What To Do Before You Arrive In Canada As An International Student

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International students coming to study in Canada no longer need to go through the lengthy but temporary processes to protect public health which were implemented earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the coronavirus which causes this respiratory illness is still present in Canada, the situation has come under control enough for Ottawa to lift as of Oct. 1, 2022 its public health and travel measures put in place to curb the spread of the illness.

These included:

  • submitting public health information through the ArriveCAN app or website;
  • providing proof of vaccination;
  • undergoing pre- or on-arrival testing;
  • carrying out COVID-19-related quarantine or isolation, and;
  • monitoring and reporting signs or symptoms of COVID-19 upon arriving to Canada.

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Transport Canada also removed COVID-19 travel requirements on the same day, which means travellers no longer need to:

  • undergo health checks for travel on air and rail, or;
  • wear masks on planes and trains.

“Thanks largely to Canadians who have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated, we have reached the point where we can safely lift the sanitary measures at the border,” said then-Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos late last year.

“However, we expect COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses will continue to circulate over the cold months, so I encourage everyone to stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccination, including booster doses and exercise individual public health measures.”

Canada does not require that international students come within a set time frame before beginning  their studies and only advises them to allow for a reasonable amount of time to prepare ahead of starting school.

International students are not allowed to work on or off campus until they do begin their studies in Canada.

Any international students who want to change schools must also be aware that to do so they must submit a new study permit application with a new letter of acceptance and pay all the fees for the new application.

First Step To Studying In Canada Is To Find The Right School And Program

When an international student starts thinking about studying in Canada, the first step is to find a world-class school or program by doing research on those schools and programs which are right for him or her.

“Consider where you’d like to live in Canada’s provinces and territories,” advises EduCanada, the official federal government source about studying in Canada for international students and researchers.

“Across the country, you can choose from small, welcoming rural communities and large vibrant cities.”

EduCanada’s search tool allows international students to get information about colleges and universities but these students can also learn about elementary schools, high schools, and language schools by contacting them directly.

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“If you want to study in Canada, the good news is that tuition fees are generally less expensive than in other major anglophone destinations like the United States, United Kingdom and Australia,” notes QS Top Universities.

EduCanada also provides an online tool to help international students calculate the tuition and living costs based on the program in which they are enrolled.

“You can use our search tool to search and compare tuition and living costs for different college and university programs across Canada,” notes EduCanada.

“Depending on where you choose to study, your costs will be different. To help prepare your budget, use the search tool to get cost estimates for:

  • food;
  • housing;
  • transportation, and;
  • health insurance.”

EduCanada Tool Helps International Students Get Scholarships

In addition to any financial assistance from mom and dad, friends and other family members, the cost of studying in Canada can be offset through scholarship, fellowships and grants as well as by working during one’s studies.

EduCanada offers a way for international students to be able to find those scholarships.

Among the most notable scholarship and fellowship programs are:

  • the Canada-ASEAN Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED) for students;
  • the Canada-China Scholars’ Exchange Program;
  • the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program;
  • the Study in Canada Scholarships;
  • the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships;
  • the Organization of American States Academic Scholarship Program, and;
  • the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

Many students also work while pursuing their studies in Canada and then apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) which allows them to remain and work in the country upon graduation and pick up valuable experience which counts towards any application they might make for permanent residence in Canada.

Once an international student has decided to come to Canada for his or her studies, the next step is to apply to a school.

“When applying to your chosen school, be sure to provide accurate information and the requested documents,” advises EduCanada.

“Your school will tell you which documents you need and the next steps to follow. Keep in mind that the application fee will vary for each institution. Be sure to apply well in advance.”

Schools in Canada will check the international student’s credentials and qualifications and ask him or her to provide documents, including their:

  • report cards;
  • transcripts, and;
  • academic credentials.

