You’ve chosen your program, weighed your Canadian college options, started working on your applications. An equally necessary part of your preparation is learning about student life in Canada. After all, you’re going to be spending up to four years or more to complete your program. You may even be thinking about permanent residency. So, what is life as a student in Canada like? There’s plenty to consider. For example, what is your budget for accommodation and living expenses? What kind of lifestyle do you want to enjoy in Canada? How would you get around? Here's a handy guide of things you’ll want to know about international university student life in Canada. Knowing what to expect cuts down on the uncertainty and unwelcome surprises you’ll have to face!
Life as an International Student in Canada
1. You Can Work as a Student
One of the biggest benefits for international students in Canada? You have plenty of opportunities to collect some work experience. In fact, universities and government policies actively encourage you to do so. Plenty of Canadian universities offer co-op (cooperative education) programs. These involve a balance of classroom learning and practical, hands-on industry experience through work placements. Your university typically works with employers to find you placements for work experience as part of your curriculum!
Usually, this means you spend alternate semesters studying and working. And it also means that you can graduate with up to two years of work experience! You enter the workforce with an attractive skillset, industry know-how, and a professional network. This instantly gives you an edge over the competition when getting into work. Co-op program placements are also paid – you can earn up to CAD 20 an hour on average. This helps you offset some of the expenses of student life in Canada. As a full-time student at a designated learning institution (DLI), you don't need a work permit for off-campus jobs. Your study program needs to be longer than six months to qualify you for work!
Outside of co-op programs and internships, international students can work up to 20 hours during semesters and full-time during breaks. Work is an integral part of life as a student in Canada. Canadian universities structure their programs to be responsive to industry trends. The country's government actively encourages qualified international students to participate in its economy!
What About Working After Graduation?
Along with all these flexible work opportunities, you can also apply to work in Canada after your graduation. Applying for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) allows you to find work in Canada after completing your study program. The duration of the permit depends on the length of your study program. For instance, if your study program is less than two years long, your PGWP may be valid for the same length of time. If your program is longer than two years, you can apply for a PGWP valid for up to three years.
Are you considering working in Canada after graduating? Make sure you are eligible for the PGWP and apply within 180 days of completing your program!
2. You Can Pursue Permanent Residency After Graduating
Intending to become a permanent resident and settling down here? Great news - your post-study work experience can tally up to make you eligible for permanent residency in Canada! Several of the categories for permanent residency ask for Canadian work experience. So if this is a long-term goal for you, taking advantage of the benefits for international students in Canada in terms of post-study work opportunities gives you a head start!
The Canadian government is enthusiastic about welcoming international talent into its workforce. As of May 2021, it aims to invite 90,000 new permanent residents! So, check out what you need to be eligible and plan for this long-term goal.
3. Is Canada Good for Students on a Budget?
This depends on your budget, how you manage it, and where you choose to live, among other things. Canada is a sprawling country spanning ten provinces and three territories. And the costs of living can vary considerably depending on location. Vancouver and Toronto, for example, fall on the pricier end, while Quebec tends to be more affordable.
Typically, your university gives you an estimate of living costs, including expenses such as housing, food, and transport. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) needs you to verify that you can finance yourself against these estimated costs. This is a prerequisite for successfully applying as an international student to Canada.
So, part of your planning involves figuring out how to finance your student life in Canada. Are you looking for vibrant night scenes, huge crowds for sports events and concerts, lots of café culture, and malls? Then you’d prefer city hubs like Toronto for your life as a student. Do you prefer something more along the lines of a community than a city that never sleeps? The suburbs in Winnipeg or Calgary might appeal to you.
Just as these locations vary, so do the expenses studying and living there. Before starting your student life in Canada, look into the costs you’re expecting for the specific region you’re planning to live in.
Take a look at how broadly your costs can vary depending on where you’re living and studying:
|Concordia University (Montreal)||Ryerson University (Toronto)||Simon Fraser University (Vancouver)||Carleton University (Ottawa)||McGill University (Quebec)|
|Books & supplies||CAD 2,250||CAD 1,400 - CAD 8,000||CAD 2,340||CAD 1,400||CAD 1,000|
|Transport||CAD 432||CAD 128 (in the Greater Toronto Area)|
|Accommodation||CAD 3,917 - 8,800||CAD 9,289.06 - CAD 21,600||CAD 6,448 (on-campus)||CAD 8,600 (off-campus) - CAD 10,893 (on-campus inc. meal plan)||CAD 6,000 - CAD 19,079|
|Food & Household||CAD 3,200||CAD 4,384 - CAD 5,949||CAD 4,660 (Residence Meal Plan)||CAD 2,600 - CAD 5,475|
4. Figuring Out Your Housing
One of the first things you need to know about how to survive in Canada as an international student? Where you’ll live. There’s plenty to consider, from convenience to budget to your specific needs and preferences for a living space. Most universities offer on-campus housing, with priority given to first-year students.
