Things you should know before traveling to Montreal
As in the rest of Quebec, language politics and Quebec sovereignty are contentious issues in Montreal. Don't make the assumption that all French Canadians are in favor of Quebec's separation from Canada as many (especially in bilingual Montreal) are against it. If you really want to discuss those topics with locals, be sure you are well-informed. It is still safer to avoid the subject, as it is still a very emotional issue. Use common sense and be respectful.
The main language in Montreal, as in the rest of Quebec, is French. Making an attempt to use the language is a great way to show respect for locals, whether or not they can speak English, even if you can manage only a few words with a very strong accent. However, it should be noted that Montreal is considered to be one of the world's most bilingual cities with many residents whose primary language is English, and you will often hear locals code switching between French and English when having a conversation. In case of doubt, you may want to open with a warm "Bonjour!" (Good day) and see what language is used in response. Most likely you will be answered in English, if your French accent does not sound local. Try not to be offended if you are trying to speak French and locals respond to you in English. Since most Montrealers speak both French and English, they are simply trying to make things easier for you.
Many people working in the tourist and service industries are completely bilingual without accents. But don't make jokes about French people (especially since francophones in Montreal are mostly Québécois with a few Acadiens and Franco-Ontariens, all of whom consider themselves different from the French from France and from one another). Also, do not assume that all Québécois are francophones. Montreal has a significant English-speaking community with a long history in Quebec and many immigrants whose first language is neither English nor French.
It has been said that Montréal is the only city in the world where the sun "rises in the south."
Montrealers use an unconventional compass, using the river and the mountain as cardinal points. When you are downtown, the St Lawrence River is “south” and Mount Royal is “north”; making the West Island and the East End correct in both their names and orientations. This tends to confuse visitors because the “East” End is really north and the “South” Shore is east, and the St Lawrence River runs almost north-south at this location.
Most local maps use this convention as do the highways around the city. For example, Autoroute 15 north actually runs northwest and Autoroute 40 east runs northeast.
To underscore this fact, a Montreal map will show that the "south end" of Victoria Bridge is in fact further north than the "north end".
Montreal is an extremely inviting destination for gay and lesbian tourists. Canada's contributions to gay rights have recently become widely known, but Quebec was the first province in Canada to pass a non-discrimination law for sexual orientation and to provide same-sex civil unions (although Toronto was the first municipality in Canada to do so). Same-sex marriage is legal in Quebec (neither residency nor citizenship are required for a marriage license, but there is a three-week waiting period after you receive the licence) as well as in the rest of Canada. Canadian and Quebec immigration law allow residents to sponsor their same-sex partners or spouses.
Montreal itself is a very safe, open, and inviting city. The métro station in the Gay Village, Beaudry, is marked with rainbow pillars. Divers/Cité Montreal's pride celebration (last week of July, first week of August) is the second-largest in Canada after Toronto's.
Montreal is a popular destination for language-immersion programs in French and English. Many schools arrange accommodations — either in dorms or with a family and provide cultural programs with trips around the city and beyond. Prices are usually higher for non-Québécois and higher-still for non-Canadians. Most are located in Downtown and the Old City. Intensive, non-resident programs are also offered by the YMCA and Quebec government.
Montreal is home to one of Canada's oldest and most prestigious universities, McGill University. McGill is consistently ranked as one of the top 20 universities in the world, but not each faculty. It is a university with a huge endowment fund. Concordia University is the city's other English-language university, the largest east of Toronto, and has over 40,000 students. Though Concordia lacks a medical school and law school, it still has a world class business school and their arts and sciences programs are top tier. Its student population is generally more multicultural than McGill's and the school's origins in and continuing emphasis on adult education make it popular for mature students, since it holds many graduate-level courses at night. Both universities are research focused.
The Université du Québec à Montreal (UQAM) and the Université de Montréal cater mainly to Francophone students. The Université de Montréal is the second largest French-language university in the world, after the Sorbonne in Paris and is one of the largest research institutions in Canada. The Université de Montréal has two affiliated schools, Polytechnique Montréal (engineering), and HEC Montréal (business school) that offer undergraduate and graduate studies.
Université Laval and Université de Sherbrooke also have campuses in the Montreal area. Every university, with the exception of Laval, lends its name to a metro stop to indicate the university's approximate location. For example, the Guy-Concordia subway station, located at the intersection of Rue Guy and boulevard de la Maisonneuve ouest, is no more than two minutes away from its namesake university (Concordia).
As Montreal is in the province of Quebec, which has its own immigration policies, persons wishing to work in Montreal will have to go through two processes, once with the Quebec government, then finally with the Canadian government. If you are employed with a foreign company which has a Montreal office, you can seek a transfer. You can also seek a job with a Montreal employer and they can sponsor you for a temporary work visa. If you are a skilled worker (see CIC website) you can immigrate based on your own skills.
French language ability is a requirement for most jobs, as businesses are required by provincial law to greet and serve clients in French. Jobs that do not require prior French language ability are mostly IT jobs as well as academic jobs at Montreal's two Anglophone universities. The Quebec provincial government provides free French language courses for newly-arrived expatriates and immigrants who speak little to no French, and you are highly advised to sign up for one of these courses as soon as you arrive to aid your integration into society.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allows skilled U.S. and Mexican professionals to obtain Canadian work visa provided they are qualified in certain professions. The American Consular Services website [www] provides an up-to-date list of qualifying professions.
If you are a U.S. Citizen aged 18–30 and a full-time student, you can obtain a Canadian work visa valid for six months through BUNAC [www]. Students from France, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia can also benefit from BUNAC work programs. As well, if you obtain a degree from a Canadian university, you are eligible to remain in Montreal and work for up to one year.
For anyone else, the Immigration Canada (CIC) website [www] explains a number of ways foreigners can legally work in Canada.
Student jobs include babysitting, painting during the summer, and moving furniture in June. McGill and Montreal universities are always in search of research subjects and so are Montreal's many biotech firms. Montreal also has many call centres, which constantly seek to hire new employees and offer flexible working hours.