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Apply to Be an International Student in Canada

Are you interested in studying abroad? If you're like many students, the first country that came to mind to apply to was the United States. You may have already looked into the requirements to become an international student at a university in the USA. A great alternative to consider is Canada. Canada is a fantastic country with a diverse culture, where multiculturalism is an integral part of society. Canada has a population about 10 times less than that of the United States. The USA hosts more than 670,000 international students each year, while Canada is home to around 80,000. Canadian universities are well ranked in the world. The quality of education is high and they offer a wide variety of programs of study.

Before you start researching schools and programs of study, please be aware of these 2 important requirements to you obtaining your Study Permit (your student visa): language proficiency and sufficient finances. You must prove that you have enough money to support yourself for your duration in Canada. You can expect to pay $6 - 22,000 a year for tuition costs (not including administration fees and textbooks). You must also prove your proficiency in either official language: English or French. Most universities have classes taught in English, but some universities are conducted in French. Achieving a high score from a standardized test such as TOEFL is usually proof of your English skills. Great English skills will make it easier for you to adapt to your new culture; however, you'll readily find assistance if you need it in Canada. There are various support services available to international students including many English as a Second Langauage (ESL) courses.

The process to study abroad in Canada is a similar one to successfully applying as a foreign student to an American higher educational institution. You will need to be organized, and be ready to devote time and energy to get yourself accepted into the school and program of study you want. Here is a quick summary of the process: determine what's your field of study, choose several universities that have the program in the city/province you want go, determine what each school's requirements are, decide on which school's you will apply to, do the applications, wait for replies, choose the school from your offers, get your visa, finalize what you need before leaving, arrive in Canada, and go to school. How do you accomplish all this? Planning, patience and some hard work will get you to your goal. Our overview guide below is for someone seeking an undergraduate degree at a Canadian university.

Necessary Steps to Get Accepted:

1.  Organize your schedule and create your task list.

Lots and lots of preparation time. You might be surprised to learn that it can take around a year to complete the admissions process. Gathering information about schools, taking the TOEFL test, getting recommendations, waiting for school's to process your applications, waiting for your visa to be granted, it all adds up. If you already know what school and program you want as well as being proficient in English (or French), it will still take 4-7 months to get accepted by a university and have your visa granted.

Being early for deadlines is best. There are lots of other hopeful students who want to study abroad. Not everyone can get accepted each year. The main session for most Canadian universities is September to April for undergraduate degrees. January to February is the typical deadline to receive applications by. The exact deadlines vary by school as well as from province to province.

2.  Choose your degree and your program of study.

What's your program of study? What degree do you want? You must know. Different majors can have different requirements and deadlines.

3.  Choose your top five universities to apply to.

What school should you choose? Where do you want to study? Climate type, campus size, big city or small, recreational activities are all factors in your decision beyond how good a school and its programs are. So get ready to do some research! You want to know as much as you can to choose the school that's a great match for you. If you're already attending a college or university in your home country, they should have resources on schools in other countries.

As your starting point to learn about all the universities in Canada, go to the AUCC (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) website. Fees, tuition costs, programs, descriptions of each school, website of each university and lots of other information is available. Another webpage with a list of directories for all types of schools in Canada to use to help you gather information is here.

There are 95 universities in Canada currently. In Canada, only a university, not a college, can grant degrees (bachelor, masters, doctorate). Canadian universities offer more than 10,000 degree programs. Canadian colleges, institutes of technology, and other post-secondary school education institutions can only grant diplomas/certificates or associate degrees. Overall, Canada has one of the largest systems of higher education in the world. Even so, space for international students is usually limited. Competition can be fierce! It's best you have around 3-6 schools you'd like to attend so you have some options.

When you look for schools in the USA, you are advised to make sure it's an accredited school, which means it meets education standards and means your degree will be recognized. The situation is different in Canada. All universities are accredited as all universities are public. Public universities receive a significant amount of funding from the government. Each province or territory is entirely responsible for all levels of education, so the quality of education is assured. Your degree from any Canadian university will be globally recognized.

4.  Determine the schools' admissions requirements.

Now go to the websites of the universities you're interested in. You can find them at AUCC's website, or use a search engine. Find the international students section on their webpage which is usually part of the Admissions area. Find the school's requirements for admitting foreign students. Also look for an international advisor to contact. If you can't find the information, call the school. Or e-mail. Some schools even have online chats.

