Montréal

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Introduction

Located on an island within the St. Lawrence Seaway in Southwestern Quebec, The Island of Montreal has a population of approximately 1.8 million. Some fast facts about Montreal:

  • Has the widest temperature range of any major North American city, where the average daily high in January is -6º C and the average July high is 27º C.
  • Has approximately 160 days of sunshine per year.
  • Has the highest mean annual snowfall of any major North American city; the average snowfall is approximately 2 metres.
  • Montreal is pronounced "Mon-ray-al" in French, and is indeed named after the major geographical landmark in the city, Mont Royal, which is pronounced "Mon-Roy-Ahl"
  • The population is highly stratified between the predominately French-speaking East and Central areas, and the English speaking Western suburbs (known as the "West Island").
  • Approximately 70% claim to speak French as their first language, 20% English, and 10% other.
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French

Policy

It has been the policy of successive governments of Quebec to impose the use of French language throughout Quebec society, from school instruction through to the workplace. Ostensibly this policy is designed to protect and preserve the language but in retrospect has proven not only to be total overkill but has negatively impacted non-french speakers being attracted to the province and has discouraged investment. Many people in Montreal are indeed bilingual in Canada's two official languages, but many will expect you to at least attempt to speak a little French.

Work

For immmigrants, both from other countries and inter-provincial, the language issue can pose a number of problems. It is particularly difficult to gain access to the job market without a working knowledge of French. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for fluency to be a requirement, as many companies are located in Montreal purely because they require a large base of bilingual employees, e.g., call centres. There are exceptions to this rule, usually highly-skilled people with specialist skills.

Schooling

The second major issue for newcomers is schooling. Montreal has a number of French school boards and two English school boards (English Montreal School Board and The Lester B. Pearson School Board). Most expat children are required to take schooling in French, with few exceptions. This is enshrined in the infamous Loi 101 (Law 101). In any case, non-French speaking families should expect their child will be spending a significant proportion of their schooling learning to read, write and speak in the French language.

Government services

All federal (Canadian) government buildings are covered by federal law (e.g., airports, Human Resources and Social Development Canada, etc.) and as such are bilingual. Most Quebec institutions (e.g., Healthcare, Driving Agency) are also bilingual, but by choice. Although it is not a guarantee, you will almost certainly find an English-speaking agent in a Montreal office.

It is interesting to note that the Government of Quebec has decreed le Quebec (the province) as having one official language, yet virtually all provincial government forms are available in both French and English. Of note it is a simple, possibly painless, process to submit a provincial personal income tax return in English.

Learning French

Immigrants who apply under the Quebec-selected route, who are ultimately in posession of a Certificate of selection for Quebec (CSQ), are entitled to free French classes that can be taken full- or part-time. These classes are 'immersion' style and intensive. Most immigrants find this highly beneficial. The classes are taken at Integration Centres. There are a number of these in Montreal.

Neighbourhoods

Many are referred to by their 3-letter abbreviation:

Close to Downtown

  • Westmount
  • Outremont
  • Lasalle
  • Cote-Saint-Luc (CSL)
  • Notre-dame-de-Grace (NDG)
  • Cote-des-Neiges (CDN),
  • Mont-Royal
  • Hampstead
  • Park Extension
  • Montreal North

East of Downtown

  • Pointe-Aux-Trembles
  • Riviere-des-Prairies
  • Anjou, Rosemont
  • Saint Leonard
  • East Montreal

West of Downtown

  • Dorval
  • Lachine
  • Dollard-des-Ormeaux (DDO)
  • Pierrefonds
  • Roxboro
  • Beaconsfield
  • Kirkland
  • Ste. Anne-de-Bellevue

English speakers

Most native English speakers find themselves gravitating toward the Western suburbs where a significant proportion of English speakers already reside. These neighbourhoods tend to be highly suburban in look and feel. The need for a car is greater, although the side closest to Downtown Montreal is becoming more and more a centre in its own right, with a large number of diverse strip malls and increasingly dense residential construction well served by city buses.

Neighbourhoods to avoid

The neighbourhoods to avoid, fortunately for the English, are mostly in the "East End." Montreal is a fairly safe city, even at night time, and violent crime, like many other North American cities, is mainly confined to those who are involved in gangs. Burglaries and car thefts are a problem, but not out of control. More recently, a worrying trend is increase in home invasions in the Montreal area, but they are still highly sporadic.

Settling In

Immigrants to Quebec share many of the same arrival procedures as those to the rest of Canada:

Social Insurance Number

Social Insurance Numbers are obtained from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) offices. In French, this is known as Ressources humaines et Developpement Canada (DRHC). Documentary evidence may include evidence of Permanent or Temporary Residence status entitling one to an "SIN number". Without an SIN number, just as in many other countries, it is not possible to find work legally.

Healthcare Registration

Healthcare Registration is obtained by visiting a Regie d'Assurance Maladie Quebec (RAMQ) office. Once again, appropriate documentation, including a CSQ if one is in posession, is required to register. Registrants are issued with a credit-card sized document. Without a CSQ, registrants are usually required to wait 3 months before being eligible for Quebec healthcare. It is imperative during this interim period that one acquires health insurance from a 3rd party to cover any unpredictable emergencies.

