Sitting IELTS for immigration to Canada can be daunting, but with the right information and preparation, you’ll be ready to get the best IELTS score possible and improve your chances of immigrating to Canada.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) General exam is an international standardised test of English language ability recgnised by the Government of Canada for immigration purposes.

IELTS for immigration to Canada

What is the IELTS exam? How does the IELTS function with respect to Canada’s various economic immigration programs? What is the required IELTS score for Canada immigration? And how can you obtain the best possible IELTS results, thereby increasing your chances of settling in Canada at the earliest opportunity?

This guide to IELTS and immigration to Canada provides crucial answers to these questions, with additional advice and resources for individuals and families looking to make Canada their permanent home.

About IELTS

The IELTS is one of four language tests recognized by the government of Canada for immigration purposes. The others are the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP), Test de connaissance du français pour le Canada (TCF Canada), and the Test d’Évaluation du Français (TEF). CELPIP exams are mostly administered within Canada, though more CELPIP test centres have opened internationally, and the TCF and TEF are only used for evaluating French ability.

Bearing in mind that there are four languages tests recognized by Canada for immigration purposes, and that each test has different results/marking methods, Canada has developed an equivalency scoring system for the different tests. Results of each test are given a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) equivalent, from 1 to 10. This way, people who sit different tests, sometimes in different languages, can be compared and ranked fairly.

IELTS for Express Entry

Applications submitted to most of Canada’s federal economic immigration programs are managed under the Express Entry immigration selection system.

Getting into the Express Entry pool

All potential immigrants under Express Entry need to prove ability in English or French (or for extra points, both). This includes native English and French speakers, no matter where they come from or which school they went to. Express Entry is a level playing field, and every point matters as candidates vie for that all-important invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residence.

Let’s assume for a moment that you don’t have French ability and are not in a position, geographically speaking, to sit a CELPIP English test. In such a scenario, you are going to need to pass an IELTS exam in order to enter the Express Entry pool. For Express Entry, you must take the IELTS General Training exam (not the academic version).

There are different pathways to entering the pool, with Canada offering three separate programs within Express Entry. If you are not sure which program(s) you may be eligible under, see our guides:

  • Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC): For workers evaluated under a unique FSWC points system. Eligible individuals must obtain at least 67 points out of 100. Up to 28 points are available for language ability, plus an additional 5 points are available if you apply with a spouse/common-law partner who is proficient in English or French.
  • Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC): For tradespersons with relevant experience.
  • Canadian Experience Class (CEC): For individuals with ongoing or recent work experience in Canada.

To enter the pool*    
FSWCFSTCCEC (NOC 0 or A)CEC (NOC B)
SpeakingIELTS 6IELTS 5IELTS 6IELTS 4
ReadingIELTS 6IELTS 3.5IELTS 6IELTS 4
WritingIELTS 6IELTS 4IELTS 6IELTS 4
ListeningIELTS 6IELTS 5IELTS 6IELTS 5

*The above table assumes that the individual is otherwise eligible for the listed program(s). Obtaining IELTS exam results equal to or better than the results listed above does not guarantee entry to the pool.

IELTS for immigration to Canada: Important Express Entry thresholds

As you can see, the eligibility requirements for entering the pool are different for FSW, FST, and CEC candidates, respectively. However, once in the pool all candidates are ranked using the same points system, known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, or CRS.

Candidates who entered the pool with IELTS results equivalent to CLB 8 or below can make incremental gains in their CRS points total if they can prove improvements in their language skills having re-sat an exam.

However, something special can happen if you reach CLB 9, also known as ‘initial advanced’ level. This is because under the ‘skills transferability’ factors of the CRS, language ability is paired separately with education level and work experience gained outside Canada. Up to 100 CRS points are available for these combinations. These bonus points are in addition to the points received for improving language skills under the human capital factors.

Reaching CLB 9 can make or break a candidate’s prospects for immigration to Canada.

To show this, let’s use a hypothetical example. John is a candidate in the pool. Upon entry to the pool, he had proven English ability equivalent to CLB 8 (that is: IELTS 7.5 in listening, and IELTS 6.5 in speaking, reading, and writing). He is 30 years old, has a Master’s degree, and three years of work experience outside Canada. He does not have a job offer, a provincial nomination, or any family members living in Canada. This gave him an initial score of 382 CRS points. However, he re-took an IELTS exam and made marginal improvements across the four abilities, bringing his results to the equivalent of CLB 9 in all four. In doing so, his score increased to a lofty 464 CRS points! Such a score is often enough to secure an ITA in an Express Entry draw.

CLB 9 
SpeakingIELTS 7
ReadingIELTS 7
WritingIELTS 7
ListeningIELTS 8
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CLB 9: You can get there with a bit of help

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A full conversion chart showing how IELTS results translate into CLB levels can be found below. Scores range from 0-9, with increments of .5.

CLBIELTS SpeakingIELTS ReadingIELTS WritingIELTS Listening
11111
221.522
332.533.5
443.544.5
54445
65.555.55.5
76666
86.56.56.57.5
97778
107.587.58.5
1188.589
129999

How long are IELTS results valid for?

IELTS for immigration to Canada are considered valid by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for two years from the date of issuance of the results. Once IELTS results become invalid, the affected candidate is removed from the pool and will not be eligible to be issued an ITA for permanent residence. Therefore, candidates whose results may become invalid are encouraged to sit another exam before that possibility becomes a reality.

