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
- Birth certificate
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.
2. A letter of acceptance
If you have been accepted into a designated Canadian post-secondary institution, you will have received a letter of acceptance. A letter of acceptance may also be called an offer letter or an acceptance letter. You will be required to provide your letter of acceptance to obtain a study permit.
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.
3. A financial plan
To obtain a study permit, you have to produce evidence that you will be able to fund yourself, including both in your tuition costs and additional living costs properly. This is called proof of financial support.
Canada requires all international students to prove minimum funds of $10,000 CAD per year, or $833 CAD per month, with additional financial requirements if you are bringing family members with you. In the province of Quebec, you must have $11,000 CAD per year.
There are a few ways to provide proof of financial support:
- Proof of a Canadian bank account in your name, if you’ve transferred money to Canada
- A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) from a participating Canadian financial institution
- Proof of a student or education loan from a bank
- Your bank statements for the past four months
- 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 $150 CAD to apply for.
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:
- Proof of acceptance
- Proof of identity (passport)
- Proof of financial support
You may also require:
- A letter of explanation: 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.
- A custodian declaration (minors only): If you are a minor studying in Canada, you will require a custodian, and must include the Custodianship Declaration form with your application. It has two pages that must be notarized (certified by a notary) and then included with your study permit application.
- Other documents: All documents indicated and specified on the document checklist by your local visa office must be included in the application.
Tip: Read more about obtaining a study permit. If you wish to extend your current study permit, see our article on how to extend your study permit in Canada.
5. Find accommodation
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 distances of class. 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 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:
Take caution when researching online rentals:
- Be aware of scams or “too-good-to-be-true” deals.
- 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 to 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. The Government of Canada does not sponsor health insurance for international students. You may get private or provincial health insurance, depending on your location.
Provincial health insurance covers health basics, but does not cover dental care, vision care, and more specific health concerns, depending on your province. 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.