Moving to Canada as an international student can be both exciting and overwhelming. This may be the first time you’ll be living abroad, all on your own. And with that freedom comes a great deal of responsibility. From submitting your study permit application to figuring out student housing and funding options for your studies, there will be many essential tasks to complete before you can start your studies in Canada.
In this article, we provide a pre-arrival checklist for international students moving to Canada, which includes all the essential tasks you should complete in your home country before going to Canada to study, along with indicative timelines for when you should begin working on them.
Download and print the international student checklist here so that you can check the tasks off as you get closer to departure:
One year before coming to Canada to study
Budget for your studies in Canada
Studying in Canada as an international student can be expensive, and you’ll have to pay significantly higher tuition fees than Canadian permanent residents and citizens. In addition to your tuition and other academic fees, you’ll also need to account for your living expenses in Canada, including accommodation, food, travel, phone bills, entertainment, and more.
Before applying for admission to schools in Canada, use the Arrive Cost of Studying in Canada calculator to budget for your student life and get an estimate of how much money you’ll need to study and live in Canada. Budgeting will also help you shortlist study programs and universities or colleges based on affordability.
Choose the right Canadian study program
Ideally, the study program you choose should align with your prior education or work experience. Visa officers are more likely to approve your study permit if your chosen Canadian study program seems like a logical next step to your previous studies or work. If you wish to enrol in a different program, make sure the Statement of Purpose (also called Letter of Intent) you submit with your study permit application explains how this program will help your career.
It’s also a good idea to explore the admission requirements Canadian universities and colleges typically set for the study programs you’re interested in before narrowing your options. You may need a good language test score, proof that you’ve studied certain subjects, a minimum cut-off Grade Point Average (GPA) in earlier academic programs, work experience, academic references, and more to qualify for your chosen program.
If you hope to stay in Canada to work after graduation, check if the study program of your choice will make you eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).
Take an approved language test
Most Canadian study programs are offered in English or French. As part of the admission process, most schools will verify that you can speak, read, write, and understand the language that your course will be delivered in with a certain level of proficiency.
Typically, universities and colleges require you to appear for an approved language test for academics, such as IELTS Academic or TOEFL (iBT), and achieve a score that meets their cut-off. If your initial score is too low, don’t worry, you can always retake the test and try to improve your score. In addition to your language test score, universities and colleges may assess your language skills through interviews or by critically evaluating your statement of purpose.
Apply to universities and colleges in Canada
Once you’ve shortlisted study programs you’re likely to qualify for, make a list of Canadian universities and colleges that offer those programs. Make sure the schools on your list are Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs), that is, they are allowed to admit international students. You may also want to compare tuition fees, admission requirements, the teaching faculty, and student facilities for different schools before narrowing down your options. Most schools charge a non-refundable application fee, so it’s best to apply only to universities and colleges where you have a good chance of securing admission.
Most universities and colleges admit new students during the Fall (September), Winter (January), or Spring semesters (May – sometimes called Summer intake). Fall intakes are usually the most popular, and schools admit more students during this term. Admissions to all programs may not be open during all three terms, so check when intakes periods for the study programs you’re interested in.
Schools typically begin accepting admission applications one year before the first semester (or term) starts. Admissions usually close six to eight months before the program begins, but each university/college has its own admission deadlines. Check the application deadlines and requirements well in advance to avoid delays in your application submission.
Explore options to fund your education in Canada
Your personal savings (or your parents’ savings) aren’t the only way to pay for your studies in Canada. Many international students qualify for financial assistance, such as full or partial scholarships, grants, or bursaries offered by their university or college, or by the government or other funding sources. Scholarships, grants and bursaries do not have to be repaid, but these are typically given to students who have a proven track record of academic success or can demonstrate financial need. Some schools automatically consider all incoming international students for merit-based scholarships, while others require students to apply for scholarships separately.
You may also be able to fund your education through education loans that you can repay with interest after completing your studies. Most Canadian banks do not offer education loans to international students, but you may qualify for a loan through a bank in your home country.
Check the validity of your passport
Your study permit cannot go beyond the expiry date of your passport, so make sure you have plenty of time left on the validity of your passport before you apply for a study permit. If your passport is scheduled to expire soon, get it renewed before applying for a study permit. This will ensure that your study permit is for the entire duration of your study program plus an additional 90 days.
Six months before coming to Canada to study
Get your Letter of Acceptance (LOA)
Once you’re accepted into a Designated Learning Institution (DLI), the school will send you a Letter of Acceptance (LOA). This document is proof that you’ve received admission to a Canadian university or college, and you’ll need it for your student visa application.
Your school will give you a few days to accept their admission offer and confirm that you’ll be taking your place in the program. At this stage, you’ll usually also have to pay the tuition fee for the first year, plus on-campus housing or meal plan costs, if you’ve opted for those. It’s a good idea to make your financial arrangements before receiving your LOA to avoid delays in the process.
