What to do in your first month as an international student in Canada

Asheesh Moosapeta, Julia Hornstein
Published: August 22, 2023

Canada is a very popular destination for international students due to its high standard of education, comparatively low educational costs, opportunities to work while studying and the immigration opportunities available post-graduation.

Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) showed as of December 31st, 2022, there were 807,750 international students with valid study permits, an all-time high number.

With even more students soon arriving in Canada for the fall semester of studies, CIC News has prepared this guide for international students to navigate the first 30 days of their Canadian journey.

Discover your options to study in Canada

Housing

While many international students will be able to find housing with their Designated Learning Institution (DLI)—the only educational institutions in Canada are authorised to accept international students—many still will have to look for accommodation around their college or university campuses.

One of the most helpful resources that international students can use is their respective college or university’s housing portal. These are usually online bulletin boards that a school will run, where students, faculty, and approved posters can publish ads looking for various kinds of properties for rent.

In addition to school supports, international students can also look for rental properties through popular social media and classifieds websites. Some examples include:

  • Kijiji—Canada’s most popular classifieds site, Kijiji features a wide variety of rental properties that can be filtered to your specific area;
  • Facebook Marketplace—similar to Kijiji, Marketplace also offers more transparency between individuals (as it is connected to Facebook);
  • Realtor.ca—A popular rental and home buying website, Realtor.ca shows listings from a variety of different channels, offering an inside look into what realtors see. The site also allows individuals to contact agents and rental companies directly; or
  • Hiring a realtor—while this can be a more expensive option, hiring a realtor can also relieve stress and anxiety over finding a home. Additionally international students should note that realtors only receive compensation after the closure of a successful purchase or rental agreement, meaning that you should not be paying for realtor services during the house search.

Students should note that many landlords will usually ask for a year-long lease, especially if they do not know the tenant prior to renting. In addition, a credit score is often required to assess a candidate’s ability to pay rent—which may cause international students difficulty without a Canadian credit history—however there are workarounds for this, such as having a trusted person in Canada sign on as a co-leaser or guarantor. In addition, prospective tenants are free to offer a larger deposit (standard deposit at the start of a rental period is first and last month), which can work in place of a credit history, depending on your landlord’s preferences.

Generally, when looking for outside housing, commuting to school can be a big consideration for international students. Applications like Transit or online resources like Google can be invaluable in helping students better understand their transport options from a prospective residence.

Cellphone

Many international students will get a cell phone with a local number to stay connected to their friends and family.

Cell phone plans pricing will vary depending on the length of the plan and what they include, with many offering special pricing or plans for students. Some factors to consider when choosing a phone plan is if it includes the device, as well as calling minutes and data. As an international student, you may want to make international calls back home. Many phone providers have international calling as an optional add-on to their phone plans.

New phone plans are usually set up at the point of sale, which can be at a store, mall kiosk or even at the airport. If you have a credit history that is assessable, you have the option of getting a new phone plan online through a service provider.

International students should note that if they do not have a credit history in Canada, they may not be eligible for a post-paid phone plan with some carriers in Canada. Certain providers are however, able to provide post-paid plans to international students through international credit checks. If no credit history is available, international students can still opt for a pre-paid plan.

Banking

Soon after arriving in Canada, you should open a bank account that will be used for your daily spending and paying your bills. You will also need one if you plan on working while you study.

Canada has a variety of banks with offices and branches in most Canadian cities, as well as credit unions and international banks. The best bank for you will likely depend on your priorities, however most Canadian banks offer similar quality services.

Newcomers to Canada can open a bank account with a variety of combinations of documentation, usually some sort of identification. Each bank will have its own requirements so you should check to confirm which documents they accept—however it is commonly good practice when opening a new bank account, for international students to bring their:

  • Study permit;
  • Passport (with student visa);
  • Student I.D.
  • Letter of Acceptance from their DLI; and/or
  • Proof of residence;

In addition, nearly all major Canadian banks offer special banking packages for newcomers to Canada and to students.

You should also consider getting a credit card, which are valuable as they allow financial protection and the ability to track your spending and build credit. Credit can be important in Canada as it is a key indicator of one’s ability to make larger or recurring purchases like getting approved for a mortgage, rental agreement, post-paid phone plan, and more. Many financial institutions offer specialised cards and deals for international students and newcomers with lower incomes and shorter credit histories.

Student Supports

Depending on your education institution, there are a variety of supports that DLIs provide, specifically for international students.

Your school’s international education centre (or corresponding international student office) can offer everything from language training and assistance, to housing support, and even specific events for international students. Additionally international education centres can often act as conduits and referrers to other school offices and departments that can offer additional help.

One such department could be your school’s career centre. International students are able to work an unlimited number of hours till the end of 2023, and can benefit greatly from the assistance of their school’s career centre. These offices can provide international students help with resume preparation, mock interviews, networking events, and much more.

In addition, it is advisable for international students to obtain their student identification card as soon as possible. Not only will this allow for the complete school registration process to take place, but also may enable students to receive specific benefits at outside stores, like preferential pricing and specific plans. One example is the popular SPC Card program, which features a card that (when presented with student I.D.) makes students eligible for 100s of stores in a variety of different shopping categories.

Lastly many schools hold a club week at the start of the school year. Unlike freshman orientations (also called FROSH weeks), this is an opportunity for all the school’s clubs to present and attract new members—making it a great opportunity for all kinds of people to find their “group”. Whether it is a cultural club that allows for people from the same or similar countries to meet, or a club based on fandoms or hobbies, club week is an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded people and start establishing a new friend circle.

Getting a SIN number

To work in Canada or access government programs and benefits, you require a nine-digit number known as a Social Insurance Number (SIN). There are a few ways to get a Canadian SIN.

The first option is to apply online; this is a quick and easy way to apply for a SIN. There is an eSIN portal which offers a secure and protected environment where you can complete your SIN application and upload digital copies of your documents

You may also apply for a SIN in person. Service Canada may be in your community offering one of their clinics that issue a SIN at educational institutions or community organisations. If you are unable to apply online or attend one of these SIN clinics, you can book an appointment at a nearby Service Canada Centre and bring all required documents.

Finally, you may choose to mail your completed SIN application form and all required documentation to the Social Insurance Registration Office.

Once your application is complete, Service Canada will issue a paper confirmation that includes your SIN number.

Importance of office hours

Often one of the most underrated aspects of a post-secondary education is the ability to interact with Professors and school staff during office hours.

Office hours are an excellent opportunity to not just introduce yourself to your professor, they are potentially invaluable opportunities to learn from someone established in a field of study, in a one-on-one scenario. While office hours can sometimes be crowded (depending on a professor’s schedule and demand), the time can often be worth the wait—for everything from a casual chat to in-depth help with an aspect of course work.

Discover your options to study in Canada

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