- Melissa Rebelo-Sauve moved to Montreal after marrying a Canadian she met online.
- She navigated the complex process for permanent residency and embraced learning French.
- She says it’s more affordable and the food is great, but she misses things like Thanksgiving in the US.
This essay is based on a conversation with Melissa Rebelo-Sauve, a 44-year-old pet sitter from Massachusetts. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I spent most of my life in Massachusetts until I met my now husband, Marc, six years ago. He is from Montreal and we met online while playing Grand Theft Auto on Xbox.
At first, we were just chatting in-game and meeting online to be teammates. It evolved into out-of-game chats, video chats, and finally, in-person meetings.
I started driving to Montreal to visit him regularly. Now we live here together and I like it.
Montreal reminded me a lot of Boston at first
I lived in Boston for three years and loved that Montreal felt so similar.
The trip is about five hours each way, so I usually spent two weeks here at a time. During the pandemic, I had to quarantine every time I crossed the border, so I started spending more time here.
When it came time to move in together, I knew I wanted to go to Montreal. My husband is close to his family, who all live within a few miles. Since I visited more regularly, I started making friends here.
We got married and I applied for permanent residence
We got married in July 2020, but marrying a Canadian does not automatically grant Canadian permanent residency. It took me about 17 months to get permanent residency. I traveled back and forth until I got my letters, which I received in August 2022.
The process in Quebec is more complicated than in other provinces. I used an immigration attorney to make sure everything was done correctly. The fees were almost $3,000, but it was worth every penny. Other expenses, including my biometrics and physical, were about $1,500.
I am a pet sitter so once I get my permanent residency I could start pet sitting and dog walking here. I use Rover, Pawshake, Pawsome Concierge and local Facebook groups to find people looking for pet sitting.
Quebec is different from the rest of North America
The culture shock was more than I expected. There are many people who don’t speak English at all in Quebec, only French. Many languages are spoken in Montreal, but if you go outside the city, you’ll have no luck with English. This still surprises me.
When I was still driving back and forth, I listened to a lot of French news radio to help my language skills.
Expats have access to a program where they get paid to take French courses for 30 hours a week, which I signed up for. Now, I can conduct interviews with potential pet clients in French, and my husband and I also speak French at home.
I’m much more confident now, and sometimes when I think I’m going to say something in English, French comes out first.
I like fashion and food
It’s always interesting to people watch in Montreal. Even in winter, people are well dressed. Locals embrace the cold in their clothing and in their winter sports and festivals.
Then there’s the food – it’s so good that I walk miles every day to justify eating more. The bakeries are numerous and incredible. Before I came here, I didn’t really eat croissants; now, they are my default food. I’m a vegetarian, and there’s lots of great vegan food too.
Living here is quite affordable
Although Montreal is undergoing gentrification, property prices are more reasonable than in Massachusetts. We rent an apartment and look at the market for a place to buy.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, where I lived, a 2-bedroom apartment costs about $1,500 a month. A similar property here is a few hundred dollars less.
Food prices are quite similar, and health care is much more affordable.
I love my new life here, but there are things I miss about home
Thanksgiving here is in early October. It’s a little more like the stereotypical American holiday in the rest of Canada, but in Quebec, it’s just an extra day off.
Seeing all my family and friends post their Thanksgiving photos on Facebook always gives me FOMO. Even when I try to recreate it here, it just isn’t the same.
I go back to the US every six weeks or so. My best friend is like a sister to me and I miss her and her kids and some other very important people in my life.
I miss Thomas’ English muffins, Frank Pepe’s Connecticut pizza, and good Mexican food. I miss some of the furniture that belonged to my grandparents that I chose to leave behind. I miss being closer to the ocean.
But really, I like it here. When I cross the Champlain Bridge into Montreal after a trip to the US, I feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be.