A Guide to Studying in Canada for International Students

A Guide to Studying in Canada for International Students

We’ve all heard the old adage about “the American dream”, but modern opportunities, volatile political climates and the friendly reputation of Canada has more and more people revising this statement to encompass “the Canadian dream”, and part of that means international students looking to study in Canada. Just last year, ICEF Monitor reported that Canada saw an eight percent increase in international students, a trend that started a few years ago, and then experienced a spike since the 2016 U.S. presidential election with many schools seeing a 20 percent increase in applications.

University of Toronto is the top draw among prospective international students, who made up 20 percent of the school’s student population of 17,452 students of undergraduate and graduate students last year alone.

Interested in studying abroad in “The True North strong and free”, it’s time to get cramming. Here’s the CliffNotes version for International Students on everything you need to know if you wish to study in Canada.

Why Canada?

More and more Americans are finding studying in Canada to be a relatively low risk way to spread their wings, and explore another country, that in many cases is only a lengthy drive or train ride away from their home down south of the boarder. Ben Elling says he decided to study in Canada because it was close and familiar:

Growing up my family spent much of our vacation time hiking and canoeing in Ontario, and it always felt like a second home to me. When my girlfriend (now wife) decided to go to University of Western Ontario it seemed like a good opportunity to spend some more time in Ontario.

Other people, like Amber Goodness, decide that they are able to get more bang for their educational buck by moving to study in Canada in relation to comparable schools in the U.S.:

I decided to go to Queen’s University because it was much cheaper than going to school in the US (I went as a dual citizen) and it was a high-caliber school compared to many I was applying to in the US. It was technically my ‘reach’ school and therefore when I got in, I knew I needed to go there. I also loved the area and loved how I was going back to Canada for part of my adult life.


Where to study in Canada?

At the moment, the most popular provinces among international students are Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. A total of 26 Canadian Universities are featured in QS World University Rankings for 2018, and the most popular of them are:

Old Montreal
Old Montreal

Student Visa & Application Process

Each school has its own standards and timelines for those wishing to study there, so take a good look at those deadlines and what’s required for the specific institutions where you’d like to study, with the general recommendation being that all international students apply to their colleges and universities of choice around a year before they want to begin their study.

Amber Goodness says it’s not that different from application process in the States:

The application process was very similar to applying to schools in the states, just a different application. Although there is no SAT in Canada, as a dual citizen, I needed to provide my SAT score and it needed to meet the minimum requirements to be accepted.

The schools should easily be able to provide information on:

  • the cost of the application, tuition fees,
  • rent/dormitory fees,
  • required health insurance,
  • and whether or not language tests will be necessary.

All students will need their high school transcripts, like any post-secondary application, may be required to pass a medical exam to prove they are in good health, and will need a valid passport.

In comparison to the USA application program, Canadian students are asseed primarily based on high-school grades and an application essay. Sometimes SAT scores are required as well. However, Canada doesn’t have a Common application, unlike the U.S., so students have to submit a separate application to each of their desired universities.

University of Toronto - St. George Campus, Toronto, Canada
University of Toronto – St. George Campus, Toronto, Canada


International Study Cheat Sheet:

Students need a letter of acceptance from at least one Canadian school that is classified as a designated learning institution in order to be able to apply for their Canadian Study Permit. You apply for a permit of study at the Canada Visa Office in your country. The Canadian study permit is accepted as a visa for the duration of your stay in the country. If your program lasts six months or less, you don’t need a Canadian study permit. The application costs are 150 CAD. You must have at least 10,000 CAD (or 11,000 CAD if studying in Quebec) on top of your tuition fees, to get a Canadian Study Permit. Find our more on how to apply for a study permit here.

The Cost Of Study in Canada

Canadian students pay around 5,000 CAD/year of tuition. In comparison, the average tuition for private universities in the United States is $32,100/year. International students in Canada pay a higher rate to study than Canadian students, with some paying nearly 30K per year to study, which is still lower than what an international student would pay in the U.S., which is around $24,930.


