Top four challenges international students face in Canada

Canada attracts students from all over the world. At last count, there were 266,620 international students enrolled across the country, according to Statistics Canada (2016).

International students have high hopes when they enroll in a Canadian college or university. Many choose Canada because of the quality of the Canadian education system and opportunities offered, but tuition fees can seem daunting. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) estimates international students’ tuition is on average more than three times that of domestic students.

Besides tuition, once international students are enrolled in a university or college, they face a number of challenges. According to the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ paper International Education, Future Citizens and the Labour Market: Prospects and Challenges for Ontario, here are the top four.


  1. Feeling alienated

Adjusting to living and studying in a new country can be difficult logistically, but the social aspect of not having a nearby support system can add to feelings of alienation. Some tips to get socially active in the community, include:

  • joining clubs or group fitness classes
  • volunteering
  • supporting local sports teams
  • attending local events and festivals

Such activities can also provide networking opportunities.


  1. Dealing with finances

For many international students studying in Canada, this is their first time living away from home. On top of managing a school workload in another country, they have to learn to manage their money.

When setting up a Canadian bank account, students can seek financial advice from their financial institution. Online tools are also available to help students with budgeting.


  1. Integrating family

If students come to study in Canada with their spouse, one person is entitled to a study permit and the other person is entitled to a work permit. Unfortunately, the person holding the work permit can feel separated socially from the local community until they have landed a job.

If this sounds familiar, check your college or university and see if there are any integration programs or counselling available for your family member. To have a positive experience in Canada, it’s important that your spouse also feels settled.


  1. Accessing the labour market

According to a study by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, 51 per cent of international students plan to apply for permanent residence in Canada after graduation, but many also feel the labour market is difficult to access. Here are two suggestions that may help. First, strive to obtain a co-op placement through school to gain Canadian work experience. Second, network with friends and members of various communities by joining clubs and attending events to widen your exposure.

International students face unique barriers when obtaining an education in Canada. Taking the first step and participating in programs already in place can help you feel integrated and settled, and lead you to success.


Ivy Chiu is the senior director, cultural markets, at RBC. Once a newcomer herself, Chiu is interested in helping newcomers integrate to life in Canada. Are you new to Canada or know someone who is? Visit for more advice.