As an international destination for study, Canada provides the opportunity to gain a world-class education in a multi-cultural setting, making it a rewarding decision. Thanks to Canada’s welcoming immigration policies, many students also see this as the first step in becoming permanent residents, and eventually, Canadian! For instance, in the Arrive team, we have four members who came to Canada as international students and have since stayed to live, work and settle in Canada permanently.
What is a study permit?
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), a study permit is a document that allows foreign nationals to study at a designated learning institution (DLI) in Canada.
Note that your study permit is not a visa. It doesn’t let you enter Canada. You may also need a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA) to be able to enter Canada. Once your study permit is approved, the Government will issue a study permit approval letter and if required, an entry visa in your passport, authorizing your travel to Canada.
How long is a study permit valid for?
A study permit is usually valid for the length of your study program, plus an extra 90 days. The 90 days let you prepare to leave Canada or apply to extend your stay.
There are some exceptions to this guideline:
- Conditional acceptance: If your school asks you to take courses (such as English or French as a second language courses) before accepting you into the main program, your study permit will be valid for the length of those courses, plus one year. After getting accepted into the main program, you must then apply to extend your stay as a student.
- Delayed course completion: If you don’t finish your courses before the date on your permit, you must apply to extend your stay as a student.
- Early course completion: If you finish your studies early, your permit will stop being valid 90 days after you complete your studies, no matter what day is printed on the study permit.
One condition of your study permit is that you must be actively pursuing study in Canada. If you take leave from your program of study, your study permit will become invalid 150 days after the date your leave was granted, regardless of your study permit’s expiry date. If you do not resume studies within 150 days, you must apply to amend your status in Canada, or leave Canada prior to this.
To learn more about how to extend a study permit, see our article, Student Permit: How to extend your study permit in Canada.
Preparing to apply for a student permit
- Timelines: The application process for a post-secondary program starts at least a year in advance, so be sure to research the colleges/universities and their application processes, respectively.
- Identifying a program and school: A study permit can only be issued for study at a DLI. Each Canadian province and territory is in charge of their own education system. Post-secondary schools in Canada are universities, colleges, private career colleges, or vocational and technical schools, each with its own set of application rules and selection criteria.
- For information on various study programs, costs, and tips about student life, you may refer to EduCanada.
- To learn more about the education system in each province and territory, you can browse the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC).
- Cost of living and studying: Tuition fees are a major cost component of overseas education. And don’t forget to budget for books, housing, food, clothing, travel, and transportation. Here’s a quick overview of education costs in various Canadian provinces. Note that the Government of Canada doesn’t provide health insurance for foreign students, so you may have to budget separately for private insurance.
How to apply for a study permit: A step-by-step guide
Step 1: Enroll at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI)
To apply for a study permit, you need an acceptance letter from a DLI. A DLI is a school approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students. All primary and secondary schools in Canada are DLIs. If you plan to attend a post-secondary school, make sure it is on this list.
Once a school admits you as a student, they will issue an acceptance letter. This letter is essential to apply for a student permit and is considered as a proof of acceptance.
Step 2: Get your documents ready
Having all the required documents organized and ready will ensure you’re well-prepared for a confident application.
Here are some documents that you will need to apply for a student permit:
- Proof of acceptance: You can include the original or electronic copy of your letter with your study permit application.
- Proof of identity: You, as a student, and each family member who accompanies you to Canada must have a valid passport or travel document.
- Proof of financial support: While applying, you must prove that you can both pay your international student tuition, and support yourself and the family members who come with you while you are in Canada. You can prove your funds with documents such as:
- Proof of a Canadian bank account in your name, if you’ve transferred money to Canada.
- Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) from a participating Canadian financial institution.
- Proof of a student or education loan from a bank.
- Your bank statements for the past 4 months.
- A bank draft that can be converted to Canadian dollars.
- Proof you paid tuition and housing fees.
- A letter from the person or school giving you money.
- Proof of funding paid from within Canada, if you have a scholarship or are in a Canadian-funded educational program.
As you prepare your proof of funds, be sure to check the minimum funds needed to support yourself as a student (and family members who come with you).
Tip: If you are paying a tuition deposit prior to filing your study permit application, please check with your institution regarding their refund policies. In some cases, tuition deposits are non-refundable even if a study permit is refused.
Depending on your case, other documents that may be required, are:
- A letter of explanation: This letter is to help the visa officer understand you and your goals. It explains why you want to study in Canada, how the program will help further your career goals, and helps convince the officer that you understand your responsibilities as a student.
- A certificat d’acceptation du Québec (CAQ): If you want to study in Quebec, you need a certificat d’acceptation du Québec (CAQ) issued by the Gouvernement du Québec. Your school can give you all the details on how to apply for the CAQ.
- A custodian declaration (minors only): If you are a minor studying in Canada, you will require a custodian, and must include the Custodianship Declaration form with your application. It has two pages that must be notarized (certified by a notary) and then included with your study permit application.
- Medical exam (if required): You may need a medical exam if you want to come to Canada. This is to make sure you’re not inadmissible for medical reasons.
- Police certificate (if required): You may need to get a police certificate while applying as a student. This is to check if you have a criminal record and ensure you’re not inadmissible to Canada. You and any family member 18 or older may need to get a police certificate, depending on the program you’re applying to.
- Other documents: All documents indicated and specified on the document checklist by your local visa office must be included in the application.
Step 3: Apply
While applying for a student permit, you can choose to apply online or send a paper-based application via mail or courier. Depending on where you’re applying from, you can find detailed instructions on how to send your application on the Canadian government website.
