Over the last decade, the number of international students coming to Canada to study has been increasing, with nearly 500,000 students enrolled as of 2018. The country is a desirable place to study for many reasons, including its multicultural cities and long-term job opportunities.
Studying in Canada is cheaper than in many other English-speaking countries — including the U.S. and Australia — and there are many scholarships available for international students.
Whether you’re enrolling in an undergraduate course or an MBA program, you’ll need to apply for a study permit in order to enter the country and study there legally. Let’s look at what you’ll need to do to get your student visa and what work and travel rights it allows you.
What Is a Canada Student Visa?
A Canadian student visa is different from a study permit, and you’ll need both to study in the country legally. A study permit gives you the right to study at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) for the length of your course. In most cases, you’ll be granted an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) or temporary resident visa when you apply for your study permit, which allows you to enter the country to begin your studies.
Most study permits allow you to remain in the country for the length of your course and another 90 days beyond that. You’ll need to maintain valid enrollment in your course, and will need to apply to extend or modify your study permit if your enrollment status changes.
Depending on the length of your course, you may be granted a single or multiple-entry visa, so make sure that you have permission to re-enter the country before leaving for a holiday. Always carry proof of enrollment when entering or re-entering Canada on a student visa.
You may also have the right to work while you study, but you’ll need to check the conditions of your study permit to see what kind of work you’re eligible for. Students who are allowed to work off-campus can only work 20 hours per week and only once your course has begun. You can work full-time during scheduled school breaks as long as you maintain your enrollment.
If you’re living in Canada with a spouse or common-law partner, they may also be eligible for an open work permit while you study. Some programs may qualify you for a post-graduation work permit, which allows you to remain in the country for a year or more after you graduate.
How to Qualify for One
Student visas are only granted to students with a valid acceptance letter from an accredited program, so you’ll need to apply for your course of study before getting your visa. While it can be stressful to make plans to study abroad before knowing for sure whether your visa will be granted, you can streamline the process by getting all of your paperwork in order.
Most agencies recommend applying for your visa around 6 months before your course begins. You can check the estimated processing times for your country here. The average processing time is 32 days, but this can vary depending on what documents you need to submit.
You may need to take a medical exam if you plan to live in Canada for more than six months and have spent time in one of the countries on this list. If you haven’t applied for a visa before, you may also have to provide biometric photos or fingerprints with your application.
In most cases, you’ll have to apply for your study permit before you arrive in Canada. If you’re already in the country as a tourist or on another valid visa, you may have to leave the country in order to provide biometrics and apply for a study permit. You don’t need a study permit if your course is less than six months and you already have permission to be in Canada.
You’ll also need to show proof of funds to support yourself while you’re in Canada. For a single student, this is typically $10,000 per year, in addition to tuition. If you’re traveling with a spouse, you’ll need to show an additional $4,000 per year, and $3,000 for each dependent child.
You may also need to attend an in-person interview at a visa application center. Study permits are intended to be short-term visas, so you may need to explain to an immigration agent that you plan to leave Canada when you finish your studies. While there are ways to extend your stay with a post-graduation work permit or even a permanent visa, you shouldn’t apply for a student visa with the express intention of moving to Canada permanently.
After you complete your studies, you can consider applying for permanent residency via the Express Entry program. Having work or study experience in Canada will give you additional points in the Express Entry system and increase your chances of getting PR.
Applying for a Canada Student Visa
Once you have an acceptance letter from an approved institution and any other documents that are required, you can apply for your study permit online. Beginning April 30, 2019, students from China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines can only apply online using a portal called the Student Direct Stream. This tool offers faster processing times than the regular stream.
In order to be eligible for this stream, you’ll need to show that you’ve paid your tuition and have a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) of $10,000. This is an investment with a Canadian or international bank that will release the funds incrementally once you arrive in Canada.
You’ll also have to submit the results of an English-language proficiency exam (such as IELTS) which shows a score of 6.0 or higher. If you show proof of French-language proficiency instead, you’ll need a 7 on the Canadian language benchmark (CLB).
Be sure to include official translations of any documents you’re submitting in a language other than English or French.
The cost to apply for a study permit is $150. If you lose your status as a student by not meeting your course requirements, it costs $350 to reinstate your status and re-apply for a permit. You can pay online with a credit or debit card when you submit your application.
Remember that you’ll also have to show proof of funds to cover the cost of tuition and the cost of living in Canada for yourself or your family. There will be additional fees to apply for a visa or open work permit for your spouse or any dependents traveling to Canada with you.
How Long Does It Take To Get One?
The average processing time for a study permit is 32 days. However, this can vary depending on where you are applying from and which office processes your visa. It’s always a good idea to check the current processing times and apply three to six months before you plan to enter the country. This doesn’t include the time it takes to apply for your course of study and receive a letter of acceptance, so it’s important to start planning for the process well in advance.
If you’re from one of the countries that is eligible for the Student Direct Stream, then your visa may be processed faster (within 20 days). But this application process requires more detailed paperwork, including medical checks and a Guaranteed Investment Certificate, so you’ll still want to get your documents together as soon as possible.
Your visa may be rejected if you are unable to demonstrate sufficient funds, have a low IELTS score, or are applying for a program that does not appear to match your academic qualifications. While you are free to re-apply, you’ll want to look over your application and make sure to update your documents with an improved IELTS score or to address any inconsistencies.
Under no circumstances should you plan to apply for a study permit upon arrival. Even if you have a letter of acceptance from an accredited program, you won’t be allowed to apply for your study permit at the border, and may be denied permission to enter the country. This will impact any future attempts to apply for a student visa or for permanent residency.
We Can Help
Making arrangements to study internationally can be a confusing process, and we want to help you get it right. Taking shortcuts or submitting incomplete paperwork can delay your application and make it harder for you to get a study permit in time to begin your course.
Fortunately, Canada is known as a welcoming destination for international students, as you can see by their attempt to streamline the process with the Student Direct Stream. This makes it even easier for students from China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam to apply online.
Whether you’re a first-time undergraduate student or are applying for a master’s degree at a major Canadian university, we can help. Just reach out to us and we’ll make sure you’re on track to get your student visa granted with as little difficulty as possible.