What is it like living in Montreal? How do living costs in Montreal compare with other Canadian cities? We help you address some of the questions about Montreal as you prepare to move to this unique city.
Where is Montreal?
Montreal is located in the southwest of the province of Quebec, just 70km (43 miles) from the US border. The city itself is situated on the Island of Montreal at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers.
Montreal is the second-largest city in Canada and the second-largest predominantly French-speaking city in the western world, after Paris. Language is the most conspicuous difference between this city and province and the rest of Canada, but more on that later.
The city’s reputation for lively nightlife and hedonism began during the period of prohibition when revelers would head north in search of a good time. Montreal remains a bustling, cosmopolitan city to this today. It has a more European feel than a standard North American city. Moreover, living costs in Montreal are generally more affordable than in other large Canadian cities.
The city takes its name from the three-peaked hill, Mount Royal, which sits immediately northwest of downtown.
Living costs in Montreal
The biggest financial bonus for anyone moving to Montreal is that property and rent prices is typically more affordable than many other Canadian cities. A decent room in a shared apartment in a safe Montreal neighbourhood can be rented for as little as $400 per month, with some one-bedroom apartments starting at $550-600. These are base figures, and depending on taste and expectations you can expect to pay more.
Household utilities are quite reasonably priced and generally charged per month. Groceries and eating out, however, are at or above the national average. A pint of local beer should cost about $5, but imports are more expensive, as much as $9 in the more touristy areas around Crescent St and the Old Port. Tipping is standard practice, typically a dollar per drink or 15-20 percent of the bill for good service.
Overall, living costs in Montreal are affordable, but this can be offset by slightly lower wages and higher taxes than the national average.
Montreal with kids
Montreal is one of the best places in Canada, if not the world, to raise children. Around half a million children are fortunate to call Montreal home, with many parents having moved to the city in part because family life in Montreal allows for choice, convenience, and affordability.
Consider the following advantages:
- Kids in Montreal are highly likely to grow up learning and speaking two languages, if not more.
- Quebec offers a subsidized public daycare program, with placement costing as little as $7.75 per day. Not only are the kids happy and safe, but parents and guardians find it easier to enter the labour market or continue their studies. Heavily subsidized daycare contributes to the relatively affordable livings costs in Montreal for families.
- Montreal’s neighbourhoods are scattered with public parks and playgrounds.
- Montreal’s changing seasons means there is always a good reason to be outdoors.
- Post-secondary tuition fees in Quebec are the lowest in Canada.
- Montreal is safe. The crime rate is among the lowest in Canada.
- Montreal offers an impressive selection of affordable properties, for sale and for rent, well-suited to family life.
Overall, being in Montreal with kids is a joy.
Weather in Montreal
Montreal experiences four distinct seasons, with winter being rather different to what most immigrants would be accustomed to in their native country. Snow cover can be expected from early December until late March, though this is changeable year to year. January and February are bitterly cold, with temperatures often hitting -20°C or below. You will need a sturdy pair of boots and thick socks, as well as a warm winter coat and hat, scarf and gloves.
Spring tends to be short, with a warm May leading into hot, humid summers where you can expect daily temperatures well above 20°C. Autumn explodes in colour, with orange and brown leaves covering Mount Royal and the large parks dotted around the island.
Things you will notice about Montreal
- Swearing: While the standard French swear words such as merde are used, stronger profanities are those borrowed from Catholicism and its liturgy. When a Montrealer stubs her toe or wants to admonish someone, she’ll probably scream tabarnak! This comes from the church tabernacle. Other choice profanities include sacrament (“sacrament”), ostie (“host”, as in communion bread), and maudit (“damn”). Changing and mixing swearwords is a sort of verbal art, and a quickfire “ostie de tabarnak de calisse!” signifies a very angry person and not a priest speaking in tongues.
- Mount Royal: The “mountain” is more like a hill at 233m/764ft, but don’t say that too loudly as locals take great pride in it). Mount Royal’s three peaks are conspicuous from nearly anywhere in Montreal, and few cities in the world have such a wonderful natural amenity right in the heart of the city. Winter means cross-country skiing, tobogganing and snowball fights, with the other three seasons providing lush parkland, an artificial lake, and paths where joggers and cyclists compete with pedestrians for space. A chalet with a lookout point overlooks downtown and beyond.
- The “Underground City”: Officially known as RÉSO and sometimes referred to as la ville souterraine, this series of interconnected passages provides refuge from extreme weather during the winter, as well as often being a pleasant getaway from particularly hot summer afternoons. With more than 120 exterior access points and around 32 km/20 miles of tunnels, it connects Metro stations, commuter stations, shopping malls, offices, apartments, banks, universities, the main bus station, and the Bell Centre arena.
- Cycling: This is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with hundreds of kilometres of paths. The BIXI system is rated among the best public bike systems in the world, with more than 400 stations dotted around the city.
- Politics: Many Quebecers have a fiercely nationalist streak. The dream is to one day break away from Canada and form their own country, a feat they almost managed in a 1995 referendum. Before launching into a debate, be sure to know what you’re talking about. It’s practically impossible to avoid politics when living in Montreal.
Dining out in Montreal
In any list of the best dining cities in North America, Montreal is usually in the top three or four. Some even rate it the best, and its only real rival in Canada is Vancouver. It is said that Montreal has more restaurants per capita than any other city on the continent.
Nearly every country is represented in Montreal cuisine. You will find numerous restaurants of the sort that are popular in any western city — Italian, Asian, American-style diners — but life in Montreal would not be the same without poutine.
