Skip to main content

Your first month in Canada as an international student  

By Royal Bank of Canada

Published June 11, 2024 • 10 Min Read


  • Starting a new chapter as an international student in Canada is exciting — but there are many things you’ll need to do during your first month

  • During your first few weeks, you’ll need to cover admin tasks, like getting a SIN and opening a bank account, as well as find accommodation, get to know your campus and find a student job

  • As you form valuable social and career connections and explore your new surroundings, you can set yourself up for success and thrive as an international student in Canada  

As you begin an exciting new chapter as an international student in Canada, there are some essential tasks you’ll need to take care of as soon as you arrive. From securing housing and adjusting to a new culture to setting up a bank account, you may encounter a few challenges during your first few weeks in Canada. The good news is there are some steps to help you transition smoothly into your campus life in Canada — and equip you to thrive in your first month here. 

Find suitable living accommodations

As an international student in Canada, you can opt to either live off-campus or on-campus. Many universities and colleges offer on-campus housing; however, there are limited spots and they are usually in high demand. It’s generally recommended that international students who wish to apply for a student housing spot do so as soon as they receive their Letter of Acceptance from their university or college.

If you’re unable to secure on-campus housing or prefer to live off-campus, finding a place to live will likely be your top priority when you arrive in Canada. You can check out rental listings on various platforms like Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook and Familiarize yourself with the types of off-campus accommodations available, such as apartments or townhouses, and their associated pricing, amenities and occupancy arrangements. Make sure to factor in transportation options if you’re renting off-campus.

While on-campus housing is usually furnished and includes an internet connection, off-campus rental property can be furnished or unfurnished. You may need to buy yourself a bed, desk, kitchen essentials and other furniture. You’ll also likely need to set up an internet plan and housing utilities such as electricity (sometimes called hydro) and water.

You’ll also need a Canadian cell phone plan and SIM card. Cell phone rates may be more expensive than what you’re used to in your home company, so shop around and inquire about which providers may have special rates for international students.

Set up your Canadian bank account

To open a Canadian bank account, you’ll first have to get your Social Insurance Number (SIN). This number is important for a variety of purposes — like applying for a job, getting a credit card, filing taxes and accessing any government benefits and services you may be eligible for. Your SIN number is confidential, and to prevent identity theft and fraud, you should not share it with anyone unless they have a valid reason for asking for it.

Most banks offer two types of personal banking accounts: chequing and savings. It is generally recommended that newcomers have both. 

  • Chequing accounts are useful for everyday banking — like making daily purchases — and funds in these accounts do not earn interest.

  • Savings accounts usually have limited monthly transactions and are used for short-term savings, which earn some interest and can be accessed on short notice. 

A debit card is connected to your chequing or savings account. It allows you to withdraw and pay for things using the money you have deposited into the account. Some bank accounts have a limit on how much you can deposit or withdraw on a daily or monthly basis. Before making any large purchases or deposits into your chequing or savings account, always check the limit on your account.

Learn about the RBC International Student Banking offer

If you purchased a Student GIC as your proof of funds for your study permit application, your banking advisor can help you set up the initial payment and subsequent redemption payments from your GIC into your chequing account. This can help cover your cost of living during your studies.

Familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your student bank account, including fees, transaction limits and available services. Once you have a Canadian bank account, you can set up payroll auto-deposit (if you plan on having a student job), as well as automated bill payments.

Apply for a credit card

Many international students underestimate the importance of credit in Canada, thinking the debit card attached to their chequing account will be sufficient for their needs. But Canada is a credit-based economy and credit scores are very important. Your credit score is your financial reputation, and it’s used when applying to rent an apartment, lease a car, obtain a mortgage or apply for a loan. In some cases, it’s also requested when applying for certain jobs.

A credit card is a physical card issued by your bank or financial institution, allowing you to make purchases using borrowed money. This means you take credit from your bank to buy goods or services and later repay the amount to the lender. If you’re new to credit, make sure you understand how credit cards work and learn best practices to build a good credit history and credit score in Canada. An RBC advisor can help you understand the details and set up automatic payments so that you never miss a bill payment.

