Canada is one of the world’s leading study destinations, due to its high quality of education, diverse culture, and overall quality of life. Each year, the country welcomes thousands of international students and sets them on a path to academic and personal success.
Whether you have just started researching options on where to study or have already been accepted into a Canadian university of your choice, this article will serve as a handy guide for what to expect during your first week in Canada as an international student.
In this article:
- Getting settled in
- Following quarantine protocol
- Financial basics for international students
- Registration at your university
- Familiarizing yourself with the neighbourhood and campus
- Getting connected
- Understanding student life
Getting settled in
Once you’ve completed your landing formalities at the airport, you are ready to get started on your exciting journey as an international student in Canada. The first item on your agenda will be getting settled into your new accommodation or temporary quarantine location. You can use ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft or ask a friend or relative to pick you up at the airport and take you to your accommodation.
Note: Due to quarantine restrictions, all international travellers landing in Canada are required by law to go directly to their accommodation or quarantine location, without making any stops on the way.
As an international student, you will need to secure accommodation (at least on a temporary basis) prior to your arrival in Canada. You can choose to live either on- or off-campus, depending on your budget and requirements. If you haven’t been able to secure accommodation on-campus, there are plenty of other housing options available for international students.
Following quarantine protocol
The Canadian government has recently eased border restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers, including international students. All international students, regardless of vaccination status, must have a quarantine plan in place and need to follow quarantine protocol as per the Government of Canada ArriveCAN app (this is unrelated to the Arrive app for newcomers).
Fully vaccinated students are now exempt from most mandatory quarantine requirements. However, in addition to the pre-arrival COVID-19 (Coronavirus) test, you will also be required to take another COVID test upon arrival in Canada and must quarantine until a negative test result is received. International students who are NOT fully vaccinated will be required to:
- Take a COVID test immediately after arrival,
- Book a three-day stay at a government-approved hotel, where they must remain in quarantine until they obtain a negative result to their first post-arrival COVID test. You may leave the hotel as soon as the result comes in, without having to wait the full three days, and go to your personal quarantine location.
- Get a second post-arrival COVID test on day 8 before exiting their quarantine on day 15.
Tip: Your Designated Learning Institution (DLI) may have a quarantine protocol in place for international students. Before arranging short-term accommodation for your first few days in Canada, check if your DLI will be making quarantine arrangements in an on-campus dorm.
Financial basics for international students
As an international student in Canada, there are some essential financial basics you will need to complete in your first few days here. You might be able to begin some of these tasks during your quarantine period to get a head start on your checklist.
Obtaining a SIN
If you plan to work part-time while you study in Canada, you will require a Social Insurance Number (SIN). Depending on the airport you land in and your time of arrival, you may be able to get your SIN at the airport. If you are unable to obtain a SIN at the airport, you have the option to apply online or by mail.
Opening a bank account
Use your quarantine period to explore the different banking options and offers available for international students. As an international student, you want a trusted partner who understands your banking needs and is committed to newcomer success. Some banks (like RBC) are currently allowing international students to open student bank accounts remotely while in quarantine.
To open a student bank account with RBC, you will require the following documents:
- Your passport
- Student permit (IMM 1442) or Temporary Resident Visa (TRV)
- Proof of enrollment (optional, good-to-have)
- Social Insurance Number (SIN) or proof of residence (optional, good-to-have)
Information: Book an appointment with an RBC Advisor to get answers to your questions about student banking, and to learn more about opening an RBC student bank account remotely while in quarantine.
Getting a credit card
Having a good credit score is essential for financial success in Canada. As an international student, you may need a credit score for accommodation rental or lease application, or a car loan. Getting a credit card is your first step towards building a good credit history in Canada.
Credit cards are a convenient option for making payments, without having to carry cash. Unlike a debit card, a credit card allows you to make purchases first and pay later. However, credit cards typically have very high interest rates, and late payments can result in high penalties. Make sure you speak with your banking advisor to have a good understanding of how your credit card works before signing your contract. You can gradually build your credit history by paying off your credit card bills on-time and in full.
Creating a budget
A good budget can help you plan your expenses, save money for the future, and prevent financial worries as you study in Canada. As an international student, your biggest expense aside from tuition fees will likely be accommodation. In addition, you will also need to budget for utilities, transportation, food, groceries, phone and internet expenses, furniture, insurance, and entertainment. It is also a good practice to set aside a small sum each month for emergency expenses.
Tip: The cost of living in Canada may be very different compared to your home country. The Arrive Monthly Expenses Calculator can help you estimate and plan your monthly budget in Canada.
Registration at your university
With quarantine and social distancing considerations in place, the registration and course enrollment process at your university might be fully or partially virtual. Check your university website or contact your university to get information about your semester timetable, the dates and process for class registration, and getting a student card. You can also sign up for the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for special discounts from featured partners in Canada.
Many universities in Canada are offering a mix of virtual and in-person classes, and your class schedule may vary depending on the course you’ve enrolled in. Sign up for orientation classes to prepare for your academic journey.
Familiarizing yourself with the neighbourhood and campus
You will likely be spending a lot of time in and around your campus. Walk around your campus and new neighbourhood (if you are living off-campus) to familiarize yourself with the area. Review your campus map or ask around to locate the gym, health services, library, dining hall, class buildings, restaurants, and grocery stores. Don’t hesitate to check if the stores or restaurants you visit offer discounts to students.
Most cities in Canada have an extensive public transportation network. Whether you plan to commute to campus or explore the neighbourhood, the public transit system can be a convenient way of getting around. Learn about the transit system in your city, get a transit pass, and start exploring.
Information: Get to know more about public transportation in key Canadian cities through our Getting Around article series for Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
With “virtual” becoming the norm in student life, staying connected to your friends, family, and university will likely be on your list of essentials. In Canada, you have the option of choosing between a pay-as-you-go (prepaid) or postpaid phone plan. However, since postpaid plans typically require a credit check, most international students start with a prepaid phone service. Some carriers also allow you to purchase a prepaid SIM card online and have it delivered to your address.
International students living on-campus typically have internet access through their local Wi-Fi network. If you are living off-campus, you may need to sign up for an internet service. The cost of a monthly internet plan typically ranges between $50 to $80 CAD, depending on the provider and plan. Do your research on comparative costs, offers, and typical usage limits, before selecting a phone and internet provider.
Understanding student life
Student life in Canada is about more than just academic success. Take the time to meet your new classmates, either in-person or virtually, to forge new connections and friendships. Many universities have on-campus student groups where you might find people with similar interests or backgrounds.
Most academic institutions will be offering a mix of virtual and in-person classes in the coming semesters. Use your first week to ensure that you’re all set up for online learning, technology-wise, to avoid interruptions in classes later. Once you have your course timetable, keep your schedule in mind while planning extracurricular activities, such as socializing, sports, exercising, exploring the city, or working part-time.
Working part-time can not only bring in extra income but can also help you build skills, grow your network, and explore future career opportunities. If your study permit allows you to work part-time as an international student, evaluate how many hours you might reasonably be able to work, without impacting your academic success.
Your first week as an international student in Canada may seem overwhelming at first as you get the basics in place. But with some prior research and planning, you will be able to settle into your new schedule, make the most of your student life, and set yourself up for long-term success.
The Arrive mobile app is your essential companion to prepare for and navigate life as an international student in Canada. Whether you’re just exploring study options in Canada or are getting ready for your move, you’ll get the information and resources you need, when you need them, all in one place.
Lucas Mendonça Product Lead
Lucas Mendonça leverages his expert in product management, product strategy, user experience and data analysis to enable business growth.