As each province or territory governs its universities, the requirements set by each one are different. You'll notice as well that tuition and other fees vary which is due to the amount of subsidization by each provincial government. Although every university's requirements and deadlines can be different, some are common to all. Each of these requirements can take months to complete.

Requirements to expect:

  • Proof of English proficiency. Is your TOEFL score good enough to get you accepted into your top picks of schools? You may have to retake the test, or study harder if you haven't taken it yet, to meet their requirements.
  • Having a high TOEFL score may not be enough. The university you apply to may have other language requirements as well, or you may need to take an entrance test (standardized admissions test) that tests your skills in many subjects. Some of these tests are done AFTER you arrive at the school. However, there isn't is Canada-wide entrance test; each university sets its own admission standards and assesses the qualifications of each applicant individually. The registrar's office at each university can provide you with their specific requirements.
  • If you want to attend a university that is taught only in French, there is no standardized French language test to take, but your French skills will be evaluated by the school. The school may require you to take its own exam to prove your skills meet their standard.
  • Transcripts of you grades. Are they high enough to get you accepted? As well, transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.
  • Recommendation letters. Ones from teachers are the best to have.
  • Schools generally require a statement of intent, an application essay, or personal statement. The goal of the essay is to show why the school should accept you. You need to show who you are, what drives you, your beliefs, abilities and achievements. You want to make a lasting impression. This essay is the part of the application that lets you stand out as a real person instead of just being a bunch of facts.

5.  Obtain the admissions forms and other necessary information from the schools you chose.

After you've decided upon what schools you want apply to, you need to start the application process. You need to start LONG before the deadlines! You can download the application from many universities, and some have online submission as well. Note that official documents, like your transcripts, still must be mailed to the university, you cannot upload them. Others you need to write to before you can get the application. Make sure you find out what the fee is to submit the application.

In most provinces in Canada, you directly contact each university you want to apply to. Ontario is the exception. To apply to any university in Ontario, you must apply through the The Ontario Universities' Application Centre (OUAC) webpage.

What else does each school require? WHEN do they require it by? Ask if you're unsure. Having an advisor you can contact to help you is a must.

If you're in college/university already in your own country, you need to find out if you will be given any credit for the courses you've completed.

Also contact the financial aid office to learn about what financial aid and scholarships you can apply for. You can use this government site to search for international scholarships.

If you have not taken, or need to retake, TOEFL or whichever standardized tests the schools require scores for, this is when you should register to take them. This is especially true if the tests are only offered in your country as the paper based version instead of the online version as there are less dates and locations available, and getting your scores will take longer.

6.  What to prepare while you wait for acceptance offers.

Once you get the applications for each school sent off, you will need to wait to be approved. It will take 3-6 months! During your wait, there are other tasks you should work on.

One important one is housing. Where are you going to stay? How much can you spend on accommodation? Living on campus, in residence, is an affordable option, but space is limited and in high demand. You need to apply as soon as you can. Being accepted to a university does not mean you secure a place in residence. Homestay, living with a Canadian family, is another popular option. Renting your own place is the most expensive choice. Contact the university's housing office or your advisor for information about on-campus and off-campus housing.

Another important requirement by law is health insurance. Depending on which province you will be in, you may or may not be covered by the province's medical plan. Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan do cover international students. You still need to investigate the requirements in each province as the costs and how you become insured vary. Since the medical coverage cannot be in effect until after you arrive, you must be insured by other means before you arrive in Canada. For the other provinces, you must arrange for medical coverage through a private insurance company. Ontario has an additional requirement: you must enroll in the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).

Try to learn more about the schools you applied to, the city and province they are in. Many Canadian universities have international student handbooks (PDF file) available to download that cover vital information as well as the steps you should do before and after arriving. Or they have a dedicated section on their website to assist international students. For example, this is the University of British Columbia's website area and one of their handbooks.

As well, stay in contact with your advisor. Find out when you have to be there by and what their orientation is like. Will their orientation get you completely settled in and ready to attend class, or will you be expected to do some tasks yourself? Maybe obtaining your student identification for instance.

How are you going to get around? How much can you expect to spend on transportation? Do you plan on driving? Ask your advisor how you can get a driver's licence. You might be able to use your foreign issued licence (again it depends on which province you will be in). An International Driver's Permit (IDP) is valid in Canada.

How are you going to pay for your daily needs, like food? Will your credit card be accepted in Canada? Will you need to set up a banking account? A banking account can only be set up after you arrive, but you should find out how long it will take to create it and get funds transferred into it. Most banks – Canada has five (Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal, CIBC, Toronto Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia) primary national banks – require 2 pieces of identification in order to create an account. You can find out how to create an account on the banks' websites.

