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Grandkids Studying in the U.S.? 3 Steps to Consider

By Sean Lough

Published August 10, 2022 • 6 Min Read

Do you have a grandchild planning to study in the U.S. from Canada? You can play a role in preparing them by helping them get organized with their essential documents, finances, health coverage and more. In a recent interview with Go To Grandma host Kathy Buckworth, RBC Bank Regional Cross-Border Advisor Marlene Atzori shares tips and insights for parents and grandparents who may be sending their kids to school south of the border.

Want to hear more from Marlene? Check out Take 5 With RBC at the 19:40 mark of Go To Grandma episode “A Healthy Knowledge.” In the meantime, here are three areas of consideration parents and grandparents should focus on to ensure their student has a smooth experience south of the border.

1. Before leaving to study in the U.S.

For Canadian students studying in the U.S., there are key documents that need completing before leaving home. The first — the I-20 certificate — establishes student status. “Upon enrollment, the school provides students with an I-20 certificate, with the subject of study and the duration of the course,” explains Atzori. The certificate also collects necessary financial support and identification documentation required for admission, including proof of ability to pay for school fees and living expenses.

“This certificate also registers the student with SEVIS, the U.S. government student tracking system,” adds Atzori. Once they are assigned a SEVIS number, they are required to pay a registration fee — these steps satisfy their eligibility requirements.

2. Getting to the U.S. for school

“Getting there is just as important, as there is required U.S. border immigration paperwork,” says Atzori. When crossing to the United States, students will need to show a few things at port of entry, including their Canadian passport and/or NEXUS, their original I-20 certificate and their proof of Canadian residency.

Then, once approved and admitted, the student will receive an I-94 record, which outlines the terms of their admission and is used to document their legal status in the U.S., including their length of stay and departure. The record is attached to their passport and NEXUS. “Remember, when travelling between the U.S. and Canada, students must take their I-20 and other visa documents with them for any crossings,” explains Atzori.

3. Once in the U.S. and ready to start school

Once your student is in the U.S. and ready to hit the books, there are a number of steps you can help them take so they maintain compliant legal and tax status, have easy access to their finances and remain protected in the event of an illness or injury.

“It is important for Canadian students studying abroad to be sufficiently insured,” says Atzori, who encourages students to find out if their school requires or offers international student health insurance programs before they begin their academic year. “Keep in mind, health coverage provided by the student’s home province of residence will not be sufficient and it will not pay for the cost of U.S. healthcare,” she cautions. In such a case, they may be required to return to Canada for non-emergency care.

A U.S. bank account and credit card are also important. “It’s a good idea for students to open up a U.S.-domiciled bank account,” explains Atzori. “And while they may be opening this upon arrival in the U.S., I always recommend opening a U.S.-based account with RBC Bank, which will allow them to easily pay their expenses, including rent, tuition, books, meals, transportation and much more, through U.S. checks, online banking transfers and cash accessed at an ATM.”

She also recommends setting up and using a U.S. credit card at least once or twice ahead of time to ensure the U.S. system recognizes both the card and your student as a cardholder. While your student may already have a Canadian credit card, it’s important to note that when a Canadian credit card is used in the U.S., the cardholder is often charged a foreign transaction fee, which is typically 2.5 per cent of the amount of what is purchased. These fees can really add up, especially for a student who’s trying to make every dollar count.

Given the convenience of credit cards — and the fact they’re often needed to secure a cell phone plan, an apartment or a rental car — a U.S.-based card1 is a worthwhile addition to your student’s wallet.

Finally, Atzori encourages every international student to consider consulting a cross border tax advisor. “International students may be required to file taxes even if there’s no income generated while in the United States,” she explains, adding that scholarships or grants may be taxable. As a non-resident in the U.S., they will need to file what is known as a Form 8843 before the deadline. This form is available through the IRS site and the deadline for filing is typically the same as any U.S. tax return — due April 15. “Remember, compliance with the IRS is one of the conditions of the student visa,” says Atzori. “And if a student wants to get a job in the U.S. in future, the handling of U.S. taxes can affect future Green Card or any other visa entry applications.” As such, it’s well worth working with an accountant or a tax filing service to help make filing U.S. taxes easy and worry-free.

The Rundown on Studying in the U.S.

Attending college or university for the first time is exciting for any student. Going to school in another country adds an extra layer of adventure — and perhaps a little bit of added anxiety. By getting your grandkid’s paperwork and finances in order well in advance, you can help get them ready for what’s surely going to be a remarkable year ahead.

Grandkids studying in the U.S.?

Make sure to set them up with U.S. banking before they head on their big adventure! We can help you along the way.


This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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