- On-campus residences often have help centres for international students to get settled into student life in Canada
- There is usually round-the-clock support if you need it
- You don’t have to navigate still-unfamiliar transport routes to get to class
- Campus dorms are a great opportunity to meet people
- If you apply for set meal plans, you can grab daily meals at your campus’ dining halls
- You can also apply for self-catering if you prefer to cook for yourself. This way, you can manage how much you spend on food and groceries
- On-campus residences can sometimes be pricey – do check for competing prices for off-campus options
- You have to share your living space, including living rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms, with other students
- Single rooms will typically cost more
You also have the alternative of renting off-campus housing. This is something you might like to consider after you’re more familiar with student life in Canada. Your college’s student experience office might be able to provide a list of residences close to campus. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering off-campus rentals and housing:
- Thoroughly read your contract before signing, so you’re fully aware of your rights as a tenant
- Consult different websites and apps to compare prices, so you aren’t charged unfairly
- Consider sharing rent with a friend or group of friends you are comfortable co-habiting with
5. Take Advantage of All the Student Discounts
An incredible perk of student life in Canada that you absolutely must not miss out on is student discounts. When you arrive in Canada, one of the first things to do is register with your university and get your student identification.
With your ID, you are set to get generous student discounts for practically everything. Restaurants, transport services, museums, galleries, and so on give you massive dollar-saving deals all year round. Use these to manage your finances, and for the complete experience of international student university life in Canada!
Check out which discount programs you can sign up for in your university locale. Your college’s student experience centre can usually point you in the right direction! Along with listed stores, restaurants, and culture and lifestyle centres – like movie theatres and cool spots like the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario Science Centre – you’ll find most places in your university town offer a student discount, so don’t hesitate to ask.
6. Travel and Transport
A crucial thing about how to survive in Canada as an international student is how to get around. Canada has a very reliable and convenient public transport system that can take you everywhere. You can apply for a monthly pass that covers your commutes and adventures on buses, trains, and even airlines.
Some universities even offer transport services covered under the fees you pay along with your tuition. Make sure you check these out and make full use of them – you are paying for it after all. There are plenty of student discount deals for transport services as well. Some services, like Visa Rail, offer multi-trip passes for a monthly fee at a discount for students. Look into the transit options in your university neighbourhood for the best deals and make the most of them! These transport systems are necessary to live your student life in Canada to the fullest.
Below are the public transport networks in each of Canada’s QS-appointed best student cities:
|City||Public Transport Network||Reduced Student Fare Options|
|Montreal||Société de transport de Montréal:|
- Shared taxibus
|OPUS reduced fare - Students|
|Toronto||Toronto Transit Commission:|
- Train Ferry
|TTC Monthly Pass|
- West Coast Express
|OPUS photo ID card|
7. Health Insurance Coverage
While we're on the matter of costs – healthcare in Canada is world-renowned. However, it can be pretty expensive if you’re not a Canadian resident. And this is why securing your health insurance is essential.
Several Canadian universities provide health insurance coverage as part of your tuition fee package. As one of the important benefits for international students in Canada, look into what type of insurance your university offers. Healthcare varies across the different provinces of Canada.
In some cases, you’ll have to privately sign up for health insurance. In others, while your university provides a package, you’ll have to register for it separately. You might find a comparable health insurance plan you prefer better. If you do, you’ll need to check if your university will let you opt out of its standard package. Your immigration office might even require you to take out insurance as part of your application to study in Canada.
To avoid hefty hospital bills, health insurance is a must for a good experience with international student life in Canada. Research what’s available to you and what works best for you. Again, your college’s student experience centre can help!
8. Experience Diverse, Multicultural Student Life in Canada
As an international student, you might feel daunted by the prospect of living in a completely unfamiliar country. How is life in Canada like for Indian students? Or Chinese or Ghanaian or Malaysian students? What is it like for someone from Hungary or Australia?
Many international students speak highly of student life in Canada. Plenty move to become permanent residents, because of how welcoming Canada is to foreigners. In 2019 alone, Canada admitted nearly 350,000 new permanent residents!
About a fifth of Canada’s student population is from different parts of the world. Canadians are very respectful and encouraging of the unique cultural, ethnic, religious, and other identities of foreigners. You’ll not only find complete acceptance of your cultural identity and practices but find others who share your background.
Universities typically have multiple societies and clubs representing different parts of the world and different groups you may identify with. You can participate and experience a piece of home by organising activities and events celebrating and sharing your culture.
Many colleges have mentor programs to connect you with a senior from the same place as you. This means they can show you the ropes more intimately than a college admin might. After all, they’ve been in the same shoes as you, relate to your homesickness, and have first-hand tips from experience!
Being in a multicultural community also gives you the chance to meet and befriend people from all over the world. There’s much to learn through trying different cuisines, experiencing different music and art, and simply talking to people from a different neck of the woods.
Our Concluding Thoughts on Student Life in Canada
Student life in Canada is on equal footing with its excellent university education as a point of appeal. There are countless benefits for international students in Canada, from accommodating work opportunities, attractive lifestyle, and wonderful quality of life. Your university will already have systems in place to make the transition smooth for you. The country will charm you with everything it has to offer, from food and travel to entertainment and culture. With friendly people and accommodating services making everything from transport to government paperwork smooth sailing, student life in Canada is an unparalleled positive experience. You, like many other international students, might fall in love with the lifestyle enough to stay permanently!