Montreal has been called everything from “The City of a Hundred Steeples” to “Quebec’s Metropolis” to “The City of Saints”. If living in a world-renowned urban area appeals to you, then Montreal might be a sacred place to live. There’s a lot to like about living in friendly, progressive and liberal Montreal. As much as there are pros, however, there are some definite cons to moving to the city.
Here’s our guide to some of the best and worst that Montreal has to offer.
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The Pros of Moving to Montreal
There are quite a few things to love about the second largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris.
1. Lower Rents
If you’re going back to school or are single and have a job, you’ll find the city has cheaper apartment rents. This is especially true when comparing against many other Canadian cities. Numbeo.com says that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Montreal is about $960. In Ottawa, the same downtown apartment will cost you roughly $1,150. In Montreal, you might find deals, too, such as free rent for the first month or two.
You’ll find commercial space leases are lower than in other Canadian and U.S. cities, if you’re starting a business. Plus, there’s lots of choose from. Louer.com, a Quebec property listing site, notes there’s 80 million square feet of commercial space in and around Montreal. The city is a great place to set up shop.
If you’re thinking about buying a home or moving your corporate office, though, things get a little more pricey. According to recent statistics from job search site Workopolis.com, your household needs to make about $78,473 a year to comfortably buy a house in Montreal. The upside is that homes are not as expensive as they are in some Canadian cities, such as Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver.
Something to also include in your expenses is moving costs. It’s important to plan all the costs before deciding on moving.
2. World-Class Culture
Scores of struggling artists are attracted to the city’s vibrant arts scene and low rent. Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler are just three examples of musicians, poets or authors who have called Montreal home. (At least, some of the time.) Montreal is a good place to connect with culturally like-minded people.
What’s more, the bars don’t close until 3 AM, so there’s always something happening late at night. The city is so liberal that it even recently proposed keeping some bars open to 6 AM (that proposal, however, didn’t go through.) The city boasts entire streets and neighbourhoods to restaurants and clubs. Some of these neighbourhoods include La Petite-Patrie, Old Montreal, Saint-Henri, Mile-Ex and the Plateau. You’ll never run out of options for places to eat and drink.
3. Beer in the Corner Stores
If you feel you’re too old for the nightlife, but like beer, Montreal is unique from most other Canadian cities. You can get beer in corner stores called dépanneurs. The Montreal Gazette reports that some dépanneurs have kicked things up a notch by having sushi bars, craft beer rooms and sandwich shops.
The downside is that liquor such as brandy and scotch is harder to obtain. You buy liquor at the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ). Their stores, however, are more sparsely located than the dépanneurs and have odd hours of operation for some people. If you’re looking for a particular brand of wine, you might have to call around to different stores to find it. Still, nothing beats getting a cold one on a hot day right around the bend from your home.
4. Tons of Festivals
Being such a cultural city, Montreal is home to major and established festivals. Think of Montreal and you might immediately think of the Just for Laughs comedy festival. However, there is so much more to take in. Do you like horror and martial arts films? Then there’s the Fantasia Film Festival. Like jazz music? Then the Montreal International Jazz Festival is for you.
Is alternative rock more your style? Then you definitely want to check out the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival. Looking for something to do in January? Then there’s Igloofest. There’s almost always some kind of festival going on in Montreal year round. You can find more festivals in this list. Some of these festivals are quite family friendly, so, if you have kids, you’ll have things to do with them.
5. Cheaper Public Transit
The cost of a monthly transit pass is lower than it is in other places. An adult monthly pass in Toronto currently costs $141.50, but in Montreal that same pass is $83.
The Montreal Metro, or subway, also services most of the city, so it’s easy to get to places. Consult the cons section, however, about service delays.
6. Bicycle Friendly City
Here’s a great moving to Montreal tip: you can rely on another form of transit, your bicycle. In 2013, the Copenhagenize Design Company named Montreal the best city in North America for cyclists. Two years later, Minneapolis had overtaken Montreal, but Montreal remained in the Top 20 bicycle-friendly cities in the world. It was the only Canadian city on that list.
