Hundreds of thousands of international students choose to study in Canada each year and it's not hard to see why. With a number of prestigious universities and a vast number of courses taught in English, find out what else attracts people to a Canadian education
The second biggest country in the world is renowned for its academic excellence, making it the first choice of an ever-increasing number of international students each year. In fact, Canada is one of the worlds most educated countries. More than half (60%) of Canadian citizens hold a college or university degree. The majority of courses are taught in English - another draw for those who want to broaden their horizons without having to learn a new language.
Canada is consistently voted as one of the safest places to live and its multi-cultural society is known to be warm and welcoming. Made up of ten provinces and three territories, most of the country's population live within a hundred miles of the U.S boarder due to the harsh climate in the north. The capital city is Ottawa but Toronto is the largest city. Popular student destinations include Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec City and Edmonton.
Well known for its natural beauty, Canada has a whole host of sights to tick off your bucket list while you're there. In your study free hours, you could visit Niagara Falls - one of Canada's most famous attractions, Banff National Park and the Rocky Mountains, the CN Tower (Toronto), Old Quebec - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Parliament Hill (Ottawa) or Vancouver Island..
Universities in Canada
In Canada, each province and territory is in charge of its own education system meaning that there may be differences in the operation and structure of these systems depending on where you choose to study.
There are over 100 public and private universities in the country, as well as a number of colleges and vocational schools. Universities offer more than 15,000 programmes at all levels of study from undergraduate and postgraduate courses to PhDs.
A total of 31 Canadian universities feature in the QS World University Rankings 2024, with three making the top 50:
- University of Toronto (21st)
- McGill University (30th)
- University of British Columbia (34th)
For most universities the academic year runs through September until the end of April/early May. The year is split into two terms - September to December and January to April.
Degree courses in Canada
Available in a range of subjects, Bachelors or undergraduate degrees typically last three or four years depending on your course and institution.
A Canadian Bachelors degree is globally recognised and equivalent to undergraduate programmes in countries such as the USA and UK.
Each university in Canada has its own criteria for admissions, so check that you have what you need with your preferred institutions before applying.
Otherwise known as 'grad' programmes, Masters degrees typically involve one to three years' full-time study, although course length will vary considerably depending on discipline.
Alongside traditional lectures and assignments, you'll take part in interactive learning, which is likely to involve site visits, placements and group work. The majority of Masters programmes also include a heavily weighted dissertation.
For admission onto a programme, you’ll usually need a degree in a relevant subject at undergraduate level. A minimum GPA (grade point average) of 3.0 or 4.0 is typically needed, equivalent to a 2:1 in the UK.
A Doctoral degree, or PhD, requires two to three years' full-time study to complete, although a longer period of focused research and writing to complete the Doctoral thesis is usually required of candidates.
A PhD completed in a Canadian institution is regarded as equivalent to one obtained in the UK.
Canada does not have a centralised exchange programme, but many UK degree courses - both undergraduate and postgraduate - offer the chance to partake in an international exchange arranged between universities via an agreement. Check with your university department to see if they have links with any Canadian institutions.
For example, Manchester Metropolitan University run an exchange programme to Canada for undergraduate students, while Queen Mary, University of London has an exchange agreement with the University of Toronto.
Tuition fees for foreign students are significantly higher than they are for Canadian nationals, but studying in Canada is generally cheaper for international students than it would be in other English-speaking countries such as the USA, UK or Australia. However, it's important to note that fees vary between courses and institutions.
According to EduCanada international undergraduate fees in Canada cost on average $36,100 per year (£21,214), while international graduate (Masters) students pay $21,100 (£12,399). EduCanada also estimates that you’ll need $15,000 (£8,815) a year for living expenses.
See Universities Canada - Tuition fees by university for a breakdown of costs per institution.
Some international students in Quebec may be eligible to pay the same annual fees as those from the region. Find out more about from the government of Quebec on exemption from additional fees.
Funding to study in Canada
International students are not eligible for the same public funding as Canadian graduates, but don't worry - there are a number of funding options available for non-native students.
It's a good idea to contact your chosen university to ask what bursaries or funding they offer.
For an up-to-date list of scholarship options for non-Canadian students, see the Government of Canada's International Scholarship Opportunities.
International students are allowed to work during their studies and the income from this could help with your living expenses or fees. However, certain rules and restrictions apply so make sure you understand these and check what your study permit/visa allows.
British students who wish to study in Canada need to get a study permit.
Before you apply for your study permit, you'll need:
- a letter of acceptance from a designated learning institution
- a provincial attestation letter (PAL) from the province or territory you plan to study in
- a valid passport.
You can apply for a permit online or from the Canadian embassy in your home country. It can take up to three months to get a permit so apply as soon as you have your letter of acceptance from your university.
In order to qualify for a permit, you must present:
- a letter of unconditional acceptance from your institution
- proof of sufficient funds, including a purchased ticket home
- proof that you are a law-abiding citizen and are in good health.
You may also need to give your fingerprints and photographs (biometrics) when applying for study permit.
Your study permit isn't a visa. If your permit is approved, you’ll be issued with either a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorisation - this is what allows you to enter Canada.
Learn more about study permits and visas at EduCanada.
How to apply
There is no centralised application system in Canada meaning you'll need to apply to each institution directly. You need to make sure that your chosen institution is a Designated Learning Institute, as these are the only ones approved to take international students.
In addition to proving you speak the language you'll also need to provide evidence of sufficient funds.
Canada is officially a bilingual country, comprising of English and French speakers. You won't need to be fluent in both languages to study in Canada, as Quebec is the only French-speaking province. Fluency in English will be enough to navigate your way around all other provinces, although in many you will hear both languages and most have at least one French-speaking institution.
Upon entering the country you may be required to take an accredited language test to demonstrate your proficiency in English. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an approved test for all Canadian institutions.
For more information on French language testing, and testing for those with additional needs, visit Languages Canada.
Comparison to UK qualifications
All levels of Canadian graduate qualification are held with the same regard as their UK equivalent and will be recognised by future employers as such. For further education, your degree score will be converted comparably to reflect the system of your chosen institution (for instance, a 2:1 undergraduate degree from the UK may be regarded as a B+ or a 3.5 GPA in Canada).
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Canada.