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Your Complete Guide to Living and Studying in Canada

All you need to know about being an international student in Canada.

When it comes to Canada, academic excellence, affordability and adventure are some of the key factors that have made the country popular with students.

In fact, Canada has welcomed more than 250,000 international students in recent years, and many of them have walked away with unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Why Study in Canada

Some of you might ask: What’s great about Canada? It seems so far away and is the distance worth it?

To that, we’ve curated a list of useful information regarding what it’s like to live and study in Canada.

Research

Research is a vital aspect of the student journey in Canada and it is supported by the government and local industries. International students often participate in research fields comprising telecommunications, medicine, agriculture, computer technology and environmental science. 

World-class language education

Canada is a bilingual country and a world leader in language training. Canadian universities teach both French and English as a first and second language.

Chances are, studying in Canada will help improve your language skills and further strengthen your growth academically and professionally.

Top ranking universities

Canada is home to some of the best universities in the world, with 13 of them placed in the top 300 of the QS world university rankings. Many are also ranked in the top 100 by reputable sources including The Times Higher Education Supplement and Shanghai Jiao Tong.

What to look for in a Canadian school or university

Before you select an education institution, here are some things to consider:

  • The intake capacity of the school or university
  • The size and reputation of the Faculty you’re considering
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Facilities, such as sports grounds and accommodation
  • Location

Education System in Canada

Canada invests heavily in its education system. In fact, Canada is one of the world’s top education performers and among the top three countries in spending per capita on public post-secondary education, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

How Canada’s education system works

The post-secondary education system in Canada is divided into:

  • Certificate level, generally for a year
  • Diploma level, for one or two years
  • Advanced diploma, generally two or three-year programs
  • Bachelor degrees, awarded after four years of full-time study
  • Postgraduate diplomas/certificates, for one or two years of study
  • Master’s degrees, available after a bachelor degree to excel in a certain subject, for one to two years
  • Doctorate or PhD, generally four to seven years

Academic Year

Most colleges and universities typically offer classes from early September until the end of April or early May. The winter session is usually divided into two terms that operate from September to December and then from January to April.

There are several kinds of summer studies offered between May and August. There are also a few select schools in Canada that offer year-round schooling.

Depending on the university, undergraduate degrees can take either three or four years to complete. Depending on the type of degree, postgraduate degrees take between one and two years. Master’s programs generally take between one to two years while PhD programmes often take between four and seven years to complete.

Teaching and learning style

As well as Canadian universities being devoted to research and high-quality teaching, they also aim to provide opportunities that improve students’ learning, career and life.

University classes are a combination of lectures and tutorials. Lectures are taught by professors and can contain anywhere between 30 to 200 students. They usually have a linked component such as a lab or a tutorial.

A tutorial or lab allows a more in-depth discussion of topics within a course. The sizes of tutorials generally range anywhere from 20 to 30 students.

Applying For A Visa

In Canada, a student visa is often referred to as a 'study permit'.

It is important that you make sure you have the correct study permit for your international studies before you leave for Canada.

The Canadian immigration authority is called the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

As study permit conditions can change quickly, you will need to make sure you follow up-to-date advice. The best place to find this advice is Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.

Your IDP counsellor can direct you to the relevant IRCC information and can help you find authorised immigration representatives if need be.

Often you will need to have documents translated and couriered. Our team can step you through this so you have less paperwork to keep track of!

Arranging study permits or visa can feel daunting, but when you have the right support and direction, it can be achieved.

As you will be aware:

We provide visa support to students for Canada but it’s completely free of charge.

Any messaging around visa support should articulate that we advise all students they must visit the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and other relevant websites to ensure they have the latest information on visa requirements.

We do not provide immigration and permanent residency advice.

Canadian Culture and Way of Life

Canada is famous for its pristine landscape (especially its vast mountain ranges), rich history and diverse blend of people and cultures. It’s the second-largest country in the world and extends from the US in the south all the way to the Arctic Circle in the north.

Canada is made up of ten provinces and three territories; the capital city is Ottawa, but you might also be familiar with other major cities like Vancouver, Toronto and the French-speaking Québec and Montréal.

Canada is bilingual, with English and French being the two official languages, but most people speak English at home. You might hear some common Canadian slang such as loonie (a dollar coin), chinook (a warm wind that comes over the mountain in mid-winter) and Hog Town (nickname for Toronto).

Indigenous culture

There are three different groups of Indigenous people in Canada: First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

The First Nations people settled in Canada over 15,000 years ago and developed many different communities, each with their own customs, culture and character. Today there are 634 recognised First Nations governments or groups across Canada, mostly in the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario.

