’s a nine-digit number that is used to verify your identity for financial or tax purposes. You don’t have to apply for a SIN, but you’ll need one if you plan to work because your employer will ask for one, and so will your bank and other government agencies.

I got mine pretty quickly at a Service Canada centre near me. The agents will explain what organizations you can share your SIN with and whom you don’t have to give it to. Your SIN is confidential and, in the wrong hands, it could lead to identity theft. They really emphasize that “detail”! When I walked out of the centre, everyone looked like a potential suspect just waiting to abuse my credit card (I may be exaggerating a bit, but that’s how I felt). So be careful when someone asks for your SIN.

If you can’t go to a Service Canada centre, you can also apply online.

Getting around in Montréal

You’re going to be a student in Canada. There’s no way back now! The Opus card is like the Navigo card in Paris. It gives you access to Montréal’s public transit system. To be eligible for student fares, you must show a formal letter from your school along with your passport when you order your Opus card. You can generally get such a letter at the start of the school year.

Next, all you have to do is go to the STM (Société de Transport de Montréal) website and book an appointment to pick up your card. An STM agent will take your picture and give you your card a few minutes later. The card will cost you $15 and, once you have it, you can load it based on your needs. And the good news is that students aged 6 to 64 pay only $56.50 instead of $94 for their monthly passes (the rates have gone up a bit; I paid $54 for mine when I got here).

What about health care? Welcome to the RAMQ!

Depending on your country of origin and the agreements it has signed with Canada, you could be eligible for RAMQ (Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec) coverage. That means that your medical expenses will be covered under the provincial health insurance plan, just like they are for Canadians—with a few exceptions.

As a French citizen, I am eligible. Before you come to Canada, be sure to obtain form SE-401-Q-102 from your local health insurance office. Get informed and, most importantly, don’t wait until the last minute to request it because, if you leave the country without it, you will have a really hard time obtaining it. Without it, RAMQ will not be able to process your application.

Registering with the RAMQ is the first thing you should do once you arrive in Québec. Because if you don’t have private insurance and you get injured before you register, you will have to pay for medical bills out of pocket, and the rates here are really not the same as in France. Generally, once the RAMQ has received all the documents, there is a three-month wait period before your coverage kicks in.

One last tip: before you leave, go for a full medical check-up, even though it’s not required. It might seem unnecessary to you, but in my case, it helped detect a rather large tumour. I underwent surgery within the following 15 days and that gave me the peace of mind to move forward with my plan. You may be young and in excellent health, but this kind of thing is unpredictable and can only be spotted with medical tests. YOUR HEALTH COMES FIRST!

Useful information for newcomers

To sum up, coming to Canada as a student is a wonderful, inspiring journey, despite the frightening amount of paperwork. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also a very rewarding experience. Life without a few challenges would be quite boring, wouldn’t it? As long as you’re thorough and well organized and don’t wait until the last minute, everything will be just fine.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. It’s based on what I experienced in 2021, but some things may have changed since. Make sure you have the latest information. Good luck with your move!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.