Spouse/common-law partner ability

Single candidates and candidates with an accompanying spouse or common-law partner are assessed slightly differently under the Express Entry CRS. For candidates with a spouse or partner, up to 20 points are available for the spouse or partner’s first language ability, with five points available for each of the four language abilities. Therefore, valuable CRS points can be obtained if the spouse or partner also sits a language exam, such as the IELTS. But how many points, exactly? The table below has the answers.

CLB levelCRS points awarded
1-40
5-61
73
83
9 or higher5

IELTS and other Canadian immigration options

Express Entry is not the only way to immigrate to Canada as an economic migrant. There are also a range of Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs), with many PNP streams managed entirely outside Express Entry. In addition, individuals and families wishing to settle in the province of Quebec are subject to different eligibility requirements. And don’t forget all the investors, entrepreneurs, and self-employed people who want to make Canada home — there are programs for them too.

No matter which program is pursued, it is nearly certain that a prospective economic immigrant to Canada will need to prove language ability. How language test results affect a person’s eligibility or points totals, if applicable, depends on the program or stream. Suffice to say, language is almost always a crucial factor among Canada’s economic immigration programs. As such, potential applicants are encouraged to take the matter seriously, even if they are a native speaker of the language.

As with Express Entry, PNPs will only accept the IELTS General Training. The academic version of the IELTS is not accepted.

Continued below…

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IELTS for study in Canada

International students who wish to study in Canada may need to submit proof of their English language ability in order to be issued a Letter of Acceptance to a Canadian college or university and/or obtain a Canadian study permit. In such cases, the IELTS Academic exam may be an option (note: the IELTS Academic exam and the IELTS General exam are not the same, the latter being recognized by IRCC for immigration purposes).

Whether or not such proof of language ability is required may depend on the educational institution, the study program, and the background of the student. It is advised that potential students consult the college or university they wish to attend to find out the exact requirements for acceptance.

Sitting an IELTS exam: an overview

There are numerous IELTS exam centres around the world, so you may not have to travel far. The IELTS exam takes approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes and has 4 modules: speaking, reading, writing, listening.

When you arrive, the IELTS exam location staff will check your identity. A passport or valid Permanent Resident Card is considered valid ID. If you arrive with the wrong ID, or none, you will not be allowed to take the exam. You may also need two recent identical passport-sized photographs.

You will only be allowed to have a pen or pencil, an eraser and your ID on your desk.

It is important that you can hear the listening module properly. If you can’t hear properly, raise your hand and let the invigilator know. You will have 10 minutes after the listening section to fill in your answer sheet. You will not have 10 minutes after the reading section. The writing module has specific word length requirements, which should be adhered to. The speaking section is conducted with a person designated for this very task. It is important to be as clear as possible when speaking; eye contact and remaining calm will help.

If you have asked for special arrangements as a result of a disability or other condition, adjustments will be made for you on the day.

IELTS results will be available 13 days after your test and recorded on a Test Report Form. Exam centres can send copies of your Test Report Form to up to five recognising organisations for you, free of charge.

If you’re ready to book your IELTS exam, you can find exam locations around the world here.

IELTS for Canada PR: FAQs

Is IELTS mandatory for Canada PR?

The short answer is no, IELTS is not strictly mandatory in order to obtain PR in Canada. Consider the following two points:

  • Language testing is only a step in the journey to PR in Canada for economic immigration applicants, such as those applying through Express Entry. Under Canada’s immigration plan for 2021 to 2023, the majority of admissions are through economic immigration programs, but hundreds of thousands of immigrants are admitted through Family Class programs or as refugees, and these immigrants are not required to submit a language test result in order to immigrate to Canada.
  • Even for economic Canadian immigration applicants who must submit a language test, other language test options are available. For applicants who wish to be tested for English proficiency, the CELPIP test may be an option, and for applicants who wish to be tested for French proficiency, either as an alternative to English or in addition to an IELTS or CELPIP test, the TEF and TCF are both options.

Which language test is required for Canada PR?

Economic Canada immigration applicants may submit language test results from an IELTS or CELPIP test to show English proficiency, and/or language test results from a TEF or TCF test to show French proficiency.

What is the minimum IELTS score for Canada PR?

In order to have a chance of being eligible to enter the Express Entry pool of candidates, you will need to show language test results equivalent to or better than Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7 if applying as a Federal Skilled Worker candidate. CLB 7 equates to an IELTS score of 6.0 for speaking, reading, and writing, and listening.

If applying as a Canadian Experience Class candidate in a NOC 0 or A occupation, you’ll need at least a 6.0 in IELTS. However, if your occupation falls under NOC B skill level, it’s possible to enter the pool with a 5.0 IELTS score in speaking, writing, and listening, and a 4.0 in reading.

The threshold is lower again for Federal Skilled Trades candidates, who may be able to enter the pool with IELTS scores of 4.0 in writing and speaking, 3.5 in reading, and 4.5 in listening, which all equate to a CLB level 4.

Of course, the better you do on your test, the more points you may be awarded and the better your chances may be of immigrating to Canada. See our page on how to improve your Express Entry CRS score for more details.

What is a good IELTS score for Canada immigration?

This really depends, but you should know a key threshold in the Express Entry CRS: your score can improve a huge amount if you can score an IELTS result equivalent to or better than a CLB level 9. This means getting a 7.0 IELTS result or better in reading, writing, and speaking, and 8.0 or better in listening.

In addition to the points gained for improvements to that level, getting a CLB 9 in each ability also triggers a jump in points under the skills transferability factors in combination with your level of education and your non-Canadian work experience.

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