5 ways international students can study in Canada for free

study in Canada for free
Follow these steps to study in Canada for free. Source: Rick Diamond/ AFP

Are you looking to study in Canada for free?

Canada is undoubtedly one of the most popular study-abroad destinations for international students. 

Thanks to its world-class education, it ranks as the seventh-best study-abroad destination in the world.

The country has much to offer from top institutions, excellent academic programmes and career opportunities post-graduation. 

While this sounds like a dream, the financial struggles you face, from the cost of tuition fees and living expenses, may be the thorn in your side. 

Canada may not have any tuition-free universities but do not give up on your dream just yet. There are plenty of other ways to study in Canada for free or at least reduce your financial burden.

Here are five ways international students can study in Canada for free: 

study in Canada for free

Scholarships are a great way for you to study in Canada for free. Source: Gail Oskin / AFP

1. Apply for scholarships from universities in Canada

Applying for scholarships is your key to studying in Canada for free. You are in luck, as several Canadian universities offer students a free ride by providing fully-funded scholarships.

Here are three you should keep an eye out for: 

  • Lester B. Pearson International Scholarships, University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is the largest university in Canada and is renowned for its research and excellent teaching.

If attending the university is a dream of yours, then this is the scholarship for you.

The Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship is awarded to international students based on their academic performance, achievements and creativity. This scholarship is applicable to all students enrolled in an undergraduate course at the university. 

Each year, 37 recipients are awarded this scholarship by the university. They receive full coverage on tuition, books, incidental fees, and residence for the entire duration of their four-year undergraduate programme. 

  • University of British Columbia scholarships

The University of British Columbia is another university in Canada that offers scholarships to international students. 

There are two scholarships available that are awarded based on merit. The Karen McKellin International Leader of Tomorrow Award recognises undergraduate students who have achieved academic excellence and showcase exceptional leadership skills. 

The Donald A. Wehrung International Student Award is another in-house scholarship the university offers. This scholarship is awarded to international students from impoverished or war-torn areas that achieved academic excellence and are in need of financial aid. 

  • York University Scholarships 

York University has several scholarships to offer international students. Among them is the International Entrance Scholarship of Distinction, which grants CAD$35,000 annually for up to four years. This adds up to a total of CAD$140,000.

This scholarship is awarded based on the student’s performance and academic scores. 

2. Apply for scholarships from your government 

Another way to gain a free or cheaper ride to a university in Canada is by applying for scholarships offered by the government. This can either be from the government of Canada or your own country.

Some governments offer scholarships to students who have a good academic track record and are interested in studying abroad. 

Here are some scholarships to look out for: 

  • Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships (for PhD students)

Considered one of the most prominent scholarships offered by the Canadian government, the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship is a fully funded scholarship open to all international PhD students.

To qualify for this scholarship, you will need to show an excellent academic track record, research potential and leadership abilities. If chosen, you will receive up to CAD$50,000 annually for three years.

  • Canada-ASEAN Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED)

The Canada-ASEAN Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED) programme offers ASEAN students the opportunity of a short-term exchange for study or research in a Canadian post-secondary institution.

Students at the college, including undergraduate and graduate levels are eligible for this scholarship. 

3. Universities with application fee waivers

While there are no tuition-free universities in Canada, some universities offer application fee waivers to international students

Some examples of universities in Canada with no application fees are: 

  • University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia is ranked the third university in Canada and is among the top 50 universities in the world according to the QS World Rankings 2023.

The university completely removes its application fees for eligible international students, especially those from the world’s 50 least-developed countries.  

  • University of New Brunswick

University of New Brunswick (UNB) is the first English-language university in Canada and among the oldest public universities in North America.

While the institution does offer an application fee waiver, it is only applicable to Canadian high school students or international students already enrolled in a Canadian high school

study in Canada for free

While you can’t study in Canada for free, working part-time can help ease your financial burden. Source: Romain Perrocheau/AFP

4. Working while studying 

With all the bills piling on, working part-time as you complete your studies is a great way to help reduce the burden. 

Aside from gaining work experience, this is the major reason international students look for job opportunities. 

Thankfully, according to the Canadian student permit, you are able to work part-time during your course. 

International students can work up to 20 hours per week during their semester and full-time during breaks and holidays. 

