Studying in Canada: Visa Options and Eligibility Explained

Canada is one of the top study abroad destinations for international students. With world-class universities, a high quality of life, and a peaceful multicultural environment, it’s no wonder why over half a million international students choose to pursue their degrees in Canada every year.

When weighing your options for higher education, one of the most crucial considerations is figuring out how to obtain a student visa or study permit. There are several pathways, depending on your specific situation and academic program. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down:

  • The main Canadian visa categories for international learners
  • Entry requirements to get a study permit
  • Step-by-step instructions for applying
  • Working part-time during your coursework
  • How to immigrate permanently after graduating

Overview of Study Visas for Foreign Students

Here’s a quick rundown of the primary permits available to overseas applicants looking to enroll at Canadian schools:

  • Study Permit – The standard document for international pupils. Allows you to pursue an academic program for a set duration at a designated college or university. Required for most programs longer than 6 months.
  • Student Visa – If your home country needs a visa to enter Canada, you’ll need this in conjunction with the study permit. Allows temporary residence in Canada for education.
  • Co-op Work Permit – For degrees with integrated co-op terms, this allows you to complete paid on-the-job training.
  • Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) – Graduates of eligible schools can get this open work permit to gain Canadian work experience after completing studies. Valid for the length of your program up to 3 years maximum.

Now let’s explore each of these options more in-depth:

Study Permit Eligibility and Requirements

The study permit is the core document international students need to pursue a degree in Canada. Here are some key facts:

  • You must be accepted into a designated learning institution before applying. This includes public universities, career colleges, CEGEPs, private schools, seminaries, and language academies.
  • In most cases, your study permit will be tied to the specific institution that issues your acceptance letter. You can only study at that school.
  • Permits are valid for the length of your academic program, up to your passport’s expiration date. For a 4-year bachelor’s, you could get a 4-year permit.
  • Application fee is $150 CAD payable to Canada Immigration.

To be eligible for a study permit as a foreign student, you must fulfill several requirements:

  • Proof of acceptance from your Canadian institution. Should be for a program at least 6 months long.
  • Evidence you can support yourself and any dependents. This covers tuition, living costs, healthcare, and more based on province and school.
  • Valid passport that remains valid throughout your studies.
  • Medical exam from an approved physician for applicants from certain countries.
  • Police certificates showing no criminal record (age 18+).
  • Compliance with all previous Canadian visa conditions.

You may also need:

  • Proof of support funds for accompanying family members
  • Certificat d’acceptation du Québec (CAQ) if studying in Quebec.

If you meet all criteria, you’ll be on track for your Canadian study permit!

Student Visa Requirements

If your homeland requires a visa to enter Canada, you’ll also need to obtain a student visa along with the study permit. Here are the key details:

  • Allows you to pass through the border when you first arrive in Canada for school.
  • Must be applied for at a Canadian visa office or embassy in your country.
  • $100 CAD application fee.
  • Validity based on the letter of introduction from your Canadian institution indicating your program start/end dates.
  • Lets you travel in and out of Canada freely during your studies.

To qualify for the student visa, you’ll need to fulfill the study permit requirements as well as:

  • Pass a medical exam showing you’re in good health.
  • Provide police certificates proving no criminal or immigration violations.
  • Demonstrate ties to your homeland that would compel you to depart Canada after graduating.
  • Supply any requested documents to visa officers like proof of funds.

Carefully review all conditions on your approved student visa and make sure to comply with them.

Co-op Work Permit

If your degree has co-op work semesters, you may need a co-op work permit too. Key points:

  • Requires an active study permit first.
  • Only for paid co-op terms essential to your program curriculum and mentioned in your school letter.
  • Get a letter from your institution confirming the mandatory co-op.
  • Only valid for the specific work placement indicated.
  • Same $150 CAD cost as a study permit.
  • Can be renewed to finish all required co-op terms during your studies.
  • Follows same labor rules as domestic co-op students.
  • Does not count as skilled work experience for permanent residence.

A co-op permit can help you gain career experience in Canada during your studies. Verify that your program qualifies.

Post-Graduation Work Permit

A major incentive for international students in Canada is the ability to work after graduating. The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) allows foreign graduates to obtain an open work permit based on the length of their studies, up to 3 years maximum.

