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Canada checklist

Friendly, beautiful and inclusive, Canada is consistently rated as one of the best places in the world to live. It's also a top destination for international students. Before moving to Canada to begin your studies abroad there are a few things to get sorted, like applying for a student visa, opening a bank account and securing accommodation.

1. Check your passport

Renewing your passport overseas can be harder than doing it at home. If your passport is going to expire in the next 12 months, it may be worth renewing it before you go to avoid any hassles. If your government requires you to have a re-entry permit, you may need to get one in your passport before you're issued a Canadian visa.

Dual-Canadian citizens, except those holding American and Canadian passports, take note: as of 2016, you must now fly into Canada on your valid Canadian passport. Even if you need to travel on your non-Canadian passport, make sure you travel with both.

2. Apply for work permits and visas

To study at a designated learning institute in Canada you'll need a study permit (unless you're studying for less than 6 months). Generally, you must apply for this permit before you arrive in Canada and it's usually valid for the length of your studies, plus an extra 90 days. To apply, you'll need an acceptance letter from your school, as well as proof of ID and financial support. New applicants are strongly recommended to apply online.

Residents of certain countries, including mainland China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, may be eligible to fast-track their study permit through the 'Student Direct Stream' (SDS). Students must prove they have paid for their first year's tuition and deposited their CAD10,000 Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) into a local bank account. A study permit is not the same thing as a visa. You may also need a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorisation. One should be issued with your study permit.

Learn more about the HSBC International Student GIC Program

3. Lock in student accommodation

If you're attending a Canadian college or university, you'll want to get your accommodation organised. Some colleges and universities will supply dormitories and townhouses. If you're living on campus (called "living in residence"), you may be able to opt for a meal plan program.

Another option is to rent a property close to campus or move into a share house with other students. As an international student, you'll be protected by landlord-tenant laws of the province or territory in which you're studying. Expect to sign a lease for 12 months if you're renting, and to pay for the first and last month's rent. It's also pretty standard to pay a damage deposit up front. Your school's student services office is a good place to start when looking for accommodation.

4. Set up your banking

How are you going to move and then access money? You're required to show you'll have access to CAD10,000 per year while studying abroad in Canada, not including tuition.

You'll be able to manage your money better with a local bank account, and most employers will require you to have one to deposit your salary. If you are in accommodation off campus, you may also need a chequing account to pay rent.

You can set up an overseas bank account in advance and receive your bank account number and debit or credit card (subject to local regulations) prior to departure. Alternatively, you can book an appointment online at a branch when you arrive.

See if you're eligible to open an HSBC Canada overseas account online

5. Budget for settling in costs

There are a range of things you may need to buy once you land in Canada. It could be new clothes for the cold weather or new furniture for your place. Set yourself a budget that includes all the things you think you'll need once you arrive as well as your visa, tuition fees, flights and accommodation.

While renting an apartment varies,, the official Government of Canada website for study in Canada, states it could cost you up to CAD3,000 in larger cities. It's recommended that you set aside about 25% of your budget for accommodation. As for your wardrobe? Secondhand clothes are not only sustainable but they're also considered hip in Canada. According to survey by Kijiji, "Canada's #1 local classifieds", 85 per cent of Canadians bought or sold secondhand goods1. You can not only budget while settling in, you'll probably have fun doing it, too.

6. Start saving

Now you've got your budget, set yourself a savings goal. Do you think you'll be able to save enough before you leave? If it's looking tight you may be able to cut back on your current spending or on some of the potential costs when you move.

For additional savings and benefits, take advantage of student discounts with the UNESCO-endorsed International Student Identification Card (ISIC). For a CAD20 annual membership fee, the digital ISIC card gives full-time students travel, shopping, dining, and cultural discounts in over 125 countries.

7. Do a health check

Before you set off for Canada you'll need to get a copy of your medical and immunisation records, as well as a list of any prescription medication you'll need. Medical students may be barred from working in a clinical setting if they don't submit immunisation records, so make sure your vaccinations are up to date. This may also apply to you too.  

Also, make sure you're able to access any medication you need in Canada and don't forget to pack extra in your carry-on bag, in case your checked baggage is delayed on arrival. If you're unsure about anything, chat to your doctor about your options.

Canada's publicly funded universal healthcare system is one of the best in the world. While it's free for Canadian citizens and permanent residents, international students must organise their own health insurance during their stay in Canada. Some provinces may provide students with access to basic healthcare through their Medical Care Plan (MCP), but this varies and it's best to check. If your educational institution doesn't offer you healthcare service, they'll at least be able to tell you the requirements.

See more information about what you'll need and how the health system works in Canada.

8. Weigh up travel insurance

Travel insurance is not the same thing as health insurance. Travel insurance can cover you for illness, but it also covers your belongings, travel delays, missed departures and airline delays.

If you've opted for a provincial healthcare plan, travel insurance can cover any shortfalls, such as emergency dental surgery or costs that might exceed your covered daily limits. If you take any holidays outside of Canada, this is where international or multi-region insurance becomes a necessity. The US may be just across the border, but a trip to the A&E could cost you thousands without insurance. Coverage will vary according to your insurance plan.

9. Check your phone is unlocked

As of 2017, all new mobile devices sold in Canada must be unlocked and phone providers must unlock or provide instructions for old devices at no charge. If your phone was purchased in another country, however, you may need to unlock it before you leave home. Once unlocked, you'll be able to use any SIM card in Canada with your phone, enabling you to shop around.

Remember, if a shop tries to charge you a "ransom fee" to unlock your phone, you can demand your consumer rights according to the Canadian "Wireless Code". This Code also enables you to cancel a phone contract after 2 years with no penalty, regardless of the contract terms; it caps data roaming charges; and you can return your new phone within 15 days if you're not happy with it (again, with no penalty).

10. Double-check all documentation

In the final couple of days make sure you have all relevant documentation ready. Check expiry dates on passports, confirm you have relevant visas and study permits, and print out your health and travel insurance documents.

If you're planning to drive in Canada on your foreign driver's license, you'll need to get an International Driving Permit from your own country first. The laws may differ by province and territory.

It's a good idea to scan your important documents before travelling, too. This makes it easier to replace anything that goes missing.

Ready to open an overseas account?

HSBC's global network covers 64 countries, including branches in Canada. If you've decided that Canada is your destination of choice for your study abroad, pre-open an account for full banking access when you arrive. We can tell you the best way for you to apply for an overseas account. Simply select your current location and where you would like to open an account. We'll then walk you through the steps.


HSBC Holdings plc has prepared this article based on publicly available information at the time of preparation from sources it believes to be reliable but it has not independently verified such information. HSBC Holdings plc and the HSBC Group (together, "HSBC") are not responsible for any loss, damage, liabilities or other consequences of any kind that you may incur or suffer as a result of, arising from or relating to your use of or reliance on this article. The contents of this article are subject to change without notice. HSBC gives no guarantee, representation or warranty as to the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of this article.


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1 The 4th Annual Kijiji Second-Hand Economy Index