international students

Coming to Canada as an international student

By Delaney Rombough

Posted on April 19, 2021
international students

Choosing your school

There are different types of post-secondary institutions in Canada. The type of school you attend may depend on your learning and career goals. Different institutions award different degrees and qualifications.

  • Universities: Universities are research-focused and academically rigorous. Canadian university programs range from arts and humanities to professional programs, such as law and medicine. They grant a full range of degrees including bachelor’s (three to four years), master’s (one to two years), and doctorate (PhD) degrees (four to five years), and these degrees are often internationally recognized. Professional programs such as dentistry, teaching, law, and medicine are also offered at university. Some world-renowned schools in Canada include the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the University of British Columbia.
  • Colleges: Colleges typically focus on providing an applied, technical education to prepare students for a specific career path, such as graphic design, hospitality management, early childhood education, and police foundations. They also offer other apprenticeship programs and trades training. College is also less expensive than university. Their programs are usually 1-2 years long, and they award diplomas or certificates.
  • Co-op or internship programs: Co-op or internship programs can be found at universities and colleges. These programs have a work component built into their curriculum; this means that you’ll have the opportunity to both work and study. Oftentimes you will have to alternate between class terms and co-op terms depending on your program. This gives you a chance to gain Canadian work experience and build your resume and skills. Co-op programs are often paid, whereas internships are usually not paid; nevertheless, in both cases, you’ll receive course credit.

Getting your study permit

Your study permit will allow you to study at a Designated Learning Institution in Canada. It’s important to note that your study permit is not a visa in that it doesn’t let you enter Canada. Depending on your country of origin, you may also need a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA). If your study permit is approved, you will automatically receive one.

Before you apply for a study permit, you must have the following documents:

  • Proof of acceptance to a Designated Learning Institution: Include the original or electronic copy of your letter of acceptance from your school in your application. If it is a conditional acceptance, this usually means that you need to enroll in prerequisite courses, such as an ESL course, before beginning your program. In this case, a study permit may only be issued for the duration of the prerequisite course plus one year. Once you are accepted into your main program of study, you have to re-apply to extend your stay in Canada as a student.
  • Proof of identity: You must submit a valid passport or travel document for yourself and any other family members who are coming with you. Student visa applicants also need to include two recent passport-size photos with their name and date of birth written on the back of the photos.
  • Proof of financial support: You also have to prove that you can support yourself and your family members during your stay in Canada. You need to have a minimum of $10 000 excluding tuition costs or $833 per month in addition to tuition costs. You can prove you have the funds needed by showing:
    • Proof of a Canadian bank account in your name
    • A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) from a participating Canadian financial institution
    • Proof of student loan from a bank
    • Bank statements from the last four months
    • A bank draft that can be converted to Canadian dollars
    • Proof that you have paid tuition and housing expenses
    • Proof that your funding will be paid within Canada (for example, a scholarship)

international student reading
If your study permit is approved, you will receive your study permit at the port of entry when you arrive in Canada, or it will be mailed to you if you are already in Canada. If you applied from outside of Canada and you are approved, you will receive the Port of Entry Letter of Introduction (POE), which says that you are permitted to study in Canada. Show this letter to the officers at the port of entry, and they will issue you your study permit. Depending on your country of origin, you will also need to have your eTA or visitor visa to enter Canada. If your study permit is rejected, you will receive a letter explaining why.

Arriving in Canada

Now that you’ve been approved to study in Canada, it’s time to book your flights! Here are some things that might make your arrival in Canada easier.

  • Arriving at the airport: Make sure you have your passport, letter of acceptance, letter of introduction, eTA, any other visa/work permit documents, address of accommodations, and the approximate CAD value of items you brought with you
  • Money and Banking: You can use cash for almost any transaction, though debit and credit cards are more popular. When opening a bank account all you need is two pieces of ID—one with your Canadian address and one photo ID. Canada’s five biggest banks are Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Scotiabank, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Bank of Montreal (RBC), and Toronto-Dominion Canada Trust (TD). Most banks offer lower or no-fee student chequing accounts.
  • Cellphones: You can purchase a cellphone plan online, over the phone, or in person at a local store. You can bring your own device and get a new Canadian SIM card or buy a new phone from a service provider. You will need to bring a piece of government-issued photo ID and proof of address when getting your phone. To learn more about cellphone plans, check this article by The Newcomer
  • Social Insurance Number (SIN): You need a SIN to work in Canada while you study. Getting a SIN is easy. All you need to do is take your study permit and photo ID to the nearest Service Canada office. Some airports including the Toronto Pearson International and Vancouver International airports have Service Canada offices in them, so you can apply for a SIN as soon as you arrive.
  • Health Insurance: Not all provinces offer health coverage to international students, but most schools offer health insurance plans for international students. Check with your school to find out what’s covered by your plan. You can also purchase a health insurance plan from a private company, such as Sun Life, Manulife, and Green Shield Canada.
  • Transportation: It’s important to consider how you will get to and from school and around your city. It is common for students to use public transit. Most cities operate their own public transit system, and there are some transit networks connecting certain cities. Schools usually offer discounted transit passes for students; this is usually included in your school fees. If you do choose to drive, you’ll need to check the driving regulations and licenses at your province, as these are managed provincially. International students can drive in Canada with a valid license. Generally, you can get a Canadian license for a short period of time if you have a valid license from your home country. There are also taxis and ridesharing services that operate in Canada which can help you get around. See this article to learn more about public transportation.
  • Accommodation: It’s best to have your accommodations arranged before you arrive. Most schools have on-campus residences for students, which is a popular choice for first year undergraduate students. You can apply for residence with your school application. Off-campus housing is most popular for those in second year and above. This typically involves renting an apartment or room in a house that isn’t associated with the school. This is generally more expensive but has more room.

Now that you’re in Canada and getting more comfortable with your city and your surroundings, you are ready to start your studies!
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