Moving from the US to Montreal in the design industry. Tips?

Hi all, this is my first post. (Hurray for me) I’m a designer with 2 years experience, and am considering making a move to Montreal in a few years (possibly 4 or so).

Does anyone here have experience with making a move to another country in the design field? Specifically, a country that speaks a different language or is primarily bilingual like Montreal?

Questions include:

How much of the language did you learn before moving, compared to learning while in the country?

Did language barriers exclude you from certain positions?

How much weight does design experience in the US have in other countries? Was it thought highly of? Or looked down on?

Any issues with needing foriegn certifications such as NCIDQ for Interior Designers, or AIA for architects here in the US?

How does salary tend to go? Were you paid more in the new job? Less? Equal? And did any increase coincide with any increased cost of living? Basically, were you better off financially in the new job/country than before?

Any tips, experiences, or stories about making the ‘big leap’ would be appreciated.

Thanks a ton.

I’m a designer in Montreal and can help you with the language barrier question. As you probably know, french is the main language in Quebec. If you are right in Montreal, I’d say french and english are spoken equally, but as soon as you get out of downtown Montreal, it gets a little more challenging. But I find that if you are ready to try to speak it (even a broken version of it), people are very flexible and will help you or switch to english.

If you can speak at least a little bit before to get here, it would be ideal because it might block you some doors, but it’s worth the effort and you will get better really fast

good luck with your move and enjoy Montréal!! :slight_smile:

Thanks, I have visited Montreal before, and was pleasantly surprised that most will switch to english for you if it’s obvious that you’re an American. I’m certainly willing (and preparing) to start learning French.

My main concern was if a firm lists being bilingual as a requirement for the position. How bilingual is bilingual. Could I survive with broken French or not? But your reply cleared that up some.

I hear you learn languages much faster being among speakers of that language than if you’re simply studying it.

Thanks again.

…also, does anyone have any info or tips on work visas and all fun stuff?

Thanks again!

I survived 9 nine months working in Quebec as a visitor on a US visa. The language is no problem, even if you venure off into the wilds.

Look into NAFTA. That is what allowed me to move across the border from the USA into Canada.

There is a long list of jobs that can transfer freely across the border. If you fit the requirements all you need to do is have a job offer (letter) and pay the fee for the work visa. The work visas were a few hundred bucks and renewable every year for up to 5 years.

After 3 years you are able to get landed immigrant status which allows you to pay all the taxes and not be able to vote.

This only applies to Canada, by the way. I haven’t worked in any other countries.

Would you otherwise file taxes in the US until you reach the “landed imigrant” status?

I’m thinking of looking into some Canadian jobs.

I’m probably taking the leap myself too. I have a pretty good shot at a job with a Toronto based company.

I’d like to see some reponses to this question as well:


  • Would I be better off working off from a tax standpoint for working on a permit for a longer period of time (let’s assume my job cycle time is 3 - 5 years) and paying taxes to both countries vs. applying for citizenship?

  • If I were only on Work Permit and not applying for citizenship could I get away with declaring permanent US residence for the purpose of keeping my car insurance, etc. tied to the US?

Any insight you guys have on this would be great. I might be getting a serious job offer within the next month.

salaries for designers here cover all scales but tend to be low. It is very dependant on the company and especially the industry. If you are getting into the tradeshow, retail, POP design market, you may consider additional job waiting tables. If your opportunity is in specialized high tech (medical, instrumentation) you’ll be happy, with a few company specific exceptions.

As you may have heard Canadians pay much higher personal income tax than Americans, we have to pay for the universal healthcare and education somehow. Briefly, taxation rates, within income brackets, are the same regardless of permanent resident or citizen; if you earn income in Canada as a resident you must file a Canadian tax return. I can’t imagine anyone could afford paying taxes to both countries, probably don’t need to. Applying for citizenship will take 5 - 7 years. Canada has no policy on dual citizenship; America doesn’t allow it. Car insurance companies will go to any length to screw you out of your money…

However, please if you are serious about working here contact the embassy/high commission/ whatever in your area and ask the questions; residency, work permits and taxation are complex subjects and if you act on false information you will pay heavily for it years later.

Thanks pier,

I’m looking at a job in the office furniture market in specific, any observations on that field?

I do fully intend to go through all the necessary hoops if/when I get an offer for a job. As you said, I would hate to make a mistake I could pay dearly for years down the road. The more I read into it. the less I think citizenship is necessary for the frame of time I may be there.

I guess my biggest prevailing concerns now are figuring out work permits etc would be required which I’m sure I can figure out between talking to the company and the Canadian Embassy, etc.

Besides that, it’s finding out the salary offer and determining if I can comfortably live off of that. I’m in a bit of a disadvantage here because I’m relatively new to the field (3 yrs. experience) and any offer I get is likely to be at an entry level or lower end of the spectrum. It makes it hard to move to a large metro area and be financialy stable. If the opportunity outweights the hardship, I’ll make some sacrifices, but I just wish I were a Senior Designer with a better earnings potential contemplating this move.