Undergraduate fees in Canada

  • According to Statistics Canada, the average tuition fees for international students (2017/2018) are around 25,180 CAD per year.
  • Medicine and engineering are among the most expensive, with an average of 28,625 CAD
  • Business and management course fees are lower than average at 24,683 CAD

Postgraduate fees

  • The average tuition fee in 2017/2018 is 16,252 CAD/year
Undergraduate and Post Graduate fees

This rate is not much different than American education fees, but many Americans feel it’s worth the investment.

Ben Elling says:

The international tuition rate seemed reasonable to me, especially when compared to some of the private universities in the US, and not far off some of the state universities.

For Amber Goodness, the savings on tuition were very significant:

Financially, going to school in Canada was MUCH cheaper than going to the same level school in the United States. If I compared it to a similar school down here, the difference would be around $20,000 per year.


If you’re looking for ways to finance your studies in Canada, there are scholarship options available to international students. Most Canadian universities have their own scholarship programs you can apply for. Make sure to apply as early as possible even before you apply to a school. If you’re coming from other Commonwealth countries, make sure to check out the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program. The portal TopUniversities.com compiled a guide to scholarships in Canada that’s worthwhile checking out too, you can find it here.

The Cost of Living in Canada as an International Student:

According to University of Toronto, below are estimated costs of living in Toronto, Mississauga and Scarborough in 2018-19.

Estimated living and studying costs for the academic year (8 months):

  • Food: 1604 CAD – 3700 CAD
  • Clothing: 900 CAD – 1100 CAD
  • Local Transportation: 934 CAD (116.75 CAD per month)
  • Books, supplies and instruments: 1000 CAD – 2000 CAD+
  • Miscellaneous: 1000 CAD – 2000 CAD


Housing Costs:

Source: CMHC Rental Market Report – Fall 2017
*Room avg. source: U of T Off-Campus Housing Service – Fall 2017

CMA (Census Metro Area)

  • Room: N/A
  • Bachelor: 1,013 CAD
  • 1-bedroom apartment: 1,194 CAD
  • 2-bedroom apartment: 1,404 CAD
  • 3+-bedroom apartment: 1,569 CAD

Near St. George

  • Room: 900 CAD 
  • Bachelor: 1,096 CAD
  • 1-bedroom apartment: 1,198 CAD
  • 2-bedroom apartment: 1,983 CAD
  • 3+-bedroom apartment: 2,451 CAD

Near UTM

  • Room: 702 CAD
  • Bachelor: 900 CAD 
  • 1-bedroom apartment: 1,210 CAD
  • 2-bedroom apartment: 1,327 CAD
  • 3+-bedroom apartment: 1,780 CAD


  • Room: 800 CAD
  • Bachelor: 927 CAD
  • 1-bedroom apartment: 1,100 CAD
  • 2-bedroom apartment: 1,353 CAD
  • 3+-bedroom apartment: 1,762 CAD




The Université de Montréal’s research shows students need 15,050 CAD per year including housing, food, accommodation, books and school supplies, phone costs and other expenses. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver estimates the living costs for students to be at 15,500 CAD/year, excluding mandatory health insurance (864 CAD/year).

International Study Cheat Sheet:

The Canadian Government does not cover the medical costs for International Students, with health coverage differing from province to province:


  • no public health insurance
  • private insurance policy arranged through school is around 480 CAD/year. 


  • students are obliged to sign up for provincial health insurance for 500 CAD/year, unless they have health care policy with international/overseas coverage.


  • health insurace provided by the school for 275 CAD/year, excluding dental and prescribed medication (additional 200 CAD)


  • if the student doesn’t have internationally valid health insurance, they have to buy private health insurance for 500 CAD/year.


  • health care plan designed by the university with a limited coverage, including round medical checks and some hospitalization occasions, for 500 CAD/year. 


  • students have to buy mandatory private University Health Insurance plan for only 450 CAD, which covers only the most basic services.


