covid-19 canada
A man in a mask boards a bus on campus at Western University in London, Ontario on March 13, 2020 where in person classes have been suspended for the rest of the school year in favour of online instruction due to concerns over the novel coronavirus. Source: Geoff Robins/AFP

Lecture halls with no one in sight. Empty cafeterias. Vacated dorms. Students signed into virtual classes on Zoom.

These are what Canada’s universities look like today as the coronavirus forces countries around the world to go on lockdown, shuttering businesses and confining people to their homes.

Although the swift shift to online learning has its challenges, there is no need to unduly worry about it as many universities are extending deadlines and making many virtual classes pre-recorded to take into account students from other timezones.

For international students, there are bigger problems to take care of than this.

What happens to study visas? Will exams be cancelled? How about graduation? Should I go home?

Here, we address the major concerns, provide relevant information and offer some suggestions on what you can do – but bear in mind, rules and provisions may differ according to provinces.


If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, take this self-assessment test on the Canadian government’s website.

For those who have symptoms – including a fever, cough, sneezing, sore throat, or difficulty breathing – the Public Health Agency of Canada strongly urges you to self-isolate for 14 days.

Practise social distancing – ie. maintain around two metres from others – and wash your hands frequently.

Check the Government of Canada COVID-19 website regularly for more information and updates.


While most universities have closed residences, many still let international students stay while they look for another place.

Students can check out hotels than have been converted to student housing as visitors and tourists have cancelled bookings. For example, CIBT Education Group Inc’s short-term-stay hotels have been converted into student accommodation.

If you live off-campus, take note that several provinces have now made it harder for landlords to evict tenants during this crisis.

Travel out of Canada

The Canadian Government has advised people to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice.

covid-19 canada

An air crew walks past an empty Starbucks at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport on March 17, 2020 in Montreal, Canada. Source: Jocelyne Zablit/AFP

For international students planning to travel home, you can but take note of: 1) whether your home country is allowing you to enter 2) whether you can return to Canada in future if in-person classes were to resume and 3) whether your eligibility for Post-Graduate Work Permit would be affected.

Take note that many airlines are suspending flights. With many airports closing, this could significantly disrupt any travel plans you make now.

The situation is fluid so the best course of action is to regularly check with your International Student Office before making major travel plans.

The Canadian government website advises: “Making the choice to stay at home and to not travel outside of Canada is the best way to protect yourself, your family and the most vulnerable groups in our communities from the spread of COVID-19.”

Travel into Canada

From March 18,  borders will be closed to non-citizens and those without permanent residence status.

However that ban has been lifted for foreign workers and foreign students from March 26. You have to show a valid study permit or an invitation letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) dated March 18 or earlier. You must isolate yourself for 14 days after entering Canada – this means you can’t even step into the streets to buy groceries.

covid-19 canada

Canadian citizens board buses outside their consulate that will take them to the Jorge Chavez International airport in Callao to be repatriated due to coronavirus lockdown in Lima, on March 26, 2020. Source: Cris Bouroncle/AFP

Though you can enter Canada by land or air, a government bulletin still discourages travel:

“With travel restrictions in place in many countries around the world and international air travel reduced during the COVID-19 outbreak, we don’t recommend that those who are exempt from travel restrictions immediately try to travel to Canada.”


Nobody wants to see all their hard work put into their studies all semester amount to nothing thanks to an unprecedented pandemic.

In response, many Canadian universities are letting students choose between a final grade this semester or a standard pass on their transcripts. The universities doing so are Western University, University of Victoria, Ryerson University, York University, the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Queen’s University, McGill University and St Francis Xavier.

Some universities are even passing all students while others are  keeping their usual grading practices.

Different universities will have different responses – so it’s best to check with your international student office or faculties for the definite answer. If you feel that their policies are unfair, make sure to note your protest in writing so you have the necessary paperwork to appeal it in the future.

Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP)

The normal rules of taking too many online classes, missing a term or taking on part-time study disqualifying students from getting a PGWP have not been changed.

But IRCC has said that if you’re taking courses that have moved online due to COVID-19, it will not affect your eligibility for PGWP.

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