IP, could you shed more light on NAFTA and how it helps someone get across the border? I’ve been reading countless pages from the Canadian governments immigration websites on skilled worker visas of various sorts. Does it all relate? Or is NAFTA different?

…and, since Quebec has it’s own standards of immigration, do those supersede all else?

I’ve heard a lot of talk about how it’s very challenging to prove that you coming into Canada isn’t going to take away jobs from Canadians…how does this relate to the design industry?

…oh what fun this all is!

Thanks a ton for the input!


NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has a laundry list of jobs that are “free” to transfer across the border. Free in the sense that if your profession is on the list, you are able to “take a job from a Canadian” as long as you have a job offer. When I crossed, I had a look at the laundry list and saw “Industrial Design Engineer”. My degree said Industrial Design, which was enough for the officer. I had a signed letter from my potential employer that I indeed did have a job available with the title “Industrial Designer”. I had 3 years of experience through internships and other jobs (a requirement), and I paid the $125 (in 1994) and received my 1 year work visa.

I renewed for 3 years and then filed to be a Landed Immigrant (basically the same as a Green Card). I now pay all the taxes but can’t vote.

Whether or not this relates to what you’re reading about wrt Skilled Worker Visas, I have no clue.

You see, my situation was that I followed a girl out here (duh) and had about $500 in my pocket. I either had to get a job RTFN, or go back to Chicago. You get resourceful. Actually going to the border and asking questions is where I got the most valuable information. I got lucky, I think, and had an officer that was in a good mood and showed me the little loopholes.

Wow, that’s a great bit of information. This makes it seem like it will be a much simpler process that what I imagined. I’m sure I’ll be mistaken though.

I’ll just have to hope Montreal acknowledges NAFTA…seems they like to do things their way…



Coming to canada can be a good thing…but if you don’t speack any french, you’ll see too many doors closed just for that reason…not that anyone will tell you so, but that is just how it is…

If you are a really good designer, then there are positions in the aviation, and trasnportation that would be great for you, and nobody will care if you speack french or not…but I have to say, there are not that many places like that in or around montreal…

Your best shot, just go to Toronto that has a bigger design scene, and is fully anglophone…

…And I know this because I LIVE in montreal…

Best of luck

This is great, I really appreciate all of the input.

Luckily, I found a company in Montreal with almost all of their clients being English speaking from the US, Toronto, and Europe.

Visiting them soon to see if it’s a good fit.

Thanks again for the input.


You are in a good position to let the employer take care of the immigration problems. Like IP said though, industrial design is among the professions that are covered in NAFTA:

Business people covered by NAFTA do not need a labour market opinion from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). This means that Canadian employers do not need to have a job offer approved by HRSDC to employ a United States or a Mexican business person, as set out in NAFTA.

Business people covered by NAFTA must, however, comply with the general provisions on temporary entry to Canada.

You can poke around the cic site for more info. It’s all there, somewhere.

Salaries in design are lower in Canada, and I think lower still in Montreal. There are more designers here for few jobs (proportionally), and it pushes wages down. The taxes are higher, but honestly, not that high when you calculate how much your health insurance costs in the US.

As an American citizen you are required to file US taxes every year. However, there is an $80,000 US minimum deduction. If you land a job making more than that, I have no pity for you!

You don’t need any kind of accreditation to work in Québec as an IDer. There is an organization, the ADIQ. It’s purely voluntary like the IDSA.

Language will be your biggest barrier. Your best bets are international companies, like Bombardier and Megabloks. Smaller companies are all different. I was only told once that I didn’t get a job because of french though (I think it was the reason many more times).

You will learn french faster in a french environment, but you will need to find one here! I’ve worked in companies where I didn’t hear french all day. I highly recommend taking some classes at your local university or language school before you arrive. Also, listen to the radio, it can’t hurt. With the internet that will be easy to find. Just make sure you listen to Canadian-French radio, otherwise you won’t understand the accent.

Lastly, feel free to drop me a message when you are in town. I miss Americans.

It’s definitely reassuring to have some fellow Americans on the other side of the border for this great advice.

My girlfriend and I are leaning toward Montreal, though still considering NYC…I doubt the $$$ will be worth it though. Real estate (rentals) in Montreal seems VERY reasonable. And I’m not quite ready to live in a roach infested shoe box.

This company IS looking into immigration for me, and assured they would help however possible. They haven’t hired Americans before. (probably no one else crazy enough go up there!)

I should clarify, I’m am ID’er by training, but I am a retail designer by profession. There is NO information on the retail design industry in Montreal let alone the rest of the world, so I use these boards as the next best thing. At least here in the states, wages are comparable between the two. Maybe a little low depending on the company.

I’m looking to come up for a visit March 7th to 9th…they have to get the flights booked yet though.

I’ll certainly get in touch with you if we finally make it there…



Hmm…sounds like Gad Shannan (now Worrell) or Bombardier.