  • if a student plans on staying for more than 6 months, they will be entitled to public health insurance for 450 CAD 


  • the student is entitled to public health insurance if Saskatchewan is their first place to live for more than 3 months after coming to Canada. 


  • specially designed package for international students, covering basic health services in the public domain for 68 CAD/month


  • if you decide to study in B.C., you must apply for Medical Service Plan (MSP). There is a 3 month waiting period before the coverage starts. There is a three-month waiting period before MSP coverage begins. It costs 37.50 CAD/month. During the waiting period, international students are covered by iMED, which is a temporary basic health care plan designed for international students – 180 CAD/3 months.

Comparing with US study programs 

Ben Elling said a major difference he found between his study in Canada vs. U.S was a greater emphasis on streaming towards a particular degree early on:

Generally in the US first year is composed of a range of classes (e.g., I took astronomy and fencing as my electives while tracking towards an English major). I found in Canada there didn’t seem to be that same flexibility in first year.

University of British Columbia classroms, by Jay Banks
University of British Columbia classroms, by Jay Banks

After visiting a U.S. university during her studies in Canada, Amber knew she made the right choice:

When I was in my first year, I went to visit my friends at the local state school that I almost went to in Connecticut and I was shocked how it reminded me of a high school classroom versus a college classroom.

Working While In School

There are some loopholes that can be taken advantage of, for American and International students who wish to work in Canada while studying, where they won’t be required to get a work permit.

Anyone with a valid permit of study who is a full-time student can work on campus at the school, however anyone who wants to work off campus will need to obtain a work permit which can be applied for through Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

International Study Cheat Sheet:

International students do not qualify for bank or government affiliated student loans in Canada, although some schools will offer one time only emergency loans for international students on a case by case basis as determined by the school’s financial aid department.

How Do I Stay If I want to?

Ben Elling decided to stay in Canada because he didn’t like the situation in the U.S. back then:

While the degrees I obtained in university would likely translate to some US jobs, by the time I finished school I was certain I did not want to go back to the US. George W. Bush had been elected not long after I left the US and it sure seemed like things weren’t trending particularly progressively down south.

Amber Goodness on the other hand, returned home:

I found it very expensive to live in Canada compared to the U.S., particularly groceries and all the other living costs, which influenced my decision. I also returned back to the US because my family was in the States and I was in a serious relationship with someone living in the U.S. in my second and third year of study. I think if I was not in a relationship, I would have considered staying in Canada for a couple of years. I ultimately would have wanted to get my Masters of Education where I planned on settling long term, so I think I would have returned to the US at some point anyway.

International students who study in Canada may be eligible for a special work permit that will allow them to stay in the country for employment for up to three years after graduation, provided they are granted a Post-graduate work permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Downtown Toronto
Downtown Toronto

Those who want to stay permanently in Canada can apply through the Provincial Nominee status to the federal government. To be eligible for this, applicants must be a recent graduate or graduating soon from a publically funded Canadian College or University (in Canada) and have a qualifying permanent full-time job offer from an employer located in their chosen province. People who have their Masters or PhD’s can apply without a job offer in hand.

Former student turned Canadian citizen Ben Elling says,

From my experience, I found that if you didn’t have a partner or sponsor of some sort, staying on when you finish school as an international student took a lot of work. I think it could certainly be made a bit easier to transition from being here as a student to applying as a permanent resident. I think there should also be a greater emphasis on attracting international students to trades schools and technical colleges.

Before Doing Anything, Research Your Future Stomping Grounds

A road trip or visit to Canada before applying to a school could be a smart choice to ensure your selection meets the needs and expectations of your university/college experience. Former Western student Ben says,

Take the time to research the area where you think you’ll want to go to school. While University of Western Ontario was a great choice and I don’t regret it, London turned out to be a fair bit smaller than I expected.


4 Replies to “A Guide to Studying in Canada for International Students”

  1. Wow! Thank you for this thorough guide. I’m thinking about studying in Canada, I am an US citizen and this is really helpful. Now if only I knew what I wanted to study…

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