Explore your housing options in Canada
With the admission process out of the way, the next thing on your task list should be figuring out where to live. If you’re opting for on-campus accommodation, contact your university or college to register for housing as soon as you receive your LOA. Most schools have limited housing and the demand for it often outweighs availability.
Many international students also choose to live in off-campus accommodation near their school. Speak to existing students at your new school to learn more about off-campus housing in the area. If you plan to live off-campus, you may want to opt for temporary housing in the beginning. You can look for suitable longer-term rental options after you arrive and have had a chance to explore the neighbourhood and visit some properties in person.
Check if you qualify for the Student Direct Stream
International students from 14 countries, including India, China, the Philippines, and Brazil, may be eligible for faster study permit processing under the Student Direct Stream (SDS). If you’re eligible for the Student Direct Stream, you may be able to get your study permit application processed in under 20 business days.
It’s important to note that students applying for a study permit under the Student Direct Stream must purchase a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) worth $10,000 to show proof of financial support. You’ll also need to show proof that you’ve paid your first year’s tuition fees (and on-campus housing cost, if applicable).
Gather essential documents for your study permit
Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC)
If you’re applying for a study permit under the SDS program, purchasing a GIC of $10,000 is mandatory. However, a GIC is also a convenient way to show proof of financial support if you’re applying for a study permit under the general stream.
A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) is a secure investment that earns interest, and both your principal and interest are guaranteed by Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC). Your GIC can help cover some of your monthly expenses as a student, and you’ll receive a portion of your funds back each month during your first year of study until the entire amount (plus interest) has been returned to you.
Once you receive a Letter of Acceptance from your Canadian Designated Learning Institution (DLI), you can apply online to open your International Student GIC with RBC. After you purchase a GIC, you’ll receive a letter of attestation (also known as a GIC certificate, an Investment Directions Confirmation, or an Investment Balance Confirmation) from the bank as evidence of your purchase. You must submit this document along with your SDS application.
Proof of financial support
One of the factors visa officers consider before approving a study permit application is whether you can demonstrate that you have enough money to cover the cost of your education and living expenses in Canada. Besides GICs, students applying for a study permit under the general stream may also be able to show proof of funds with documents such as:
- Proof of a Canadian bank account in your name, if you’ve transferred money to Canada.
- Proof of a student or education loan from a bank.
- Bank statements for the past four months.
- A bank draft that can be converted to Canadian dollars.
- Proof you’ve paid tuition and housing fees.
- A letter from a person or school giving you money for your studies.
- Proof of funding paid from within Canada, if you have a scholarship or are in a Canadian-funded educational program.
Letter of Intent (or Statement of Purpose)
A statement of purpose or letter of intent (LOI) is not mandatory for your study permit application. However, a well-written LOI can convince the visa officer that you’re a legitimate student, that studying in Canada will help your career, and that you won’t remain in Canada illegally once your study permit expires. All of these factors can positively impact the outcome of your study permit application. Moreover, an LOI also allows you to explain gaps in your application and make a case for why your study permit should be approved.
Certificat d’acceptation du Québec (CAQ)
If you’ll be studying in Quebec, you must get a Certificat d’acceptation du Québec (CAQ) from the provincial government before applying for a study permit. Contact your school to learn about the CAQ application process and fees.
Apply for a Canadian study permit
When you have all the essential documents for your application, you can apply for a study permit online through the IRCC website. You’ll need to fill out the application form, upload your paperwork, and pay the processing fees before submitting your study permit application.
Some international students also hire an immigration consultant or educational consultant to help with their study permit application, though this is not a requirement. If you plan to work with a consultant, make sure they are registered with the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC). Working with an unauthorized consultant is risky, as the government of Canada does not recognize them as legitimate and will not communicate with them. Steer clear of fraudulent agents who guarantee admission into a Canadian university or college or ask you to lie on your application to improve your chances of qualifying for a study permit.
There are two types of regulated immigration consultants for Canada – Regulated International Student Immigration Advisors (RISIA) offer guidance and advice specifically for study permit applications, whereas Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCIC) can help with any Canadian visa, work or study permit, or permanent residence (PR) application.
RISIAs are based in Canada and are affiliated with a particular university or college. They can only provide advice on your study permit application but cannot submit your application for you.
Three months before starting your studies in Canada
Get your driver’s license extract
A driver’s license extract is a letter issued by your regional transportation authority confirming that you held a valid driver’s license in your home country and verifying the length of your driving history. If you have two or more years of foreign driving experience, having a driver’s license extract can make the process of getting a full driver’s license in Canada much faster.
For example, in Ontario, an individual with over two years of foreign driving experience can appear for a G road test immediately after passing the G1 knowledge test (by skipping the G2 road test and waiting period). So you can potentially get a full license in a few weeks or months.
In some countries, it can take a few weeks or months to get a driver’s license extract so start the process at least a few months before your departure date.
Gather other official documents
Review the Canadian student visa document checklist and use it to gather your educational transcripts, past employment letters, academic or professional references, identity documents, and other important paperwork.
