Living in the midst of a pandemic is challenging; it has led us to adopt unconventional approaches to carry on with our work and daily lives. After being in lockdown for months, there’s still a sense of looming uncertainty for many newcomers to Canada, including international students.

Back in March, as campuses temporarily shut down and course delivery moved online, some international students decided to head back to their home countries while others stayed either on or off-campus in Canada. With travel restrictions still in place in many countries, new and returning international students are seeking reliable information to plan their next steps and understand what to expect upon landing.

Through this article, we hope to share consolidated information from authentic sources so you can plan your travel, stay, and studies smoothly and without stress. 

Entry criteria for international students at a Canadian port of entry

All international flights are still restricted to four airports in Canada: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. If you’re travelling by air, you need to follow all airline requirements (including wearing a non-medical mask) and pass a health check conducted by airlines before you’re allowed to board your flight. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 is not allowed to enter Canada by air.

Although travel restrictions are in effect, as per the guidelines outlined by the Government, you may be able to enter Canada if you are an international student whose study permit was approved before March 18, 2020. 

Tip: If your student permit is approved, but you can’t travel to Canada before your documents expire, use the Web form to tell Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) why you can’t travel. And once it’s possible for you to travel, use the same Web form to contact IRCC again so they can tell you what to do next.

To learn more about entry eligibility, see Immigration to Canada in times of COVID-19: Your questions answered, which features responses from authorized immigration consultants.

Port of entry admission criteria for international students:

  • You may have to provide evidence that you would be staying in Canada for at least 15 days. 
  • Even if you have no symptoms, it is mandatory to have a quarantine plan that shows how you’ll quarantine for 14 days when you arrive in Canada. A quarantine plan should include:
    • A place where you will be staying, 
    • How you will get to your destination from the airport,
    • How you will get your groceries, and
    • How you will access essential services and medical care

Note: Since everyone entering Canada is required to quarantine for 14 days, you should plan on arriving at least two weeks before your classes start.

To get tips for your quarantine plan, see: What to expect as a newcomer moving to post-COVID Canada.

Upon arrival in Canada, at the airport, you must:

  • Provide basic information using the traveller contact information form, available through: 
    • The ArriveCAN mobile app (iOS and Android) OR 
    • An accessible web-based form at the airport kiosk OR 
    • A paper form provided by an officer at the airport
  • Be screened by a border services officer or quarantine officer to assess symptoms

The penalties for not following your quarantine plan once you’re in the country can include:

  • A fine of up to $750,000 CAD
  • Six months of jail time
  • Upon being found inadmissible, you may be removed from Canada and banned from entering for one year

Completing newcomer landing formalities while in quarantine

Once you arrive in Canada, most newcomers are worried about various landing formalities that they need to complete. If you’re entering Canada for the first time as an international student, here’s a brief overview of the current mandates (as of June 30, 2020) for various tasks.

1. Get a Social Insurance Number (SIN)

Depending on your arrival airport in Canada, you may be able to get your SIN at the airport. This service is currently provided for newcomers at Toronto Pearson International Airport and Vancouver International Airport during business hours on weekdays. 

If you are unable to get your SIN at the airport or if your arrival airport does not offer SIN services, you have the option to apply online or by mail: 

If your SIN application meets the requirements, you will receive a letter with your SIN by mail within 20 business days from the date the application is received. If more than 25 business days have passed, and you would like to find out the status of your application, you can contact the SIN program for an update.

2. Opening a student bank account while in quarantine

As an international student, you want a trusted partner who understands your banking needs. 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.

As things start to get back to normal, many bank branches are reopening, and some will continue to have reduced hours. You can check the branch locator on the RBC website for the most up-to-date information. Many branches have now restarted scheduling in-person meetings with Advisors.

Chat with an RBC advisor or call 1-800-769-2511 (toll-free) to know more about how you can open a
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.

To open a student bank account with RBC, you will require the following documents:

  • Your passport
  • Student permit (IMM 1442) or Temporary Resident Visa (TRV)
  • Proof of enrollment (optional, good-to-have)
  • Social Insurance Number (SIN) or proof of residence (optional, good-to-have)

What to expect with course delivery formats

According to ApplyBoard, amongst the steps taken within the education sector, most institutions have created a contingency plan for online learning in September 2020, enabling students to participate from around the world. Students are also being given the option to choose between starting online or deferring to a later semester.

IRCC is still developing guidelines for applicants outside Canada whose enrollment has been deferred to September. 

If you are in Canada at the time of deferral and wish to remain in Canada, you must begin your studies the following semester or within 150 days from the date the deferred enrollment is confirmed, whichever comes first. Otherwise, you should do either of the following:

  • Change your status to visitor or worker, or 
  • Leave Canada.

As a student, it is your responsibility to stay up-to-date on the status of your course (i.e. whether it is ongoing, cancelled or differed). If an officer has concerns, they may request additional supporting documents. 

  • If your course has been cancelled, you can change your program of study within 150 days of the issuance of your study permit. 
  • If you no longer wish to study in Canada, you may withdraw your application. 

For IRCC’s response to a variety of scenarios and questions pertaining to international students, see COVID-19 updates from IRCC compiled by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, Universities Canada, and Colleges and Institutes Canada.

Eligibility for post-graduate work permit (PGWP)

As an international student, if your course has been moved to an online-only format because of COVID-19, you’re still eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) and won’t be negatively impacted.

If you have a study permit or been approved for a study permit for a program starting in the Spring, Summer or Fall 2020, but you can’t travel to Canada at this time due to travel restrictions, you’re still eligible for the PGWP.

For those in this situation, you may:

  • Begin your classes while outside Canada, and
  • Complete up to 50 per cent of your program while outside Canada, if you can’t travel to Canada sooner.

If you start your studies in Fall 2020, you won’t have time deducted from the length of your PGWP for studies you complete while outside Canada between Fall 2020 and December 31, 2020.

Working while studying in Canada

International students with authorization to work while studying in Canada can continue to work even if COVID-19 has forced you to become a part-time student or take a break in studies. 

Permitted working hours for those working off-campus:

  • 20 hours per week during an academic session. 
  • More than 20 hours per week during an academic session, if you’re providing essential services. (in effect until August 31, 2020).
  • Full-time during scheduled breaks in the academic year.

Taking up temporary employment or survival jobs

As an international student, temporary positions or survival jobs can help you meet living expenses and gain Canadian experience. Networking is a good way to understand the local job landscape and discover potential opportunities.



While the course delivery format and learning experience continue to evolve amidst the pandemic, Canada has demonstrated a student-first approach to education and remains committed to student success. As life and the economy slowly return to normal, internationally-educated students will be well poised to capitalize on relevant opportunities. 



About Arrive

Arrive is powered by RBC Ventures Inc, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada. In collaboration with RBC, Arrive is dedicated to helping newcomers achieve their life, career, and financial goals in Canada.

An important part of establishing your financial life in Canada is finding the right partner to invest in your financial success. RBC is the largest bank in Canada* and here to be your partner in all of your financial needs.

RBC supports Arrive, and with a 150-year commitment to newcomer success in Canada, RBC goes the extra mile in support and funding to ensure that the Arrive newcomer platform is FREE to all. Working with RBC, Arrive can help you get your financial life in Canada started – right now.

Learn about your banking options in Canada and be prepared.

Click here to live chat with an advisor.

* Based on market capitalization


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.