You should start planning your travel arrangements.

Also start getting your passport, especially if you've never had one. Note that your name on your passport must match what you put on the school application forms.

7.  Choose which school you will attend.

Get your applications accepted by schools. If you applied to a school and did not hear back from them within the time they said it would take, contact them. After you receive all your offers from schools, you need to decide which one you will accept. Inform the school you decide upon. Make sure you tell the school before their deadline! You should inform the other schools you are declining their offer as this will free up a spot for someone else.

After you have accepted the university's offer, you will receive from them an official offer of admission letter. This is one of the documents necessary to apply for your Study Permit. Make a few copies of this letter. You'll need to present one when you enter Canada.

From the university, you will also find out when you can start registering for classes and what deposit you need to pay. You should register as soon as possible so you need figure out what your schedule/timetable will be. Plan for some alternate classes incase your first choices become full. After you're registered for classes, make sure to find out how much your fees are when you have to pay them by.

Start the process now, if you haven't already, to get your passport as it is another document you need before applying for your Study Permit.

During this time is when you need to get your accommodation decided upon.

8.  Start applying for your Study Permit.

Once you have received your office of admission letter from the university, you can begin to apply for your Study Permit. This is the visa Canadian Immigration requires you to have to enter Canada for the duration of your study abroad period. How long the entire process will take will depend on what country you are in. The time to finalize the application and the number of requirements to meet varies by country. To allow for enough time to deal with any unexpected delays, you should get your Study Permit application, along with the necessary documents, submitted 3 months before your classes will begin.

First thing for you to do is to contact your Canadian embassy or consulate or High Commission (nearest diplomatic post) in your region to find out what your requirements are. As well, you can get the application from them. To find the nearest Canadian visa office in your country go to this government webpage. You can also download the application (PDF files), from here.

In addition to the Study Permit, citizens of some countries will require a TRV (Temporary Resident Visa) before they will be allowed into Canada. People from China are one example. To see the list, go to this government webpage. If you need a TRV, it is done at the same time as the Study Permit application by the visa officer. There is no additional form for the TRV.

If you'll be studying abroad in a school in Quebec, there is an additional requirement. You must obtain a certificat d'acceptation du Quebec (CAQ). It will currently cost $100 to get one. You can get the form and read what's needed to complete it from this Quebec Immigration webpage. You can process the application online as well if you have the right documents ready and a valid credit card to pay the fee. A Quebec Immigration page says that it usually takes 4 weeks to process a CAQ application.

You must have these documents with you when you go to the visa office with your Study Permit application:

  • Proof of acceptance by a school. This is the official letter you received from the school you registered with.
  • A valid passport.
  • 2 recently taken photographs, passport size. Write your name and date of birth on the back of them.
  • Proof of sufficient finances to support yourself during your stay in Canada. The amount necessary is your tuition plus $10,000 ($11,000 for Quebec only) for a full year.

You also have to prove to the visa officer that you will come back to your country after finishing studying abroad in Canada.

The next thing to do is to pay the processing fee at your visa office. The current fee for submitting a Study Permit application is $125 Canadian. For many countries, you can pay the fee as the equivalent amount in your own currency. The processing fee will not be refunded. You will be given a receipt.

After you gather all your necessary documents, make sure your Study Permit application has been carefully completed:

  • All questions in the application are answered fully
  • Your writing can be easily read
  • You signed and dated it
  • You included your processing fee receipt

When everything is in order, make a copy of your application package for your own records. Now you're ready to submit it at your visa office.

9.  Getting your Study Permit to be approved.

After the visa office has your application, it will be reviewed to make sure that it is complete and no documents are missing. Then a visa officer will decide if an interview is necessary. If so, the officer will inform you of the time and place. As well, you may be asked to provide more information or documents. Two other documents you will likely need, and can take a few months to get, are a medical exam and a security check (police certificate).

To see the list of countries where a medical exam is required, go to this government page. China, India, Philippines are examples of some countries. If you require a medical exam, you can't just go to your own doctor. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will only accept exams done by designated doctors. From your visa office you have to get a form with your assigned file number. To find a doctor in your area, use this government webpage.

If you need a security check, you must get it from the police (relevant authorities). There might be a fee. For more details on how to get one, see this government webpage.

Different countries have different times to finalize the application. It can be as fast as a few days or take a couple weeks, or it can take up to a month or more. Taking a month to finalize it is common. You can see time estimates for countries on this government page.

