Making a trans-Atlantic U-Turn: French nationals navigating the road back from Quebec to France - New Canadian Media
As disillusionment and other reasons prompt a number of French expatriates to bid farewell to Quebec, they grapple with the challenges of repatriation, from bureaucratic hurdles to emotional farewells. (Photo by: JP Valery Unsplash)

Making a trans-Atlantic U-Turn: French nationals navigating the road back from Quebec to France

Disillusionment is driving some French expatriates in Quebec to return home, but they face bureaucratic obstacles and emotional farewells.

After months, or even years in Canada, some French nationals residing in Quebec are choosing to reverse their journey across the Atlantic.

“We are taught how to leave, but not how to return,” frequently states Margaux, 28. (New Canadian Media has agreed to use Margaux’s first name only.)

Like hundreds of her compatriots, she has turned to social media to address questions raised by her decision to return to France, less than two years after arriving in Montreal.

From the unemployed to retirees and recent graduates, a variety of people are participating in online groups that exchange tips and warnings about the administrative steps required before leaving Canada, and the challenges of resettling. 

In 2022, over 108,000 French nationals were settled in Canada, with more than 80 per cent residing in Quebec, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This number has been rising since the turn of the millennium, reflecting the country’s popularity across the Atlantic.

However, no statistics are available on the number of people who decide to return to France, according to the Consulate General of France in Montreal.

So, why do some decide to return to France?

“I’ll never fit in”

Arriving in 2018 with a Working Holiday Permit in hand, Rémi*, 32, is in his final year in Trois-Rivières. His decision to return to France stems from a “great disappointment.” 

“They sell us a lot of glitter about Quebec,” says Rémi, who preferred to speak under a pseudonym as his employer is still unaware of his plans. 

While he acknowledges there are professional advantages in his host province, he describes integration as “extremely difficult in Quebec, almost unattainable.”

From expressing personal feelings and viewpoints to a “certain ignorance of the world,” Rémi points out “cultural differences” so significant they impeded his integration. “I think a strong image of our Québécois cousins remains etched in France, whereas here it’s completely unimaginable, far removed from French culture.”

He also witnessed “a lot of prejudice” against the French and foreigners in general. 

“I never expected to hear such things from Québécois,” admits Rémi, who was won over by Quebec during a tourist visit in 2016, when he “found the people extremely welcoming and friendly.”

A springboard

For Mathilde (also a pseudonym), her experience in Quebec was quite different. Arriving in Montreal with a fresh diploma, the 26-year-old describes her settlement as “easy,” both professionally and socially.

She chose to return to her native France a year and a half after leaving, primarily for professional reasons. Empowered by a “fulfilling” work experience in Quebec, she now aims to pursue entrepreneurship. According to Mathilde, the “quite high” cost of living in Quebec poses a “risk” to her ambitions… and to the competitive conditions offered in France.

Jean, 34, also sees his “expatriation” as a springboard. Having first come from 2012 to 2013, he decided to repeat the experience in September 2018. “I returned to Canada feeling that I couldn’t get my chance in France,” says Jean, (last name withheld). Fortune smiled on him: he now enjoys a satisfying career and owns two apartments in Montreal.

Today, he feels he has “traveled far enough to be desirable in France.” Jean is preparing to return but insists he will “do everything to keep the door open to Canada,” including continuing his citizenship process.

When the time comes to return

Once the decision is made, the administrative procedures to return to France are numerous. Returnees must, among other things, reapply for French social security, obtain a certificate of change of residence, and deregister from the electoral lists for French nationals abroad. The steps multiply for retirees wishing to receive their pension from France, or for families with school-age children.

To assist its nationals, the French government offers the online simulator “Retour en France,” which allows one to “evaluate step by step your situation and to know the procedures to start before your departure, and upon your arrival in France,” according to consular services.

Between administrative regularization and the sale of his house, Rémi is still in transition: “As it took us a year to leave France, it takes about a year to leave here too,” he anticipates. Aiming to settle in Brittany, Rémi fears not finding work there. A concern shared by Margaux, compounded by the search for housing in a tight market, the need to buy a car, and a less favourable financial situation than before her departure. ” All of this has a cost,” she says.

Beyond logistics, the return also comes with an emotional toll, Margaux believes. “It’s a decision I made willingly, but ever since I got my tickets, all I do is cry,” admits the woman who will miss the “tranquility” and “safety, especially as a woman.”

Her time in Canada has given her self-confidence, and Margaux fears “regressing on everything I’ve learned while abroad.” Although her loved ones in France try to support and reassure her as her return approaches, she feels alone. Just weeks away from her last Quebec winter, she faces the challenges ahead with clarity. “There’s a significant mourning to be done for this adventure.”

*Pseudonyms used. This story was originally written in French. Translated by Pierre Michaud, New Canadian Media.

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Adèle Surprenant est journaliste indépendante. Elle a travaillé en Amérique du Nord, au Moyen-Orient, en Afrique du Nord et en Europe, et s’intéresse aux questions liées à la migration, au genre, au travail et aux mouvements sociaux.

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