Studying in the US? A Guide for Canadian Students


Stanford University


Going on an academic journey beyond the familiar surroundings of Canada and into the vast and varied educational landscape of the United States can be both an exciting and daunting prospect for Canadian students. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new cultural and academic environment for personal and professional growth but on the other, handling the complexities of the US education system, adapting to a different cultural setting, and managing finances and international payments require careful preparation and informed decision-making.

Why study in the US as a Canadian?

Did you know the US-Canadian border is the longest international border in the world? Given the geographical proximity, it's no surprise that many Canadian students choose to drift down south and enroll in American schools. Still, that's not the only reason why Canada has the fourth highest number of international students living in the US. The US is a star attraction for Canadian students for numerous reasons including relaxed visa requirements, world-leading schools, varied and high-quality extracurriculars, a melting pot of all cultures, gateway to a flourishing career and a better life and educational experience. 

It's no wonder the USA is consistently voted the world's most popular study destination. If it's got your vote, too, read on to learn more about studying in the USA as a Canadian.

US education system - how does it differ from Canada?

The US and Canadian education systems share many similarities, but there are several key differences that Canadian students should be aware of when considering studying in the United States:

  • US institutions may offer a wider variety of degree programs and majors, including more options for interdisciplinary studies.
  • US institutions might require standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, alongside essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activity records.
  • US universities often require students to complete a set of general education courses outside their major for a well-rounded education.
  • Tuition costs in the US can vary widely and are generally higher than in Canada, especially for international students.
  • The US uses a grading system that typically ranges from A-F, with variations in grade point average (GPA) calculations.
  • US universities often have a more pronounced campus culture, with extensive on-campus housing, vibrant life, and a focus on sports.

Choosing the right place to study in the US

The United States is a big, 50-state country. Chances are you can grab a map, close your eyes, and discover a nearby place to study wherever you point.  With so many diverse options, finding the best place to study as a Canadian might feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, finding a study option that suits your needs and lifestyle becomes easier when you consider factors such as your budget, your preferred major, ideal location, financial aid options, and proximity to family and friends living in the USA.

With a wide range  of colleges and universities offering diverse programs and campus experiences, finding the perfect fit requires careful consideration of several key factors:

Academic programs and majors: Ensure the institutions you're considering offer strong programs in your area of interest. Research the faculty, curriculum, departmental resources, and opportunities for research or internships in your chosen field.

Accreditation: Verify that the institution is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. Accreditation ensures that the education provided meets certain quality standards and that degrees will be recognized by employers and other institutions.

Location and campus setting: Consider the geographical location and its climate, proximity to major cities, and the overall environment. Whether it's an urban, suburban, or rural campus can significantly affect your college experience.

Cost and financial considerations: Understand the total cost of attendance, including tuition, room and board, fees, and other expenses. Also keep in mind the challenge of making international payments and USD/CAD conversion.

Support services for international students: Check for services that assist international students with academic advising, visa issues, language support, and cultural adjustment.

Housing options: Consider the housing options available, including on-campus dormitories, off-campus apartments, and the possibility of living with a host family.

You can also streamline your search in the following ways:

  • Use US school search tools or check school profiles to find top options under one roof.
  • Browse US state guides  to learn more about the 50 states and the American way of life.
  • Get recommendations from family and friends or online communities. 
  • Visit the USA as a tourist if possible to explore the local area and campus for your top options.

Questions to ask

  • Is the school a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school?
  • Does it offer programs or extracurricular options I'm interested in?
  • What's the vibe or school culture like?
  • What's the tuition range and location?
  • Does the school match what I'm looking for in terms of religious affiliation, diversity on campus, availability of public transport, and safety?

