How to Study in Canada, Work, and Immigrate

Last updated: 5 February 2024

There are four steps to studying in Canada: Choosing a study program; getting a Letter of Acceptance from a Canadian school; receiving a provincial attestation letter from the province or territory that the school is located in, and finally, getting a study permit. 

Among the major advantages of studying in Canada is it provides you with more potential opportunities to apply for Canadian permanent residence status.

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Table of Contents

How to Study in Canada

The following are the steps you need to take if you wish to study in Canada and transition to permanent residence:

Step 1 - Select a program: Conduct research and find the education program you want to pursue in Canada.

Step 2 - Apply to a Canadian designated learning institution: Once you have determined which education program to apply to, submit your application to the Canadian designated learning institution (DLI) of your choice.

Step 3 - Apply for a study permit: Upon obtaining a letter of acceptance, and a provincial attestation letter from the province or territory where your school is located, Cohen Immigration Law can help you submit an application to the Government of Canada for a study permit. The study permit is a document that most people need so they can legally remain in Canada as a student.

Step 4 (Optional) - Explore your immigration optionsAfter completing your studies, Cohen Immigration Law can help you remain in Canada to gain more professional work experience and pursue permanent residence.

What are the Benefits of Studying in Canada?

Canada is now one of the world's leading destinations for international students with over 800,000 students from all over the world. Research shows that international students are attracted to Canada for the following reasons:

  • High quality of education offered by Canadian schools
  • Canada offers international students with opportunities to work during and after their studies, and transition to permanent residence
  • Opportunities to study in English and/or French
  • Safety and security
  • Multicultural society
  • Canada welcomes immigrants and international students from nearly 200 different countries each year
  • Canada is affordable compared with other popular international student destinations. Consider also that the Canadian dollar is weaker than major currencies such as the USD, GBP, and EUR

About Canada’s Universities and Colleges

There are over 1,500 universities, colleges, and other educational institutions that are authorized by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to welcome international students. These educational institutions are called Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) and they exist to help international students learn in Canada and stay in the country after graduation. The list of DLIs that are authorized by IRCC is constantly growing. Please verify that the university, college, or other institution you wish to enroll in is authorized by IRCC by visiting the Canadian government’s official website.

Ontario and Quebec are Canada’s largest provinces by population, and hence, they host the most number of DLIs in the country (nearly 1,000 combined).

Given the large number of DLIs across Canada, you are very likely to find an educational program that meets your needs.

Generally speaking, universities across Canada offer comparable levels of high-quality education. The reason for this is that Canada promotes equity within its education system, meaning that it strives to ensure all students get the best possible education possible, irrespective of which institution that they go to.

Canada also has some 150 community colleges which also offer good quality education. Whereas universities specialize in providing theoretical knowledge and career training in certain professions (e.g., medicine, engineering, law), community colleges offer more applied training to help students quickly integrate into the labour market. College programs are more practical, with the knowledge provided to students meant to help them find work within their area of study.

Just like universities, colleges across Canada tend to offer similar levels of education. International students should take comfort at studying at a Canadian college, since the credential that they gain will support their professional and immigration ambitions upon graduation.

New changes to Canada's study permit allocations

In 2024, IRCC announced that it will begin limiting the number of study permits issued in that year to 360,000—which would be divided through specific allocations for provinces and territories based on their student populations. Provinces and territories are expected to establish a process for issuing provincial attestation letters to students by no later than March 31st, 2024.

This cap does not impact masters or doctoral students, nor those in elementary or secondary levels of schooling. In addition study permit renewals will not be impacted by this policy either.

IRCC has implemented these changes to help promote sustainable levels of international students, safeguard stakeholders from abuses of the international student program, and ensure adequate housing for accepted students in Canada. Per these new changes, IRCC will allocate a portion of the overall study permit cap to provincial and territorial governments, who will then distribute this allocation among DLIs in their jurisdiction.

To implement this cap, all study permit applications made after January 22nd, 2024 will now need a provincial attestation letter from a province or territory, in support of the applicant’s approval to study in Canada.

IRCC currently expects that the current measures will be in place for two years. The department will re-assess the number of study permit allocations in 2025 at the end of 2024.

Study Pathways to Permanent Residence (PR)

International students who complete post-secondary education in Canada have many opportunities to extend their stay and ultimately transition to permanent residence.

Your education in Canada may put you at an advantage when it comes to pursuing Canadian permanent residence. Many federal and provincial immigration programs value candidates with Canadian education and work experience.

After completing your education in Canada, you can gain Canadian work experience by obtaining a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) which, depending on your Canadian academic program, may enable you to work in Canada for up to three years.

