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The Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Study Permits

Published on: December 7th, 2017
Last updated: May 12th, 2022

If you want to come to Canada and study as a foreign student, first you must obtain a study permit! The study permit gives foreign students the legal status to live in Canada while studying at an approved institution.

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What is a Canadian Study Permit & do I need one?

A Canadian study permit is a document allowing a foreign national to study at a school in Canada. With very few exceptions (see below) the Canadian study permit is required for all foreign nationals to legally study in Canada, whether they are attending primary school, secondary school, college, university, or another program. Canadian study permits will only be issued to foreign nationals who can prove they will be studying at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI).

What is a designated learning institution?

A DLI (Designated Learning Institution) is an educational institution which has received approval from the Canadian government to admit foreign nationals into their programs of study. All primary and secondary schools in Canada are DLIs and can admit students from foreign countries. However, not all post-secondary educational institutions are DLIs, so you must consult the Canadian government’s list of DLIs prior to applying.

For how long is a study permit valid?

A study permit will be valid for the length of the program of study at the time of application. If the program changes, or the student changes programs to one with a longer duration, the student must apply for an extension of the study permit. When a student completes their studies, the study permit will stop being valid 90 days later, regardless of the date indicated on the permit. Before the study permit expires, the foreign national must exit Canada or apply to extend their stay in Canada. Many students choose to apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit, if approved, this permit authorizes recent graduates to stay in Canada and work.

What are the requirements for a foreign student once in Canada?

A foreign national studying in Canada with a study permit must meet the following criteria:

  • always be enrolled in a DLI
  • make progress towards completing a program
  • respect conditions listed on the study permit
  • stop studying if they no longer meet the requirements
  • leave Canada when the permit expires

Note: Violating the terms of any permit authorizing a foreign national to be in Canada may jeopardize future applications for immigration to Canada.

How do I get a study permit? Are there eligibility rules?

Before you are successfully granted a Canadian study permit, you need to have a valid acceptance letter issued by a DLI in Canada. You also need to meet a few other eligibility requirements including:

  1. Travel Document: Have a valid passport (or other lawful travel document)
  2. Sufficient Funds: Demonstrate sufficient funds to meet the following requirements:
    1. Pay the student fees for your first year of study as outlined by the DLI.
    2. Meet all expenses for the first year of stay in Canada for the student and accompanying family member(s) in Canada.
    3. Afford transportation for the student and accompanying family member(s) from Canada to their home country.
    4. Funds should be demonstrated in liquid form, in the account under the name of the principal applicant, spousal applicant, a family relative, or a close friend.
  3. Medical Exam: In most cases, after a visa officer receives an application for a study permit they will request that the student and accompanying family member(s) complete a medical exam.
  4. Criminal Record: In some cases, after a visa officer receives an application for a study permit they will request police clearance certificates to ensure a person is not a risk to Canadian security.

Exceptions: Studying in Canada without a Study Permit

There are a number of common situations in which a foreign national does not require a study permit to study in Canada.

First, if the program of study is a duration of 6 months or less. In this case, a person can complete the course provided they have legal status to enter Canada, usually obtained through a visitor or tourist visa. However, if the course is part of a longer program, or if the student will take longer than 6 months to complete the program they must apply to extend their stay in Canada.

Second, minor children who are in Canada as refugees or refugee claimants, or have parents who are refugees or refugee claimants, do not require a permit to study in Canada. As well, if a parent has the legal authorization to work or study in Canada, their minor children can attend pre-school, primary school, or secondary school without a study permit.

Can I work in Canada while I'm studying?

You are allowed to work on a part-time basis if you hold a study permit and are not required to apply for a work permit separately. In order to find part time work, you must also ensure that you have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN). However, once you stop attending the full-time course or the study permit expires, your right to work also stops.

Can I switch institutions or programs on my study permit?

Students are not required to apply for a new study permit if they change their field of study or switch educational institutions within Canada as long as their study permit does not specify this information. If the study permit specifies the institution or field of study then this information must be updated on the permit before the student can join a new course or school. In Quebec, any foreign national wishing to switch institutions must first apply for a new CAQ.

If a student changes their level of education, for example moving from primary school to high school, or from high school to university, then this would require modification of the study permit.

Can my family come with me?

A full-time student with a valid study permit can be accompanied by his/her spouse and children to Canada. The spouse is allowed to study or work if he/she obtains a study permit or spousal open work permit. While accompanying minor children do not require a study permit to attend pre-school, primary school, or secondary school, any children attending a post-secondary educational institution must apply for a study permit.

When a visa officer assesses a study permit application, they will consider whether or not the applicant demonstrates they intend to leave Canada when their permit expires. If the officer is not satisfied that this requirement is met, they will refuse the study permit. Sometimes, applying with a person’s spouse and children, may suggest to the officer that the applicant intends to move permanently to Canada and therefore does not intend to leave Canada when the permit expires.

Can I apply for a study permit from inside of Canada?

All foreign nationals must obtain the study permit before entering Canada with the exception of those listed below, who are eligible to apply for a permit from within Canada:

  • Minor children
  • Exchange students
  • Holder of a temporary resident permit valid for at least six months
  • Spouse or common law partner residing in Canada and who have applied for PR under Family Class Sponsorship
  • Holder of a valid study permit seeking extension or family member of such study permit holder
  • Family members/private staff of accredited foreign representatives

Can I go to my home country during holidays?

Absolutely! The permit holder must show a valid passport, a valid study permit, and a travel document authorizing re-entry to Canada (either a travel visa or an eTA depending on the country of citizenship). If any of these requirements are not met, permission to re-enter may be refused.

How can I stay in Canada after I finished my studies?

Most foreign graduates (international students) from any of Canada’s Designated Learning Institutions are eligible to apply for an open work permit under the Post-Graduate Work Permit program. However, not every program offered by DLIs make graduates eligible to apply for a Post-Graduate Work Permit. Be sure to check whether the program you’re studying will make you eligible. As a foreign national gains Canadian work experience, it will increase their eligibility to obtain Canadian permanent residency through the Express Entry – Canadian Experience Class program.

Any students graduating from one level of education may apply for a program and a study permit for another level of education. For example, a high school student applying to university.

Depending on a person’s credentials, they may have the option of applying directly for permanent residence through the Express Entry – Federal Skilled Worker program, Provincial Nomination Programs, or another valid immigration program.

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