10 things every international student in Canada should know

Top tips to help foreign students in Canada understand the country’s unique university culture

February 7 2020
10 things every international student in Canada should know

Moving to Canada as an international student is both exciting and daunting. There is a unique culture here, so we have written about some of the things that we had to get used to when we first moved over. 

1. Food

While Canada does not have a lot of traditional dishes, poutine and maple syrup are popular and are often associated with Canada. Canadians pour maple syrup on pancakes, waffles and other foods as an act of patriotism. Poutine is French fries, smothered in gravy and cheese curds.

There is still  a wide variety of food from elsewhere, reflecting how well integrated people from different countries are. For example Toronto has Greek town, Chinatown, Little Italy, Korea town and so many other neighbourhoods that offer authentic food.

2. Lifestyle tips

People in Canada are protective of the rights of other individuals. Do not feel that you have to compromise your values or identity to fit in. People are not judged by their religious beliefs, sexual orientation or ethnicity, but rather by their character and actions.

This makes Canada one of the safest places to live and study because hate crimes are extremely rare. It is also your responsibility to be respectful of people’s personal space and boundaries.  Avoid asking information that might be considered too personal like marital status and age. And be on time. Some Canadians have a habit of arriving 15 minutes ahead of time, so don’t be late.

3. People

Canadians are generally known for being nice, so be sure to say “please” and “thank you”, to everyone: the till cashier, the bus driver, your fellow students. 

Holding the door open for people is an unwritten rule. Just make sure you gauge the distance between you and the person you are holding the door open for. You don’t want to awkwardly hold the door open for a person who is far away and feels they have to jog to the door. 


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4. Housing

Living off campus is a great way to live independently and discover the unique tapestry of different communities. It is important that you know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Sometimes people exploit international students because they think that they have unlimited wealth.

If you are looking for a place to rent for the academic year, be sure to hire an agent or if you are in town go and check out the area on your own. Make sure you get details about whether amenities are included in the rental place, avoid paying in cash and get a written lease.

5. Visas 

In order to study in Canada, you will need a study permit, and the sooner you begin your application the better. When you arrive, you will be given a temporary resident permit. It allows students to work in Canada for a limited number of hours a week. Once you graduate, you are allowed to apply for a three-year work permit.   

6. Sports

Although Canada is well known for ice hockey, the country’s official sport is lacrosse. We were also surprised to learn that basketball was invented in Canada.

Most outdoor sports have indoor facilities, so you cannot use bad weather as an excuse not to play sport. If you are feeling adventurous, you can try skiing, skating and tobogganing, just make sure to bundle up well.

7. Further studies

Before coming to Canada it might be worth thinking about your next steps after university. Unlike some countries where entry into graduate programmes like law, medicine, dentistry and law is direct, in Canada you are required to complete at least three years of your undergraduate degree before applying to these programmes.

Gaining admission to professional programmes is competitive. Some schools have quotas on the number of international students they can admit. Do not let this deter you though, there are alternative routes you can take to get to your career goals.

8. Degree structure

Acquaint yourself with Canada’s higher education system, and the one at your institution in particular. It is useful to be aware of your degree requirements, the combination or specialist, major and minor programmes you must take, and how you can fulfil these. Online course catalogues may be very long and overwhelming, so reach out to speak to a registrar or academic advisor.

Universities often have attractive scholarships on offer to both prospective and current students, so be on the lookout. Much like the visa application, the first step to success is to stay on top of deadlines and due dates.

9. Weather warning

Be prepared – it is truly chilly in the winter. Before the heavy snows come, make sure to buy winter boots, a warm coat, gloves and thermals. The key to surviving and thriving in a Canadian winter is to wrap up so you can still get out and explore the city, taking advantage of free ice rinks and trails in the park system. Despite the temperature, the snow does paint a beautiful landscape.

10. Healthcare

Canada has a government-funded healthcare system available to permanent residents and citizens.

However, as an international student with no coverage, healthcare can be very expensive. Luckily, most universities include comprehensive health coverage plans in your tuition. Understanding these plans and knowing what they cover will be useful for you in emergency situations and will save you a lot of money. Some universities might have lists of preferred care providers who accept your university health card. Whatever the system is, make sure you are familiar with it, it is literally a lifesaver.

Read more: Best universities in Canada 

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