The Métis are descendants of unions between First Nations peoples and Europeans, mainly French traders. While the Métis mainly speak English today, you may hear some Michif, or Métis French as people increasingly take more interest in traditional languages and culture.

The Inuit are the descendants of Thule culture and live in the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska.

Weather

When you think of the weather in Canada, you might think of extreme cold and snow, but this isn’t always the case. The weather in Canada is as varied as its landscape. Generally, you’ll experience the following weather conditions in each season:

  • Summer (June to August) - the weather is usually warm to hot, with daytime temperatures between 20°C and 30°C or higher.
  • Autumn (September to November) - the weather starts to get colder and there is often a lot of rain.
  • Winter (December to February) - winters are very cold, with temperatures often staying below freezing all day long.
  • Spring (March to May) - the weather starts to get warmer and days are typically very pleasant.

You’ll need to remember to wind your clock forward by one hour on the second Sunday in March, as that’s the start of Daylight Saving Time in most parts of Canada.

Daylight Savings lets you make the most of the warmer weather in spring, summer and autumn, as you get more daylight in the evening.

Politics and government

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means all decisions are made by the government and a democratically elected Prime Minister. Canada’s head of state is the Queen of the British royal family, who is represented by the Governor-General.

There are three levels of government in Canada:

Federal – headed by the Prime Minister, the federal government deals with national and international matters like national defence and foreign affairs.

Provincial or territorial - this level of government has the power to change laws and manage their own public lands.

Municipal (local) – this level governs individual cities, towns or districts and is normally responsible for things like roads, emergency services, public transportation and some local health and social services.

Health and Support Services

Moving to a new country isn’t always easy. That’s why most universities, colleges and education institutions offer dedicated support services to help international students adjust to life in Canada and make the most of your study (and holiday) time.

The Canadian Federation of Students and Canadian Alliance of Student Associations are also great resources – you can visit their websites to find out more about how they help students and advocate to government on your behalf.

Staying healthy while you study

You might find yourself in need of medical support while living in Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents access health services through the country’s public healthcare system, but it’s up to the individual provinces to determine if temporary residents like international students receive the same benefits. It’s likely you will need some sort of public or private health insurance plan to minimise waiting periods or exceptions.

If you are bringing medication with you to Canada, you should also carry a letter or prescription from your doctor, and double-check the Government of Canada website for any extra requirements before leaving.

Finding a local doctor

Your local doctor will be able to provide confidential, basic healthcare if you’re sick, and also help prevent future health issues. They can also refer you to a specialist if needed.

To find a local doctor, you can:

  • Ask someone you know.
  • Contact an immigration support service.
  • Contact a community health centre in your area to see who is available.
  • Visit a walk-in medical clinic.
  • Visiting a dentist

The best way to find a dentist is usually by searching online or asking someone you know. Remember, dental care is not available for free under government health insurance, so you might want to arrange extra insurance to cover any dental costs.

What to do in an emergency

If you need urgent medical help, you need to go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital or call 911.

It’s free to call 911 and all emergency medical services are free in hospitals. Depending on where you live and your situation, there may be a fee for the ambulance service.

If you have a serious medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or allergies to medication, you might wish to wear a medical necklace or bracelet with your medical information on it.

Cost of Living in Canada

You want to enjoy a healthy and happy study life in Canada. Knowing how much you need for living expenses is a great starting point, but keep in mind the cost of living may be higher or lower depending on where you live.

EduCanada suggests you will need to budget between $7,000 and $20,000 Canadian dollars (CAD) per year to cover the costs of accommodation, food and compulsory health insurance, but you will also need to account for your tuition fees, plus any relevant student, administration, application or permit fees. And don’t forget to include extra spending money for things like socialising with friends, going travelling or attending events.

There are some handy websites you can use to help budget for your time in Canada. One option is Expatistan, which calculates the cost of living in Canada using up-to-date, crowd-sourced data. You can also use EduCanada’s Step 1-2-3 tool to see how costs may change based on where you live.

Your banking and payments options

In Canada, you generally pay (and are paid) in dollars and cents. You might hear individual coins called by their nicknames - nickel (5 cents), dime (10 cents), a quarter (25 cents), loonie ($1) and toonie ($2).

Most Canadian banks will be happy to open an account for you while you’re living in Canada. To open an account, you will generally need:

  • Your passport
  • A document confirming the school, college or university you are enrolled with.
  • Proof of your address at home and in Canada
  • Reference and statements from your home bank

Some banks offer special student accounts, with extra benefits such as free banking and travel discounts. You should ask if your bank offers student accounts and if you’re eligible for one.

