2023-08-25T10:19:40-04:00Sep 10, 2021|

How to find an internship or co-op placement as an international student in Canada

Studying in Canada offers newcomers a vast array of opportunities, not just from an academic perspective, but also to prepare you for future professional success. 

As an international student in Canada, you may be allowed to get some hands-on work experience alongside your study program. Depending on your course of study, completing an internship or co-op placement might even be a necessary part of your curriculum. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the many advantages of these work opportunities and will share some tips on finding a co-op placement or internship as an international student in Canada.

In this article:

What is the difference between internship and co-op placement?

Both internships and co-op placements provide you with work experience that aligns with your academic program. These work opportunities allow you to put your academic learnings into practice and get introduced to the Canadian work environment.

While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some key differences between a co-op placement and internship in Canada, as outlined in the table below:

Internship Co-op placement
How it works The internship agreement is between the student and the employer Three-way partnership between the academic institution, students, and employers
Duration of work period Usually lasts one term or one summer Typically runs over multiple semesters, alternating with academic terms
Structure Your academic calendar may or may not have a separate period for an internship Clearly defined terms for co-op work in your academic schedule
Paid or unpaid Internships in Canada can be paid or unpaid Co-op opportunities are generally paid
Full-time or part-time Flexible conditions, can be full-time or part-time depending on your agreement with the employer Generally full-time, as there is no overlap with your academic semester

Benefits of getting an internship or co-op placement in Canada

Internships or co-op placements are a course requirement for many academic programs. This means that for these programs, students must successfully complete the required work placements to get their degree.

Regardless of whether or not a co-op placement is mandatory for your degree, getting an internship or co-op placement in Canada is beneficial for international students in several ways:

  • Extra income to cover your living expenses while you study in Canada
  • Get Canadian work experience in your area of study
  • Apply classroom learning in a professional work setting
  • Develop necessary skills for career success, including interpersonal and communication skills
  • Build connections and grow your network
  • Create a portfolio or work samples to supplement future work applications
  • Get references from your employer or manager for job applications
  • Opportunity to identify your professional strengths and weaknesses, and identify career interest
  • Secure a full-time employment offer, based on your performance during the internship or co-op role

Can international students get internships and co-op placements in Canada?

As an international student, you are eligible for internships or co-op placement opportunities in Canada if you are enrolled in an academic program that requires work experience as part of the curriculum. However, you will require a separate co-op work permit to apply to these positions.

You can apply for a co-op work permit if:

  • You have a valid study permit
  • The work experience is a required part of your study program in Canada
  • You have a letter from your Designated Learning Institute (DLI) or university confirming that all students in your course are required to complete work placements in order to get a degree
  • Your co-op or internship comprises less than 50 per cent of your study program

You will not be eligible for a co-op work permit if you are taking any of the following courses:

information icon  Important:
If you are applying for a paid co-op or internship position, you will need to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN) before your work term begins. You will also need to file a tax return in April.

How do I get a co-op work permit as an international student?

You can apply for a co-op work permit online and track your application status in your online account. The application process for getting a co-op work permit depends on whether you’ve already applied for a study permit.

If you haven’t applied for a study permit

You can apply for your co-op work permit at the same time. You will need an acceptance letter from your DLI confirming that a co-op placement or internship is part of your course curriculum. The government will then process your study permit and co-op work permit together.

If you have already applied for a study permit 

If you’ve applied for a study permit and are already in Canada, you can apply for a co-op work permit online. If you are applying from outside Canada, you cannot apply for a co-op work permit separately from a study permit application. However, if you are outside Canada and your study permit is still being processed, you will need to update your application by uploading a new letter of acceptance stating that a co-op or internship is a mandatory part of your curriculum.

How do I find co-op and internship opportunities as an international student in Canada?

Many universities have a dedicated career services department or a co-op coordinator to help students prepare for and find co-op placements. Check with your DLI to learn about potential employers and resources available to help you secure a co-op placement. 

The process of finding internships is typically less structured and you may be required to find a suitable employer yourself. However, if your university does not have a formal co-op program or potential employer network, don’t worry. As an international student, there are many other avenues you can explore to get an internship or co-op in a field of your choice. 

Some of these include:

  • University job boards
  • Online job portals like Glassdoor, Monster, Workopolis, and Indeed
  • Professional networking websites like LinkedIn
  • Careers pages on employer websites
  • Leveraging connections in your network

For co-op placements, your university might need to review external opportunities to decide if they align with your academic program.

Tips for applying for an internship or co-op placement in Canada

Identify potential employers based on your career interests

Start researching potential employers that you’d like to work with based on your academic program and area of interest. Check if your university has a list of past employers and see which organizations hire students from your institution. Keep track of internship or co-op opportunities you see on online job portals or on company websites, and make a list of prospective employers. Don’t hesitate to contact your target organizations or people in your network to ask if they recruit summer interns or co-op students.

Keep application timelines in mind

Most co-op and internship positions get filled months in advance, so be sure to apply well ahead of time. Typically, for co-ops, you should start looking for opportunities at least one semester before your scheduled work term. For summer internships, application deadlines are often in the spring months, so you should start researching prospective employers as early as the previous fall. Make a note of all the positions you are interested in, along with their application deadlines, so you don’t miss any opportunities.

Leverage resources provided by your university

Many universities offer dedicated resources to help students find co-op placements. Speak to your academic counselor or contact your DLI’s career services centre to find out how they can help. Support from your university may include access to co-op placement opportunities, job boards, or resources for resume building and interview preparation.

If you are not confident about your English language skills, check if your university provides language courses or workshops to help you practice your communication skills.

Create your resume and cover letter

A good resume and cover letter can position you as the top candidate for any co-op or internship position. As an international student, you may be unfamiliar with the Canadian-style resume format. Check if your university can provide tips and templates for building your resume. You will need to customize your resume for each position you apply to, so be sure to highlight relevant skills, experiences, and strengths. 

While a cover letter is not always required as part of the application, it can help you stand out as a strong candidate. Use the cover letter to tell your story and highlight why you are an ideal fit for the role.

Update your LinkedIn profile

Whether you are using LinkedIn to search for jobs or for professional networking, it is important to keep your profile up to date. Your LinkedIn profile is a great way of publicly showcasing your experience, skills, certifications, and qualifications to prospective employers. 

Prepare for interviews

Each organization has its own selection process when it comes to internship and co-op positions. Typically, if your resume gets shortlisted, you will be asked to appear for one or more rounds of interview. For many international students, the interview process can be stressful. Be sure to prepare for interviews at least a few days in advance. 

  • Create an “elevator pitch” highlighting why you are a great candidate for the co-op or internship position. Typically, this would include a 30 seconds description of your background, skills, qualifications, and alignment to the role.
  • Research the company’s work, goals, culture, and keep these in mind while preparing your responses to common interview questions.
  • Spend time practicing your responses, but don’t try to memorize them. 
  • Use the Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR) approach while practicing and answering questions. 
  • Show your interest in the position by asking relevant questions about the project you’ll be working with as an intern or co-op student.

An internship or co-op placement in Canada introduces you to the Canadian workplace and gives you an opportunity to apply your skills in practice. It is a great way to build your network as an international student, get some valuable work experience on your resume, and increase your employability in the Canadian job market.