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Living in Canada - A Guide for Students

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

What's it like to study abroad in Canada?

Canada’s unique wildlife and spectacular landscapes are one of the greatest attractions for those who decide to study and live there; the country's forests, wildlife, protected areas and water are well known around the world. Canada’s 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 the longest coastline in the world. Canada can also offer 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.

Key facts for Masters students in Canada

  • The academic year in Canada usually begins in September.
  • Around 121,000 foreign students study at Canadian universities.
  • Canada spends approximately 5.3% of GDP on education as a whole, with 1.9 spent on tertiary education specifically.
  • There are two official languages in Canada: English and French. English predominates across the country, but French is the first language for some regions, particularly Quebec.
  • The currency of Canada is the Canadian Dollar ($).
  • Canada has a population of around 35.5 million, about 5.7 million of whom live in and around the capital, Ottawa.
  • Canada is governed using a democratic parliamentary system. Its ceremonial head of state is the British sovereign, functioning as a constitutional monarch.
  • A range of religious faiths are freely practised and accepted in Canada.

Accommodation and living costs for Masters students in Canada

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

Universities will often publish lists of private accommodation (flats, rooms or lodgings) and these will be available through the accommodation office. This is not an endorsement and you are recommended to visit the accommodation before signing a lease. During your search, which you should start as soon as possible, you should consider price, quality and availability. Prices will range widely, from CDN$400 ($360) to CDN$1,500 ($1,350) 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 utilise the help available.

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 activities without breaking the bank, unless you want to live in luxury.

You are recommended to budget around CDN$ 10,000-12,000 ($8,995-10,790) for your living expenses, to include around CDN$4000-5000 ($3,600-4,500) for accommodation, CDN$2,500 ($2,250) for food and CDN$300 ($270) 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 Typical Price

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant

CDN$10-20 / $9-18

Meal for two at mid-range restaurant

CDN$45-75 / $40-67

Cappuccino in a café

CDN$3-4 $2.70-3.60

One-way ticket (Local Transport)

CDN$3 / $2.70

Monthly public transport pass

CDN$75-110 / $67-99

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

CDN$150-240 / $135-216

Internet per month

CDN$40-60 / $36-54

Fitness club (outside of university) per month

CDN$40-60 / $36-54

Cinema ticket

CDN$12 / $11

Working whilst studying a Masters in Canada

In-line with Canada'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, which will usually stipulate that you are studying full-time and work no more than 20 hours per week during term (employment hours during holiday periods will be unrestricted).

Job opportunities will usually be available in hospitality and tourism related roles (language proficiency in English and / or French will be particularly useful) and your university may also be able to advise you on local employment opportunities.

You can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These can help top up your funding if you have any difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Canadian Masters programmes with co-op option

Nearly 300 graduate and Masters programmes are part of what is called the Co-operative Education option. Co-op enables current students to gain hands-on, paid experience in placements related to their field of study. These opportunities are available in all disciplines and provide valuable work experience and contacts. Employers involved in the co-op programme get highly qualified and motivated students to undertake specialised projects. Many of them also use it as a recruitment tool, allowing them to really get to know potential candidates and their abilities. For Masters students these internships are usually two-four months.

To become part of the programme you register as a co-op student - there may be additional requirements at the point of application (such as a high GPA) as well as academic requirements such as attendance on compulsory training. Once you have been accepted, you will receive notifications of opportunities which are developed by your institution’s co-op coordinator. Many employers will be 'repeat' placement providers.

International students who require a study permit have to apply for co-op work permit and universities will be able to assist with the administration for this.

Other useful information for Masters students in Canada

By now you should be well prepared for an exiciting study abroad experience on a Masters in Canada. Of course, there's more to living overseas than finding accommodation and budgeting for living costs. Those are important, but you'll also need to manage a few more day to day needs. Click 'read more' for a quick introduction to banking, and health insurance for international students in Canada.

Banking

As a Masters student there is no obligation to open a bank account (unless you are choosing a program with a co-op option or if you are undertaking paid work on or off campus). Having access to a local branch is however advantageous, simply because of proximity.

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 is a fee to have a bank account, generally around CDN$5 ($4.50) 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 medical insurance from their universities (most of them will provide healthcare cover on behalf of providers). Although you don’t have to choose one offered through your university, having a Canadian healthcare cover will be a condition of your study permit.

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