You can check study permit application processing times online for your area of residence. As processing times tend to increase during the summer months, students should apply early to make sure they can travel to Canada prior to their program’s start date.
|Student Direct Stream:
If you’re a student applying from China, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal or Vietnam, you may qualify for faster processing (within 20 days) of your student permit if you apply through the Student Direct Stream.
While your application is being processed, in most cases, you will need to provide biometrics. After you pay the biometrics fee and submit your application, you will receive a biometrics request letter outlining the details. You will have 30 days to give your biometrics in person. Processing on your application will not begin until this data is provided.
Step 4: Prepare for arrival
If your student permit application is approved, you will receive a letter of introduction. This letter is not your study permit but a document that you need to show to an officer when you arrive in Canada. You will also receive an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) or a temporary resident visa (TRV) to enter Canada, as required. If a TRV is needed, the Government will ask you to provide your passport for visa stamping prior to your letter of introduction being issued.
Upon arrival in Canada, you’ll meet a border services officer. The officer will:
- Ask to see your passport or travel documents. This may include:
- The letter of introduction the visa office sent you when they approved your study permit.
- A copy of a valid letter of acceptance from your school.
- Proof of funds to support yourself during your stay in Canada.
- Letters of reference or any other documents the visa office told you to bring.
- Either a valid eTA or temporary resident visa.
- Ask you a few questions.
- Make sure you meet the requirements to enter Canada. You may have to prove that you’ll leave Canada at the end of your stay.
Carry these items and all other valuable papers, cash and traveller’s cheques with you at all times. Do not put them in your checked luggage. You may not be allowed into Canada if any of your documents are missing, or if any of the information on your application or letters of reference is incorrect.
You must tell the border officer if you arrive in Canada with more than $10,000 CAD. If you do not disclose this, you may be fined and have your funds seized.
If they are satisfied with the documents, the officer will issue your study permit document. They may also stamp your passport and let you know how long you can stay in Canada – usually, this will match the length of your study permit.
Once issued, you should check the details of your study permit while still at the airport to ensure the permit was issued correctly. Any errors should be brought to the attention of the Border Services Officer so that they can be corrected on the spot. Make sure you understand all conditions listed on your study permit so you can ensure compliance with your student status.
Working while studying in Canada
It is very common for international students to seek employment while studying to meet living expenses and also gain experience. Here are some ways through which students seek employment:
On-campus / off-campus
A student enrolling for a degree, diploma, or certificate course that’s at least six months long can start working once the study program begins, provided the study permit specifies that you are allowed to work on-campus or off-campus. As a student, you must ensure you understand the work authorization granted by your study permit – a breach of these conditions will impact your Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) eligibility. If you do not understand the work authorization granted by their study permit, you should consult with an authorized immigration representative.
Internship or co-op
Students can apply for internships or co-op positions off-campus if the course includes work experience as part of the curriculum. This work must be authorized by a co-op work permit before the student can begin work.
Tip: If you’re enrolled in a full-time course, it helps to look at your course schedule and timings as there may not be any room for taking up a part-time job while studying.
Read more about what international students need to know about working in Canada.
Finding employment after graduation
International graduates may be eligible to apply for a work permit following completion of their program of study . There are different types of work permits and the first step is to identify which one may be right for you:
- Post-graduation Work Permit (PGWP): For a study program that’s between 8 months to less than two years, you may be eligible for a PGWP that’s equivalent to the duration of your program. For a program that’s over two years, you may qualify for a three-year work permit. Study programs that are less than eight months or those that graduate from a private career college don’t qualify for a PGWP. To be eligible for the PGWP, students must generally maintain full-time student status, and ensure compliance with their off-campus work restrictions. You should check your program’s eligibility for participation in the PGWP program with your institution prior to enrolling in the program.
- Open work permit: Allows you to work for any employer in Canada except in restricted occupations.
- Employer specific work permits: Allows you to work for a specific employer according to the terms, conditions, and restrictions listed on the work permit.
An announcement made on February 12, 2021, by IRCC highlighted that international students completing their studies online, outside Canada, will be eligible for a future PGWP.
These new measures apply to all international students who:
- Are enrolled in a PGWP-eligible program;
- Began, or will begin, a program in any semester from spring 2020 to fall 2021, or whose program was already in progress in March 2020;
- Have a study permit or approval for a study permit, or applied for a study permit prior to starting their program and are eventually approved; and
- Meet all other PGWP criteria.
“As an international student, my goal was to learn English, gain Canadian education, and be able to work and settle in Canada. I was fortunate to find a job in Canada after completing my studies. During my program, I realized that it would be challenging to find an internship if I waited until the end. To increase my job prospects, I started volunteering during the first semester. While volunteering, I met a person who worked at RBC Ventures and he referred me to the role I work in today. This experience showed me how important it is to build your network in Canada and how volunteering can help you find relevant opportunities.”
— Lucas Mendonca, international student in Canada.
Student permit as a stepping stone to permanent residence (PR)
Students who have successfully graduated, earned Canadian experience while working on a work permit, and intend to live in Canada, often proceed with applying for PR. Having Canadian education and work experience may give students a competitive edge during the PR application process.
The Come to Canada tool is a good way to check eligibility and research next steps to plan your journey to Canada.
Moving overseas to a culturally diverse country like Canada for studies is an excellent opportunity to enhance your skills, experience, and knowledge. Timely research and preparation can help you smoothly transition into international student life!
The information provided in this article is general, is subject to frequent changes and does not constitute legal advice. For specific immigration legal advice that you can rely on, please contact Green and Spiegel.