Thanks to its high standard of living, beautiful landscapes, excellent quality of education and acceptance of all different cultures, religions and sexual orientations, Canada is a true paradise for students from all over the world.
But before you embark on your educational journey to Canada with your eTA, there are a few things to bear in mind to ensure that you are legal and can pursue your studies without any bureaucratical obstacles. We have listed the most important regulations and common concerns for you.
What are the differences between a visa, an eTA, and a study permit?
A visa is a document that is placed into a foreign national’s passport to confirm that this person is eligible to travel to Canada, either as a visitor or to live there (full-time or temporarily). There are different types of visas that can be obtained for different purposes, and depending on the person’s individual circumstances. For example, a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) confirms that a person can temporarily live in Canada once they have been admitted by the border control.
A visa always has to be obtained from a Canadian visa office outside of Canada but can be extended from within Canada in certain cases.
In addition to a visa, a foreign national will normally need a work or study permit if they wish to carry out any of those activities in Canada.
An eTA is a bit like a “lighter” version of a visa. eTA stands for electronic travel authorization. It is issued to citizens of visa-exempt countries who want to travel to Canada by air under certain conditions.
The Canada eTA does not have to be obtained from a visa office. Instead, the applicant simply fills out an online form prior to their flight. Applicants have to enter their personal and passport data into the eTA form and also need to answer a few security questions. This allows the Canadian authorities to screen passengers before their arrival. In most cases, the eTA forms are evaluated electronically and the applicant will receive the result of the evaluation via email within a few minutes. At the latest, the result will be emailed to the applicant within 72 hours. If the electronic travel authorization is granted, the applicant will be allowed to board their flight to Canada.
On its own, the eTA does not allow a visitor to study in Canada, unless they are doing a short-term course (see In which cases can I study in Canada with an eTA and don’t need a study permit?). The eTA does not allow visitors to work.
A study permit allows a person to study and – under certain conditions – work in Canada (see Am I eligible to work in Canada as an international student?). It will be needed in addition to an eTA or visa. On its own, the study permit does not allow its holder to travel to Canada.
In most cases, foreign nationals have to apply for a study permit from outside of Canada (see How to apply for a study permit). When the study permit is granted, the applicant will automatically receive an eTA number in their letter of introduction or will be issued a Temporary Resident Visa by the Canadian authorities – whichever applies to their situation.
Do I need a study permit or an eTA?
It depends on your plans, but you will likely need both:
The eTA allows you to board a flight to Canada without a visa if you are a citizen of a visa-exempt country. In other words: As a foreign national, you will not be allowed to board a Canada-bound aircraft without an eTA or a visa (unless you are the Queen or another member of the British Royal Family – in this case, you don’t need either!).
However, on its own, the eTA only allows you to fly to Canada as a tourist, visitor or business traveler. It does not allow you to study unless you are attending a short-term course (six months or less, see In which cases can I study in Canada with an eTA and don’t need a study permit?).
The study permit, on the other hand, allows you to study in Canada, but it does not, on its own, allow you to travel to Canada.
Conclusion: Depending on your individual circumstances, you will likely need a study permit as well as a visa or an eTA to come to Canada to study.
Check here if you are eligible to apply for an eTA.
In which cases can I study in Canada with an eTA and don’t need a study permit?
With an eTA, you will normally be allowed to remain in Canada for up to six months. During this time, you will be allowed to study without an additional study permit as long as you are doing a short-term course. This course must officially last six months or less and must not be part of a longer program.
If the six-months-rule does apply to you, your eTA allows you to study at any school or institution of your choice.
Please bear in mind that you have to actually complete all your studies before you have to leave – you cannot simply leave the country after six months and then return to continue your studies. If you doubt that you can finish your studies within the six months, it is best to apply for a study permit anyway, just to be on the safe side.
If you want to study in Canada for more than six months, take part in a course which officially lasts longer than six months or is part of a longer program, or work while studying, you will definitely have to apply for a study permit (see How to apply for a study permit). In most cases, this application has to be made from outside of Canada.
When your study permit is granted, you will automatically receive an eTA without having to file an additional eTA application. You will find your eTA number in the letter of introduction which you will receive from the Canadian authorities. If you need a visa, you will be issued a visa instead.
Does an eTA allow me to work while studying?
No, not on its own.
If you want to earn some money while studying, you need a study permit and a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN). These will allow you to work under certain conditions. However, your permitted working hours will be limited to 20 hours per week during term time. You can only work full-time during the scheduled school or university breaks. The work you are allowed to carry out may be restricted to jobs on the campuses of your school or university, but this depends on your individual circumstances. Whether or not you will be allowed to work and which restrictions apply will be stated on your study permit.
Am I eligible to work in Canada as an international student?
In most cases, yes. However, certain restrictions apply. In order to work, you will need a study permit as well as a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN).
Your study permit is needed to apply for your SIN. The conditions printed on your study permit will determine whether you will be eligible for a SIN and therefore be permitted to work (see Which conditions do I have to meet to work while studying in Canada?).
