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

Julien in Ottawa

Julien and his wife, two French from Troyes, were looking to expand their horizon and gain 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 the fall of 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 difficult? How long did the process take?

I had the chance to land a job before arriving in 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 to 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 travelling 6,000 kilometres 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 come, check all kinds of plugs and say 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 consideration. It’s a choice of life that also affects families and friends, as well as your professional options. I know that Canada has a really 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 the 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! 😉

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