Tuition payments and foreign exchange challenges

International payment and foreign exchange challenges are significant considerations for Canadian students studying in the United States. Managing tuition payments, living expenses, and other financial transactions across borders involves managing a combination of exchange rates, banking regulations, and transaction fees. Here are some key challenges and considerations:

Exchange rate fluctuations: Currency exchange rates between the Canadian dollar (CAD) and the US dollar (USD) can vary significantly over time. These fluctuations can affect the actual cost of tuition and living expenses, making financial planning unpredictable.

International transaction fees: Many Canadian bank accounts and credit cards charge high fees for international transactions, including conversion fees and international ATM withdrawal fees. These can add up over time, increasing overall expenses.

Payment deadlines and processing times: International payments can have longer processing times, which may risk missing payment deadlines for tuition and housing. It's essential to plan and make payments well in advance to avoid late fees or enrollment holds.

Budgeting and financial management: Creating a comprehensive budget that accounts for exchange rates, banking fees, and the cost of living in the US is crucial. Regularly monitoring and adjusting this budget is necessary to manage finances effectively.




How MTFX can help Canadians studying in the US?

MTFX, a leading foreign exchange and global payments solutions provider, can be a valuable resource for Canadian students studying in the United States by addressing many of the international payment and foreign exchange challenges they face. Here's how MTFX can assist:

You get better-than-bank exchange rates

MTFX offers better exchange rates than your bank, which can result in significant savings on tuition and living expenses when converting Canadian dollars to US dollars. This can also help you mitigate the impact of fluctuating exchange rates.

You pay lower transaction fees

Unlike traditional banks, MTFX charges lower transaction fees for international transfers. This can reduce the overall cost of sending money abroad for tuition payments, accommodation, and other expenses.

You ensure fast and secure transactions

MTFX provides fast and secure international money transfer, ensuring that your tuition and other payments are made on time, reducing the risk of missing important deadlines due to processing delays.

You simplify the payment process

The MTFX online platform offers a convenient way to manage and track international payments, making it easier for students to handle their financial transactions from anywhere, at any time.

You get tailored payment solutions

We can provide tailored solutions to meet the specific needs of Canadian students in the US, including recurring payments for tuition and regular transfers for living expenses.

You reduce currency fluctuation risk

MTFX offers tools like forward contracts and market orders to manage foreign exchange risk. These tools can help lock in exchange rates or execute trades at desired rates, providing more predictability in education expenses.

Popular US colleges and universities for international students

Looking for recommendations for the best places to study in the USA? It all boils down to your preferences and requirements. If educational attainment, graduation rates, college debt, and tuition costs are your top priority, consider states like Florida, Washington, California, Wyoming, and Colorado, which have higher education rankings  in this department.

The truth is that every US state has its own merits, including New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, and more. You can investigate each state based on cost, scenery, culture, and other extras to determine what's best for you. Here's a look at some of the highly regarded universities and colleges that regularly feature on the list of top places to study for international students.

Harvard University: Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard is renowned for its rigorous academics, illustrious faculty, and vast network of resources. Its global reputation and diverse community make it a top choice for international students, including Canadians.

Stanford University: Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, California, Stanford is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, cutting-edge research, and strong programs in engineering, computer science, business, and the humanities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Renowned for its research and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers Canadian students an opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation and discovery.

University of California, Berkeley: UC Berkeley is celebrated for its vibrant campus life, distinguished faculty, and strong programs in a wide range of disciplines. Its location near San Francisco also offers students numerous cultural and professional opportunities.

Columbia University: Located in New York City, Columbia offers a unique blend of top-tier academics and the vibrancy of urban life. Its diverse programs in the arts, sciences, and humanities attract students from around the globe.

Yale University: Situated in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale is known for its beautiful campus, rich history, and excellent programs in law, arts, humanities, and sciences. It offers a close-knit community and a wide range of extracurricular activities.

Princeton University: Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton is known for its undergraduate-focused education, with small class sizes and a strong emphasis on independent research, making it an attractive choice for students seeking a personalized academic experience.

