International student checklist: 12 things you need to start studying in Canada
International students come to Canada for its high quality of education, diverse and accepting culture, access to beautiful nature areas, and so much more. In 2021, Canada welcomed more than 450,000 international students. For many, studying in Canada is also an ideal first step to becoming a permanent resident.
Whether you are in the planning stages of coming to study in Canada, or you are already accepted into a post-secondary institution here, it’s never too early to start thinking about and checking off these twelve necessities for starting as an international student in Canada.
1. Your passport
A passport is essential to travel internationally. If you don’t have a passport, apply to get one in your home country. If you do have a passport, check the expiry date: you cannot travel internationally if your passport expires in six months or less.
If you have other official government identification from your home country, you should also bring it or a photocopy of it. This can include:
Valid driver’s license
Once you arrive in Canada, you are responsible for making sure your passport is up-to-date. If you need to extend or renew your passport while in Canada, you will need to contact your country’s consulate or embassy.
Tip: In case of loss, it is a good idea to photocopy (or scan) your important travel documents and keep the copies in a different spot from your original documents.
Some letters of acceptance are conditional. This means that they have special requirements that the applicant must follow before they can begin their main program of study. A common condition is completing English as a Second Language (ESL) or French as a Second Language (FSL) training.
A bank draft that can be converted to Canadian dollars
Proof showing that you’ve 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
4. A study permit
Your study permit is the document that allows you to stay in Canada and study. It is different from a student visa, which is the document that allows you to enter Canada. A study permit costs around $150 CAD.
If you have completed the first three steps of this checklist, you will have the proper documentation to obtain your study permit. To recap, you need:
A letter of explanation or statement of purpose: 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 Quebec (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.
You will need to have secure accommodation set up for you when you arrive at university. Finding somewhere affordable and close to your school can be difficult if you have never been to the area before, but there are many ways to reach out for accommodation. You should start planning your accommodation as soon as you have been accepted to university.
Tip: Your first point of contact for accommodation should be your school’s international students office or website for information specific to your school or region.
Main types of accommodation for international students:
1. On-campus student residences: Most post-secondary schools provide some type of student residences on-campus equipped with basic furniture. This is a great option for first-year and second-year students who want to be within walking distance of their classes. Many on-campus housing options include a shared dining hall with a paid meal plan. On-campus housing has high demand at some universities, so make sure you apply for residence early.
2. Off-campus housing in an apartment or house: Off-campus housing is ideal for older students who are familiar with the surroundings and transit systems of their city in Canada, and feel comfortable cooking for themselves. Depending on your budget, you can rent a one-bedroom apartment or basement apartment, or save money by renting a single room in a shared apartment or house.
Rentals may come with or without furniture, so factor in the extra cost of furnishing a place.
Keep in mind that for off-campus rentals, listings sometimes aren’t available until one or two months before the occupancy date (places for September 1st move-in usually get posted in July or August).
Rent is typically paid monthly, and prices can vary greatly from city to city.
The largest cities in Canada, such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, tend to have the highest rent prices (around $1000 CAD per room per month).
Try these sites to begin finding an off-campus rental:
Asking for a video chat room tour of the listing allows you to prescreen both your potential landlord and the listing.
Never send money if you don’t feel that the listing is legitimate.
3. Homestay: A homestay is a different type of off-campus rental, where a student can live with a host family in their home. Typically 1-3 meals are provided per day, and you may find it helpful to have your host family introduce you to the city and make you feel more at home while away at school. Canada Homestay Network, HomeStay In, and YES Canada homestay all connect international students with homestays in Canada.
4. Short-term furnished rentals: If you haven’t been able to find long-term accommodation for the school year, you can turn to short-term furnished rentals for shorter periods (anywhere from a few days to a full four-month semester). Airbnb, Vrbo, Sublet.com, and Kijiji are all short-term rental sites that can help you find reasonably priced short-term rentals for any period of time.
6. Student health insurance
All international students in Canada are required to have basic and extended health insurance. Not all provinces provide publicly funded health insurance for international students. Depending on your location, you may qualify for provincial health coverage or may need to get university-provided or private health insurance.
Provincial health insurance covers health basics, but does not cover dental care, vision care, and more specific health concerns, depending on your province. In some provinces, international students with valid study permits are eligible to receive a provincial health insurance card.