Montreal boasts bike lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic and are safe to travel. Forget the car and subway, perhaps, and use your bike, instead.
The Cons of Moving to Montreal
Not everything is rosy, however, about moving to Montreal.
1. You Need to Be Bilingual
Montreal is a great place to visit if you know only either English or French. You can always find someone to be serviced by. But, to live here, you’ll likely need to know both official languages. Otherwise, well-paying jobs will be very hard to find. Plus, knowing only one of the languages can make you feel alone in the city.
Language issues also sometimes cause friction, especially when a provincial separatist government is in power. Things seem to have settled down lately, but the odd language issue crops up now and again. For instance, the Second Cup coffee franchise was protested for having English only on their store signs in Montreal.
The good news is that if you make a decent effort at trying to speak French as an English person, the city is friendly to newcomers. Someone will be around to help you master the language if you honestly try. You can take courses, too. There are French immersion programs and camps for your kids, as well, if you have any.
2. High Taxes
Though the cost of living in Montreal is relatively low, taxes are among the highest in the country. According to the aforementioned Montreal Gazette article, a third of your paycheque might go towards income taxes alone. If you make up to $42,390 in taxable income in 2016, you’ll pay 16 percent provincial income tax. Add to that the 15 per cent in federal taxes you’ll pay in roughly the same tax bracket. That’s a lot of cash gone to the taxman, and that’s in the lowest tax bracket.
What’s more, sales taxes are quite high in Montreal. When moving to the province of Quebec, sales tax is almost 10 percent, coupled with the five percent Goods and Services Tax (GST). That cheap rent might not be so cheap after all, once your taxes gobble up what you’d save.
3. Bitterly Cold Winters
If you’re moving to Montreal, and come from Vancouver or Toronto, prepare for a shock. Montreal is host to cruel, long, snowy and hard winters. The daytime temperature averages about -10 degrees Celsius in January, but the wind chills have been known to plunge below -30 degrees Celsius.
While there are certainly events and things to do, the city can be sleepy from December to March thanks to the weather. Many people are huddled by the fireplace just trying to keep warm.
4. Failing Infrastructure
Montreal is literally falling apart. Concrete has dropped off of highway overpasses in recent memory. Potholes dot roads. Rusted metal is everywhere. The Champlain Bridge is constantly closed and is in danger of crumbling to pieces. The problem is so bad that one city councillor recently suggested Montrealers should wear hard hats to protect themselves from falling debris.
Fixing the city’s infrastructure is going to take a lot of time and money. If you like smooth sailing on the roads and don’t like being snarled in traffic due to bridge closures, Montreal is not the place for you. Some relief may be on the way, though. Money in 2016’s federal budget is going toward fixing Canadian infrastructure over a period of 10 years. Montreal could use a good chunk of that cash.
5. Public Transit Is Often Unreliable
Speaking of crumbling infrastructure, the Montreal Metro usually has service delays. In 2015, 956 incidents delayed trains by five minutes or more according to the French language La Presse newspaper. Sometimes, an entire subway line can be shut down for hours, and peak periods are no exception.
Bussing is a problem, too. The city’s bus fleet is getting older, so roughly 25 percent of busses are under repair at any given time. That means fewer busses are on the road. That also means you might have to let two or three busses go by before one has enough room to stop for you. Still, the lower transit cost might offset this if you can somehow plan for these service disruptions.
Should You Move to Montreal?
If you have a job lined up, love culture, and can speak French, Montreal is the place to be. If you hate traffic or waiting on public transit, and don’t like paying tax, you might find Montreal to be stressful.
Despite the downsides, Montreal certainly has a lot going on. Neighbouring cities such as Ottawa can only look at Montreal with some envy for some of the great things the city has to offer. Maybe, Montreal might just have enough positives to be worth a try for you.