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A Student's Guide to Living in Canada

Canada’s wildlife is one of the greatest appeals for many who decide to study and live there. Canada’s forests and protected areas are well known around the world. Its natural credentials are numerous:  more than 71,500 known species of plants and wild animals; 20% of the world’s remaining wilderness; 10% of the world’s forests; 25% of the world's wetlands and also the longest coastline in the world. Canada also boasts dynamic cities, ski resorts, cultural centres, leisure activities and a wide range of cuisines.

The climate in Canada is not as one-dimensional as you might think. It is not always cold and it is not always covered in snow! Canada is a huge country and therefore, climatic conditions will vary greatly from one end of the country to the other. Most of Canada’s population lives within 200 miles of the southern border. There, you’ll experience four distinct seasons.

Budget and expenses

Living costs

Canada is considered a mid-range country in terms of living costs but some things, like car insurance, can be fairly expensive compared to other countries. However, it is easy to eat well and take part in leisure activity without breaking the bank, unless you want to live in luxury.

You should aim to budget around CDN$10,000-12,000 for your living expenses, to include around CDN$4,000-5,000 for accommodation, CDN$2,500 for food and CDN$300 for local transport. Below are some indicative prices to help you plan. Variations reflect differences in prices between regions or in large cities.

Product or Service Price in CDN$

Meal in an inexpensive restaurant


Meal for two in a mid-range restaurant


Cappuccino in a café


One-way Ticket (local transport)


Monthly public transport pass


Basic utilities (electricity, heating, water, rubbish collection) for a medium-sized flat




Fitness club (outside of university)


Cinema ticket


Opening a bank account

As a PhD student, you will probably need to open a bank account (particularly if you are undertaking academic-related duties or in receipt of a stipend). International students can apply for a bank account as non-residents given the duration of their studies. It may however, be useful to ask your bank back home if they are part of a network of banking corporations which have branches in Canada. This may help when opening a new bank account or when transferring funds even before you move to Canada. There will be a fee to have a bank account, generally around CDN$5 each month. Bills can be paid by cheque but direct debits can be set up for regular payments such as rent.

Health Insurance

In Canada, each Province is responsible for its own healthcare system and hospital care provision. International students can purchase a medical insurance from their universities (most of them will provide healthcare covers on behalf of providers). Although you don’t have to choose one offered through your university, having a Canadian healthcare cover is a condition of your study permit.


As in many countries, options include halls of residence (or dormitories) and off-campus privately-rented accommodation. The former is the most popular choice for students in Canada. Situated on- or near campuses, halls offer private or twin rooms and communal facilities, such as the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Students can also choose full-board with their meals provided in the university cafeteria.

Halls of residence won't suit all postgraduate students, but they are a good option if you are new to Canada and want to meet new people, or if you want easy access to the university campus without having to rely on public transport.

Private accommodation

Universities will often publish lists of private accommodation (flats, rooms or lodgings) and these will be available through the university accommodation office. This is not an endorsement of the accommodation and you are recommended to visit accommodation before signing a lease. During your search, which you should start as soon as possible, you may wish to consider the price, quality and availability. Prices will range widely, from CDN$400 to CDN$1,500 each month, according to size and location.

It is likely you will have to pay at least a month’s rent in advance and another month’s rent as a deposit. Leases will normally be for a year but make sure you do have a lease, as it will be the legal contract between the landlord and you. In most cases, the landlord’s responsibility is to keep the building and the facility in good order while you’ll be required to look after the premises.

Universities will often provide legal and paralegal advice for students opting to live off-campus. This service is generally free or offered at a reduced rate so if you need someone to look over an agreement with a landlord, make sure you use the help available.


In order to study in Canada, international students have to obtain a study permit.

What is required to apply for a study permit:

  • A firm acceptance from a Canadian university, as shown by your letter of acceptance onto a PhD course.
  • Proof of financial support (private sources or scholarships) such as bank statements and award letters to demonstrate that you can afford:
    • Your tuition fees.
    • Living expenses, including for family members who will be going to Canada with you.
    • Return tickets or resources to secure a return journey to your home country.
  • A clear criminal record.
  • Evidence that you are in good health.

For a detailed list of requirements, you should contact the Canadian Consulate office nearest to you or visit the Citizenship Immigration Canada website. Additional requirements may exist in certain provinces. In Québec, a certificat d'acceptation du Québec (CAQ) pour études, issued by the Québec Government, is required in addition to a study permit, issued by the Government of Canada. For more information, click here.

Working during your studies in Canada

In line with the country’s employability agenda, international students who hold a study permit are allowed to work during their studies. Spouses can also apply for a work permit. If you are working on campus, you do not require an additional work permit but you must follow the conditions of your study permit. For off-campus work you will require a work permit and you will have to follow the stipulations in that permit:

  • You are studying full-time.
  • You work no more than 20 hours a week during term time (but you can work full-time during holiday periods).

Working after your studies

Canada offers a number of opportunities for work after graduation and the country’s immigration policy is supportive of the retention of international talent. There are two routes possible, one through the federal government and the other through the province where you study (and in line with local labour requirements):

This is slightly different for Québec; you can find more information here.

In addition, PhD students and recent PhD graduates may be eligible to apply for permanent residence under the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Canada’s flagship economic immigration program. This route however, is capped at 1,000 new applications per year.

There are a number of eligibility criteria and applicants are graded according to a points-based system. You will be required to:

  • Be currently enrolled at a recognised Canadian University and completed at least two years of a PhD.
  • Have graduated no more than 12 months ago.
  • Have worked at least one year of continuous, paid full-time (or part-time equivalent) work experience in a managerial, professional or technical occupation within the last 10 years.
  • Show that you have the funds required to support you and your family

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