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International student life in Canada: What to expect

International student life in Canada

A blogger catches the essence of Canadian culture in a sentence:

If Canada were a person, it would be the life and soul of the party, where everyone would feel welcome and appreciated.

No wonder that there were over 572,000 international students (at all levels) holding study permits in the “land of the maple leaf” as of December 2018, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

This makes the country the third most favorite academic destination after the US (1.2 million international students) and Australia (690,000), ahead of even the UK (458,000).

In 2018 alone, more than 107,000 Indian students and 85,825 Chinese students arrived in Canada, the largest contingents, to take the total number of students from these countries to 172,000 and 142,000, respectively.

What are the advantages for students moving to Canada?

The obvious benefit is the country’s internationally acclaimed academic standards. Two in five academics have international degrees and 11 of the top 250 universities in the world are located in Canada.

Moreover, Canada has a high quality of life, with a lower cost of living compared with other top countries.

According to QS Best Student Cities 2019, four of the world’s top student cities are Canadian (Montreal, 6; Toronto, 11; Vancouver, 16; Ottawa, 45).

Canada is reputed to have among the lowest tuition fees in the English-speaking world. Moreover, it has a welcoming environment where diversity thrives.

Graduate outcomes are excellent, with degree-holders achieving high earning potential. It is also a beautiful country with scenic places painted in various hues by its distinct seasons.


How Canada is coping with COVID

  • Two-week self-isolation for incoming students; ban on those with symptoms
  • Protocols such as social distancing after isolation period
  • Students already in Canada can get visa extension or visitor / temporary-resident status
  • Extension of lease of dorm in many schools; some students being asked to shift to different buildings
  • Online classes being conducted, exams cancelled
  • Digital curriculum not to affect grant of work permit
  • Companies postponing recruitment, greater uncertainty in the job market
  • Families helping, some schools offering emergency financial relief to eligible students


International student life in Canada



Canada is a peaceful nation ranked sixth in the 2019 Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics & Peace, headquartered in Sydney (US rank 128 and India 141 of 163 ranked nations), with safe campuses.

Round-the-clock security is provided on most campuses, and a service called “walk home” on some, and there are people to go to in an emergency. Mobile apps, CCTV, and shuttle services, besides the “911” service bolster security.

However, international students should take the usual precautions as in any country, such as staying connected with friends, pre-booking taxis, knowing the route when travelling, taking well-lit streets, keeping money and documents safe, carrying emergency cash, and using public transport.

Education system

The most popular provinces are Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. Canada is home to three of the world’s top 50 university (University of Toronto, 26th, Toronto; McGill University, 33rd, Montreal; University of British Columbia, 47th, Vancouver; QS World University Rankings 2019) and 11 in the top 300.

Educational institutions include universities (UG and PG degrees), community colleges, and technical and applied arts/science schools (certificates, diplomas, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees).

Each province/territory supervises the universities under it, and is responsible for the quality of education; there is no federal accreditation. The year is divided into three terms (still called “semesters” though there can be more than two terms): fall (August/September to December/January), winter (January to April), and summer (April/May to July).

Quebec has an education system different from that in the other provinces with different terms and years of study. In this province, “college” refers to a two-year pre-university program or a three-year professional program.

Here, students complete secondary school a year early and must complete a year’s vocation program, which all but substitutes the freshman year. They can then enroll for bachelor’s degree programs, which can be completed in three or four years and postgraduate programs in one or two years, while PhD programs take three or more years.

In other provinces, “college” refers to a community college or technical school where students can earn a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree. Students can join an undergraduate or postgraduate course at a university (honors degree needed for PG) and an advanced degree/diploma at graduate school.

There are both public and private universities. The annual fee at public universities is C$7,500-C$22,500 (C$ = US$0.71 = INR 54.10, as on April 27, 2020); it may be much higher at private universities.

