Julien, from France to Ottawa on a One-Year Work Visa

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Julien in Ottawa

Julien in Ottawa

Julien and his wife, two French from Troyes, were looking to expand their horizon and gaining professional experience abroad. They took the plunge last summer—after meeting a potential Canadian employer during a job fair in Paris, Julien was granted a precious one-year work visa to Canada.

The couple has been living in Ottawa since August 2013 and they are adapting to their new life in Canada.

1)      How did you get the opportunity to come to Canada?

When I first met the one who became my wife, living abroad was already part of our life plans. She had lived a year in England as a teacher assistant, I had spent 18 months in the USA and in Canada as a student, so we had both already experienced life in a foreign country.

After building my career in France for about 8 years, I felt like it was time for a professional change and a new project. We first thought about going to the USA, but the immigration process was definitely too tedious.

In fall 2012, we attended the yearly “Destination Canada” job fair in Paris. It was a good place to start looking for info about life in Canada and the immigration process, and to meet professionals and recruiters. This is where I met my future boss. After a quick interview at the booth, we agreed to stay in touch.

2)     Did you find getting a work visa was difficult? How long did the process take?

I had the chance to land a job before arriving to Canada, so I can’t say the work visa was really an issue. It only took 2 to 3 months from my last interview to the day we bought our plane tickets to Ottawa.

The challenge was to trade a comfortable situation in France—two permanent jobs and a nice lifestyle— for a one-year temporary work visa in a city we had never been before.

We gave up everything we had to start a new life. We are now seriously looking into the resident permanency process, and I think this is going to be much tougher than the first work visa.

3)     How do you find the work culture in Canada? Was it difficult to adapt?

Well, I think it is difficult to answer this question because I work for a French-speaking company which promotes French in Ontario. However, most business in Canada is conducted in English (except in Québec).

Working in French is a no-brainer. But traveling 6,000 kilometers across the ocean to work in French is sometimes still strange, even if I perfectly respect and understand both official languages in Canada and the issues attached to them. The corporate culture is different, though. It is still North America with particular habits and expectations we need to adapt to.  

4)     Do you work in French or in English? Where did you learn English?

I only work in French and it’s sometimes difficult to find the opportunity to speak English. It’s even more frustrating (or funny, depending on the situation!) when I try to speak English and people answer in French!

Of course, as newcomers, it is easier for us to speak French, especially when dealing with administrative matters, like immigration or healthcare, but we really want to speak English and meet English-speaking Canadians more often.

5)     How do you find the cost of living compared to France?

It’s definitely higher! We used to live in a small town in France with an affordable cost of living. Today, we pay twice the price we paid in France for an apartment twice smaller! Living on the other side of the river in Gatineau, Québec, would be nice, but because this is another province there are some administrative challenges and without a car it is too difficult.

Restaurants are also more expensive. Actually, when you live in France you are used to the concept of “all inclusive”. Here, we always have to add taxes, tips… So the price you see is never the price you really pay. We are used to it now, but at first it was somewhat confusing!

6)     What has been your biggest culture shock so far?

I had the chance of living in Canada for a semester in Sherbrooke, Québec as an exchange student, so I knew more or less what to expect. However, living abroad as a student is not the same as living abroad as a professional.

I would say the most difficult thing to understand was the way the banking system works. It’s so different! Debit card, credit card, mortgage… it took us some time to comprehend everything.

7)     What aspect of life in Canada did you adopt right away?

Ice-skating and maple syrup! 😉 I know it sounds like a tourist cliché, but well… that’s true !

8)     What’s one thing you don’t like in Canada?

Transportation, definitively! Canada is a huge country. As a newcomer, the first thing you want to do is to start exploring it. I was already planning our weekend escapes on the plane to Ottawa… New-York, Chicago, Québec, Vancouver—everything seemed within reach. After all, in Europe, you can fly from Paris to Roma from 40 dollars per person. So why not in North America? So imagine my surprise when I checked the plane ticket prices online!

The other thing that was pretty annoying was setting up an Internet connexion. Internet is reliable and fast but it drove me crazy when we had to have it set up when we moved in last September: it took three weeks to have someone coming, checking all kind of plugs and saying at last: “none of them is from our company, I’ll have to come back later (i.e. in weeks, because this is a busy time “back to school” time of the year)”… Well, we finally got connected, but it was crazy (I won’t tell you about the second technician checking wires in the street, drilling a hole in our room…).

9)     What’s the best part about living in Ottawa?

Life is easy in Ottawa. Most of the time, people are nicer and more open-minded than in France. The pace of life is slower and we take more time to enjoy what this city has to offer. As a capital and a multicultural city, there is a true variety of foods, events, restaurants, communities… And I think I’ve never felt safer walking in the streets, even in the middle of the night!

10)  What advice would you give to someone interested in getting work experience in Canada?

Moving abroad to start a new life is an important decision that requires careful considerations. It’s a choice of life that also affects families and friends, as well as your professional options. I know that Canada has a real nice reputation in France and is often seen as the “land of milk and honey”. But if you do not want to turn this dream into a nightmare, you have to be prepared to face several challenges.

