A beautiful and diverse country, Canada attracts visitors from around the world. It’s steady economy, excellent educational system, and reputation for friendliness make it an excellent choice for anyone considering studying abroad. That being said, Canada can be expensive. The cost of living is high in certain areas, so it’s important to factor in budget and expenses when considering Canada as a new home.
Canada falls roughly between Western Europe and the United States in terms of expense. It has some of the most expensive cities anywhere, according to a recent Mercer study that ranked Vancouver as the 5th most expensive city in the world, and Ottawa ranked as 14th, Toronto ranked as 15th, and Montreal coming in at 23rd. Analyzing cost of living can be complicated, as it is a story that needs to be told with more than just a list of average costs and pricing. We’ve broken the topic down into categories and looked at what makes these costs high or low for students.
The great news is that universities in Canada are highly respected, offer excellent quality courses, and are generally affordable. Canada subsidizes the costs of higher education, which means that both Canadian students and international students benefit from lower tuition costs. That being said, international students will pay an average of two to four times the amount of their Canadian classmates. This is because international students aren’t paying Canadian taxes, which go to supporting higher education. Tuition costs vary from school to school, region to region, and across various programs. If a university has a particularly popular course, it may be more expensive to enroll there. Programs in law, business, and medicine are generally more expensive. The costs are largely transparent and there are numerous resources that can help you know how much each institution will charge.
The first thing everyone looks at when trying to understand the cost of living is the cost of housing. One of the most important and necessary expenditures, housing can often be expensive, but many universities and colleges offer housing to international students. Housing options can range from dormitory-style rooms in residence halls to self-catering apartments. Housing at Canadian schools is in high demand, so it is important to contact the relevant housing office to get on the list early. Remember, though, that living on-campus has many advantages, but can also be more expensive. Colleges and universities often require students purchase meal plans and there can be other hidden costs for technology or use of facilities. Be sure to understand all of the costs and fees involved before making your decision.
Many students in Canada opt to live off-campus. The colleges and universities in the larger cities will have a number of options for students. It is important to keep in mind is that prices in dense urban areas, such as downtown Toronto, are much more expensive than housing in the suburbs. The difference in costs can be extreme, as a three-bedroom apartment downtown Toronto can cost 1700-2500 CAD (Canadian Dollar) and a three-bedroom home in the suburbs runs between 1200 CAD and 1800 CAD per month. Be sure, though, when looking at off-campus housing, that the public transportation system is accessible and you can get to your classes easily.
When predicting housing costs in Canada, it is also extremely important to consider the cost of utilities. Long, cold winters in Canada mean much higher heating and energy bills, which can range from 175 CAD to 250 CAD for a approximately 900 sq foot home (85 square meters). Furthermore, each city or town charges fees for water and sewage, which is an additional amount. Internet averages 20 CAD to 60 CAD per month, Cable TV between 25 CAD and 50 CAD, telephone between 20 CAD and 40 CAD, and a cell phone will be at least 40 CAD per month plus the cost of the phone. Be sure that you look over the lease you are signing carefully and that you understand what utilities you are responsible for paying.
Shopping for food and going out to restaurants in Canada can be expensive. The cost of a loaf of bread, for example, can be about 3 CAD. It’s really good bread, though. Canadians tend to eat a lot of beef and chicken and less pork and lamb, so the latter are more expensive. Alcohol and cigarettes are very heavily taxed, so be ready for the extra cost of that beer, wine, or spirit. A dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant would be about 60 CAD.
Many of the larger Canadian cities have excellent public transportation systems. A single ride local transit ticket can cost 3 CAD and a monthly pass can be about 100 CAD. Many cities and towns offer discounts to students, bringing this cost down to about 200 CAD per year. It is possible to own and drive a car in Canada, but keep in mind that cars must be registered and insured and this can be a really expensive process.
International students will be required to have health insurance during their time in Canada. Some universities have specialized insurance programs for international students, which can cost between 200 CAD and 700 CAD per year. This insurance covers basic and extended medical needs and will cover any health emergencies. If the student can provide proof of alternative insurance (either through a difference Canadian provider or from their home country), they may be able to opt out of the university medical insurance.
Taxes and Immigration
Most international students will be exempt from paying Canadian taxes. Be sure to understand the requirements (such as the number of trips back to your home country) to ensure your proper tax-free status. You will also want to factor into your budget the cost of your visa and application fees.
Studying in Canada isn’t just about hitting the books. International students can take advantage of the amazing array of cultural events and fun activities that Canada has to offer. It will be important to set aside some funds for tickets to the theatre, a camping trip, or to buy a souvenir or two.
For a breakdown of the average cost of, well, everything you'll need in Canada, click here!