I’m a junior, and I’ve started researching grad programs. I have a friend who graduated a few years ago who is earning her master’s in Canada. I reached out to her, and she said I should look into it. I want to do an MA or MFA in Creative Writing, and when I started researching Canadian programs I was impressed. Not only were a lot of the programs less expensive than what I’d find in the US, but there are a bunch of well-regarded universities that take international students. And hey, it’s like doing a study abroad! I’m thinking pretty seriously about applying to Canadian schools, but I’m not sure about international study. Will I need a visa? How do I get a visa? Do I take care of it myself, or do the schools help? Do I have to have a visa before I apply, or do I have to apply before I have a visa? Please help me out here!
Studying abroad in Canada can be an excellent choice, and yes, you will need a visa. The why and the how can be a little confusing at first, but we can break it down easily. Fortunately for you, the path from the United States to education in Canada is one that has been well-trodden. Thousands of people apply for study in Canada every year. Canadian immigration attorneys, Departments of International Students, and study abroad organizations can help you with the answers.
According to veteran immigration lawyers, there are four steps to getting a study permit with Canadian immigration: first, you must be accepted by a learning institution in Canada. Second, you must show that you can pay for you living, tuition, and travel expenses. Third, you have to prove that you don’t have a criminal record. Fourth, you must prove that you’re in good health – though whether or not you need a medical exam depends on many different factors (we’ll get to that).
This sounds like a lot, but again, you just have to break it down. So, the first step is getting accepted to a program. You’ve applied to college, so applying to grad school should be a piece of cake. However, this time around you should reach out to the university’s department of international students to make sure they know about your application. While you’re applying, you should also check to see if you have a valid passport. Don’t have one? Easiest place to get one is the post office. It can take a few weeks, so be sure to give yourself some lead time. We’d recommend getting one as soon as you’ve applied.
As if that wasn’t enough, you will also have to start thinking about how you will fund your education. This can be loans, grants, personal savings, or a TA or GA-ship. You need to provide proof that you can fund a specific dollar amount. That proof can be any of the documents listed on the Government of Canada’s site. According to the US News and World Report, Canadian Universities participate in the U.S. federal student loan program, so you would fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) just like you would for an American university. You don’t have to start taking out loans, but it is a good idea to be prepared.
You’ve been accepted! Yayyy! Going with the advice of the University of Toronto’s Center for International Experience, apply for a study permit as soon as you get your acceptance letter. The last thing you want is for August to roll around and to not have a permit yet. If you’re a US citizen, you can visit Canada pretty easily, but it is very difficult to change your status from a visitor to a student.
Since you will be staying in Canada for more than six months (most of the graduate programs you are interested in are two or three years), you may need a medical exam. This depends on a lot of factors – other countries you have visited, sicknesses you might have had – and the best idea is to look through the Government of Canada’s site again to determine if you need one or not. If you do, you should schedule your examination as soon as possible. Again, you don’t want to get stuck without one!
Of course, you’re ultra-prepared, so you hit the ground running and fill out the Government of Canada’s Online Study Permit Application. It might take a few months to go through the system, so you have to be patient. While you’re waiting, they will run a background check to be sure you don’t have a criminal record. You will probably want to start researching your living situation: where might you want to live? Where are your classes? How much will you want to spend every month? Reach out to other students in your program to learn what their day-to-day is like, and plan accordingly.
Remember, also, that you won’t be able to work in Canada in the summer, so you might want to consider what your summers will look like (I know, I know, this seems way off in the future, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly a year of grad school can evaporate).
Finally, say something comes up. A loan falls through. Your study permit application, god forbid, is rejected. You get very sick, or you get married and have a spouse to bring along with you! All of these things can happen, and you want to be sure you have contingencies in place. This is the time to call in the experts: work with you school, and maybe reach out to an immigration lawyer for a consultation. Be sure to have all your legal documents in place. For bonus points, be preemptive and already have a full background check ready to go.
So, if you want to study in Canada, you will need a study permit and a valid passport. You need to apply and a program needs to accept you. Then, you have to apply for a study permit. For that, you’ll need your acceptance letter, financial documentation, a clear record, and, maybe, a medical examination. Once your permit is approved, you are all set for your adventure!
“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes