Once you get accepted at a university in Canada, you may have to apply for a student visa before you become an international student. In Canada, student visas are called “study permits,” and below you will learn everything you need to apply for one.
Canada is one of the world’s top study-abroad destinations. Thanks to its prestigious universities, diverse culture, and welcoming people, the number of international students in the country grows yearly, reaching over 300.000 in 2023. In fact, there are thousands of Canadian Master’s programmes and Bachelor’s for international students on our website, Canada ranking third, after the United States and the United Kingdom.
As welcoming as the country is, there are rules every student must follow when traveling to study in Canada. The local government requires a study permit for those who wish to stay longer than six months, and knowing what to expect from the application process is the best way to ensure everything goes right before you leave home.
Study permits is the term used in Canada to refer to student visas. Your study permit allows you to stay in Canada, but you need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) or a visitor visa to enter the country. Once your study permit has been approved, you will receive an eTA automatically.
Here are the steps required to get a student visa in Canada and some advice on language proficiency proof and on some country-specific requirements.
1. Receive your letter of acceptance from a Canadian university
You need to apply and be accepted into a Canadian university before you start your application for a Canadian student visa. For you to be eligible for a student visa, your chosen university must be a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) - a school approved by the territorial government to host international students.
>>> You can find a list of Designated Learning Institutions here and check if your desired university constitutes a DLI.
If you still haven’t chosen a programme, you can use the StudyPortals search tool to find a programme and school that meets your criteria. To search, select the type of degree you’re looking for - Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. - type in your field of study followed by “Canada,” and hit search.
The amount of time your student visa covers may change according to the conditions detailed in your letter of acceptance. If you have received a conditional offer - meaning that you are required to take extra courses before starting your main programme - your visa will be valid for the duration of these prerequisite courses plus one year. Once this visa has expired, you’ll need to apply for a new one.
2. Check if you need a student visa
Not everyone needs a student visa. There are agreements between Canada and some countries, exempting students from obtaining the permit. If you’re unsure whether you will need a study permit for your stay in Canada, you can find out by answering a quick questionnaire detailing your situation.
In short, you don’t need a Canadian study permit if:
- Your study programme lasts six months or less;
- You are a family or staff member of a foreign representative accredited by Global Affairs Canada (GAC);
- You are a member of a foreign armed force on official duties in Canada;
- You have Registered Indian status in Canada;
- You are a temporary resident and asylum seeker taking French language and culture courses in Quebec.
If none of the exceptions above applies to you, you can move forward and start applying for your study permit.
To learn if you need a study permit (student visa) or not, you can also check the Student Visa tab on our Canada country page and select your home country.
3. Gather all the following required documents
Prepare all the documents required for your permit before starting your online application. According to the Canadian government, you will need the following:
- The original or electronic copy of your letter of acceptance from a DLI;
- Proof of identity (a valid passport or travel document, plus two recent passport-sized photos);
- Proof of funds guaranteeing you will be able to financially support yourself during your studies (enough to cover your tuition fees and living costs, or a minimum of $10,000 CAD per year of study);
- A letter of explanation detailing your reasons for studying in Canada and assuring your understanding of your responsibilities as an international student;
- A Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) if you are planning on studying in Québec;
- A Custodian Declaration, if you are under 17 years old;
- The receipt for your payment of the $150 CAD study permit fee.
The Canadian government may require other documents depending on your country of origin. Check their website for possible extra requirements.
4. Start your application
Once you have every necessary document, including your acceptance letter from a DLI, you can start your online application for a study permit. During your application, you will need to:
- Read the instruction guide to make sure you know the steps of the process;
- Create an online account and sign in (you will use your account to pay your fees, submit your application, and check your status);
- Fill out the forms online with your detailed personal information (name, address, background, and education);
- Upload the required documents (acceptance letter, identity, proof of funds, letter of explanation, and others);
- Pay your fees at the end of the application;
- Regularly check your application status for updates or extra requests.
Interviews are not necessarily part of the Canadian student visa process. However, depending on the officer’s assessment of your application, you may be called in for an interview. In this case, you will receive a letter containing the interview date, time and place.
If your application is approved, your student visa will be valid for the duration of your studies, plus 90 days. You can use this extra time to prepare for your departure from Canada or apply for a visa extension if you wish to stay.
5. Provide biometrics and pass a medical exam
If you are applying from outside of Canada and have never given your biometrics before, you will be required to collect your fingerprints and photo at an official Visa Application Centre. You will need to pay an $85 CAN fee (in addition to the $150 CAN study permit fee) and set an appointment at an official biometric collection site.
In specific cases, you may be exempt from this requirement. To be sure, you can answer a quick questionnaire and find out if you need to give biometrics when you apply.
Residents from some countries will also need to provide a medical exam done by an approved panel physician to complete their application. You can check here to find out if you need to submit a medical exam.
6. Start early. It takes months to receive your study permit
The Canadian government says it may take up to 13 weeks for your study permit application to be processed. So, make sure to account for the waiting time and start your application process four to six months before your departure!
The processing time for your visa depends on many things. Such factors are the type of application submitted (online or on paper), if you sent all the required documents, how easily it is for them to verify your information, or how long it takes you to answer any requests on on their side.
If you don’t want to risk a long waiting period, you can apply through the Student Direct Stream (SDS), which is processed within 20 calendar days. You are eligible for this stream if you are from one of the following countries:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Costa Rica
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
However, in addition to the documents required by the regular study permit stream, to qualify for the Student Direct Stream, you must have a Guaranteed Investment Certificate of $10,000 CAN and proof of language proficiency obtained through IELTS (scoring score of 6.0 or higher in each skill) or Test d’évaluation de français (TEF) (scoring 7.0 or higher in each skill).
7. Prove your of English proficiency
You are not required to provide proof of your English skills while applying for a study permit through the regular stream. However, Canadian universities will require you to prove your proficiency in English. If you have previously obtained a degree from an English-speaking country, you may be exempt from this condition.
If you come from a non-English-speaking country, you must submit a certificate from an accepted language proficiency test. Each university and programme requires different minimum scores depending on the test, so check your programme page before deciding which test to take.
The most commonly accepted tests are:
Specific Country Requirements
The requirements and processing time may vary depending on your country of origin. For example, if you are from the United Kingdom or the USA, all of the instructions previously detailed will apply to you, but you will not need to submit a medical exam.
Applicants from the UK will need to pay the extra $7 CAN eTA fee and wait up to 21 days after final approval to receive their permit. Applicants from the USA won’t need to pay any extra fees but will wait up to 35 days to obtain their permit.
If you are applying from Nigeria, you will have to pay the $85 CAN fee to collect your biometrics, plus the travel costs to London for your medical exam. Once your application is finalized and approved, you may wait up to 112 days to receive your permit.
If you want more detailed information, you can visit this page and select your country of origin to know more about the application process based on your country.
You can find more information about the study permit and student life in Canada on their official international student website.