Working while studying in Canada: What you need to know
Working during your studies in Canada can be a great way for international students to gain experience, make connections, and earn extra money to pay the bills (or treat yourself to something special!). Whether you choose to work in a restaurant or coffee shop, retail sales or as a teacher’s assistant, having a job while studying abroad may be a great way to help cover your expenses. If you are able to balance the demands of your course load with those of your job, the extra income can help bolster your budget, making your money go further and relieving some of the financial stress.
However, there are some restrictions on who can work while studying in Canada and what types of work they can do. Here’s what you need to know before you start your job search.
It’s important to make sure you qualify to work while studying in Canada before starting a job because, if you do so without qualifying, you could be asked to leave Canada. Your study permit will include information about whether you’re able to work on- or off-campus.
International students can work on-campus without a work permit if they meet all of these requirements. (Note that you must stop working on campus the exact day your full-time study ends.)
You are a full-time post-secondary student at either
a public post-secondary school,
a private college-level school in Quebec that’s at least 50 per cent funded by government grants,
or a Canadian private school that can legally award degrees under provincial law.
International students can work off-campus without a work permit if they meet all the following requirements. (Note that you can only start work in Canada once your study program officially begins.)
You’re a full-time student at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI)
You’re enrolled in either a post-secondary professional, vocational, or professional training program or a secondary-level vocational training program (Quebec only)
You’re in a study program that’s at least six months long and leads to a degree, diploma, or certificate
You’ve already started studying
You have a Social Insurance Number (SIN)
If you’re a part-time student, you must meet all of the above requirements and only be studying part-time because you’re in the last semester of your program and don’t need a full course load to complete it.
Types of work permitted
On-campus work means any jobs located in the buildings on your school campus. If your school has more than one campus, you can normally only work on the campus you study at. You can, however, work at other locations if you’re a teaching or research assistant, or if your work is related to a research grant. An on-campus employer can be your school, a faculty member, a student organization, a private contractor that provides on-site services, or even yourself if you run a business that’s physically located on campus. There is no limit to the number of hours you can work on campus.
You CAN’T work before school starts and you must stop working the day you stop studying full-time or when your study permit expires. Your study permit must list a condition that allows you to work on or off-campus to work as an international student. You can learn more about working on-campus here.
If you meet all of the requirements for off-campus work, you can usually work up to 20 hours a week during regular school terms/semesters. During school breaks, such as winter or summer holidays, you’re free to work overtime or take two part-time jobs that add up to a higher than usual number of hours. From November 2022 to December 2023, the 20 hour/week cap has been temporarily been lifted, and during this period, international students in Canada can work off-campus for additional hours (subject to the maximum permissible limit under the provincial employment standards, usually between 40 to 48 hours per week).
Some study programs include work experience as part of their curriculum. If this applies to your program, you can apply for a co-op or intern work permit as long as you meet these requirements:
You have a valid study permit
Work is required to complete your program of study in Canada
You have a letter from your school that confirms all students in your program need to complete work placements to earn their degree
Your co-op or internship makes up less than 50 per cent or less of your study program
Tips to help you land a job while studying in Canada
Let’s say you have fulfilled all of the requirements to work on or off campus as a full-time international student. Now, how do you find a job?
Start with research. And start early.
As soon as you make your decision to study in Canada (or when you receive your acceptance letter), you’ll want to start finding out about the school, the surrounding area, the city you’ll be living in, and of course – what kinds of jobs are available. This goes beyond just checking job sites.
If you have family or friends in Canada, especially if they are students, talk to them. Even if they’re not students themselves, they may know people who can help. It is important to get a head start, so get as much information as you can before you arrive.
Once you get here, check in with the career services office at your university or college. The friendly people there want to help you succeed and are very well connected on campus. You’ll find on-campus jobs posted there as well as career guidance and resources.
Recognize the strengths you bring to the table
Starting out in a new country is highly challenging. It will take determination and dedication to succeed. Don’t forget you bring skills and experiences from your international experience that can set you apart from other job seekers.
Tell your story and customize your resume for every job
The tactic of making blanket submissions to job postings is not very strategic. It’s kind of like tossing your resumes in the air and hoping one lands on the right desk. In Canada, hiring managers and recruiters want to know about you, your skills and how you fit with the role and the organization.
The best way to stand out from the job seeker competition is to submit a customized cover letter and resume. By doing so, you can focus on your most relevant skills (whether specific or transferable) and how your experience makes you the best choice for the job. It also shows that you took the effort to understand the organization and their specific needs. Remember, these people see hundreds if not thousands of resumes. You want to stand out.
Craft a cover letter that counts
Think of the cover letter as your head start versus the competition. Done well, the cover letter can be an excellent way for you to stand out amongst your peers and make a memorable impression on recruiters and hiring managers alike. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be a long essay. Keep it short and sweet but include just enough to make employers want to meet you in person.
There is no way to get around the fact that creating custom cover letters for every application is time consuming. But it’s worth it. If you are truly committed to getting the jobs you are applying to (and we hope you are), a custom cover letter will go much further than applying impersonally to hundreds of jobs.
TIP – Don’t apologize for any lack of experience you may not have – instead, highlight how excited you are to apply your transferable skills.
Make Canadian connections and build your network
Many jobs in Canada aren’t posted on online job boards (somewhere between 65 and 80%). So, the more people you know, the better chance you will have of tapping into this hidden job market.
Get that elusive Canadian experience
Many newcomers face the dilemma of being qualified for a job but they lack ‘Canadian experience’.
It’s a familiar conundrum: How can I get Canadian experience if I can’t get a job in Canada. So, while your first job in Canada may not be exactly what you’re looking for, it will tick the ‘Canadian experience’ box on a hiring manager’s checklist and set you up for your future. Another great way to acquire experience in your desired field is through volunteering.
Tips for working while studying in Canada
Plan your schedule well. Between work and school, it can be easy to overcommit yourself– especially in your first year of study. It may be best to give yourself some time to adjust to your new schedule before seeking out additional work.
Look for opportunities aligned with your field of study or ones that allow you to develop new skills (such as improving your English or French!). Jobs can have more benefits than just making money. Take this opportunity to learn outside the classroom and even make some valuable connections in your field.
Consider future employment prospects with your employer. Canadian companies often offer full-time jobs to former interns or employees they’ve already worked with on a part-time basis. Use your co-op or part-time gig as a chance to get your foot in the door.
Network in the workplace and ask your manager to give you a referral on LinkedIn to show future employers you’re a valuable asset to their team. In Canada, many positions are filled through recruiters networks, so building your network will be key to hearing about job opportunities. Take this opportunity to meet others in your field. Even if they don’t end up hiring you down the road, they may know someone else looking to fill a position.
Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager for additional opportunities or express your interest in working on a particular project. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Ask for help when you need it. Canadian companies tend to be very team-oriented and encourage employees to ask for help when they need it. Asking a colleague or manager for help can be a learning and networking opportunity.
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.
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