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Why study in Canada? Canada has some pretty stellar options for international students looking to do their studies.

But, Canada is definitely not the only option, there are a few countries considered the best places to study abroad. How do you know which country is going to be the best country to study abroad?

In this article, we’re going to compare the options for international students considering studies in Canada, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Read the whole thing to get a deep understanding of which country is best for study, or just skip ahead to the comparison you’d like to learn more about.

How good is the education system?

Trying to compare the education systems of Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia is a bit like trying to compare Olympic athletes. Sure, someone is going to take home the gold medal, but they all made it to the Olympics. They’re the most competitive in the world.

All four countries have top-notch higher education systems and are considered among the best countries to study abroad, so you can find a school offering a quality study program in each of the four. If you want to get picky about it (and that’s why you’re here, right?) there are a few small differences.

Every year, Times Higher Education puts out a list of World University Rankings. For 2023, the United States has 40 schools listed in the top 100. The United Kingdom has 11, Australia has six, and Canada has five.

However, consider that the US population is nearly ten times larger than Canada’s, while the population of the UK is nearly double that of Canada. Taking into account population size, the number of globally ranked schools is comparable between the four countries. It should be noted that Oxford University tops the list – congrats to the UK!

Another important consideration is that you might not want to study at a globally ranked school. In that case, all four of these countries have hundreds of other universities and colleges that offer education and training programs for international students. These might not be as rigorous as schools like Cambridge, Harvard, or the University of Toronto, but you can find a quality education without the pressure of sky-high expectations.

How much does it cost for international students?

When you’re trying to plan out your study budget there are two major components you have to consider: tuition fees and the cost of living.

One thing held in common by Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia is that tuition fees vary dramatically from school to school. International tuition is usually set by the schools themselves, with minimal regulation by the government. Tuition costs fluctuate depending on the type of institution, demand for the program, and expected salary of graduates.

Generally, in all four countries, a university degree completed at a well-known school will have much higher tuition fees than a diploma completed at a smaller school, like a community college or a technical school. Let’s use Canada as an example and look at a few of the 2023 tuition rates for international students at different schools.

One of Canada’s smaller community colleges, the New Brunswick Community College, charges less than CAD $10,000 for international student tuition per year of study (fall and winter terms). Meanwhile, McGill University, one of Canada’s highest ranked universities, charges approximately CAD $39,000 per year of study for a Bachelor of Arts. Finally, Canada’s top-ranked university, the University of Toronto, charges more than CAD $50,000 for the same type of degree.

We’ll give you a breakdown of the average tuition rates for each country, but keep in mind that the tuition rates vary widely even within countries.

Average tuition fees 2023/2024
All fees in CAD, for one year of study
CountryUndergraduate TuitionGraduate Tuition
The United States$36,343$40,186
The United Kingdom$24,597$32,390

As you can see, international student tuition is no joke. You’re making an investment. Based on averages, the United States is your most expensive option, with the UK offering the lowest average undergraduate tuition and Canada offering the most affordable graduate tuition.

The other thing to keep in mind is your cost of living. Even more than tuition rates, cost of living fluctuates greatly depending on where you choose to live. Using the same Canadian example from above: living in the province of New Brunswick is much more affordable than living in downtown Toronto. You have to consider the cost of accommodation, food, and transportation. Again, if you’re looking to study on a budget, it is possible, but if you want to be in the heart of one of Canada’s major cities, you can expect to pay more.

The same concept applies to the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Your cost of living depends largely on which part of the country you live in. To compare the cost of living between different countries and cities, use this handy comparison tool from Numbeo.

If you’re worried about affording the cost of studying abroad, you may want to consider working part-time while you’re studying. Thankfully, all four of these countries have options for international students to work.

Can international students work while studying?

Yes. In fact, all four of our comparison countries offer arrangements for international students. This is one of the reasons why these countries are considered among the best places to study abroad. But, restrictions are in place on where and for how long students may work – and some countries are more restrictive than others. Canada has one of the most flexible options for international students looking to earn some extra cash.

In each of Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, international students are authorized to work up to 20 hours per week during their studies. During holiday periods, international students can work full-time hours.

While these are the general rules, you should always check the visa or study permit you have been issued and ensure you are following any conditions listed.

Canada, the UK, and Australia generally allow study permit holders to undertake employment either on-campus or off-campus.

The United States generally allows study permit holders to undertake employment only on-campus, unless off-campus employment is a part of an education program (like a co-op or occupational training program) or is a response to severe economic hardship.

How easy is it to get a study permit?

All four countries, Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, have online application processes for study permit applicants. The requirements vary slightly from country to country, but they have a lot in common, too. All four countries require proof of acceptance or enrolment in an approved educational institution. All four require proof that you can financially support yourself while you’re studying. Finally, Canada, Australia, and the United States all have a major requirement that applicants adequately demonstrate their intention to leave the country when their student permit expires.

In all four countries, immigration authorities also may request that applicants complete a medical exam and/or and interview as a part of the process.

Regardless of which country you want to study, the study permit process can take many weeks or months, so be sure you start planning in advance. This way you can ensure that you have enough time to gain admission to a school, submit your student permit application, and wait for the results.

What are the differences between these countries?

Well, while they share much in common, there are a few minor differences.

In the United States, most international students come on an F-1 student visa, though there are also visas of the classes “J” and “M” for some types of international study.

In Canada, all international students apply for a document simply called a study permit. Canada refused 40 percent of applicants for study permits in 2021.