What is poutine? The three basic ingredients are well-done French fries, cheese curds and brown, meaty gravy. Like other local delicacies across the world — consider pizza or stew — poutine was established by using a mixture of seemingly unappetizing leftover foods and throwing them together, with surprisingly delicious consequences.
Other ingredients such as beef, pork, chicken, seafood, or vegetables are often added to the basic ingredients. A variation called poutine italienne substitutes bolognaise sauce for the gravy. The 24-hour La Banquise on Rachel Street in the Plateau serves more than 28 variations of poutine.
The sizable Jewish community has left its mark on local cuisine, with smoked meat (viande fumée) a particular favourite. Schwartz’s on St-Laurent is the centre of the smoked meat world, or so it would appear from the seemingly permanent line of people around the block waiting to get in.
Many restaurants allow you to bring your own wine and beer, and there is usually a SAQ liquor store or dépanneur (corner store) nearby. Look out for “apportez votre vin” signs in windows. The quality of wine in the SAQ stores is much better than in dépanneurs. The highest concentration of “apportez votre vin” restaurants is in the Plateau.
Montreal is world famous for its nightlife, and rightly so. Whatever your budget or music taste, Montreal provides a seemingly endless range of options, from small bars to upscale nightclubs. It is truly the entertainment capital of Canada. Retail alcohol sales stop at 11 p.m. and bars and clubs stop serving at 3 a.m., though in summertime some establishments try to stretch the night out an extra hour. The legal drinking age in Quebec is 18, a year earlier than most of Canada.
There are three main strips for bar-hopping:
- Trendy and expensive Crescent St on the western side of downtown caters mostly to anglophones and tourists, though the adjacent Bishop St has more of a local clientele.
- Boulevard St-Laurent on the edge of the Plateau — particularly the stretch from Sherbrooke Street to Avenue des Pins, where you’ll find stylish bars and clubs with a more francophone clientele — gets extremely busy when Concordia and McGill students are back for a new session.
- The Latin Quarter on St-Denis comes into its own during the summer, when large outdoor patios (terrasses) line the stretch between de Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke.
More local scenes can be found in the Gay Village around Beaudry Métro station, Mont-Royal Avenue in the Plateau, and Monkland Avenue in NDG.
Festivals in Montreal
Every month of the year contains some sort of festival in Montreal. Things really get going when the sun comes out in summer and the area around Place des Arts hosts free shows all afternoon and evening.
The largest jazz festival in the world occurs from late June into July, with some of the most renowned acts on the planet entertaining locals and tourists. Montreal is also home to the world’s largest comedy festival, Just for Laughs (Juste pour rire), which occurs just after the jazz festival. The Osheaga music festival is a weekend-long summer jamboree on Île Sainte-Hélène, with multiple stages hosting some of the most recognizable artists in the world.
Transit in Montreal
If you plan on living relatively close to Montreal and don’t plan on owning a car, it is likely that you will regularly be using the city’s Metro system. The Montreal Metro was first launched in time for the 1967 Expo.
The Metro has four lines, 68 stations, and is the busiest subway system in Canada in terms of daily usage. The Metro is operated by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM). The green line runs east-west, as does the horseshoe-shaped orange line at its busiest section. Both the green and orange lines run through downtown. The blue line runs east-west to the north of Mount Royal, and the short yellow line serves Longueuil and the South Shore.
The Metro runs until approximately 12.30 a.m. on weekdays and 1.30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
STM tickets are also valid on the extensive bus network serving the various neighbourhoods of Montreal.
Montreal Metro/STM prices
|Fares||Regular Price||Age 6-17 and 65+||Students 18-25||Condition||Validity for 747 Airport bus|
|1 trip||$3.25||$2.25||Regular price||Valid the same day as purchase.||No|
|2 trips||$6||$4||Regular price||One single user. Valid the same day as purchase.||No|
|10 trips||$27||$16.5||Regular price||No|
|1-day pass||$10||Regular price||Regular price||Unlimited travel for 24 hours consecutive.||Yes|
|Group fare||$16.5||Regular price||Regular price||One adult and up to 10 children aged 6-13, valid for two hours||No|
|Unlimited evening||$5||Regular price||Regular price||Unlimited travel between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. the next morning.||No|
|Unlimited weekend||$13.75||Regular price||Regular price||From Friday 4 p.m. to Monday 5 a.m.||Yes|
|3-day pass||$18||Regular price||Regular price||Consecutive, until 11.59 p.m. the third day.||Yes|
|Weekly pass||$25.75||$15.75||Regular price||From Monday to Sunday until 11.59 p.m.||Yes|
|Monthly||$83||$49.75||$49.75||From first to last day of the month, plus the first day of the next month.||Yes|
|Airport Mtl-Trudeau||$10||Regular price||Regular price||Purchase at airport / outside Berri-Uqam station / on board (coins only, exact fare)||Yes|
Compared with similar system’s in other large cities, Montreal’s public transit is comparatively cheap. Your living costs in Montreal are unlikely to be too affected if you plan your commute and work/life balance appropriately.
Other commuter trains serving the outer suburbs are run by the Agence métropolitane de transport (AMT) and are priced distinctly from STM services.
Newcomers to Montreal from abroad who plan on driving around the city should take time getting used to driving on the right before tackling the downtown area where drivers often take daring risks. Driving in winter can be hazardous, particularly after a huge dump of snow, so make sure that your vehicle is properly kitted out with the appropriate tyres (pneus) and heating system.
Montreal provides hundreds of kilometres of designated bike paths. The BIXI system is a public bicycle sharing system that is available for three seasons of the year from April to November. With more than 5,000 bikes and 400 docking stations throughout the city, signing up for a BIXI subscription is a good investment for the year.