Canada is home to beautiful mountains, picturesque prairies, some of the world’s greatest cities — and top universities.
If you’re considering studying in Canada as an international student, you might be wondering what’s involved, how to prepare and what your settlement options are after you graduate.
To help you figure out how to study abroad in Canada, we’ve created this guide to walk you step-by-step through the process. That way, you can spend less time doing online research and more time preparing for your new life at one of Canada’s great educational institutions.
First things first: Choose your school!
The first step in your journey as an international student is to decide on a school. Even from far away, you can look into the programs, get an understanding of what campus life is like and take a virtual tour. (Of course, if you’re able to visit in person, even better!)
Applying to graduate school? Reach out to researchers you want to work with and ask them if they’d be willing to be your supervisor or on your dissertation committee if you’re pursuing a research degree.
It’s important to note that not all educational institutions in Canada can admit international students. Only schools that are a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) are approved to host international students. You can see a list of DLIs you can apply to here.
Once you’ve found a DLI you’d love to spend the next few years learning at, send in an application. You’ll need a letter of acceptance for the next step in the process.
Step 2: Make sure you qualify and get your documents organized
You got into the school of your dreams! You’re now almost ready to apply for a study permit. You just need to make sure you fit the criteria and have all of your paperwork together.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Letter of acceptance. This is the acceptance letter from the school you’ll attend. You don’t need to hand over the original if you don’t want to. You can submit a copy.
Proof of identity. Like with any overseas travel, you’ll need a passport or other valid travel documents required in Canada for people from your country.
Proof you have no criminal record. Part of applying for a study permit is proving that you don’t have a criminal record. This usually involves getting an official document from the police.
Proof of funds. Before you can come to Canada, you need to prove that you’ll be able to support yourself and any accompanying family members while you’re here. You’ll have to show that you’ll be able to pay for your tuition, living expenses and return expenses.
A few ways to provide proof of funds:
- A Canadian bank account in your name with enough money to support yourself. For example, bank accounts from Scotiabank’s StartRight® Program (1) are created specifically for international students for this purpose.
- A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) from a Canadian financial institution. Scotiabank offers the Student GIC Program to help eligible international students provide proof of funds (2).
- If your country is not yet eligible for Scotiabank’s Student GIC Program, you may still be eligible to transfer up to $50,000 CAD to show your proof of funds with programs like Scotiabank’s International Account program.
- Bank statements from the last four months.
- Proof of a student loan from a bank or other issuer.
- A bank draft in Canadian dollars.
- Proof that your tuition and housing fees are paid.
- A letter from the organization, person or school giving you the money for your degree.
- Proof of scholarships or other funding.
Proof of health. Some international students are required to get a certificate saying they’re in good health. Your family doctor can usually provide this, but you have to undergo additional tests.
Proof you’ll leave after your degree. While many students can apply to stay and work in Canada after their studies are completed, you need to prove that you’re likely to return to your home country to gain entry with a study permit.
In rare cases, you might also need to provide additional information, such as:
Letter of explanation. You know why you want to study in Canada but the study permit issuers might want to understand better.
Custodian declaration. If you’re bringing minor children with you to Canada, you’ll need to fill out a Custodian Declaration form.
Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ). If you’re going to study in Quebec for any period longer than six months, you’ll need this additional form. Your school will help you apply for a CAQ.
Step 3: It’s time to apply for a study permit
You love filling out forms, right? Okay, we know no one does. But this part is critical because you can’t study in Canada without a study permit.
You can apply for a study permit either online or via a paper application. How you have to apply and what’s part of the application will depend on whether you have the appropriate travel documents. People with disabilities can also apply via a paper application.
Once you’ve filled out the application and provided all the documentation required, you’ll have to pay a processing fee and a biometric fee for fingerprinting and a photo. The study permit application fee is $150 CAD and the biometric fee is $85 CAD or $170 CAD for a family (fees subject to change).
There also might be additional fees for police certificates or the medical exam you might be required to take.
If you qualify for the Student Direct Stream based on where you live, you might be able to have your student permit approved in as little as 20 days. However, typically it can take up to 12 weeks or more to process a study permit application. This website allows you to check the current processing times. Be sure to apply in time!