Passports Will Be Requested By IRCC When The Study Permit Is Approved

When a college or university or other school sends the international student his or her letter of acceptance, you will then need to get a study permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). That process can sometimes be completed more quickly by applying through the Student Direct Stream (SDS).

Since the start of December this year, the IRCC has a new version of its study permit application form which must be used by anyone applying through their secure IRCC account.

“Generally, you must apply for a study permit before you come to Canada,” notes the IRCC’s website.

“Some people can apply for a study permit from within Canada. In some cases, you can apply when you arrive in Canada at the port of entry. Make sure you understand which option is available to you.”

The documents an international student needs to apply for a study permit include not only a letter of acceptance from the Designated Learning Institution (DLI) they will be attending but as many of the documents needed for a complete application as possible.

“We won’t be able to finalize your study permit until you’ve submitted a complete application,” notes the IRCC.

In the even that any documents are missing due to COVID-19, the IRCC will require a letter of explanation.

“If you plan to study in Quebec, you must provide a valid attestation of issuance of your Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ),” notes the IRCC.

Canadian immigration officials will ask the international student to send them his or her passport once the study permit application is approved. The IRCC sends that passport back to the international student with the study permit along with a letter of introduction.

“When you travel to Canada, bring this letter with you and show it at the Canada Border Services officer. If you have been approved, the officer will then give you your study permit,” advises EduCanada.

Ahead of arriving in Canada, international students should also arrange for the housing needs and find out what kind of travel and health insurance they will need.

“Canadian students often choose to live on campus during their first year of post-secondary education. As an international student, this option may appeal to you, too. It’s a great way to meet friends and connect with other students,” advises EduCanada.

Getting The Right Health Insurance Vital For International Students

“If you’re sending your child to Canada for high school or an exchange program, they’ll likely stay with a Canadian family as part of a homestay program. Some private high schools in Canada offer dormitory housing to allow students to live, eat and sleep at the school.”

A very important part of any international student’s preparations should be ensuring they have the health insurance they will need in Canada as it can be very distressing to be sick in a foreign country and not know where to go for healthcare or how to pay for it.

“Provinces and territories that offer free health care to international students may require a period of residency in Canada before you are granted free health coverage,” notes EduCanada.

“As an international student, you need to determine whether your province or territory extends healthcare coverage to you. If so, you’ll be able to access doctors and hospitals in that province or territory. This kind of health insurance does not cover dentists, chiropractors, physiotherapy and other similar services.”

There are provinces in Canada, though, where international students cannot count on any free healthcare coverage. In those places, they must buy private medical insurance.

“In Ontario, for example, all international students must have health coverage provided by University Health Insurance Plan,” notes EduCanada.

Travel health insurance is somewhat different from basic health insurance and is generally useful for those who intend to spend less than a year in Canada and live in different parts of the country.

Once those preparations are done, it’s time for an international student to book his or her flight, find out about baggage limits and customs rules – and be sure to bring a small amount of Canadian or U.S. cash with them. They can also download the ArriveCan mobile app on their phones for a faster boarding experience.

“Make sure you have all documents you need to bring with you, such as: the letter of acceptance from your school; medical and immunization records, and; any documents your school asks you to bring,” advises EduCanada.

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Colin Singer
Colin Singer is an international acclaimed Canadian immigration lawyer and founder of immigration.ca featured on Wikipedia. Colin Singer is also founding director of the Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Resource Center (CCIRC) Inc. He served as an Associate Editor of ‘Immigration Law Reporter’, the pre-eminent immigration law publication in Canada. He previously served as an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association’s Quebec and National Immigration Law Sections and is currently a member of the Canadian Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Colin has twice appeared as an expert witness before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. He is frequently recognized as a recommended authority at national conferences sponsored by government and non-government organizations on matters affecting Canada’s immigration and human resource industries. Since 2009, Colin has been a Governor of the Quebec Bar Foundation a non-profit organization committed to the advancement of the profession, and became a lifetime member in 2018.