Canada exempts U.S. students from travel restrictions, but there’s a catch

Some U.S. students can enter Canada as long as they show their trip is non-optional and non-discretionary.

Some U.S. students will be able to enter Canada for the fall 2020 semester even if they obtain their study permit after March 18.

New guidance published on the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on Friday July 24 added U.S. students as the third category of students who can enter Canada:

  • International students with a valid study permit, or
  • International students approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, or
  • International students coming from the United States

Are you a U.S. student that needs help entering Canada? Please contact:

Prior to Friday’s addition, only the first two categories of international students were exempt from the travel restrictions Canada first imposed on March 18 to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The catch

The catch is U.S. students need to successfully meet certain criteria to gain admission into Canada.

IRCC states that upon arrival to Canada, students will be evaluated by a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer on the following grounds:

  • Proof the student is exempt from the travel restrictions and is travelling for a non-optional or non-discretionary purpose.
  • If the student is already living in Canada (Note: It is not necessary for a student to be living in Canada, but it can help to demonstrate their entry into Canada is for a non-optional reason).
  • If the student is able to complete a 14-day quarantine period as soon as they arrive to their destination in Canada. Under Canadian law, self-quarantine is mandatory for all travelers entering the country.
  • Whether the student will begin studying after they complete the quarantine.
  • If the student needs to be in Canada for their program (e.g., for workshops or laboratories).
  • If the student’s school does not offer them the option to pursue their studies online or if it is not possible for the student to study online from their home country due to internet restrictions or bandwidth limitations.

What to bring

IRCC advises these students to bring the following documents with them upon entering Canada:

  • A valid study permit, or
  • A port of entry letter of introduction that shows they were approved for a study permit if they are arriving from the United States, or
  • A port of entry letter of introduction that shows they were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020 if they are coming from any other country than the U.S.


International students offer significant social and economic benefits to Canada. At the same time, Canada continues to have strict travel measures in place to limit COVID-19, which will see far fewer students enter the country this fall than what is usually the case.

Despite the close relationship between Canada and the U.S., American students are also largely affected by these travel measures. The Canada-U.S. border was first closed on March 21 and this border closure has been extended every 30 days since then. In light of the high levels of COVID-19 in the U.S. at the moment, it seems unlikely that the two countries will lift these restrictions when they are set to expire once again on August 21.

In the meantime, Canada has introduced many accommodations for international students such as a two-step study permit process and the ability to begin studies online and have that time count towards the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). The benefit of the PGWP is it enables students to get professional work experience in Canada which they can then use to pursue permanent residence through the country’s over 100 immigration programs.

About 7,000 new U.S. students enter Canada each year. In 2019, Canada was home to 15,000 U.S. students, which represented about 2 per cent of the over 640,000 foreign students in the country.

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