Photo: Karolina Grabowska, CC0

Logging into graduate school as an international student, 1: Planning your finances

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Tarryn Bourhill and Jasleen Grewal, Communications, Education and Outreach editors

International students hoping to attend university in Canada must make some decisions before even entering the country – which university to go to? Which program to enrol in? And importantly – How to successfully adapt and integrate into Canadian culture?

The resources and anecdotal information in this series of posts will hopefully help guide you through the decision-making process for exploring graduate school opportunities in Canada as an international student. We will focus on topics ranging from financing to choosing a program and thesis supervisor, as well as navigating cultural expectations and challenging situations when you start your program.

In this post, we summarize some important aspects of financing your international graduate studies, such as the cost of living in Canada, differential tuition rates, and access to scholarships and work opportunities.


The cost-of-living

To obtain a Canadian study visa, you must show that you have CAD$10,000 in a bank account to cover your living expenses. But you will likely need more money than this to pay for all of your cost-of-living expenses. Your daily costs will vary greatly depending on where you live in Canada: the most expensive cities in Canada to live in are Toronto and Vancouver.

You can calculate the cost-of-living for different parts of the country with this calculator. Remember to include the cost of applying to the university and obtaining a study visa ($150) in your budget.

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels CC0

To obtain a Canadian study visa, you must show that you have CAD$10,000 in a bank account to cover your living expenses. Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels CC0


International tuition: What you need to know

One of your biggest expenses will be tuition. Generally, tuition fees in Canada are lower than in other English-speaking countries such as the U.S., U.K., and Australia; however, the rates are still relatively high compared to other countries.

International student fees are higher than domestic student fees. Canadian universities use international student fees to compensate for the steady stagnation or decline in both federal and provincial funding. Across Canada, total international student fees have grown from $1.5 billion in 2007–2008 to $6.9 billion in 2018–2019. International student fees have increased from 4 to 13 per cent of the total systemic income for colleges and universities.

The cost of tuition varies with the institution, program, and level of study (master’s vs. Ph.D.). For example, the yearly tuition for a full-time thesis-based doctoral degree in Biochemistry at the University of Calgary costs CAD$ $8,081.00, at the University of British Columbia CAD$ $8,952.27, and at the University of Ottawa CAD $8,786.76. And the University of Calgary and British Columbia charge the same tuition for a master’s level degree in these programs, whereas the University of Ottawa charges CAD $27,891.96.

It is also worthwhile investigating the university’s policy on continuing fees. Often fees drop after a number of years in a program or after a student has passed their candidacy exam (in a Ph.D. program). In the case of the University of Calgary, tuition fees fall to $3,878.16 (yearly) after a student has passed candidacy (two years into the program). After two years (six full payment instalments), the University of British Columbia drops its tuition fee to $2,984.09.

Each university sets its own tuition rates and international student fees are not subject to regulation or capping. This means that rates can increase substantially without warning. On average, tuition for international graduate students increased by 4.4 per cent in 2019/2020.



To begin with, you should check if your government offers scholarships for university students studying abroad. These scholarships may require the recipients to return home after completing their degree. If you are planning on continuing your education (postgraduate or postdoctoral) as an international student, this is something to keep in mind.

Canadian governments, non-profits, and international organizations offer a number of scholarships and grants to non-Canadians studying in Canada. These are extremely competitive awards. It is critical to think about who your principal investigator (PI) will be when applying for this funding. Many of these funding sources ask for a summary of your proposed research and a description of your research environment. Having a successful supervisor with a well-established research program may have an impact on the success of your application. For more information about choosing a PI, check out the third post in this series.

Most Canadian universities offer scholarships to international students. These range from admissions awards to scholarships and grants that currently enrolled students can apply for. Check out the University of Toronto’s scholarship sorter to get some idea of the kinds of awards that are available at that university. Other universities will have similar information on their websites.

Still not sure where to start your search for scholarships? Here are some helpful resources:

It is worth noting that a number of scholarships are based on financial need as well as academic excellence. If you have one of these scholarships, you may not be eligible for another scholarship, a stipend, or be allowed to work at a job.



Many research-based graduate programs offer their students a stipend to help cover their costs. In most cases, this funding comes directly from your supervisor’s grants and you will be expected to work on their research projects. However, some programs might provide you with a stipend if your supervisor can’t afford it. This will vary from program-to-program but is worth exploring if you expect that a stipend will be your main source of income. Stipend amounts generally do not increase over the course of your degree, meaning that you lose out to inflation. Your stipend likely won’t stretch as far as a domestic student’s will because your student fees are much higher.

Keep in mind that the stipend might be your pay for being a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA). TA appointments generally involve lecturing, grading assignments, or supervising labs for undergraduate courses. These are usually short-term contract positions and vary in the amount of time required for each position. At the University of Calgary, a full TA position requires 204 hours of work per semester (12 hours per week) and pays CAD$8,894.41. RAs contribute to faculty research activities for the specified length of the contract.

If you’re interested in finding out more about stipends check out our post ‘Ramen and Research: how STEM graduate students pay for school’.


Working on a student visa

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels CCO

Students on a study visa can work on or off-campus for up to 20 hours during the semester and 40 hours (full-time) during the holidays without a work permit. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels CCO

Students on a study visa can work on or off-campus for up to 20 hours during the semester and 40 hours (full-time) during the holidays without a work permit. If you do not have a stipend from your supervisor or department, you may still be able to find a TA or RA position on campus. Part-time positions on campus may also be available, such as lab assistant or department resource room staff.

In some programs, TA and RA positions are viewed as income separate to your stipend. The amount you get paid will vary depending on the program and the hours you work. In other programs, TA and RA duties fall under duties you perform to earn your stipend. It is important to determine what the restrictions/eligibility for RA and TA positions are for each program and institution. Discuss all of your funding options with your supervisor or department graduate student advisor and understand all of the implications before signing any work-related contract.

Don’t forget you will have to apply for a Canadian social insurance number (SIN) if you work 20 hours during the semester and 40 hours during the holidays while you are a student.


We hope this post has given you some ideas about how to finance your studies as an international student in Canada. In our next post, we will delve into how healthcare, immigration, and post-degree work opportunities differ from province to province.

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