Build a student budget

The cost of living in Canada may be quite different from what you are used to in your home country, and it also varies from one city to another, so learning to budget effectively will benefit you greatly. Budgeting tools like RBC’s NOMI offer useful insights into your spending patterns  and can help you make informed financial decisions. Make time to enroll in a fraud prevention workshop, which offers useful information about how to avoid the different kinds of scams that target newcomers and international students.

Get ready for school

Set yourself up for success by getting yourself organized before school starts, and get to know the cultural and academic landscape of the college or university you’re attending. A great way to familiarize yourself with campus facilities, academic resources and support services available to international students is by attending orientation sessions and campus tours. You’ll also need to get your student identification card — a unique photo identification card, which is mandatory for all students. 

Information about courses is available on your learning institution’s website, and it’s your responsibility to keep track of details like registration deadlines for specific courses. To avoid landing on any waitlists, sign-up early for the academic courses that are important to you. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with particular academic terms, which may differ from those used in your home country. For example, “lectures” could be formal class presentations by your professors, and “tutorials” or “workshops” could indicate a smaller class size where student participation is encouraged. Your institutions may have multiple buildings where classes are held, so make sure you know where to go for a particular class on campus.

If you’re enrolled in virtual classes, double-check that you have all the necessary tools, such as your laptop, charger and any other technology that you might need for class. If you’re purchasing a device for your classes, it’s usually recommended to also get an extended warranty in case it breaks down before the end of your studies. Your study materials must be on hand before class begins, so find out what books you’ll need for each subject and if there are any second-hand study materials that you can access from the college or university, which can save you money.

Get familiar with your neighbourhood

Since you’ll likely be spending most of your time on campus, begin to familiarize yourself with the various departments and areas you’re likely to frequent as a student in Canada. Most college and university campuses have an international student center, which offers key resources and advisors. Other important locations you should be familiar with include the gym, library, health center, the main administration building and various buildings where your classes are located.

If you’re living off-campus, take note of the local bus and train networks from your residence to the campus. Buses and trains generally run on a strict schedule in most Canadian cities, so make sure you’re aware of these transportation schedules to avoid being late or missing class. You can also find out where the closest grocery stores, laundromats, drug stores and any restaurants or specialty stores that carry food items and other things native to your home country. 

The pressure of performing well academically in a new country can sometimes take a toll on your physical and mental health, so it’s important to take good care of your health while you’re in Canada. If you’re studying in a province where you’re not covered by a provincial health insurance plan, you must have private health insurance, which you can obtain through your college or university. In Ontario, international students can get coverage through the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP), a not-for-profit insurance plan created by Ontario’s universities. Most Canadian educational institutions also provide their students with free healthcare resources, such as culturally appropriate counseling sessions. These are confidential and are usually offered in various languages.

Most cities have free libraries in almost every township. Get your library card to gain access to a wide range of resources — from recreational activities, leisure and course-related books, conversation circles specifically for newcomers in Canada, English language classes and information about neighbourhood events where you can meet people from the community and increase your social network. 

Cultivate social connections

Building a social support network, made up of both Canadian students and other international students, is essential, especially for days when you might be overcome by homesickness. You can join student clubs or attend meet-and-greet events offered by your school to network with fellow students. By building a strong network of friends and fellow students, you’ll be able to share experiences and resources, seek advice from your seniors or peers and navigate social and academic challenges throughout your studies and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to connect with students outside of your own cultural group. Canada is a multicultural country, and it’s home to immigrants from all over the world. Networking with other international students will broaden your outlook by exposing you to various cultural practices and perspectives, which is helpful if you eventually join the Canadian workforce and interact with people from all over the world.

Get a student job

When looking for a part-time job, which is a common practice among both Canadian students and international students, look for on-campus opportunities, as well as those available in the local community. Note that since September 2024, international students are authorized to work off-campus up to a maximum of 24 hours per week during term. University and college job boards, online job portals and even people you know in the community can help you find a part-time gig that will add to your Canadian job experience and bring in some extra money without compromising your studies. If you choose to stay in Canada after the completion of your course, this experience will open up doors for you when you launch your career here.

Thrive as an international student in Canada

While studying in Canada can be an enriching and rewarding experience, adapting to the cultural and academic landscape of a new country can be daunting. But if you plan your housing in advance, familiarize yourself with your school and neighbouring community and sort out your banking needs before arrival, it’ll be a much smoother process as you integrate into student life in Canada.         

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.

Share This Article


Education New to Canada Students