While holding a PGWP, you can then go ahead and pursue a number of federal and provincial permanent residence avenues, such as:

Express Entry

One of the most prominent ways of pursuing permanent residence is by submitting an Express Entry profile. Express Entry is the main way that Canada manages economic class immigration applications.

Express Entry candidates are assessed through the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The CRS rewards candidates who are young, have Canadian education and work experience, and strong English and/or French proficiency. These are characteristics that many of Canada’s international students possess.

Through Express Entry, former international students may be well-placed to be eligible for the popular Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program, which enables tens of thousands of former international students and temporary foreign workers to become permanent residents each year.

Provincial Nominee Program (PNP)

The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) allows provinces and territories across Canada to identify immigration candidates who meet their local economic needs. Many PNP streams reward candidates who are former international students or are specifically dedicated to international students.


Quebec is Canada’s second largest province and the city of Montreal is a very popular destination for international students. The province operates its own immigration system with programs that are different from those offered by the federal government and under the PNP. Quebec also encourages former international students to transition to permanent residence. One of the notable ways it seeks to do this is through the Quebec Experience Program.

Other Federal Programs

In addition to the three programs it manages under Express Entry, the federal government operates additional economic class immigration programs. The programs offer special streams to international students and/or exemptions from Canadian work experience requirements. These include the Atlantic Immigration Program and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.

Frequently Asked Questions

Canada offers high quality education at a relatively affordable cost in a safe, stable, and multicultural society. Canada enables you to work during your studies and obtain a work permit after your studies as long as you meet the Canadian government's criteria. Gaining work experience in Canada after your studies provides you with more opportunities to settle in Canada as a permanent resident. Due to its attractiveness, Canada hosts international students from around 200 different countries.

There are over 800,000 international students in Canada. Due to its popularity as a great destination to study, work, and immigrate, Canada has seen its international student population triple over the past decade.

Starting in 2024, IRCC will implement a cap on study permit applications, limiting the allocation of total annual number of approved study permits to approximately 360,000. This allocation limit will be reassessed for 2025.

Canada welcomes international students from nearly 200 different countries each year.

Popular source countries of Canada’s international students include India, China, South Korea, France, Vietnam, the U.S., Iran, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico.

Many countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia also send large numbers of international students to Canada each year.

Step One: Choose an academic program.

Step Two: Apply to a Canadian designated learning institution and obtain a letter of acceptance.

Step Three: Receive a provincial attestation letter from the province or territory where your chosen learning institution is located

Step Three: Apply for a study permit.

Yes. You may bring your spouse, common law partner, and dependent children.

The government of Canada, not to mention the university or college you are attending, want you to be happy while you are studying in Canada. Consequently, you are able to have your spouse/common-law partner join you in Canada, as well as any dependent children. Your spouse/partner can apply for an open work permit, allowing him or her to come to Canada and work for any employer, while your children may also join you.

Canadian cities tend to offer many of the same benefits including good quality of education, an openness to all types of different cultures, and safety and security.

Choosing a city to study in depends on your preferences. Factors for you to consider include:

  • Which educational program you wish to pursue
  • Job opportunities in your preferred career within the Canadian city
  • Existing immigrant and international student communities within the Canadian city
  • Whether you prefer to be in an English and/or French speaking environment in Canada
  • Cultural activities
  • Whether you prefer to be in a larger city or a smaller one
  • Your budget

You can learn more about the benefits of Canada’s various provinces and cities here.

If you have completed your studies and wish to remain in Canada to work, you may be eligible to obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This temporary status will replace your study permit. There may be other temporary and permanent pathways you can also pursue to remain in Canada. For instance, after obtaining a PGWP and are interested in becoming a permanent resident, you may be eligible to submit an Express Entry profile and/or apply for other federal and provincial immigration programs.

Your options depend on your goals.

For instance, if you are interested in obtaining permanent residence within the province, you may be eligible to obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).

Beyond that, you can apply for one of Quebec's immigration programs such as the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) or the Quebec Regular Skilled Worker Program (QSWP).

Yes. Tens of thousands of the over 400,000 people that become Canadian permanent residents each year are former international students.

There are several programs that can lead to permanent residence, including the three programs managed under Express Entry (Canadian Experience Class, the Federal Skilled Worker Program, and the Federal Skilled Trades Program). There are many other options available through the likes of the Provincial Nominee Program, Quebec, the Atlantic Immigration Program, and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.

Some of these programs require qualifying Canadian work experience. If you want to work in Canada after you finish your studies, you can apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).