In Australia, most international students come on a Student visa – Subclass 500. In the first six months of 2023, Australia had a low rate of refusal, declining approximately 19 percent of student visa applications submitted by non-residents.

In the United Kingdom, the most common status for international students is the Tier 4 General student visa. The United Kingdom has the lowest refusal rate of our four countries, refusing only 3 percent of student visa applicants in 2022.

Notably, approval and refusal rates for international students in these countries often vary depending on a student’s country of citizenship. For example, Australia’s refusal rate fluctuates depending on an applicant’s citizenship, with citizens of the US, Japan, and Germany having an approval rate of close to 100 percent, while only 70 percent of Indian applicants were approved. Similarly in Canada, while Australian, Chinese, and American applicants have a refusal rate of only 15 percent, applicants from Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh have refusal rates above 50 percent.

If you are interested in applying to study abroad in any of these four countries, note the conditions for being approved a study permit and strive to satisfy the immigration officer that you meet those conditions, including your intention to leave the country after studying there.

How many International Students does each country accept?

Surprisingly, the number of international students in each country is similar. For 2023, Canada is estimated to have around 800,ooo international students, the UK is said to have around 700,000, Australia around 750,000 and the USA, just over 1 million.

What are the options to stay after you graduate?

Many international students fall in love with the country where they choose to study abroad. For some, this means that they want to stay in the country for a few more months, years, or even permanently. So, what are the options for staying in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia after you graduate as an international students? Some of the countries make it easy, while others make it much harder.

Of these four countries, Canada provides the easiest pathway for international students who want to stay in the country after they graduate. The vast majority of international students who complete a program of at least one year are eligible to apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). This permit allows you to work for any employer in Canada, you can change locations and jobs whenever you’d like, and it’s usually valid for the same duration as the study program you completed (up to a maximum of three years).

For international graduates hoping to stay in Canada permanently, there are a range of permanent resident immigration programs available to those who have one year of skilled Canadian work experience – so make sure you get at least 12 months of skilled work experience while you have your PGWP. These include the Canadian Experience Class of the popular Express Entry system which uses a points system to select candidates, as well as a number of Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) and, for graduates in Quebec, the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ).

Canada has high immigration targets, and international graduates tend to do very well in Canadian society. So if permanent immigration is your goal, Canada is a great option.

  • Understanding the “intention to leave” requirement: A Canadian study permit is a type of temporary status. As such, all study permit applicants are assessed on their intention to leave Canada once their permit expires. This can be confusing, because Canada also wants international students to stay in the country after they graduate. But, at the time of your study permit application, the factor that is being examined is your intention to leave.

Similar to Canada, Australia also allows most international students to stay in the country after they graduate by applying for a Temporary Graduate visa (Subclass 485). These visas are usually valid for between 18 months and four years. Australia has a points-based permanent immigration system, similar to Canada’s Express Entry. International graduates who gain at least one year of work in certain occupations are sometimes eligible to apply for permanent resident status. Australia also has an employer-sponsored pathway to permanent residence, requiring applicants to have the support of an employer.

One notable difference between Australia and Canada is that the post-graduation work visa costs significantly more in Australia than in Canada. In Canada, you must pay a total of CAD $255 for your PGWP, while in Australia the comparable visa costs approximately CAD $1,500.

Both the US and the UK make it significantly harder for international students to remain in the country after they graduate. In the United States, those wishing to stay after their studies must arrange for employment after they graduate. Most international students who stay in the US after graduation use a H-1B visa, which allows workers in specialty occupations to work for a specific employer, or a continuation of the F-1 student visa that enables graduates to gain up to 12 months of practical training related to their field of study.

Permanent immigration options in the United States are lean as well. The US Green Card, which means permanent resident, is most often granted to applicants who are sponsored by their US employer, though there are green cards available to those demonstrating exceptional skills and outstanding abilities.

In the UK, the most common visa option for international graduates looking to stick around is the Tier 2 visa. To qualify for the Tier 2 visa, you have to find a job that pays a minimum annual salary of £20,800 (as of October, 2019). Presently, international graduates only have four months after they graduate to find this job, though the UK plans to increase that to two years as of 2020.

So, where’s the best place to study abroad? In this category, Canada offers the most relaxed and affordable option for international students who want to stay and work after they graduate and for those hoping to immigrate permanently. That’s one reason why you may want to study in Canada.

Conclusion: What’s your best option?

As you might be able to tell from our answers above, all four of these countries are great destinations for international students. There’s no one standout choice from the bunch. You have to make the best decision for your interests and aspirations.

Sure, Canada and Australia offer affordable tuition rates with solid pathways for international students to stick around after they graduate, but if you have your heart set on studying at one of the Top 10 schools in the world, you’re going to want to keep the US and the UK on your list.

Plus, in this article we didn’t even talk about the culture of these countries. Maybe you’re a ski fanatic and you’ve got to be close to the slopes, or maybe you can’t stand the cold. We totally get it. Choosing where to study is a big decision, so take a breath, take the time to research appropriately, and then make the decision that feels right to you.

For more information about studying in Canada, sign up for the International Student Roadmap. This is a free email-education service designed to teach you everything you need to know about studying in Canada as an international student. 

About the author

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Hugo O'Doherty

Canadian Immigration & Integration Specialist
Hugo O’Doherty has over a decade of experience and research in Canadian immigration, establishing him as a recognized authority on immigrant integration and adaptation. His personal and professional experiences with immigration have made him an expert on the practical aspects of successfully moving to and settling in Canada.
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