Top 5 tips for international students looking to study in Canada’s universities & colleges


Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court. She can be reached at

Are you in the process of deciding which country you want to study in? Are you considering studying in Canada? Below are 5 tips that can help you as you make your decision to pursue higher education in Canada.
Remember if you are studying in Canada for a period of less than 6 months you do not need a study permit. However, you will need a valid visa to enter Canada or if you are from a visa-exempt country you will have to have an eTA. For those who want to study in programs that are longer than 6 months you must have a valid study permit to be enrolled.


1. Decide on your course of study: university or college?

Canada is home to dozens of high calibre universities and colleges that offer a wide range of courses and programs of study from one year diplomas to four year bachelor degrees, and highly specialized masters and doctorate programs. Depending on your interests and goals you will undoubtedly be able to find a program that will be suitable for you.
Historically, colleges in Canada offered more vocational programs and universities had a more academic focus. While some colleges still retain specialized vocational programming, many colleges have grown and even offer bachelor programs. In addition, universities today have tried to incorporate more hand-on training in many of their programs and you will be able to find opportunities to participate in co-op programs that will allow you to put the skills you learn in the classroom into practice.
Whether you choose a college or university you want to be mindful of one thing: if you wish to obtain a study permit, the institution you are enrolling in must be a Designated Learning Institute (DLI). Also, if you plan on working in Canada after you finish your studies, you should ensure that the program and institution you are enrolling in will qualify you for a post-graduate work permit.


2. Figure out the costs and explore scholarship opportunities

As an international student you will be paying international student tuition fees. These fees can range from $15,000 to $45,000 per year. There are also additional expenses for books, insurance and of course living expenses. These costs will vary depending on the institution that you choose and the local living expenses. However, you should figure out a budget for your studies and ensure that you have the necessary resources to cover all the expenses. This is particularly important when you are applying for your study permit because you must demonstrate to the visa officer that you have the necessary funds to cover the expenses related to your studies.
You should also note that as an international student you are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week. This income may be a helpful source of additional funds and more importantly a good way to gain experience in Canada. But given the cost of international tuition you cannot rely on this income to pay for your tuition fees.
For gifted international students there are opportunities to receive scholarships and obtain funding, particularly in masters and doctorate programs involving research. You should start your search early to give you enough time to explore these opportunities and prepare your scholarship and funding applications.

3. Look beyond the big cities

While the big universities in Toronto and Vancouver have an international reputation, there are great universities and colleges spread across Canada. From Halifax to Victoria, you will find institutions offering outstanding programs and opportunities for international students. If you are planning on working after you graduate and applying for permanent residence there are also special programs in each province aimed at keeping local graduates that may help you in achieving your goal of settling in Canada permanently.


4. Language skills

In Canada you will be studying in either English or French and entry to any college or university program will require you to demonstrate that you have sufficient language ability. You can do this by providing your language exams up front to show that you meet the language requirements of the institution and receiving an “unconditional acceptance” into the program. In some circumstances it is possible to study English or French at the institution and pass their own language exam to qualify for admission. However, this may impact your ability to obtain a study permit as this is considered a “conditional acceptance”.
There are also language colleges in Canada that offer programs in English and French. While they are popular, unfortunately the policy for granting study permits for these programs is not consistent globally and you are much less likely to get a study permit if there has been a gap of a few years since you last studied.


5. Stay on top of deadlines and paperwork

Studying in Canada can be a very rewarding experience: in addition to the academic experience, upon graduation you will likely have an option to work and eventually settle in Canada. However the process of applying for study permits and maintaining your status as a student are very important and at times very complicated. You must make sure that you stay on top of your paperwork and submit your applications before the deadlines to ensure you can legally study in Canada.

When you are first accepted you must apply for a study permit in advance of the start of your study period and as you remain in Canada you must ensure that you apply for any required extensions or change of status applications before your status expires. This will ensure you always remain “in-status” meaning that you are legally in Canada. You should also be mindful of the deadlines for applying for a post-graduate work permit – if the deadline passes and you have not applied you will not be granted a post-graduate work and may be required to leave Canada before gaining any Canadian work experience that could qualify you to apply for immigration.


As you prepare to embark on this exciting path to study in Canada you can consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to better understand these important visa and immigration requirements and deadlines to ensure that the process proceeds as smoothly as possible.

Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court.

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