The following article was written by Sahj Dhillon, a summer student at Stewart Sharma Harsanyi
When considering where to study as an international student there are numerous factors to consider including but not limited to livability, climate, safety, employment opportunities and a clear cut and reasonable path to citizenship upon completion of your studies. Canada offers a competitive package to international students that goes toe to toe with many other popular destinations for international students including Australia, The U.K and the United States. We will explore the various pros and cons of studying in Canada as an international student.
Canada has always boasted an impressive array of universities and technical colleges. Canadian universities are globally recognized and offer a range of academic programs. Three universities in Canada placed in the top 100 of U.S News and World Report University Rankings[i] with the University of Toronto ranking 1st in Canada and 18th in the world, The University of British Columbia ranking 2nd in Canada and 35th in the world and McGill University ranking 3rd in Canada and 54th in the world. Canadian institutions provide students with a wide array of academic programs and are very open and welcoming of international students.
Clear Path to Permanent Residency/Citizenship:
This may be one of the most important considerations for many international students. Unlike countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, there is a clear pathway to status in Canada. Upon completion of your studies in Canada an international student can apply for a post graduate work permit if they have maintained full-time student status in Canada and completed their program of study at an eligible institution for 8 months. Beyond a work permit the two most common ways for international students to gain permanent status in Canada is through the Express Entry System and the Canadian Experience Class. Along with these pathways international students also gain permanent status through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) although it is more uncommon. These pathways provide a set of framework and clear expectations to gain permanent residency and citizenship in Canada. A clear-cut pathway to citizenship is fundamental for both international students and Canada as a country. It provides a way for international student to enjoy the benefits of citizenship and fully engage in Canadian culture, values and help promote economic growth.
Livability & Quality of Life:
Canada has consistently ranked as one of the safest and most prosperous countries in the world. In terms of quality-of-life Canada ranked third in the world as per a Us News and World Report quality of life ranking[ii]. Notably, Canada outperformed other major destinations for international students including Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K and the United States which ranked 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th and 21st respectively. Canada also had 3 of the world’s 10 most livable cities in the world in 2022.[iii] The 2022 Economist Intelligence Unit [iv] report measured 5 factors: stability, healthcare, culture & environment, education, and infrastructure in order to determine the 10 most livable cities in the world. The three Canadian cities that ranked in the top 10 of the indexes were Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto which each ranked 3rd, 5th and 8th respectively. As an international student its vitally important to consider what Canadian city you may want to pursue your education in. Different cities have different offerings and its important to determine which city would meet your needs, lifestyle..etc.. However, generally speaking as an international student, you will enjoy a high quality of life no matter where you end up in Canada.
Cost of Living:
Canada can be an expensive place to live, in major cities like Vancouver and Toronto where many international students choose to live, the average monthly cost of living is close to $4,923 and $4,975[v]. Most international students live in British Columbia and Ontario[vi] which tends to drive up the cost of housing and transportation in popular college and university towns and cities in B.C. and Ontario. A survey by Carleton University of international students found that almost 80% of respondents were either “concerned” or “very concerned” about there ability to pay for there education.[vii] Students are often sold the false narrative that in Canada its extremely easy to find a job, which often is not the case. When off campus work is sparse and there are no other sources of household income for international students (i.e., spousal or parental), paying off living expenses and tuition can seem like an impossible task. Abroad international students are sold the dream of study-work-immigrate, this dream often does not come into fruition. Many international students come to Canada with pre-existing debts from home, these debts often a result of families taking out loans to send their children to Canada. Once in Canada the stress of repaying these debts remains and the burden of paying these debts falls squarely on the shoulder of international students. Working to pay off debts, tuition and living expenses can be extremely difficult and it comes as no surprise to see that many international students are dealing with financial stress.
Culture Shock & Language Barrier
For many international students in Canada its there first time away from home. They must adjust to being away from there friends and family, and this transition can be extremely difficult. International students often report a felling of homesickness or loneliness. Initially it can be difficult for an international student to integrate into there community. However, with more and more international students arriving in Canada year after year, large communities of international students in college/university towns have sprung up. Especially from India, China, and the Philippines, the three largest sources of international students to Canada[viii]. These large communities of international students have made it easier to build relationships with fellow international students however connecting with domestic students can still be a challenge. In terms of language barriers, initially it can be difficult adjusting to receiving instruction in English if you are from a non-English speaking country. Additionally, for those from non-English-speaking countries, it can be difficult to communicate with others and express one’s true thoughts and feelings. This can often be a source of frustration and isolation for international students initially, however over time these feelings tend to subside.
Work Life Balance:
Its difficult to quantify or judge how difficult life as an international student can be as an outsider, it really only becomes apparent once you are in country. International students often forget or fail to realize that its not only school work that will take up their time. With the IRCC removing the 20-hour-per-week rule for international students with off-campus work authorization until December 31st, 2023 [ix], work now takes up a substantial amount of an international student’s time. Tack on housekeeping and slowly free time starts to become a luxury for most international students. International students live busy lives and they must work to find a balance, which proves to be more difficult than most think. As they say “nothing comes easy” and adjusting to Canadian life, is just part of being an international student and part of the larger process of integrating into Canadian society.
Being an international student in Canada is no easy task. Being away from friends and family, alone in a foreign country where they do not speak your language or share your customs or values can seem like a scary thing to think about for anyone, not just international students. Despite all the hardships that come along with being an international student in Canada, it can be a very rewarding experience and fulfilling experience. Few get to fully experience Canadian life and very few have the means or resources to immigrate to Canada. With hard work as an international student, you can become a member of Canadian society and work to build your roots in a country where many only dream of doing so.