Which conditions do I have to meet to work while studying in Canada?
In order to work as an international student in Canada, you will need a study permit as well as a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN).
You can only obtain your SIN if the right conditions are printed of your study permit.
Most importantly, you must be a full-time student. Depending on your individual circumstances, you could then be allowed
- To work on and off campus.
- To work on the campus of your school only.
- You might not be allowed to work with your study permit. In this case, you could still apply for a separate work permit, but these are limited to certain professions and the conditions under which they are granted are strict, so please don’t be too disappointed if the answer is “no”.
To work on campus, you need to be studying in post-secondary education at a public college, vocational school or university, OR at a private school that can legally award degrees under Canadian provincial law OR (if you are in Quebec) at a “CEGEP” or at a private college which is at least 50% government funded.
To work off-campus, you need to study at a “Designated Learning Institution” (DLI) which means: A school, college or university which has been approved by the government to host international students. You must already have started studying and the duration of your program must be six months or longer. Your program must offer vocational, professional or academic training and must lead to a certificate, degree or diploma. Unless you are in Quebec, your program must be at the post-secondary level. In Quebec, you can work off-campus as an international student at secondary level as long as your program comprises vocational training.
If you are only taking courses as a prerequisite to enroll in another program, only studying English or French as a second language or only taking general interest courses, you will not be allowed to work off-campus.
If you have ceased studying full-time because you are in your last semester and only need a few more courses to obtain your degree or certificate, you can still work off-campus as long as you previously were a full-time student in Canada on the same program, and meet all the other requirements.
Can I still use my eTA after my study permit expired?
Yes. The validity of your eTA is not connected to the validity of your study permit, meaning that you can still use your eTA to travel to Canada once you completed your studies there. You cannot, however, take up a job and/or enroll in a new course in Canada unless you also have a valid work and/or study permit.
If you have an eTA as well as a study permit, the eTA will always be valid for five years from the date when it was approved, or until your passport expires, or until the authorities renew or cancel your eTA for any reason, whichever occurs first. Since your passport is electronically linked to your eTA, you will have to apply for a new eTA if your passport is renewed or replaced.
See also: 7 reasons to move to Canada
What happens to my eTA or visa if I have to renew my existing study permit?
If you apply for a study permit renewal, an eTA application is implicit. This means that a new eTA will be issued automatically alongside the renewed study permit.
If you need a Temporary Resident Visa, you will have to apply and pay for this separately when you renew your study permit.
Am I eligible to study in Canada?
To be eligible to study in Canada, you have to meet certain criteria:
Firstly, you have to find a suitable college, school or university and be accepted by this institution. The institution needs to have the status of a “Designated Learning Institution” (DLI), meaning: a school/university which has been approved by the government to host international students. All primary and secondary schools are DLIs, but not all universities, vocational schools, and colleges.
All Canadian schools, colleges, and universities will display information about their DLI status on their website or provide this on request.
You also have to prove that you can afford your tuition fees, living expenses and return journey.
You must not have a criminal record and may have to provide proof of this by means of a police certificate.
You may have to undergo a medical examination to prove that you are in good health.
Once you arrive in Canada, you will have to convince the immigration officer at the border that you intend to leave Canada once you completed your studies.
How to apply for a study permit?
Once you have been accepted by the Designated Learning Institution (DLI) of your choice, it’s time to apply for your study permit.
You will have to do this in good time before your arrival in Canada. The school should let you know the deadlines in your letter of acceptance or welcome pack. In any case, please do it as soon as possible.
Certain individuals may be eligible to apply for a study permit on arrival or after admission into Canada (see below), but the majority of international students have to apply for their study permit from overseas.
Your school or university will provide you with the information you need to download your application package.
Simply follow the guidelines in the package, fill out the forms and submit them per the instructions.
When your study permit has been granted, you should automatically receive an eTA number or Temporary Resident Visa within or alongside your letter of introduction from the Canadian authorities. Please check all correspondence carefully. If you have not received either an eTA number or a visa, please contact the sender as soon as possible.
If you are a citizen or “lawful permanent resident” of the USA, or if you are a resident of St. Pierre and Miquelon or Greenland, you can apply for your study permit when entering Canada.
However, as a lawful permanent resident of the USA who wants to apply for a study permit on arrival, you have to apply for an eTA before your departure if you are traveling to Canada by air.
Foreign nationals already living in Canada may apply for a study permit from within the country if certain situations apply to them, for example: They are already studying in Canada at a preschool, primary school or secondary school or as an exchange student at a Designated Learning Institute, or they have completed a course or program of study in Canada as a prerequisite to start a program at a Designated Learning Institute.
There are a few other situations in which foreign nationals may apply for a study permit from within Canada, but these are related to complex immigration statuses and are best discussed with the local authorities or the school itself. We can already tell you this much: As a visitor with an eTA, you will not be able to apply for a study permit from within Canada. Sorry!