The language, of course: speaking English is, if not compulsory, at least highly recommended. You should also embrace changes on a professional level (like starting at a lower level compared to your previous position). Even if experience is worth more than your degree, it could be a huge challenge to have them recognized. Finally, be prepared for the winter… but this is a piece of advice everybody has already heard! 😉

You can follow Julien on Twitter for the latest news on education, high-tech, social media, marketing and daily life in Canada. You can also visit his website (in French) and check out his Flickr sets.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I guess it must really have been a small town in France because, coming from Paris, I found cost of living so much cheaper here in Ottawa! I am living close to Britannia beach, a huge park and the river, in a big semi-detached house, and I pay less than I was in Paris suburb. For the restaurants, it really depends where you’re going. Some restaurants can just be ridiculously expensive (and not even good) depending on their location.
    I couldn’t agree more with the transportation and Internet parts though! Even the train to Montréal/Québec is super expensive (compared to Greyhound or renting a car or paying gaz) as soon as you’re not travelling by yourself!

    • Even coming from Nantes (which isn’t too expensive by French standards) I find the cost of living much cheaper in Ottawa, especially rent, utilities (except for telecommunications), food, etc.

      • Oh yes, they definitely see Canada as the “land of milk and honey”. So many French people tell me, “I have an uncle in Montreal, I love it there” “How can I move to Canada?” “Why do you live here?” Then there are the working holiday visas. In the past few years the annual quotas have been reached in less than 48 hours.

        • It’s crazy what has been happening with these WHV! I got one in 2004 and it was November, there were so many visa left… at the time, no one wanted to go to Canada. But now it’s à la mode.

  2. I wonder where Julien lived in France? I was really surprised when he said that Ottawa is more expensive than where he lived in France.

    Yes, the transportation is really awful in Canada. And the prices… that’s probably the one major thing that costs more than in France in my opinion.

    It can take weeks to set up an internet connection here in France too. I used my neighbour’s internet for the couple of weeks it took to get ours set up.

    • I disagree with him on the cost of living (I think he was from Troyes BTW) but this is a common disagreement between immigrants. I find Canada cheaper but for a few things (haircut, communications, etc.).

      • Well, Troyes is located in an economically depressed area of France and is far enough from Paris not to have many commuters living there so maybe it could be cheaper if Julien was living in a village.

        Canada is more expensive than France for haircuts? Really? Well, I have no idea no because I never get my haircut by a professional, but this surprises me.

        Yes, internet and the telephone are cheaper in France. I think it’s so stupid having to pay for incoming calls. Is that still the case?

        And the transportation costs. Bordeaux has a population that is slightly less than Ottawa. Let’s calculate the public transportation costs. So it costs 98.75 dollars for a bus pass in Ottawa now for an adult (only regular routes – I remember when it used to cost 48 dollars!). Bordeaux’s monthly bus pass costs 40.50 euros for an adult. That is a heck of a lot cheaper than in Ottawa (even taking in the exchange rate). Another thing, in Bordeaux you can buy a yearly pass so the price drops down to 33 euros per month and your employer is obligated to finance a part of your transportation costs while that doesn’t seem possible in Ottawa. No wonder everyone drives everywhere.

        Ok, so I’ll rephrase what I said, if it wasn’t for the weather, the public transportation and maybe the food Canada would be perfect.

        • I have yet another haircut story… I’ll share it soon. Haircuts in Canada are super expensive, usually about $50 (plus tip) for a ten-minute job. In France, I used to pay around 25 euro for a much better experience. The prices have gone up a bit since, well, 2001, but I still think I get a better value at French salons.

          I don’t mind the food in Canada actually. We have tons of fresh produce and great ethnic food. I’m happy with that 🙂

          I hate OC Transpo. In fact, I rarely bother taking the bus, I’d rather walk. I walk from Merivale to downtown fairly regularly 😆 It ca be quicker than waiting for the #14 or the #176!

          We still pay for incoming call, for voicemail service AND for checking the voicemail. It’s so stupid!

          • Bus 176, how much I hate thee! Seriously, once I had to call my father to come and pick me up at the bus stop to drive me to work because I had been waiting for close to an hour and was late for work. It’s really, really bad. That said, you must walk pretty fast if you go downtown by foot!

            I think there is a great variety of food in Canada (well, maybe not the cheese) and there is a lot of ethnic food available. The problem is the ingredients. I just want to buy stuff that doesn’t have corn syrup and ten million other ingredients that have chemical-sounding names in their list. Sure, these foods exist in France as well, but the lists are shorter and it’s easier to find more natural food (no chemical-sounding ingredients). And the meat… it tastes good in Canada, but seriously I wonder what must be in the meat because the steaks are so huge sometimes. Meat is not usually so thick in France.

            I can’t imagine paying 25 euros for a trim here. I guess my husband is going to continue cutting my hair.

            Can’t wait to hear the haircut story!

          • I don’t eat much meat because I hate cooking it (I’m not a vegetarian though, just a lazy cook). I eat tofu instead and I’m very good at cooking it 🙂 Yes, I agree, there are many ingredients that simply shouldn’t be ingredients… but call me cynical, but I think it’s the same in Europe since these megafoodcorps are everywhere (sometime under different names). I try my best to cook everything (i.e. main meal) but I can’t make everything from scratch. Cookies, sauces, etc. I buy.

            I do walk fast. It’s my main form of exercise!

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