In addition to the documents you’ve submitted as part of your study permit application, you may also need other important documents while you’re in Canada. If your family members will be accompanying or visiting you in Canada, it’s a good idea to bring your marriage certificate and your children’s birth certificates, school and health records.
Open a student bank account in Canada
Having a Canadian bank account can make it significantly easier to manage your money. Opening your bank account before you arrive in Canada also allows you to transfer your savings and have them readily available once you land. You should speak to an RBC Advisor to start the process of opening your student bank account at least six to eight weeks before your landing date.
After you arrive in Canada, you’ll need to open a chequing account for day-to-day expenses. If you have a GIC, you’ll also receive funds from it in your chequing account. This account will typically come with a debit card; you can only apply for a credit card after you arrive in Canada.
One month before starting your studies in Canada
Decide what items you want to take
Although it might be too early to pack, you should decide which items you want to take and start preparing accordingly. Be sure to check the government’s regulations on what you’re allowed to bring into the country.
If you plan to bring any large items, such as furniture, make arrangements for those goods to be shipped. It’s important to note that most on-campus housing in Canada is fully or partially furnished, so contact your university or college to learn about what your accommodation will include. You may want to purchase or bring essential electronics you’ll need for school, such as a mobile phone or laptop.
Manage your finances
Depending on the length of your study program, you may be away from home for a year or more (of course, you can always go visit your family during breaks). It’s a good idea to consolidate your finances before you leave so you don’t have to worry about it later.
You’ll want to ensure you have enough savings to cover your expenses while you study in Canada. Plus, it’ll be important to have easy access to your savings or a convenient way to get funds from home. Ideally, you should also close bank accounts you won’t need, pay off your credit cards, and cancel any recurring payments or subscriptions, so you don’t get charged for services you won’t be using.
One month before coming to Canada, you should also gather the key financial documents you may need, including bank statements, and paperwork for any GIC, education loan, or scholarship you have for your studies.
Explore part-time work opportunities
Not all international students are allowed to work part-time in Canada while studying, but many can. Your study permit will contain information on whether or not you’re allowed to work while studying.
If you’re eligible to work part-time and want to do so to earn extra income, start exploring your options before arriving in Canada. Speak to existing students at your school and review Canadian job portals to learn about the types of part-time jobs available for students around your school. If possible, look for opportunities that align with your study program or those that will help you build relevant transferable skills.
It is important to note that you can only begin working part-time after your study program starts. Ideally, you should wait until you’re familiar with your class schedule before making any employment-related decisions.
Get a comprehensive health checkup
Before leaving your home country, visit your doctor, dentist, or ophthalmologist for comprehensive check-ups. Also, make sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccinations, get prescriptions and refills for any ongoing medication, and collect a copy of your medical and dental records.
Provincial and student health insurance plans in Canada typically don’t cover regular vision and dental care, so it’s a good idea to get checkups and last-minute treatments, including dental cleaning and fillings, done before you leave.
Two weeks before starting your studies in Canada
Purchase health insurance, if needed
As an international student in Canada, you must be covered by health insurance for the entire duration of your study permit. In some provinces, (except Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec) international students may be eligible for publicly-funded healthcare under the provincial health insurance plan, provided their study program is of a certain duration. Be sure to check the situation in your province or territory and find out if and how you can register for healthcare coverage. There may be a waiting period before you can enrol, and you’ll need to arrange private coverage until your provincial plan coverage begins.
If you’ll be studying in Ontario or Manitoba, you must have primary health coverage under the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) and Manitoba International Student Health Plan (MISHP), respectively. If needed, you can purchase add-on insurance for vision and dental care, but you may still be responsible for a portion of the cost.
Gather or purchase items you’ll need in your initial weeks
With only a week or two left before your flight, it’s time to start packing. Be sure to purchase weather-appropriate clothing to see you through your initial weeks. Winters in Canada can be very cold and snowy, and you’ll need heavy jackets, snow boots, and layered clothing to keep warm. Many students moving to Canada from warmer countries prefer to buy winter gear once they have arrived in Canada. That said, summer in Canada can get quite warm, so make sure your suitcase doesn’t just contain winter clothing.
If you haven’t signed up for a meal plan at your college or university, you may want to check if your accommodation has a fully-equipped kitchen. If you need special utensils, such as a wok or pressure cooker, to cook your native food, consider purchasing them in your home country as these items may be expensive and harder to find in Canada.
Think of other things you use regularly, such as certain toiletries, spices, etc. and carry enough to last for at least a week.
Spend time with family and friends
Once all your essential tasks are done, remember to spend some quality time with your family and friends. You may not get a chance to meet them in person for several months or even years. However, don’t let this bring you down—you can always stay in touch via phone, video calls, or email.
Found this helpful? You can download the free international student checklist and print it, so that you can easily check off all your tasks as your departure for Canada approaches:
As an international student moving to Canada, there will be several essential tasks to complete in the months before you arrive. Whether it’s applying for a study permit, budgeting for your studies, or figuring out student housing options, some tasks can take weeks or even months to complete, so make sure you plan accordingly.