This is the ultimate goal of many, if not most, international students and graduates in Canada. Permanent resident status grants a number of rights, including the right to live and work anywhere in Canada without the need to first secure a work permit. It is also a step along the way to Canadian citizenship.

Canada is looking to its cohort of international students and graduates to become its leading newcomers. You have learned the language(s), got the experience and the education, and proven that you are worthy of joining the Canadian family.

The PGWP is an open work permit issued to foreign students who have graduated from a designated learning institution.

It allows you to gain work experience in Canada and can help you become eligible for a variety of federal and provincial immigration programs (which sometimes require that candidates have qualifying Canadian work experience to become eligible for a given program).

The PGWP is valid for a period equivalent to the program of study you completed in Canada. Its duration can range from a minimum of 8 months to a maximum of 3 years.

To be eligible for the PGWP you must have held full-time student status at an eligible designated learning institution in Canada and you must have met all the requirements of your program of study that was at least eight months in duration.

You may be able to work on campus or off campus, provided your study permit lists that condition. You can only begin working in Canada after you have begun your Canadian study program.

You may be allowed to work on your school’s campus if you:

  • are a full-time post-secondary student,
  • have a valid study permit, and
  • have a Social Insurance Number (SIN)

If you need to work for a co-op or as an intern, you must apply for a co-op or intern work permit. You may be eligible if:

  • work is required to complete your program,
  • you have a valid study permit,
  • you have a letter from your institution confirming that all students must work to get their degree,
  • your co-op or internship is 50% or less of your program.

If you are taking English or French as a second language, general interest courses or courses to prepare for another program, you may not be eligible for a co-op work permit.

If you want to work off-campus, your study permit must say that you can work off campus. You must also:

  • be a full-time student,
  • be enrolled in a post-secondary program,
  • be enrolled in a study program that is at least 6 months long, and leads to a degree, diploma or certificate,
  • have started studying,
  • have a Social Insurance Number (SIN)

If you are a part-time student, you may only work off campus:

  • if you have met all the criteria listed above, and,
  • you’re only study part-time because:
    • you’re in your last semester and you don’t need to study full-time to complete your program
    • you were a full-time student in Canada up until your last semester

Assuming your study permit states you can work in Canada, you are allowed to work off campus for 20 hours per week during the school year. You can also work full-time during scheduled breaks.

There are no restrictions to the number of hours you can work on campus.

Yes. You may apply for a merit-based scholarship, bursary or grant through your institution or through third-parties.

Tuition fees in Canada are considered affordable compared to other popular destinations such as the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and European Union countries.

Many Canadian academic institutions offer programs with tuition fees that are under $15,000 CAD per year.

In addition to your tuition fees, you must be able to demonstrate your ability to financially support yourself and any family members.

Tuition and living expenses vary by each province and territory. Generally speaking, studying in a larger city in Canada costs more than smaller cities.

If you plan on studying outside Quebec, the following table illustrates the minimum funds you need to have access to in order to support yourself while studying in Canada (also known as "proof of financial support"):

Number of peopleAll provinces except Quebec
Single studentTuition plus CAD $20,635 for a 12-month period
For one accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $25,690
For two accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $31,583
For three accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $38,346
For four accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $43,492
For five accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $49,051
For six accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $54,611
For more than six accompanying family membersTuition plus CAD $5,559 for each person

If you plan on studying in Quebec, the following table illustrates the minimum funds that you need to have access to in order to support yourself financially while studying in the province:

Amount of funds required per year (excluding tuition fees)
First family member (under 18)
CAD $7,541
First family member aged over 18
CAD $15,078
Two family members aged 18 and older
CAD $22,115
Two family members aged 18 and over and one member under the age of 18
CAD $24,773
Two family members aged 18 and over and two members under the age of 18:
CAD $26,737

The Student Direct Stream (SDS) is a program that expedites the processing of study permits for candidates who meet eligibility requirements. One of the eligibility requirements is you must be a legal resident of one of the following countries:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • India
  • Morocco
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Senegal
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Vietnam

To be eligible for the SDS, you must:

  • Be a legal resident of Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, or Vietnam;
  • Have completed a valid language test in the last 2 years, with an IELTS score of 6.0 or higher, or a TEF score equivalent to the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) of 7 or higher;
  • Have a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) of at least $20,635 insured by the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC). The GIC must meet specific criteria;
  • Prove full payment of your tuition fees for your first year of study;
  • Prove that you have paid your travel costs;
  • Provide a letter of acceptance from the institution;
  • Provide a provincial letter of attestation from the province or territory that your learning institution is located in;
  • Provide your most recent secondary or post-secondary transcripts;
  • Get a medical exam before you apply if you are required to get one (You may be required to complete this step if you have lived or travelled to one of the designated countries before coming to Canada, or if your field of study requires it); and
  • Get a police certificate before you apply if it is required in your case (your visa office instructions will tell you if you need to get a police certificate).