Here are some key PGWP details:

  • Apply within 180 days of receiving written confirmation of completing your program.
  • Program must have been at least 8 months long. You must have passed.
  • $255 CAD application fee. Biometrics may also be required.
  • Valid for the total length of your studies. After a 4-year bachelor’s, get a 3 year PGWP.
  • Work for any Canadian employer. Gives open work authorization.
  • Can help qualify for permanent residence through skilled Canadian work experience.
  • Spouses may also qualify for an open permit through the PGWPP Spousal Program.

The PGWP is an invaluable opportunity to continue living and working in Canada after finishing your studies. Make the most of this temporary work option during your transition period after graduation.

Applying for a Study Permit Step-by-Step

Now that you know the main visa categories, let’s go through the process of obtaining a study permit:

  1. Get your letter of acceptance

The first step is getting accepted to your desired Canadian institution and program. Your letter should clearly indicate:

  • Your full name, birthdate, contact information
  • The school’s DLI number
  • Exact program title and credentials you’ll earn
  • Start and end dates, total program length
  1. Prove your financial ability

Before applying for the permit, prove to Canada Immigration you can afford tuition, living costs, etc. Provide bank statements, loan details, scholarships, or financial sponsor agreements.

  1. Submit your application online

Most study permits are applied for online via Canada’s Immigration Portal. Carefully complete all forms and upload supporting documents.

  1. Get medical exams and police certificates

Depending on your citizenship, you may need these additional items. Canadian visa offices will instruct you if they’re required.

  1. Pick up your study permit

Once approved, collect your permit at any Canadian visa post or port of entry. When you arrive as an international student, ensure border agents stamp your documents!

  1. Apply for a co-op work permit (optional)

If doing co-op terms, apply well in advance of your first placement. Provide your acceptance letter and confirmation from your institution.

The application process also varies slightly by province. Follow all instructions from your school and local visa office when applying for permits and visas.

Working On and Off Campus

As an international student, you may be allowed to work during your studies in Canada. However, your study permit will restrict your work hours and location. Know the rules!

On-Campus Jobs

With a valid study permit, you can work up to 20 hours weekly during school terms and full-time during breaks at your college or university, including:

  • Research assistant roles
  • Teaching assistant jobs
  • Co-op or internship programs
  • Campus dining, retail, or facilities positions

You don’t need a separate work permit for on-campus jobs. But ensure any role is directly affiliated with your institution.

Off-Campus Employment

You typically can’t work off-campus in your first 6 months of studying in Canada, except for required co-op terms.

After 6 months, you can apply to your local immigration office for off-campus work authorization. If approved, you can work up to 20 hours weekly during school or full-time during breaks.

To qualify for off-campus work, you must:

  • Have a valid study permit
  • Be enrolled full-time at a designated learning institution
  • Pass a medical exam
  • Have a valid Social Insurance Number
  • Maintain good academic standing

Part-time off-campus jobs may include retail, food service, office roles, and more. Earning Canadian work experience while studying looks great!

Permanent Residency Pathways

Many international graduates consider applying for permanent residence in Canada after finishing their studies. Here are top pathways that leverage your study permit:

Canadian Experience Class (CEC)

This program enables foreign workers and graduates with Canadian skilled work experience to apply for permanent residency. Your post-graduation work permit counts. Need at least 12 months of skilled work.

Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs)

Most Canadian provinces and territories have PNPs tailored for international graduates. PNPs offer alternative criteria to qualify for PR based on job offers, education, connections to the province, etc.

Spousal Sponsorship

If you have a Canadian permanent resident or citizen spouse, they may be able to sponsor you after graduation.

Express Entry

This system manages PR applications for Canada’s economic immigration programs. Create an Express Entry profile highlighting education, skilled work experience, age, languages, and other factors. Former international students can earn additional points toward permanent residency.

Start planning how you can transition your study permit into permanent status. Immigration lawyers and international student offices can guide you through the process.


Studying in Canada is an excellent choice to advance your education and career – one that can open doors to amazing immigration opportunities after graduating. But make sure to get the right visa before starting your academic journey in Canada.

The main options are the study permit (plus a student visa for those needing an entry document), co-op work permit, and post-graduation work permit. Understand the requirements, application process, work rights, and pathways to permanent residency for each. By planning the optimal visa strategy early on, you’ll be set up for success as an international student living, working, and immigrating in Canada!

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