 Here are the three part-time jobs that are currently in demand: 

  • Tutor

Tutoring is one of the most common part-time jobs for international students in Canada. 

This is a great job as you can tutor any subject based on your skills and knowledge. Tutoring also offers more flexible hours than other part-time jobs, and you can work based on your study schedule.  

The average wage a part-time tutor in Canada receives is about US$15 per hour.

  • Dog walker 

Imagine being paid to spend time with dogs every day. Well, now you can get the chance to do it. 

Dog walking has become a popular part-time job for students in Canada. Dog walkers earn an average of US$20 per hour, making it one of the highest-paid part-time jobs available. 

Finding a job in this field is also easy, as there are many dog-walking businesses in Canada. Rover is an example of a dog-walking business and is one of the most popular in the country. 

5. Virtual programmes 

While you will still need to pay your tuition fees when completing a virtual programme, you can save a significant amount of money. 

Online learning helps you save time and money as you do not need to relocate or commute to university. 

Pursuing a course virtually is also less expensive as you save on textbooks and other resources by accessing them online. 

Since the pandemic hit, there has been a rise in online education in Canada. With these courses, students from all over the world can study at a Canadian university without actually coming to the country. 

The best part is that even if you pursue your degree completely virtually, you can still get a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) once you graduate as long as you have a student permit. 

Here are three universities in Canada offering online courses to international students: 

  • Laurentian University 

Laurentian University is one of the best online universities in Canada. Here, students can choose from over 27-degree programmes with more than 350 courses. This includes undergraduate programmes in criminology, sociology, business administration and many more. 

Students have the choice of completing the whole programme virtually or can choose to complement it with a year of on-campus study to get the full international student experience. 

  • Queen’s University 

Queen’s University was the first institution in Canada to offer online learning by introducing courses via mail in 1889. 

Currently, it offers more than 140 online courses in the field of engineering, law, arts and science, education, health sciences and applied science. 

Here, students can learn at their own pace as all classes are recorded. However, there are fixed deadlines to complete assignments and coursework. 

A number of courses also incorporate in-person learning to provide students with experiential learning opportunities. 

study in Canada for free

Canada is home to world-class institutions and excellent programmes. Source: Drew Angerer / AFP

Frequently asked questions to study in Canada for free:

1. How much money do I need to study in Canada as an international student?

The cost of tuition fees in Canada varies depending on the course and university you choose to study in.

However, when calculating how much money you need to spend to study abroad in Canada, the cost of accommodation, travel, and food need to be taken into consideration as well. 

Fortunately, Canada is among the most affordable study-abroad destinations compared to many other countries. As an international student in Canada, you will likely spend between CAD$20,000 and CAD$30,000 on your tuition fees annually. 

As for living expenses such as groceries and travel, you can expect to spend around CAD$600 to CAD$800 a month

2. What are the requirements to study in Canada as an international student?

As an international student applying to study in Canada, there are several requirements you have to meet before being accepted. 

Here is a checklist of documents you may be required to provide:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume 
  • Academic transcripts 
  • Proof of finances 
  • Proof of English proficiency 
  • A passport that is valid for at least six months after your course ends

3. How do I apply for my Canadian visa?

The visa application process in Canada can be a little daunting, especially for first-time applicants. Here’s what you should do before applying for your student visa:

  • Apply for your university of choice
  • Once you receive your acceptance letter, begin applying for your Canadian study permit
  • Gather all the required documents needed for your permit and upload it on the online application portal

4. How can I get PR in Canada while studying?

Here’s some great news: international students studying in Canada are able to apply for PR once they have completed their programme. 

Looking to become a permanent resident after graduating? These are four options for you to consider:

  • Provincial Nominee Programme (PNP)
  • Express Entry 
  • Family Sponsorship
  • Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP)

To qualify for a PR in Canada, the basic requirements are completion of a programme that is a minimum of two years, work experience and proof of English language proficiency. 

5. Is it hard to get a scholarship in Canada for international students?

Your chances of securing a scholarship in Canada depends on several factors, including the scholarship’s nature and eligibility. However, most scholarships are awarded based on academic achievements.

Your chance of receiving a scholarship increases if you have proof of work or volunteer experience.