Arrival Guide to Canada for International students

What to prepare? 

1. Apply for SIN

The Social Insurance Number (SIN) is a 9 digit number that you need to work in Canada or to have access to government programs and benefits (Government of Canada, 2020). Applying for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) is pretty straight forward. You have the option to apply either in person or by mail. Some people apply at the airport, but I do not suggest that because sometimes there is a long queue. You may visit Service Canada closer to your accommodation/hotel. If applying in person, ensure to bring your original documents such as student permit, passport, and other identification documents. The study permit needs to indicate the permit holder “may accept employment” or “may work” in Canada. If not, you may need to contact IRCC to amend your document (Government of Canada, 2020).  Once you have your SIN set up, you are now legally allowed to work in Canada. Ensure to follow the allowable working hours for the students. Check my "Guide: Working while studying in Canada" for more information.

2. Get your SIM Card

Telecommunication in Canada is not cheap. It is actually one of the expensive ones if you compare it with other western countries. Choosing the right cellphone provider depends on your needs. If you think you need to be connected to the internet 24/7, then you need to pay extra for the data plan. The usual cell phone providers in Canada are Telus, Bell, Lucky mobile, Koodo, and many more. The price varies but it usually ranges from $30 to $90/month. For starters, I will suggest getting a pre-paid plan so you can get the sense of how much data you will actually need per month. DO NOT put yourself in a contract (post-paid) to avoid extra or cancellation charges.

3. Set up your bank account

Banking in Canada varies if you are a student or a temporary worker. Ideally, residents here pay a monthly account fee depending on which type of banking you will be doing. Fortunately, most banks offer free unlimited transactions with no monthly fees for students. I believe the most student-friendly bank is Scotia Bank because they also give you the option to apply for a credit card where you can earn some rewards. Getting a credit card here in Canada is suggested, so you can start building up your credit score as early as possible.  A credit score is a tool being used to assess your financial habits and it takes time to build that. Furthermore, the usual documents that you have to bring when opening a banking account are passport, study permit, and SIN number. For more information, you can check Scotia Bank's student banking advantage plan. 

4. Look for an Apartment

A great platform to find for an apartment here in Canada is, but when we moved to British Columbia most people used Craiglist, or Facebook Marketplace is being used across Canada so it is also a great tool when searching for an apartment. For bigger cities like Toronto, the landlords are more strict with their requirements. I remember some landlords were asking for our CRS scores, employment certificate or payslips, bank statement, references, and even asking for six (6) month post-dated cheques for a basement apartment. We feel like getting an apartment in a big city is like getting a fulltime job, Pretty crazy eh? but it is true.

5. Get your driver's license and provincial IDs

For newcomers, regardless if you are a student or temporary worker you will pretty much need to learn how to drive in Canada especially if you're in a place where public transportation is not that accessible. Applying for a driver's license here in Canada is pretty straight forward. You just need to visit the provincial service office and ensure to bring your identification documents such as passport,International driver's license from your home country, driving abstract (if available), and study permit. At first, you will be asked to take the written exam, it will be mostly about the driving rules & regulations, and road signs. That being said, make sure you read and review some driving resources in your province. If you passed the written exam, you can take/book the road test right away but in some cases, people need to wait for up to nine (9) months depending on your driving experience. Also, you can apply for a provincial ID, this can be useful in a situation where you need an extra identification document here in Canada (apart from your passport). I don't like walking around with my passport so I will recommend getting a provincial ID.

6. Connect & Relax

The great way to explore the city/town is by connecting with your community. I remember, I connected with a Filipino community and they were very helpful. The local people in your community will guide and support you in what is available in your town. For example, they can guide you where the best groceries are, where to buy winter clothes, where to get your SIN number etc. Connecting with communities will open more doors for job opportunities as well. I also suggest exploring the area and get time to relax before your school starts.


Government of Canada (2020, Jan). Insurance Number Apply. Canada