Driving License

Driving Licenses are acquired by visiting a Societe de l'assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ) office with appropriate documentation, including any previous driving license(s) one holds. Without it newcomers are required to take the Quebec driving test. Normally Western Europeans, Canadians and Americans are exempt if they hold a valid driving license from their country/province of origin and, for payment of a fee, can obtain a Quebec license by bringing appropriate documentation along to the office.

Commuting

Montreal has an extensive highway (motorway) network, as well as a number of suburban railways, extensive bus service and 5 Metro (underground) lines.

Driving

Highways

  • The two major highways that cross montreal from West to East are known as Autoroute 20 and Autoroute 40, colloquially known in English as 'The 20' and 'The 40'.
  • The major highways that run from North to South are Autoroutes 13, 15, and 25.
  • The highway that leaves the island to the South and crosses the Champlain Bridge is Autoroute 10.

It is common practice for the highways and junctions to be referred to by their named designation, not their number, even during travel reports. This can be highly confusing for newcomers.

  • Autoroute 40 is known as "The Transcanadian" in the West, and "Metropolitan" in the East.
  • Autoroute 15 is known as "Decarie" in town and "Laurentian" toward the North.
  • Autoroute 720 is known as "Ville-Marie".

The lesser highways are usually referred to by number, but it does pay to know the junctions by name.

Commuting times

Once on the highway, from the extreme western tip of the island, a journey to Downtown can take 45 minutes. Expect to add at least 30 minutes to this at rush hour.

Road conditions

A significant increase in traffic in recent years, combined with chronic underinvestment and cost cutting, has begun to strain the road infrastructure, and it is not uncommon to see large pot-holes on major thoroughfares, particularly during spring. Road users in Montreal are very well aware of the problems, but new arrivals can be caught unaware and should exercise caution while driving, particularly on city streets on the Island.

Public Transportation

  • Most Central and Eastern neighbourhoods have excellent bus service as well as good access to the Metro.
  • The Western neighbourhoods also have fairly good bus services, but only sporadic suburban train services.
  • Transports Quebec

Taxes

Consumption Tax

Consumption tax (VAT) 14.975 is added to the value of goods

The 5% federal tax is known as the GST (Goods and Services Tax) in English, or TPS in French.

The 9.75 provincial tax is known as the QST (Quebec Sales Tax) in English, or TVQ in French.

Income Tax

  • For most employees, income tax is deducted at source, similar to the PAYE system in the UK.
  • However, tax payers must submit 'tax returns' at the end of every tax year.
  • It is usually necessary to 'adjust' the amount paid according to the calculated amount owed, i.e., you pay the difference or receive a refund.
  • Tax software, which simplify the process, is widely available for PC computers.
  • The tax year is the same as the calendar year. That is, it goes from January 1st to December 31st.
  • Income tax returns for the previous tax year are due on or before April 30th.
  • As with virtually all taxation in Canada, this is a two-tier system. Taxes are assessed separately by the federal and provincial systems. The provincial income tax rate differs from province to province.
  • In most provinces, tax payers use a single tax return form that calculates their federal income tax and their provincial income tax and adds the two amounts into a combined figure. Tax payers submit their entire income tax to the federal government which, in turn, remits the appropriate amount to their provincial government on their behalf.
  • Quebec is different, in that tax payers have to submit separate federal and provincial income tax returns.
  • Nonetheless, the submission deadline for federal and provincial returns is the same, namely, April 30th.
  • Income tax is based on a marginalized system that should be familiar to most newcomers.
  • The provincial basic personal non-refundable tax credit in 2012 is $10,925.
  • The federal basic personal non-refundable tax credit in 2012 is $10,822.
  • Calculating income tax is a tricky issue, as there are many factors to consider. As a guide, the 2012 combined federal + provincial basic rates work out as follows:
Taxable Income Marginal Tax Rate
first $40,100 28.53%
over $40,100 up to $42,707 32.53%
over $42,707 up to $80,200 38.37%
over $80,200 up to $85,414 42.37%
over $85,414 up to $132,406 45.71%
over $132,406 48.22%

Source : Taxtips.ca

Attractions

The best time of the year to visit Montreal is between June and August. In summer, the downtown streets come alive with outdoor festivals. The city hosts the International Jazz Festival and the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix in June, as well as a Comedy Festival and Francophone Festival. There are a number of minor festivals throughout the year..

There is also Mont Royal, the famous Mont Royal Terrace that overlooks downtown from the Chateau, The Casino (located on the Grand Prix circuit island), and La Ronde Theme Park.

Mont Tremblant

Located 1½ hours from Montreal by car, this resort offers extensive world-class snowsport facilities in the winter, and hiking, climbing and biking activities in the summer, as well as being a hub for entertainment and vacation accomodation.

Getting to Montreal

Montreal is approximately 6 hours from Toronto and 5 hours from Boston by car. The major airport is located in Dorval, now known as Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, and is served by Air Canada, major international airlines, as well as a number of sun charters. A number of private busses and a city bus connect the airport with downtown. Within the next 5 years, a dedicated rail terminal is scheduled to connect the airport directly with downtown Montreal.

Related information

Montréal, Québec - Detailed City Profile - A good source of information for Montréal (weather, demographics, employments, etc.)