Step 4: You’re here! Time to get set up
Congratulations on arriving in Canada. You’re almost ready to start your degree — you just need to take care of important logistics, like figuring out where you’re going to live and settling in.
Get your accommodations settled. If you’re staying in residence, you can skip this step. Finding a place to rent in a country you’ve never lived in can be complicated. To simplify things, you might want to focus on places close to campus or that come furnished. You also might look for a room in a home shared by fellow students. You can find rental listings for most Canadian cities on sites like Craigslist, Kijiji, or AirBnB but always be wary of scams when searching for housing online.
Find a job. International students are limited as to employment but typically can work on and off campus for up to 20 hours per week during term and full time if they’re on a scheduled break or summer holiday. Many schools offer work learn opportunities for international students so be sure to connect with your school for help with your job search.
Get a bank account. You’ll want to get your finances set up in Canada so you can easily pay bills, deposit money and start building a credit history. You can check out our latest offer for international students here. Make an appointment at a Scotiabank branch and bring your ID, study permit and other personal information needed to set up an account. If you bring proof that you’re a student in Canada, you may also qualify for student bank account offers.
Step 5: Settle into your school community
Many international students experience a bit of culture shock and loneliness when they move to another country. It’s totally normal if you feel homesick, too.
Building community will help. Some things to try:
Connect with other international students. Most schools understand the challenges international students face and have academic and social programs aimed at helping them transition and integrate more easily. These are great because you’ll meet a bunch of cool international students like you. New friends!
Get involved. If you’re worried about not knowing anyone, the best way to change that is to put yourself out there. Most schools have clubs week where they introduce you to ways to get involved on campus. Maybe you want to join a rock-climbing club or learn a new language by joining a conversation club. You can also look into volunteering opportunities, whether they are on- or off-campus. Connecting with others who love the same things as you will make making friends and new connections easier.
Get support. If you’re struggling at your new school or in your new community, reach out to the people at your school who are there to help. Most schools have student counselling services or peer support groups if you need mental health support. Having academic difficulties? Contact the academic counsellor for your faculty. Everyone needs a little help sometimes.
Step 6: You got your degree. Now what?
You did it! Now that you have your degree, you’re wondering if you can stay in Canada? The answer is that it depends.
Canada has a Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP) that allows you to gain Canadian work experience and potentially apply for permanent residency down the road. These work permits are valid for anywhere from eight months to three years, depending on the length of your program. If your program was two years or more then you qualify for the full three years.
To be eligible, you must have:
- Competed a degree, certificate or diploma at a DLI that was at least eight months long.
- Been a full-time student during each academic session of your program.
- A transcript confirming you met all degree requirements.
- Had a student permit within 180 days of applying.
Some things make you ineligible:
- Having been issued a Post-Graduation Work Permit previously.
- Received funding from Global Affairs Canada (not including Study in Canada Scholarships).
- Participated in the Government of Canada Awards Program.
- Completed most of your credits via distance learning.
- Completed the program of study at a non-Canadian institution located in Canada.
Want to be a permanent resident? You can apply directly for permanent residency after you graduate or you can apply for a PGWP first then apply for permanent residency while you hold a PGWP. Here’s a guide for applying for permanent residency.
The bottom line
While moving to a new country to start a degree involves a lot of bureaucratic hoop jumping, it’s worth it for the educational opportunities you’ll get. While the process may seem tedious, take it one step at a time using this guide and you’ll get it all done.
You’ve got this!
- Scotiabank StartRight Program for International Students
- Scotiabank Student GIC Program
- Scotiabank International Account Program
- Scotiabank’s Student Bundle Offer
- Scotiabank Student Discounts
- List of Designated Learning Institutions
- Custodian Declaration Form
- Travel Documents for Study Permit
- Government of Canada’s Student Direct Stream Program
- Current Study Permit Processing Times
- Post-Graduation Work Permit Program
- Guide for Applying for Permanent Residency
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2 Available to international students from China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. This is not intended to solicit transactions that are not permitted in the applicable jurisdictions.