top study abroad destination
Canada was crowned the top study abroad destination in a recent survey. Daniel Slim/AFP

Canada is the top study abroad destination during this pandemic, according to international students. It was ranked first for the second consecutive year in’s 2021 rankings “Top 10 Places in the World to Study Abroad,” beating the US and the UK. Over 2,700 international students participated in the survey, which also revealed that many students said they choose country first over a university or specific type of programme. 

The rankings are based on seven factors, including: access to quality teaching, ability to help students achieve their career goals, personal development, experience a new culture or lifestyle, have an adventure, learn a new language and make friends and widen their professional network. is an online platform that provides relevant information on study abroad options. These are the top 10 countries in this year’s rankings:

Rank Country Score out of 100
1 Canada 81.80
2 Australia 81.07
3 Germany 80.84
4 US 78.56
5 UK 78.23
6 Switzerland 77.65
7 Netherlands 77.09
8 France 74.73
9 Spain 72.58
10 Denmark 70.16

Australia is a close second, followed by Germany, the US and the UK. Five other EU countries roundup the top 10: Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Denmark. Just two years ago in the 2019 rankings, Canada was ranked fourth while New Zealand was ranked first.

Why Canada is the top study abroad destination in a pandemic-stricken world

 top study abroad destination

Canada is often seen as a more welcoming study abroad destination than the US, where previously under the Trump administration, the president had introduced several executive orders that negatively affected international students. Source: Lars Hagberg/ AFP

Government data notes that there are over half a million (640,000) international students studying in Canada, adding that it is “a figure that is constantly growing.” Many are drawn by opportunities to work in the country during and after their studies. The postgraduate work permit (PGWP) gives international students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience in Canada, and it is the first step towards becoming a permanent resident, or the equivalent of a green card in the US. 

As a bilingual nation — French and English are both spoken —  there are many opportunities to brush up on either language too. Universities in Canada also have a stellar reputation — the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and McGill University are ranked among the world’s top 100, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021Scholarships in Canada and a multicultural society reduce financial and cultural barriers respectively.  

Keeping borders open for international students

Open borders is another big draw. While other countries shut their borders to international students, Canada is doing the opposite. Another survey found that some students originally bound for Sydney have reportedly “given up” on waiting for Australia’s borders to reopen to them and taken up alternative offers at UK or Canadian universities, according to University of Technology Sydney deputy vice-chancellor Iain Watt.

“The information we are getting from our agent network is that students are deciding to take UK offers because the UK borders are open,” Western Sydney University vice-chancellor Barney Glover told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Although the students and families are concerned about COVID, they are prioritising being able to enter the country and to begin studies in the UK over the risks of COVID.” Agents told Glover students are rescinding Western Sydney University offers for UK universities.

“Findings from that initial survey showed that Canada’s reputation as a study destination had been enhanced by its government’s handling of the pandemic,”  adds Jon Chew, head of strategic insights and analytics at Navitas. “At that time, New Zealand, Australia and Canada were leading the pack.” The May 2020 survey was followed up by another survey in September, where 5.1% more international education experts agreed there had been a growing interest to study in Canada in the previous two months.