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A guide to student funding and loans for international students in Canada

If you are an international student planning to study in Canada, use this guide to understand the different funding options available

    Joy Hunter's avatar

    Joy Hunter

    Student content curator
    January 4 2023
    A guide to financial aid and student funding in Canada


    Canada is known for providing cheaper study options than other top study abroad destinations, such as the US and the UK, as well as offering simpler application processes and more opportunities for permanent residency after graduating.

    However, funding your degree in Canada still requires a lot of research and planning. Below is an outline of costs you’ll need to consider as an international student in Canada and a list of funding options.

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    When do I need to start thinking about funding?

    Along with your letter of admission to a Canadian university, you will be provided with an outline of estimated costs. It’s never too early to start thinking about funding options for your degree. This is particularly true for Canada, as when you first apply for your study permit, you will be required to show that you have at least C$10,000 (£6,129) per year in addition to your tuition fees, to demonstrate that you can cover yourself financially.

    Andy Moonsammy, international recruitment officer at McMaster University, advises that your total cost of living is usually higher than what is required to apply for a study permit, so make sure you that estimate costs for yourself, taking your individual circumstances into account.

    Students are usually advised to apply for their study permit as soon as they confirm an offer with a Canadian university, so it’s best to have your funding plan in place well in advance.

    Resources: applying to university in Canada

    Everything you need to know about studying in Canada
    Scholarships in Canada for international students
    A guide to student bank accounts in Canada
    International perspective: Indian students studying in Canada
    Everything international students need to know about student visas in Canada
    Covid-19 travel updates for international students for the UK, the US, Canada and Australia
    Vlog: A week in the life of a student in Canada

    What costs do you need to consider, and how can you keep them down?

    Differences in tuition fees

    Tuition fees for international undergraduates in Canada vary significantly. They can range from C$2,000 to C$63,000 per year, depending on what you want to study and which institution you select. The overall average for international students is C$6,800 per year, which is significantly less than universities in the US, Australia or the UK.

    When researching tuition fees for courses longer than one year, it’s also worth double-checking whether your tuition fee is fixed or subject to inflation year-on-year.

    Differences between provinces

    International students should consider several differences between Canada’s provinces. A key difference is health insurance. Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick have an inclusive healthcare plan, while Ontario has no provincial plan, with insurance often costing about C$600-C$900.

    It’s best to check with your specific institution because some Canadian universities include health insurance plans in their tuition fees. Lots of institutions in Ontario, for example, will cover your health insurance through the University Health Insurance Plan.

    Another consideration is variations in the cost of living. More metropolitan areas in Canada, especially in the larger cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, will tend to have a much higher cost of living than rural areas.

    Unforeseen costs

    Alongside tuition fees, living costs and health insurance, there are other unforeseen costs that international students don’t always remember. One is travel, both to your home country and within Canada. Some institutions will offer local transit passes, but costs vary by area.

    You should also investigate which specialist course books you may need, how much they cost, and if you can buy them second hand or with a student discount to keep costs down.

    You will also need to consider the cost of going out to social events.

    Canada is known for its freezing winters, so cold-weather gear won’t go amiss!

    What are the funding options?

    Student loans

    Federal and provincial student loans from the Canadian government are usually restricted to domestic students, leaving international students with the option of taking out a loan with a commercial bank or other third party. Bank loans often require collateral or a co-signing family member, as well as extensive proof of your financial situation and ability to repay.

    Third-party student loan companies won’t ask for a co-signatory, but you’ll still need to have a realistic plan for repayment, so think carefully about how you’ll manage any loan agreement before signing anything.

    University scholarships and bursaries

    Many universities across Canada offer scholarships for students coming from abroad, and it’s best to visit the individual websites of the universities that interest you and get in touch with any questions.

    Some universities offer full scholarships to international students, such as the Lester B. Pearson Scholarship at the University of Toronto, which covers the full cost of tuition, books, residence and incidentals for your entire course.

    While it’s always worth applying for any full scholarships you may be eligible for, scholarships that cover all costs are usually merit based and extremely competitive, so you shouldn’t rely on them as your only source of funding.

    Some universities have hybrid awards, which are scholarships given on the basis of merit and financial need. Examples of such hybrid awards are Trent University’s International Global Citizen Scholarships and the University of British Columbia’s International Scholars Program.

    Far more common are smaller university scholarships and bursaries that can be used to cover some (but not all) of your costs. Many of these will be less advertised online or will become available to apply for only once you’ve matriculated, so reach out directly to your university and your subject department to find out more. You might not fund your whole degree this way, but you might get a few hundred dollars towards equipment or travel for an educational trip, which will all add up.

    Also, Canadian universities will usually have some form of emergency bursary programmes available to current and continuing students who find themselves with unexpected financial struggles during their course. Eligible students can apply throughout their studies and must demonstrate financial need. These are for unforeseen circumstances, so cannot be relied on as your plan A for funding your degree.

    Students can investigate government and private scholarships as well as country-specific ones.

    You can apply for country-based scholarships individually, but many are applied for by the institution itself, so it’s best to contact your chosen university directly to see which country-based scholarship opportunities it may be involved in. EduCanada is a good resource for more information on country-based opportunities.

    Part-time work

    Many students in Canada top up their income with part-time work. Under Canadian study permit rules, international students are often eligible to work throughout their course, up to 20 hours a week during term time and full time during breaks and holidays. Many students will take hospitality, retail or tutoring work in order to meet their costs.

    Angelique Saweczko, university registrar at the University of Toronto, points out that there are many opportunities for students to work on campus, such as working on a research project, at events or conferences hosted on campus. Students have to fulfil some requirements to work on-campus, such as having a valid study permit and a social insurance number (SIN).

    Co-op degrees

    Another way you could ease the cost of studying in Canada is to choose a co-op or blended degree, such as McGill University’s work-study programme. These programmes offer you paid work experience in a relevant field alongside your studies, meaning you’ll be earning throughout your course.

    Many students have landed full-time job offers upon graduation with the companies they worked for, so it’s also a great opportunity for networking, particularly if you plan to stay in Canada after your course.

    Research funding

    At the master’s and PhD level, you may be able to apply to have your research funded by a university’s subject department or one of their partners. It’s best to visit the website of your chosen university’s subject department to see which kinds of grants and bursaries are available in your field.

    Damilola Adeleke, immigration consultant administrator at ApplyBoard, recommends getting in touch directly with professors in the department you’re applying to and asking about research funding. By contacting academics directly, you could gain valuable insight into the sorts of projects the department is looking to fund, which may be invaluable when it comes to writing your application.

    Please note all costs and conversion rates were correct at the time of publication. These may vary over time.

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