The tuition fee is much less than it is in other Anglophone countries. Most bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs are taught in English, but applicants need to prove their language proficiency through TOEFL or IELTS. Some programs are taught in French.

The degree structure is flexible. Each semester, students select courses offered by their department of studies. Each course, or class, is assigned a specific number of credits.

A student usually takes about five courses per semester, and each course is made up of two hours of lectures and an hour of tutorials weekly, during which a teaching assistant conducts a discussion. Students get to choose their workload too, between two and six courses a semester. The more courses they complete in a semester, the faster they can graduate.

The best fields of study at Canadian universities are medicine, engineering and technology, business, environmental science, social sciences, and arts.

Learning environment

The classroom atmosphere is friendly. Professors are approachable and function as guides to help students learn independently. Their lectures both educate and entertain the students, and they give feedback after evaluations.

But the course experience can be intense with assignments, presentation, and lab work. Work has to be submitted by deadlines.

High academic integrity is expected of students, and plagiarism looked down upon. Often, students from other countries don’t provide proper references in their research papers, bringing into doubt their academic integrity.

Many students fail to develop the art of academic writing and continue to use convoluted and vague sentences and passages; many “copy and paste” from published work, which brings accusations of unethical academic behavior.

The Canadian education culture is heavily influenced by English and French academic traditions. Because of its liberal immigration policy, Canada is a center for students from all over the world.

Social life is fun, with students getting to be friends with others from various cultures and adopting new perspectives. Sport is a major activity in university and outside, most importantly, ice hockey, with the National Hockey League being a major draw.

Campus life

Campuses are a beehive of extracurricular activity organized by clubs for all interests. Canadians love sports, and university grounds reflect this passion through intramural and varsity and intercollegiate competitions.

Campuses are centers of art, creative writing, music, and theater programs. Students extend their support to the community through social work, mentoring, educational workshops, and neighborhood campaigns.

Students also get to enjoy the beauty of the land. The second largest country in the world, Canada is blessed with bustling cities and spectacular natural beauty, with its mountains, coastlines, and forests.

Niagara Falls tops the long list of tourist places that includes national parks, adventure sports centers, mountain peaks, lakes, and waterfalls.

After you arrive

As soon as you arrive (at least ten days before college starts), you will need to apply for a bank loan, phone plan, public transport pass, and a student ID.

The student center and student advisors will probably help you will all these tasks. English is spoken everywhere, so you’re unlikely to face communication barriers.

If you’re coming away from home for the first time, you may face some initial “culture shock,” which experts say has four phases: the honeymoon phase, the hostility/frustration phase, the acceptance phase, and the adaptation phase.

The best ways to overcome your situation is to make friends with students facing the same problems and to be involved in your studies.

If you’re going to stay on after studies, plan for a career ahead and start developing your network. Get to know the Canadian culture and travel and explore the land.


The climate is what lays low many new international students to Canada. Although the climate is often described as “cold and snowy,” it has distinct seasons. Daytime temperatures in the summer can go up to 35 degrees Celsius and go down to -25 in the winter.

Proper layered winter clothing, headgear, and boots are a must. You will be cold only when you are outdoors, thanks to heated flats, classrooms, stores, cars, and public transport.

Cold temperatures not only cause physical discomfort to students from tropical and temperate climes but can sometimes be mentally unsettling and cause “seasonal affective disorder” or “seasonal depression.” Many international students take a couple of years to adjust to the climate.


You will probably miss home, your family, and your friends. As an international student says, “Don’t underestimate homesickness.”

To make up, you will party occasionally and stay out late at night probably more often than earlier. You will try out adventure sports, probably for the first time, since Canada offers a number of opportunities.

You may date someone from a different country, though many students tend to stick with other students from their own country.

To overcome homesickness, try to make new friends on campus by staying on campus, participating in activities, volunteering, mixing with students from other countries, making small talk, and learning about Canadian culture.