Should your address or any other contact information change while you're waiting for it to be approved, make sure to inform your visa office.

If all goes well, you will be granted your Study Permit. You will receive a letter of introduction confirming the approval and if you require one, your TRV. The letter is not the actual visa. You will take this letter with you to Canada to show immigration officials who then issue you your Study Permit. The TRV has a time limit. You must enter Canada before it expires.

10.  Finalize your trip to Canada.

Before you can leave for Canada, you need to finalize your travel plans. Did you get your medical coverage yet? Where will you stay upon arriving? How will you get there? You should try to arrive 1-3 weeks before classes will start.

This is when you need to decide what to bring with you besides the documents you must have. For example, how about clothes? What clothes to choose will depend on when you will be arriving in Canada. Canada's climate has all 4 distinct seasons. You should be able to get some clothes recommendations from the university you're going to. You can learn more about the climate of where you'll be at this Environment Canada webpage.

Make a list of whatever items you want to bring. Typing it up and making more than one copy is best. Include any serial numbers of cameras, computers, appliances, etc. For jewellery, provide a description and/or have photographs. Give an estimated value for each item too. After you make your list, see if any items are not allowed in Canada. For details about restricted and prohibited items, as well as more information about coming to Canada, see this CBSA guide. The reason for the list is that Canada Customs requires it. You normally won't have to pay any duty or taxes on your items, but they must be reported and you might have to pay a refundable security deposit. Also note that all non-consumable items you bring into Canada have to go back with you when you leave.

Something else that's good to bring with you is a copy of your medical history, translated ideally into English. This will help the Canadian doctor you will see, especially knowing about any chronic conditions and what you have been immunized for. If you will be bringing medications, you need your prescription from your physician, and the medications have to be in the original packaging. Don't forget to bring your medical insurance documents (if you are relying on medical insurance from your home country).

Other important papers to bring with you into Canada, if they apply, are your marriage certificate and/or proof of common-law status, your driver's licence or international driver's licence, your driving insurance records, and your vehicle registration and insurance papers if you're bringing your car.

11.  Gain entry into Canada.

You arrive in Canada. You need to get through Customs and Immigration. A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer can deny your entry into Canada even if you have everything in order. Make sure you have all the required documents, as well as any money (cash, bank drafts, money orders, traveller's cheques) on you, do not pack them in your luggage. You must present these documents to the CBSA officer:

  • Your valid passport.
  • Your letter of introduction you received from the visa office.
  • Your TRV (if you needed one).
  • Copy of your offer of admission letter from your school.
  • Your proof of sufficient finances for your stay in Canada.
  • Any other documents (medical exam, security check for example) the visa office required you to get.
  • Your list of items you've brought with you.

In addition, if you have more than $10,000 Canadian in funds with you, you must inform the CBSA officer.

Even though you have all your documents, you will not be allowed into Canada until you prove to the CBSA officer that you meet all the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Regulations.

When you have been allowed entry, the CBSA officer will give you your Study Permit. Check that your information on the Study Permit is correct and check the expiry date. As well, you must follow the conditions of your Study Permit. For more information, see this government webpage. Your Study Permit is your proof that you're legally in Canada. Make sure you keep the document safe!

12.  Get accustomed to your school.

Your long journey is now complete. You've made it! Get acquainted with your new home and school. Attend orientation and become familiar with the campus. Classes will start soon. Begin immersing yourself in a foreign culture for an experience that will change your life. It'll be challenging for sure, but it'll be worth every effort you put into it.

Do you plan on working? Your Study Permit (valid for at least 6 months) allows you to work on campus as long as you are a registered for as full-time student taking credit courses. Working off-campus is possible, but you must get a work permit and meet some other requirements first. To learn how to qualify, see this government page. Your university will also be able to help you.

13.  Remaining a student at school.

Even though you're in Canada now as a student, you have to maintain your status:

  • Your passport must always be valid.
  • Your Study Permit must always be valid.
  • You must be enrolled full-time.
  • Make sure your school always has your current address.
  • Make sure your medical coverage is up to date.

If you're unsure about anything, ask your advisor, they are there to help you. Go get your degree and secure your future dreams!

This has been a basic guide to make you aware of everything involved in successfully becoming an international undergraduate student at a Canadian higher educational institution. What we have provided you with is more of a starting point instead of an in depth guide. For more detailed information to assist you with any of the above steps we outlined for you, please go to this government website. Two other ones you'll find very helpful are at CMEC and CICIC.

TOEFL | Study Abroad Canada    Previous   Up   

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