Updated: How to Study in Canada During the Pandemic

By Logan Bright Modified on July 17, 2020

An international student's guide to travel, study and work permits, and more.

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A guide for international students on how to study in Canada during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, Canada played host to over 650,000 international post-secondary students just like you. Over 50,000 former students become permanent residents each year! Now, COVID-19 has created a lot of questions that governments, college, and universities are working together to answer.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has probably complicated things for you. Many questions still remain, but here's what we know right now about studying in Canada as an international student in the age of the coronavirus.

Travel, visas, and study permits

Air travel

You may be aware there are currently restrictions on travel to Canada. If you have a valid study permit, no matter where in the world you're from, you're able to travel to Canada. If you were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, you're exempt from the restrictions.

If you travel by air, you'll need to pass a health check before you'll be allowed to fly to Canada. When you arrive in Canada, by any method, you'll need a plan to quarantine for 14 days, even if you have no COVID-19 symptoms. All travellers from outside Canada must quarantine for two weeks.

If your study visa was approved on or after March 19, 2020, or you don't have one yet, you won't be able to travel to Canada. You can still apply for a study permit. To do so, you'll need to be enrolled at a Canadian college or university, and be able to prove you can pay your tuition fees, travel, and living expenses.

Only once the approval process is complete (see below for details) will you be able to travel to Canada and begin your quarantine.

Priority study-permit processing

The government has stepped up its study permit processing efforts. Any student who has submitted a complete study permit application online will be prioritized. If you can't get your entire application together at once, you can still take advantage of the new 2-stage approval process.

New 2-stage approval process

Trying to get your paperwork sorted and your application submitted can be difficult right now. That's why the government has introduced a temporary 2-stage approval process for study permits. If you want to start studying this fall, and submit your study permit application by September 15th, you can take advantage by submitting your documents in two separate waves.

Study permit approval process

Here's a basic rundown of the approval process. Remember, wait times vary, so be sure to start thinking about gathering your documents as soon as possible.

  • Approval-in-principle: You've been accepted to a Canadian school, have funds to cover fees, and you're eligible for a study permit
  • Begin studying online: You can start your program from your home country. This time will count toward your PGWP (see below)
  • Final approval: You'll get the final stamp of approval once you've met all the requirements, including:
    • all eligibility and admission requirements for your school
    • submitting all documents, alongside biometrics, immigration medical exam, and police certificate
  • You're all set!

Post-graduation work permits

The government of Canada has updated the rules for international students who are forced to study online due to COVID-19, and want to stay in Canada after graduating. Now, time spent learning online will count toward your permit!

A post-graduation work permit (PGWP) allows you to stay in Canada to work after your studies conclude. If you're unable to physically come to Canada to study, you can still count your time spent learning online towards your permit.

Getting a PGWP used to require at least 8 months of on-campus instruction. Now, you can complete up to half of your program entirely online and still be eligible for a PGWP. This is great news for international students looking to earn Canadian work experience — and perhaps even immigrate to the country.

If you have a study permit, but can't travel, you can still count your online courses towards your PGWP while you study in your home country. You'll need to complete at least 50% of your program in Canada, though.

English language profiency

Many schools require you to prove your English language competency via a test like IELTS or TOEFL. IELTS Canada is once again running tests across the country. The TOEFL iBT will let you take the test from home. CELPIP is another option, though it too is restricted right now. You can register for updates so you won't miss the latest news.

Alternatively, programs like LEAF from Wilfrid Laurier University can help you strengthen your language and academic skills for school. You'll need results from an English test before you apply, though.

There's also Duolingo, which a growing number of schools are accepting in place of more traditional language testing. Duolingo is a free online app that both teaches language and tests your progress. This may be the cheapest and easiest option if your school of choice accepts it.

Working while studying in Canada

Full-time students who were working on- or off-campus before COVID-19 struck, and have since had to take a break from studying, or go to part-time classes, are still eligible to work up to 20 hours per week.

If you're employed in an essential service, you're able to work more than 20 hours per week, at least until August 31. These industries include food, transportation, health, and information technology.

Deferring your acceptance

Some students, concerned about uncertainty around the pandemic, are looking to defer their acceptance to school. This means receiving an offer to attend school, but choosing to delay a year until things settle down.

With the changes to the PGWP, noted above, you're encouraged to begin studying right away. Since up to half of your program can be completed in your home country, and online study won't interfere with your working in Canada after graduation, you should consider beginning your studies online rather than waiting. You'll make progress on your goals, and get another step closer to Canada as you do so.

Financial support for international students

International students who were working in Canada are eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but otherwise, no specific measures have been put in place to support international students, who pay higher tuition fees than domestic students.

EduCanada provides a list of international scholarship opportunities for all levels of study. There's also ScholarshipsCanada, which matches you to scholarships and awards that fit your profile.

Some schools have scholarships specifically for international students, too, like York University and the University of Alberta. Check in with the schools that interest you to learn what supports they offer.


This is a frustrating time to be an international student studying in Canada. English testing, study permits, quarantine — all this and more conspires to make 2020 a difficult year to study internationally. Still, with the new programs in place from the federal government, including PGWP expansion and work permit exemptions, Canada remains a great place to study, live, and work. Times are tough right now, but stay focused on your goals and you'll be studying in Canada soon!

More information is sure to become available in the coming weeks. Check back for the latest updates. Good luck!



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