Daily chores

Life is going to be different if this is your first time away. For a start, you may end up cooking much more often than you ever did at home: eating out often can be expensive and you may get tired of restaurant food, even if you stick to your home cuisine or mix cuisines.

Cooking may be a great hobby but only for a few days or weeks. Cleaning your room and doing your laundry may seem a heavy burden. Washing dishes can be a chore until you can afford a dishwasher.

Grocery shopping can also be fun at the start and a chore very soon (shopping generally is best done on Back Friday in November or Boxing Day on December 26 when the best deals are offered).

You will probably study harder than you ever did at home as you keep in mind the objective of leaving home and coming to a country far away and the expenses of your overseas education.


Canadians are a welcoming and liberal community, with importance given to politeness and manners and behavior. So don’t hesitate to say “sorry” and “thank you” when required.

Canada has a large Indian community (107,000 in 2018). The official languages are English and French.

Informality and friendliness mark the interaction between students and professors. Students address their teachers by their first names, not as “Sir” or “Madam.” Dinners and other social events set the tone for informal interaction.

Gender and sexuality are not taboo topics as they are in some traditional cultures. Use of terms such as “LGBTQ+” and “non-binary gender” in everyday conversations surprise and sometimes embarrass students from conservative societies abroad, but they get used to it.

Food and cuisine

Maple syrup and poutine, Montreal-style bagels and butter tarts, smoked salmon and split pea soup are only a small part of the rich Canadian cuisine.

Most students also get ample opportunities to enjoy food from their own countries at specialty local restaurants. Information is available online and the prices are reasonable.

Vegetarians need not worry too much, because it is not difficult to find “veg only” restaurants, especially in big cities such as Vancouver and Toronto (British Columbia and Ontario populations are reported to comprise 10 percent vegetarians/vegans).

All-vegetarian groceries also exist, and general stores have sections exclusively for vegetable product, some of which are sourced from India.

Expenses / Cost of living in Canada

You will probably have more spare money to spend thanks to your part-time job and be more financially responsible than at any time before your immigration.

Although visa rules say you require C$10,000 (C$11,000 in Quebec) a year apart from tuition, you will likely need more than that depending on your city and lifestyle.

An international student would likely need C$15,000-C$30,000 to see a year through, including tuition and other fees, accommodation, and other living expenses.

To give an idea of prices, a restaurant meal costs C$16 per person, a loaf of bread C$2-C$3, cinema ticket C$13.50, basic monthly mobile plan C$30, monthly transport pass C$90, and basic utilities C$150 a month.


Do you want on-campus or off-campus accommodation? On-campus housing is easier to find through your university or college website. The other advantages are that most facilities will be available nearby and you can interact with more students living in the dorms.

First-year students are given priority in the allotment of university on-campus housing (in dormitories or “dorms”). Students who don’t like mixed sex areas should inform the universities before allotment.

Off-campus housing includes accommodation with families and private rentals and is preferred by many students who can live together and share the rent and other expenses.

You will also be more independent and free to explore your new city. You can find homestays and stay with families, which is also an affordable and homely option.

Annual on-campus rent may be C$3,000-C$7,500 and rent for private, shared accommodation about C$8,400. Toronto and Vancouver are the most expensive cities.

Part-time jobs

To get a part-time job, go online, or meet a store manager in person. You are allowed to work 20 hours a week during your semester (you earn around C$12 an hour or C$950 a month), according to the rules, but will probably do a little more.

Your employer, such as a fast-food chain, may pay for you in cash or food, and pay for the extra hours by showing higher per-hour wages.

Most students work on the campus or outside, at restaurants, shopping malls, convenience stores, factories, gas stations, delivery services, or taxi services while studying. They can work 40 hours a week during vacations, earning C$ 12-C$16 an hour, depending on the type of work.

Don’t hope to get a job the moment you land in Canada, as you will take one or two months. Also, don’t hope to work all the year through as you will need time to prepare for exams, you may fall ill, the weather may be too cold, or you may lose your job for some reason.

