From an interview with Michael Bricout, Product Manager, RBC Ventures.
Michael Bricout came to Canada in July, 2017. In his home country of France, he earned a Masters degree in Marketing and ran his own entrepreneurial venture. Michael had relatives in Quebec and had visited Canada in the past. Michael and his fiance, a mechanical engineer, identified Toronto as a city with ample opportunities for personal and professional growth and decided to move here on a working holiday visa, a popular option for French nationals. This gave them two years to test drive Canada. They weighed the pros and cons of living in Canada, including finding accommodation, the Canadian job market, Canadian workplace and their Canada project in general. This is what they found.
When we came to Canada, our goal was to see what life was like here and then decide if we wanted to extend our stay. The two-year working holiday visa International Experience Canada, or PVT in French, allows you to work, or just have a very long holiday. It enabled us to conduct our own Canada experiment. Based on our first hand experience, we weighed the pros and cons to decide if we should stay in Canada or go back to France.
There were definitely challenges. First of all, when you travel to a new country you are far from home, far from your family and friends, and it can be difficult to make new friends. Also, because I was not on a permanent visa, some companies were not interested in hiring me at first. But one of the greatest challenges we faced was finding a place to live in Toronto. For newcomers, finding long-term accommodation can be tricky. It’s key to be patient and also be mentally and financially prepared for unexpected situations.
For the first two months, we moved from one Airbnb to another. Most landlords wanted a credit report, which we didn’t have at the time. So, without a job or a credit score, some asked for six months’ rent upfront! While exploring our options, we joined a Facebook group for French immigrants where we stumbled on a post for an available apartment downtown. We reached out to the group member who’d shared the post and finally managed to secure the apartment by paying “only” four months’ rent upfront.
The pros outweigh the cons
While there will always be challenges for newcomers in Canada, there are many more benefits. Canada is a growing country, not only in terms of population, but infrastructure and economy: there are many opportunities. When you think about it, France is smaller than Ontario but has double Canada’s population.
The Canadian job market is dynamic, especially when you’re coming from a country like France. As long as you are willing to work hard, find your opportunity and are prepared to take it, there is nothing that can stop you. So, the Canadian job market was a definite reason for us to stay in Canada.
It took two months for me to land my first job in Canada. The company was looking for someone who could speak both French and English. So that was my opportunity to get into the Canadian job market. From there, once you have a job, it is easier to find your next job. In Canada you only have to give 2 weeks notice when you leave your job (whereas in France it’s 3 months).
A key takeaway from my Canadian job search experience was that networking is very important. Don’t just apply to jobs online but attend meetups and networking events—that’s where the opportunities are! Whether you’re in sales and marketing or engineering or any other line of work, you can find meetups through Eventbrite, where you can filter by type of meetup. It’s also critical to research the job market and the city where you intend to settle. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date and well presented. Coming from France, obviously my profile was in French. So I had to translate it to English. You have to market yourself in the new digital environment. I also created a website to present myself and all the things that I’ve done in my career.
I attended a TechToronto meetup hosted by RBC, the leading bank in Canada. I realized, “Wow – this bank is really active in the tech and digital space!” A connection from my previous company who now worked at RBC contacted me, I got an interview and eventually landed my current job. I’m product manager on Ampli, the cash back app from RBC Ventures. That was an amazing opportunity for me.
Working from home works well in Canada
Since COVID, pretty much everyone’s life has changed. Many people are working remotely and networking remotely, connecting via video calls. Being able to work from home has been another amazing opportunity. Canada is open to people working at home: there seems to be more trust in people and less micromanagement. I think everyone is very professional; they know what they have to do and they do it.
Even in my first job, long before the pandemic, I was allowed to work remotely sometimes. It was a perk that came with the job. You could work from home one day a week. That was very new for me and very different from France.
Since I’ve been working exclusively from home, I think we’re more productive. We have more meetings, but the meetings seem to be more efficient compared to in person. Working online is less personal – that’s the missing piece here, human interaction. But from a daily work perspective, I’m definitely more productive.
But it can also be difficult to disconnect. I am happy doing my job but my computer is pretty much open all the time. If I have a second to work, I will. That’s maybe the biggest challenge: you need to have a good balance between your work life and your personal life.
5 tips for newcomers starting a life in Canada
1. Build your network and cultivate meaningful friendships.
My fiance and I used Facebook to meet other French newcomers. It was easier to start by meeting people from your own country who have moved here.
2. Establish your financial footing
Make sure you understand credit scores and credit cards, and you’re going to need a Canadian bank account to get started. If you have any questions ask a bank advisor. They’ll help you understand banking in Canada.
3. Don’t try to reproduce what you had at home
I’m French, and I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but food and wine is a big deal. I know I can’t get cheap French cheese, wine or the best croissants here, but that’s OK. Here you can enjoy amazing food from all over the world.
4. Immerse yourself in Canadian culture.
Adapting to the culture will help open a lot of doors. First, you will be able to make more connections with other people. For example, Toronto is a multicultural city, making it an excellent place to meet, interact, and learn from people from all nationalities.
5. Enjoy Canada
Canada is a very rich country in terms of landscape. There are so many beautiful places to visit in Quebec, Ontario and all across the country. You should definitely visit the Rocky mountains. It’s amazing.
After weighing the pros and cons we decided that life was pretty fine here in Canada and that we would like to stay longer. So, in July last year we applied for and obtained our Permanent Residence. Next on our list is becoming Canadian citizens, and then buying a house.
From our experience, the country, its companies, and the Canadian people are very open to helping you start out. If you need to learn or improve your English there are lots of ESL programs available through government and community organizations. French Language skills are good to have too because Canada is officially bilingual. Canada is one of the best countries to settle in. There are many opportunities for career and personal growth. You can very quickly feel at home in Canada.