In Canada, international students are those who come from outside Canada to attend school. Although some students travel to Canada mainly to improve their language skills, others travel here to advance their specialized studies. Still other international students come to Canada because suitable post-secondary education is either in short supply or unavailable altogether in their home countries.
International student center
Schools with a significant portion of their student body coming from out-of-country (eg. major centers such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal) will often have an international student center or facility to assist these students with the transition to life in Canada. Often, these centers will have a lounge area, to provide a venue for relaxation, reading, conversation, and meeting people from other countries.
Among the services offered are orientation sessions to the campus and surrounding community, as well as general information on Canada. Information on the cost of living, where to live, health insurance, permits and visas, and information on spouses and families coming to Canada are also offered.
The school抯 Student Association is generally in charge of all the societies, and can point new international students to which societies may be useful. Countries with a large presence on campus will often have their own student society (eg. Arab Students Association, Irish Society, Caribbean Society). These societies are a good place to meet other students from the same country, and can serve as ties to back home.
Permits and visas
In addition to a passport, international students may need a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) and/or study permit, depending on their nationality. A TRV is only used to enter Canada, while a study permit allows international students to stay in Canada. It抯 best to check with the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for exact details.
If the student has a valid study permit, a separate work permit is generally not required for employment on campus. However, for off-campus employment, an off-campus work permit may be required. An off campus work permit will be valid for the same duration as a study permit, and will allow you to work anywhere in Canada for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year. A cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.0 is usually required for undergraduate students; graduate students must have a GPA of at least 2.7 (B-).
Depending on the province a student will be studying in, various types of insurance are necessary. For example, in BC all international students are required to have basic and extended health insurance for the duration of their studies. These types of insurance cover basic medical costs such as emergency room visits.
Most schools will offer International Student Health Plans, and automatically include students when they register. These health plans can be expensive, and cost between $200 and $700 per year. If an international student has comparable coverage in their home country, or has opted to get coverage elsewhere, they are usually able to opt-out of the school抯 coverage, with sufficient proof of alternative coverage.
International students may be required to pay Canadian taxes if they have established significant residential ties. While students may return to their home country often enough to not qualify for residental ties, students may still have to pay taxes. If students are supported by Canadian-source grants that cover several years of study or research (eg. many graduate students are funded by Canadian agencies such as NSERC, CIHR, or SSHRC), then they must pay Canadian taxes.
Academic admission requirements
Normally, applicants who meet post-secondary entrance requirements in their home country are eligible for admission to Canadian post-secondary schools. For undergraduate admissions, this often means the successful graduation from a secondary school program or equivalent. For graduate programs, this often means holding a previous undergraduate degree or equivalent.
Prospective international students are usually required to take language tests such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) before they are admitted. Each Canadian school has differing specific requirements as to a minimum acceptable score but generally it is around the 600- (paper-based) or 80- (computer-based) mark.
Tuition fees for international students are generally higher than for domestic students, as international student抯 parents do not pay taxes in Canada. These tuition fees can be thousands of dollars higher than domestic fees.
Certain degree programs, such as medical school, business, or law, have even higher fees. Community colleges and trade schools offering certificates and diplomas have differing fees depending on the program.
Generally, international students pay roughly 2-4 times as much as Canadian students in tuition fees. Generally, the larger schools (which tend to have more internationally-recognized programs) charge more to international students compared to Canadian students. But the education and degree gained in Canada, the cultural immersion, and the learning of English (or French) can be well worth the extra expense.