No matter which accounts you choose, you should read the fine print to ensure you know all the important information, including what fees may apply.

Getting your phone and internet organised

You’ll probably want to get your phone and Internet sorted pretty quickly after arriving in Canada.

When it comes to phones, you have three main options:

  1. Landline: usually only relevant if you live off-campus. You might be able to get a better deal by bundling your landline with internet access, or you might choose not to have a landline at all and stick with your mobile.
  2. Mobile: prepaid: gives you control over how much you spend and you can stop using whenever you want. Pre-paid SIM cards are widely available from Canadian shops and supermarkets, as well as from mobile phone providers, and include a set number of calls, text messages and data.
  3. Mobile – contract: Depending on how much you use your mobile and what for, a contract with a Canadian mobile phone provider could be cheaper.

Making international calls

International calls can be a lot more expensive than calls within Canada. You might want to buy an international calling card (which gives you better rates) or use online options like Skype or FaceTime instead. You can buy international calling cards from most convenience stores.

To call a Canadian number from overseas, you need to enter the country code - 1 - followed by the area code and then the telephone number.

To call another country from Canada, enter 011 followed by the relevant country code followed by the area code (if required) and then the telephone number.

Accessing the Internet

You will have lots of options for internet access in Canada, but it pays to shop around to find the plan that offers the best price and download limits for your needs.

Most educational institutions provide free Wi-Fi which you can access with your student log-on and password. If you can’t access the Internet through your own laptop or computer, you can usually find one to use in the student library, at an off-campus public library or internet café.

Some places offer free Wi-Fi, but some Internet cafes, for example, will charge by the hour. Don’t forget to check the security of the network you are connecting to.

You should think carefully about insurance cover to help protect your health, your home and your belongings.

Health insurance

The type of medical coverage available to you in Canada varies depending on where you live.

All international students in Canada must have health insurance. If you are studying in a province where international students are not covered under a provincial health plan, you will need to organise private health insurance. You should research the health plans and insurance options available where you live as a priority.

Home and contents insurance

Home and contents insurance covers the building you live in and your belongings, such as your furniture, clothes and appliances. You won’t need to worry about building insurance if you’re renting, but contents insurance can be helpful if you have valuable items that would be difficult to replace if lost or stolen.

Scholarship Options for International Students in Canada

Education costs

There’s no doubt that it can be expensive for students to study overseas. However, in comparison to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US, Canada offers the lowest tuition rates for foreign students.

To cover tuition fees, you will need between CA$7000 and CA$29,000 a year. However, this is a general guide only and cost varies in relation to the institution and program you are applying for, as well as the location and lifestyle.

Generally speaking, humanities, education and art courses are cheaper, while subjects such as medicine and engineering are likely to be more expensive. If you wish to study at postgraduate level, the tuition fees are typically higher and the costs vary depending on the program. As with most other countries, MBA programs are often the most expensive. The average cost for these programs is around CA$42,000.

Scholarships

Some Canadian universities and schools offer scholarships and awards for international students who achieve outstanding results. The amount of money available and the type of award varies between the various institutions. Getting a scholarship is competitive and you must generally apply directly to the school that offers them.

Listed below are some of the more popular scholarships.

Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan

This program is designed to enable students to pursue programs of advanced study and research at the master and PhD level in Commonwealth countries other than their own. The award comprises travel, living allowance and all compulsory tuition fees.

Shastri Indo - Canadian Institute

Offers several fellowships at various levels from graduate to postdoctorate and from research to training fellowships.

National Research Council of Canada (NRCC)

Research associateships are offered to master degree holders in engineering and PhD holders in natural science or engineering disciplines.

Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program

For graduate students in a wide variety of disciplines. Students must accept an offer from a university in Ontario and obtain a valid student permit (visa).

NSERC

Supports both basic university research through research grants and project research via partnerships of universities and industry.

Quebec Provincial Government Scholarship

For students studying in Quebec. Financial assistance is available to students studying the master’s level or above. Each application is assessed on its own merit.

Ontario Trillium Scholarship

First announced in November 2010 for the best doctoral students from around the world to study in Ontario. Each scholarship is worth $40,000 annually, renewable for a maximum of four years. 75 scholarships are awarded each year.

Ontario universities are responsible for selecting and awarding scholarships to international PhD students based on merit and program.

Keen to kick-start your own overseas adventure? Swing by our upcoming Study Abroad Education Fair – the biggest of its kind in town! Happening 7 & 8 March, Suntec Convention Centre, Level 3, Summit 1. Doors open from 12pm to 6pm.

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