Last updated: March 11, 2021
International students in Canada and COVID-19
In a normal year, hundreds of thousands of international students come to Canada to pursue their studies. But, as you know, the 2020/2021 school year is not normal.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to everything international students need to know about study permits and studying in Canada during COVID-19. From travel restrictions, to study permit applications, to post-graduation work permit eligibility. We’ve got you covered.
Moving2Canada is committed to providing up-to-date accurate information amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Please refer to the end of this article for our list of sources.
Latest COVID-19 news for international students
New Guide — When will Canada open its borders? Moving2Canada is pleased to launch a new tracker assessing when Canada might open its borders. You can follow all the latest information on vaccines, variants, and public policies governing Canadian travel restrictions here.
What is required for international students to enter Canada at this time?
As of October 20, 2020, international students attending a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) that has been specifically approved by their provincial or territorial government as having a COVID-19 readiness plan will be able to enter Canada. You can search the list of approved DLIs here.
In order to enter, an international student must have a valid study permit or a letter of introduction that shows they were approved for a study permit (Source: IRCC). International students who meet this requirement will need the following in order to enter:
- Entering by air — Pre-departure negative COVID-19 test: All travellers over five years of age arriving in Canada by air must show negative COVID-19 test results obtained no more than 72 hours prior to boarding their flight (or a positive COVID-19 test result from 14 to 90 days prior to boarding). Obtaining test results is the responsibility of the traveller. (Source: Government of Canada)
- Entering by air — COVID-19 testing and mandatory hotel stay upon arrival: As of February 22, 2021, all air passengers arriving in Canada will be required to take a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival. Then, while travellers wait for test results, they must quarantine in a government-mandated hotel for up to three days at their own expense. Travellers must reserve their hotel stay at a government-approved hotel prior to boarding their flight. This is expected to cost more than CAD$2,000 (Source: Government of Canada)
- Entering by land at the U.S. border — COVID-19 testing requirements: As of Monday, February 15, Canada requires all non-essential travellers crossing the land border into Canada from the United States to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken in the United States within 72 hours of crossing the border (or a positive test taken 14 to 90 days prior to arrival). As of February 22, travellers entering Canada at the land border will be required to take a COVID-19 upon arrival, as well as an additional COVID-19 test near the end of their 14-day quarantine period. (Source: Government of Canada)
- All travellers — mandatory 14-day quarantine: Anyone entering Canada will be forced to enter a mandatory 14-day quarantine. You must prepare an isolation plan in advance of arrival in Canada detailing where and how you will complete your quarantine. This quarantine is being enforced and those breaking quarantine may be subject to fines and jail time. Certain exemptions will be made for essential workers and in certain compassionate situations (Source: IRCC). Select locations in Canada are trialing a new format for mandatory quarantine with reduced mandatory isolation combined with testing.
- All travellers — ArriveCAN app: All those travelling to Canada by air must use the ArriveCAN app to submit information regarding their travel/contact info, quarantine plan, and COVID-19 self-assessment. As of February 22, 2021, travellers entering via the land border with the U.S. will also be required to use the ArriveCAN app (Source: Government of Canada).
There are no special measures in place to exempt individuals who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 from any of the Canadian travel restrictions and requirements. Please be advised that only four airports in Canada are currently accepting international arrivals.
When international students enter Canada, border services officers may ask if the student has time to complete their quarantine period before attending classes in-person, or if they can attend classes online while in quarantine. Finally, if your study program has been suspended or cancelled you will not be able to enter Canada at this time.
What is considered “non-optional / non-discretionary travel” for international students?
As of October 20, 2020, an international student’s travel to Canada will be considered essential (non-discretionary) if their DLI is on the approved list and if they have either a valid study permit or a letter of introduction demonstrating they’ve been approved for a study permit.
As a student, travel to Canada won’t be considered essential (non-discretionary) if:
- the student’s study program has been cancelled or suspended
- the student is entering Canada for any reason other than to study
Is Canada still processing study permit applications?
Yes. Canada is still processing study permit applications. However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has indicated that many immigration applications are experiencing processing delays due to the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration department.
Canada has adopted a new two-step process for study permit applicants which will enable some international students to begin their Canadian studies without a final approval on their study permit (refer below).
How does Canada’s new two-step approval process for study permits work?
Normally, an international student living outside Canada has to submit a complete study permit application and receive an approval letter before they can travel to Canada and begin their studies. After receiving their approval letter, the student may travel to Canada where they activate their study permit at the Canadian port of entry (POE).
The new two-step process enables students to begin their studies remotely, via distance learning, while receiving a sort of halfway-approval on their study permit. This is because, as many of Canada’s immigration offices around the world are closed or offering reduced services, many study permit applicants are unable to obtain and submit some of the documents required for their study permit applications, including biometrics, medical examination results, and their original travel documents.
The new two-step process is as follows:
Step One: Approval-in-principle & distance learning
Study permit applicants must begin by submitting their application for a study permit, even if they are unable to obtain some of the normally-required documents. Under the new two-step system, study permit applicants may submit their study permit applications without their:
However, study permit applicants will still need to submit:
- Letter of acceptance from a designated learning institution (DLI) in Canada,
- Proof of funds,
- Proof of eligibility for a study permit aside from documents unavailable due to COVID, and
- Only for Quebec schools: Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ).
If a study permit applicant submits an application that would be deemed eligible aside from missing any of the above-mentioned documents, immigration officers will issue the applicant an “approval-in-principle.” With the approval-in-principle, the study permit applicant is authorized to begin their Canadian studies from abroad.
Notably, international students who begin their studies from abroad can count their time spent studying abroad towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, as long as 50 percent of their studies are eventually completed inside Canada. However, an international student cannot begin their Canadian studies until they receive an approval-in-principle on their study permit application.
Step Two: Submit missing documentation & full approval
Once a student is able to obtain and submit the missing documents for their study permit application, they must do so. At this point, immigration officers will assess the final study permit application and decide whether to approve or refuse the application. Receiving an ‘approval-in-principle’ in Step One does not guarantee that a study permit will be issued.
In normal circumstances, once a study permit applicant receives the approval letter for their study permit, they can travel to Canada and activate the permit at a port of entry. However, due to Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, only study permit applicants who are studying at DLIs with approved COVID-19 readiness plans will be able to enter Canada. All other international students can monitor Canada’s travel restrictions for updates to see when they’ll be eligible for travel.
What if I can’t get all the documents required for my study permit application?
As described in the above question, study permit applicants may submit an incomplete application is they are unable to obtain or submit one of the following documents due to COVID-19:
- Medical exam,
- Police certificates, and/or
- Original travel documents.
No study permit application will be refused if those documents are missing as a result of COVID-19. Instead, study permit applicants may be able use the new two-step application process to begin their studies from abroad via distance learning until they can obtain the necessary documents and safely travel to Canada.