2021-08-11T16:21:53-04:00July 29th, 2020|

What you should know as an international student in post-COVID Canada

Last updated: February 16, 2021


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. Even with restrictions slowly easing, there’s still a sense of looming uncertainty for many newcomers to Canada, including international students.

Back in March 2020, 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 uncertainty about travel restrictions 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, IRCC will contact you (if they haven’t already) to inquire if you’re able to travel to Canada. Once they approve you to come to Canada, they will issue you the documents you need to travel.

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.

As of November 21, 2020, you will be required to submit your travel and contact information, quarantine plan, and COVID-19 symptom self-assessment electronically through the ArriveCAN mobile app before you board your flight. You must be ready to show your ArriveCAN receipt when seeking entry into Canada; a border services officer will verify that you have submitted the information digitally. If you do not submit the required information digitally before boarding the flight, you could be subject to enforcement action, which can range from verbal warnings to $1,000 CAD fine.

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. 
  • Effective January 7, 2021, all air passengers five years of age or older are required to test negative for COVID-19 before travelling to Canada. Documentation of a negative COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (or PCR) test result must be presented to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada. The test must be taken within 72 hours prior to the traveller’s scheduled departure to Canada. Please note that everyone with a negative test result authorized to enter Canada, is required to have a quarantine plan and must still complete the full, mandatory 14-day quarantine. More details are available in the news release by Transport Canada.
  • 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: 
  • Be screened by a border services officer or quarantine officer to assess symptoms


  • The Canadian government does not provide a place to quarantine when you arrive in Canada. You need to make your own arrangements in advance.
  • Provinces and territories may have their own travel restrictions. Before you travel, check the official website of your province or territory of destination.

Post-arrival protocols

  • You are required to submit COVID-19 related information electronically daily through the ArriveCAN app.
  • As per new travel restrictions announced on January 29, 2021, all air travellers arriving in Canada, with very limited exceptions, must reserve a room in a Government of Canada-approved hotel for three nights at their own cost, and take a COVID-19 molecular test on arrival at their own cost. The hotel quarantine requirement is expected to cost each traveller upwards of $2,000 CAD. All hotels will be located near one of the four Canadian airports currently accepting international flights. Travellers will be responsible for all associated costs, such as: hotel room, food, security, infection control, and transportation. The start date for this measure hasn’t been announced yet; more details and the complete list of hotels will be available in the coming days.
  • Screening Officers working with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) will visit travellers’ quarantine locations to establish contact, confirm identity and confirm that travellers are at the place of quarantine they identified upon entry into Canada. Officers will conduct visits in 35 cities across the country, starting in Montréal and Toronto.

Note: Dedicated lanes for faster processing for ArriveCAN users are available at some major international airports (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal). ArriveCAN does not use any technology or data, such as GPS, to monitor or track traveller movements. Your privacy is protected. For more details, refer to the announcement from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The penalties for providing inaccurate information and/or violating any quarantine or isolation instructions can include:

  • A fine of up to $750,000 CAD
  • Six months of jail time

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.

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.

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. 

Get the most up-to-date and relevant information, resources, and tools, personalized to match your unique Canada journey – all in one place. 

The Arrive app features personalized programs, expert guidance, exclusive newcomer offers, and much more. Wherever you are in your journey, the Arrive App will help make it less stressful and more successful. Arrive is your single source for what you need to succeed in Canada.

Download the free app for iOS and Android devices.




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 book an appointment 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.