There is no age limit to study in Canada.

You do not need a language test to apply for a study permit, but you may be asked for one by the institution you are applying to. For more details, please review the policies of the academic institutions you are interested in applying to.

Once you have been approved for a study permit, you must fulfil the following conditions established by the Canadian government:

  • Remain enrolled at your designated learning institution;
  • Work towards completing your program;
  • Fulfil all conditions listed on your study permit;
  • Stop studying if you no longer meet your study permit requirements; and
  • Leave Canada when your study permit expires (unless you have obtained another temporary permit or permanent residence).

Your study permit will become automatically invalid if you violate any of the conditions listed on your study permit.

Processing times depend on each visa office. CanadaVisa’s Immigration Processing Times Tool contains more information.

  • Universities: They offer undergraduate, professional, and postgraduate degrees, in addition to certificates and diplomas.
  • Community colleges: They offer certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, undergraduate degrees, and postgraduate diplomas.
  • Career and technical colleges: They offer certificates and diplomas for technical training meant to help adults advance in their careers.


Average Length


Certificates and Diplomas

1-2 years

Career oriented programs to help adults find work related to credential.

Associate degrees

2 years

Similar to first two levels of study of a 4-year Bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor's degrees

3-4 years

Usually 4 years in length except can be as short as 3 years in provinces such as Quebec. Offered at universities and tend to be more theoretical in nature than college programs.

Postgraduate diplomas

1-2 years

A specialized qualification after completing a Bachelor’s degree.

Master's degrees

1-2 years

Can either include a research thesis or no thesis submission.


4-8 years

Usually involves a combination of course work at the beginning of the PhD, followed by the completion of a dissertation that is successfully defended before an academic panel.

Post-Doctoral Programs

No time limit

Specialized research program after completing a PhD.

All DLIs in Canada will have their own deadlines, which may also vary depending on the program, department or faculty to which you may be applying. You will find the most up to date information on the Website of the school where you plan to apply.

Launched as a pilot in 2020 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Nigeria Student Express aims to reduce the study permit processing times for eligible Nigerian students.

To be eligible for faster processing through the NSE, you must:

  • Apply online;
  • Be a Nigerian citizen or legally reside in Nigeria;
  • Have an acceptance letter from a post-secondary designated learning institution in Canada for a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD degree program or a post-graduate diploma course;
  • Live outside of Canada when you apply;
  • Have a MyBank certificate showing sufficient funds for your studies (equivalent of CAD $30,000) for at least six months PLUS 12 months of banking history;
  • Get a medical exam before you apply;
  • Have a language test result that shows:
    • a score of 6.0 or higher in each skill (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) on the IELTS; or
    • a Test d'évaluation de français (TEF) score that is equal to a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) score of at least 7 in each skill (reading, writing, speaking, and listening); and
  • Only if you're applying to study in Quebec, have a certificat d'acceptation du Québec (CAQ) from the Quebec government.

More international students are transitioning to become immigrants of Canada each year since many of Canada’s federal and provincial immigration programs reward international students with extra points and/or provide them with dedicated application streams. According to the most recent federal government statistics, over 80,000 international students become permanent residents each year.

The questions and concerns of parents vary by each country and region of the world, however you can share the following information with your parents:

  • Canada is a very safe, secure, and stable country that is open and welcoming to people from all over the world. No matter what your nationality, ethnicity, or religion is, you will find people of the same background as you in Canada.
  • Canada offers some of the highest-rated educational institutions in the world, several of which are ranked among the top 100 globally.
  • Canada is more affordable than countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, and also enables you to work during and after your studies so you can support yourself financially while in the country. Scholarships are also available to international students.
  • International students have promising career prospects in Canada. Canada is always looking for talent that is motivated, ambitious, educated, multilingual, and that offers diverse and global perspectives.
  • Canada seeks to help international students remain in the country as permanent residents.
  • According to international surveys, parents rate Canada as having better study permit requirements than other countries such as the United States and United Kingdom. Obtaining a Canadian study permit can also be very quick under the likes of the Student Direct Stream and for international students from certain source countries.

Contact the Cohen Immigration Law Firm for Assistance

Do you need assistance studying in Canada? The Cohen Immigration Law Firm can help. Cohen Immigration Law offers over 45 years of Canadian immigration expertise.

Please contact us to schedule a free telephone consultation with one of our lawyers.

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