• Marny Heit

The U.S., Canada... what's the difference?

Updated: Aug 19, 2018

After being here for about 10 days, I'm clearly an expert on everything Canadian. This is not even a little true. But, after a conversation with a friend in the States this morning, I figured it would be a good time to talk about some of the noticeable differences I've found being here. Growing up, I'd always heard that Canada was basically "America-lite"-- all the great flavor but twice the politeness. And in some ways, that's true. The politeness part for sure-- everyone we've dealt with has been friendly and happy to be of service. But is it just like the U.S.? Nope. So let's talk about the things that are way better and the things that are, well, not.

What's better? Obviously, the healthcare costs. As a citizen, seeing a doctor or having surgery costs nothing (at least, nothing outside of what you pay in taxes). It may mean having to wait a little longer for certain kinds of non-priority treatments, but it also means you won't go bankrupt paying for them. And while prescription medication in most of Canada is not free, the province of Quebec covers the majority of costs for prescriptions-- the maximum amount you can be charged in total is $89/month (and that maximum is only reached if the actual costs for your prescription medications costs is $5000/month). Yes, $5000. So if you only have a few hundred dollars worth of monthly prescriptions, that's totally covered. For Chris, we have to purchase private health insurance. I was able to obtain an online quote for him where for coverage up to $1 million, and with a $375 annual deductible, with $0 out of pocket, we pay approximately $120 per month. I checked the numbers 6 times because I couldn't believe that could possibly be right, but it is.

What else is better? There's no 2nd Amendment. Guns exist in Canada, but there are stringent guidelines to purchase one, involving training, licensing, proof of need, and then restrictions on what kinds of guns you can purchase. Many cities here have banned handguns altogether. And in my newsfeed yesterday, there was a story about the Montreal City Council asking the federal government to ban all handguns and assault rifles throughout the country. The city of Toronto requested a handgun and ammunition sale ban in Toronto last month. None of this hasresulted in people taking to the streets to protest this or scare ads about Trudeau coming to your house to take your guns away. Guns just aren't sacred here, and it's refreshing (to me).

Also, maternity leave. While it doesn't impact me, maternity leave here is paid for 12 months. You can actually take 18 months off if you choose to (but will still only be paid for 12). This is in addition to the subsidies the government provides for daycare, education, etc.

I've also noticed a greater focus on environmentally-friendly behavior. Just like in California, plastic shopping bags are not free, so most people bring their own bags. Recycling is serious business-- virtually everything is recyclable. And I already told you about the Bulk Barn focus on reducing packaging and waste.

What's worse? Access to stuff. I'm used to being able to buy anything I want, anywhere I want, and for a range of prices. Here, not so much. There's Amazon.ca, but it has nowhere near the quantity of merchandise as the U.S. version. There have been a bunch of different things on my shopping list that I've wanted to buy, only to find they either aren't available here or they are, but the cost is outrageous (not to mention the shipping). I wanted to order a Scrub Daddy, and the cost for a 3-pack is $25!! For sponges!! So it looks like I'll be finding a new kind of sponge. At the grocery stores here, you can pretty much find the things you are looking for, but there are way fewer choices and price points. Want a can of black beans? There's a good chance there will only be one brand and one size can on the shelf. There's no Target here, and the Walmarts ain't great. Lots of mall stores we're used to simply don't exist here. It's gonna mean making some compromises on "necessities".

Also not great? Everywhere isn't air-conditioned. I know this is true in a lot of northern states too (especially in older buildings), but the lack of good AC in some places is palpable. Montreal has been having an unusually warm summer, and there are some places that simply aren't equipped for it. I'm used to walking into a store and feeling a blast of cold air on a hot day. Here, even where the stores have AC, the temperature difference is minimal. I know I'll be missing these warm temperatures in a few months, but for now, everyone (including me) is sweaty and gross.

This is neither better nor worse, just different, but there's a somewhat higher level of formality here. For example, when we went to the bank to get a debit card in Chris's name, we had to make an appointment to come back to meet with a banker to do this instead of just doing it on-the-spot at the teller window. When the internet installer came to our apartment, he wasn't allowed to go into another room by himself-- we had to accompany him. There don't seem to be many walk-in nail salons near us-- you're expected to make an appointment. I'm used to being able to spontaneously get stuff done, but things here take a bit more advance notice.

So there you have it. I'm sure I'll notice more things as time goes on. And I'm hoping to soon stop automatically trying to convert how much things cost to US Dollars as opposed to Canadian Dollars to figure out whether something is expensive or cheap.

About me

After almost 20 years living in Atlanta, Georgia, my husband and I decided it was time to make a change. We packed up our lives, grabbed our beloved cat, and ventured North to re-make our lives in Montreal, Canada.  Did I mention we don't speak French yet?


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