Private health insurance has more personalized insurance plans to cover your specific extended needs. Some universities have student health insurance programs to cover extended health care. Speak to your school’s international students’ department to find out your best options for health insurance.
7. A copy of your medical records and ongoing prescriptions
Before you leave home, you should ask your doctor’s office for a copy of your medical records and immunization records. Any ongoing health concerns or prescriptions should be noted so that you can continue treating them when you start studying in Canada. Many Canadian universities have a clinic on-campus or close to campus in case you need medical attention at school.
8. A Canadian bank account
You will need a bank that understands your personal needs as both a newcomer and a student. RBC (Canada’s largest bank*) has been such a partner to newcomers for 150 years. It’s why they support everything we do at Arrive.
Book an appointment with an RBC Advisor or call 1-800-769-2511 (toll-free) to know more about how you can open an RBC student bank account. RBC’s phone services are available in up to 200 languages. Once booked, an advisor will reach out to find out whether you’d like to meet via phone, video or in-branch.
Your university may ask you to provide a list of emergency contacts and their phone numbers in case of an accident or emergency. Pick one or two family members or close friends back in your home country to list as your emergency contact. You may also wish to include an emergency contact in Canada if you have close family or friends in the country.
10. A cell phone plan
If you already have a cell phone, you will need to get a Canadian cell phone plan. Canadian phone plans tend to be more expensive than in other countries. Cell phone plan prices will vary, depending on what services are covered in your plan. Most plans include a data package; a 5GB data plan plus calling and texting can be anywhere from $60-100 CAD per month.
Cell phone prices also vary depending on the type of phone you need. A smartphone can easily cost over $1000 CAD, while a non-internet enabled phone can be cheaper than $50 CAD. Common Canadian phone plan providers include Rogers, Bell, Telus, Fido, Virgin, and Koodo.
Tip: Apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat all use data when you aren’t on wifi. Monitor your current levels of data usage to know what kind of data coverage you will need on your Canadian phone plan.
11. A laptop computer or tablet
As most university courses now have an online course component, you will need to be able to access the internet on some form of a personal device. Laptop computers or larger tablets can be used to take notes, access course materials, study, and participate in online lectures. Your technology needs may depend on your course of study. Check your faculty or department’s technology recommendations before making a laptop purchase.
New laptops or tablets can range in price depending on model and capability, anywhere from $500 CAD to upwards of $3,000 CAD. If you are not really sure which laptop will serve you best, employees in technology stores can help guide you in the right direction.
Tip: Consider getting a longer warranty on your laptop to cover incidental damages throughout the majority of your degree. Accidental laptop damage happens, and investing a little more money in coverage at the time of purchase can save you a lot down the road.
12. Winter gear
Last but not least, winter gear is essential for all international students coming to Canada. If you have never seen snow or felt -30 degrees Celsius temperatures, you may be surprised at just how cold it can get here in the winter.
Layering clothes is key in cold conditions. Consider picking up a few of these items when it starts to get chilly in October or November:
Gloves, hat, and scarf
Thin long-sleeve shirts to layer under sweaters
A quality winter jacket
A rain jacket and umbrella in rainier cities (e.g. Vancouver, Halifax, etc.)
A heavy winter coat can be pricier, anywhere from $150-300 CAD. Cost-effective options for winter coats across Canada include Walmart, MEC, and SportChek, as well as local retailers. Long parkas are also popular and will keep you very warm, such as the Canada Goose brand, but they can typically run well over $1,000 CAD.
Once you have checked these twelve items off of your list, you will have the essentials covered to study in Canada as an international student. Choosing to study abroad is a life-changing opportunity, and we are here to support you at every step in your transition to studying in Canada.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.
Arrive makes it easier for newcomers and international students to make a smooth landing in Canada by providing the information and guidance they need. Arrive provides up to date, informative articles, guides, webinars, digital tools and expert advice to help newcomers prepare for their arrival, and adapt to the Canadian job market and cultural landscape. Students can get ready for their Canadian studies, so that they are set up for academic and professional success in Canada.
Arrive is supported by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), the largest bank in Canada* and one of the most reputed banks in the world, employing 80,000 people worldwide. This places us in a unique position to be able to help and support newcomers, like yourself, with credible and reliable resources that can help you get started while setting up a strong financial foundation in Canada.
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