Off-campus work needs a work permit or your study permit must state your eligibility.

To work in Canada on your study permit, whether on campus or outside, you need to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN). If your study permit does not state the conditions under which you could work, you can apply for them to be included in your permit at no extra cost.

If your study permit includes work experience as part of your curriculum, you will need to apply for an intern work permit along with your study permit.

Of course, after you complete your course, you can apply for a work permit, and then later, if you like, try for permanent residency.

Day in the life

A student with two part-time jobs off campus narrates a typical (week) day in the life of an international student in Canada like him:

  • Wake up at 7 am
  • Eat breakfast in the dining hall at 7.45 am
  • Attend classes till 1 pm
  • Rush to supermarket at 1.15 pm
  • Work till 4.15 pm
  • Go back to class at 4.30 pm
  • After class, rush to a fast-food joint to work for an hour
  • Go back to hostel
  • Study till late, often well past midnight
  • Go to sleep

Another student, who does part-time jobs for the university on campus, says that after attending classes in the morning, she devotes the afternoons to study or take care of her student representative commitments, such as guiding new students on campus tours and working as a secretary of the university alumni center.

Evenings are for yoga and assignments; and of course, meeting up with friends and dinner with housemates.

The warmth of friendships probably helps keep the cold away.


Adaptation tips

  • It can be extremely cold, so invest in good-quality warm clothing
  • Ask for medical assistance when you need it; prevent frostbite
  • Stay connected with home and old friends to ward off homesickness
  • Canadian campuses are safe, but take care of your own safety
  • Manage your finances well; know all about the fees and expenses; prepare a budget
  • Practise time management to include studies and extracurriculars
  • If you need to know something, don’t hesitate to ask

Also read:
Top business schools in Canada
Best MBA in Canada for international students
Life and jobs after MBA in Canada: HEC Montreal student blog
Universities in Canada accepting 3 years Bachelor’s Degree

For some related international student experiences elsewhere, read:
International student life in Germany
International student life in France
International student life in Australia
International student life in UK
International student life in USA
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

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5 thoughts on “International student life in Canada: What to expect”

  1. Hello Sir/Maam,
    I am an Android developer by profession with 80% in class 10 and 12.
    I have pursued Electronics and Communication engineering from MAKAUT formerly known as WBUT, with a CGPA of 7.7.
    I have also pursued post graduate diploma from Lambton College, Toronto, CANADA.
    I have a current 2 years of work experience as an Android Developer in Toronto.
    With a GMAT score of 720 what could be the best universities for MBA that I could possibly get into.

  2. Hi,
    I’m sonia and I’m pursuing my degree in mass communication and journalism. I’m very much interested in pursuing my masters in marketing abroad.
    I’ve done my research and really liked Australia for MBA Programme’s. Few of my friends also told me that Australia and Canada are best options for MBA but they have also mentioned that it’s difficult to get a job and a PR in Australia. I’m really confused about where to go and could you please help me with choosing the best course in mba that has good scope and job opportunities and most importantly which does not include finance/accounts. Also, all the information that you’ve shared was very helpful.
    Hoping you would reply me soon.
    Thank you.

  3. I have 8 years of experience in teaching also pursuing my bachelors of education. Just wanted to know if I do a one year teaching course in australia will I be able to find a job in australia??

  4. I want to pursue PhD in abroad free off cost as I belong to a very poor family. can any one suggest me in details which university provides it ?

  5. @Aditya: We’ve covered the top MBA programs in Canada here:

    @Sonia: If you’re still studying, it won’t be a good idea to go for an international MBA immediately after graduation. All the good programs in Canada and Australia will expect some years of work experience.

    @Bhakti: We aren’t familiar with the scope and scale of teaching jobs in Australia for international candidates.

    @Manoj: This should get you started:


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