Deciding to pursue graduate studies as an international student is a complex process. This series of posts is intended to provide resources and support to students in their decision-making as they explore graduate school opportunities in Canada. You can read more about financing your studies in our first post.
When deciding to study in Canada, the first thing students usually consider is which university and program they want to enrol in or who they would like to work with (we cover research supervisors in our third post). But there are additional aspects to consider when deciding which province or territory to move to and live in.
In this second post of the series, we discuss some important factors to consider when choosing where to study in Canada. In particular, we focus on healthcare systems and immigration policies that vary by province and territory.
Healthcare coverage differs by province and territory in Canada: Are you covered?
In Canada, each provincial and territory government provides basic, publicly funded healthcare to its residents. International students may not be eligible for these plans and must seek other healthcare coverage. This varies across Canada. Some provinces, such as Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, require international students to enrol in private health insurance plans, which ca range in cost from $200–$1,000 per year.
Ontario is Canada’s largest province, with the most students enrolled in post-secondary education in the country. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) is the public health insurance plan. International students are excluded from it and must enrol themselves and any dependants in one of two private medical insurance plans specified by their institution: the College Health Insurance Plan (C-HIP) or the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP). If you are a graduate student, UHIP is more widely offered.
These plans are not free and are usually offered through educational institutions upon enrolment depending on eligibility. International students cannot opt-out of these plans. Any health insurance costs are added to your student university fees. The premiums for the UHIP for the academic year starting in September 2020 were $720 for a member, $1,440 for a member and one dependant, and $2,160 for a member and two dependants.
A number of limitations and drawbacks are associated with these private insurance plans. The biggest complaint from international students about these plans is that the coverage is limited, often leaving students and their dependants unable to find a doctor, clinic, or specialist willing to accept their medical coverage (even in large cities like Toronto and Ottawa).
The number of healthcare providers that are part of these programs also varies depending on the municipality, making it difficult to find medical professionals who will accept your coverage. As a result, emergency rooms are often the place where students receive primary medical care. Additionally, these plans may not cover all healthcare needs such as dental and eye care, and most prescription drugs. Some provinces allow international students access to public health insurance.
Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador offer public health insurance to students who can provide proof of enrolment in a post-secondary institution and residency within the province.
It is critical for international students to understand how access to healthcare and health insurance expenses differ by province. If you’re interested in finding out about the various healthcare systems, use this quick reference guide.
Immigration after you graduate
According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, roughly 60 per cent of international students in Canada plan on applying for permanent residence. If that is your intention, be aware that some provinces and territories make this process easier than others.
The first step to obtaining permanent residence after studying in Canada is getting a post-graduation work permit. The work permit entitles you to live and work anywhere in Canada. Students from accredited institutions who have completed a study program of at least one year in length are eligible to apply for a work permit. Timing is crucial, as you only have 180 days to apply after you receive your degree or final grades. If you miss this deadline, you may still be eligible for other work permits.
What happens if you want to stay in Canada permanently? After obtaining a work permit, you need to apply for permanent residence. The Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) is one option to consider. These are provincially operated immigration programs that allow a province to nominate a foreign national for permanent residence. Each province and territory has its own PNP since these programs are tailored to bolster the unique economic profiles of each region. British Columbia and Ontario have special PNPs for international students who have completed their studies in these provinces. These provinces have specific streams as part of the PNP process to help international students obtain permanent residence.
What happens if you work in a different province from the one you studied in? Good news! There are several PNPs designed for this situation. All of these programs require you to have two things: a valid work permit and be currently employed in the province from which you are applying for permanent residence.
It is important to note that PNPs are only one stream of obtaining permanent residence after you complete your studies. There are other programs to consider such as Canada’s Express Entry System, specifically the Canadian Experience Class of Express Entry. The Express Entry system is one of the fastest ways to get permanent residence in Canada and is not province specific. This program is designed to help candidates with university or college degrees who already have work experience in Canada and moderate English/French proficiency. The program uses a competitive system that ranks applicants. Applicants with competitive scores are invited to apply for permanent residence.
For these programs you must have at least one year (12 months of full-time or part-time equivalent) work experience in Canada. Applicants can’t count work experience they obtained as a full-time student. So, it’s likely you will need to already have a work permit to get the required experience before you apply.
The decision to study abroad is a complex and difficult one. When considering studying in Canada, it’s important to remember the differences in healthcare and immigration opportunities for each province and build this into your planning.
In our next post we discuss how to choose a program or supervisor. Stay tuned.
Feature image by Element5 Digital, Pexels, CC0