Application process for Canadian students

Each university in the US may have different application requirements. Common components include the application form, high school transcripts, standardized test scores (SAT or ACT), essays, letters of recommendation, and a list of extracurricular activities. Check if the universities you're applying to require any additional tests, such as SAT Subject Tests, or English proficiency tests like TOEFL or IELTS, especially if your primary language of instruction was not English.

  • Apply and be accepted by a U.S. SEVIS-accredited school or exchange program. The school will issue an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility.
  • Register with SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and obtain a SEVIS number, with a first-time registration fee.
  • Ensure to obtain an F-1 or M-1 status at the border after being accepted by a SEVIS-accredited school. The type of status (F-1 for academic studies or M-1 for vocational studies) will depend on the nature of the study program.
  • Remember to obtain your Form I-94 each time you cross the border, which serves as proof of your legal visitor status.

Checklist for Canadian students looking to study in the US

• Understand each university's specific application requirements. 
• Check deadlines for applications. 
• Register for and take required standardized tests (SAT/ACT). 
• Take English proficiency tests (TOEFL/IELTS) if necessary. 
• Write personal statement/essays. 
• Request high school transcripts to be sent to universities. 
• Obtain letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors. 
• Prepare a resume or list of extracurricular activities and achievements. 
• Research scholarship, grant, and financial aid opportunities. 
• Prepare financial documents required for the application and visa process. 
• Submit the application(s) before the deadline.

Cost of education in the US

Studying in the US can be a highly rewarding experience, but like all good things in life, it costs money. You can expect to include the following in your budget when planning to study in the US:

SEVIS fee: The SEVIS fee is subject to change. It's a standard requirement for all international students in the US. Fortunately, it's a one-time expense.

Travel expenses: This includes the cost of your plane ticket and transportation once you arrive in the US. Your transportation costs might be higher if you live off-campus.

Health insurance: Some colleges and universities require international students to purchase health insurance. The US doesn't have nationalized healthcare, unlike Canada. Instead, the system is more privatized, and you're responsible for covering your own medical costs.  Your two main options are purchasing student health insurance from your school or a reputable private company. Some Canadian companies also offer health coverage for Canadians studying abroad. The cost will vary based on the required coverage per year.

Tuition and living expenses: This often represents the highest cost of studying abroad. You can expect tuition in the USA to be significantly higher compared to Canada. However, the total costs depend on the program you're studying, your chosen school, and your location. Your living expenses typically include groceries, food, books, study materials, and other basic or daily expenses. 

Room and board: Opting for on-campus residence is often cheaper, though you'll have to share with other students. You can also choose a shared non-campus residence, which varies in cost based on location.

Unexpected expenses: It's always wise to budget for unexpected expenses in case of emergencies, such as health threats and family emergencies that require you to travel home.

So, how much does this all add up to? There's no one-size-fits-all answer because each student's experience is unique. Generally, the costs can range from anywhere between $40,000 and $75,000 or more depending on the course and whether it's a private or public college.

Admittedly, the cost of studying in the US can add up. Where possible, apply tips such as buying used textbooks, cooking instead of ordering out, looking for discounts when shopping, and looking for discounted tuition rates.

Paying for your overseas education

For most Canadians, the wholesome experience of studying in the U.S. comes with a five-figure price tag. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the total costs or get the extra cash you need to cover essential expenses.  

You can look for scholarships and grants. The Canadian government offers student loans, bursaries, and scholarships⁷  to Canadians wanting to study abroad, while some provinces provide grants. You can also contact your school to discuss financial aid options for international students.

If you need to take out a loan, remember that U.S. student federal loans are not available to Canadians. Instead, you can apply for a private loan with a U.S. lender, though you might need a cosigner who's a qualifying U.S. citizen. You can also check with your local Canadian banks to see if they offer a suitable financial product.

Focus on education and let MTFX take care of your international payments

Wrapping up, managing money is a big part of studying in the US for Canadian students. Paying for things like tuition fees and living costs means dealing with money across borders, which can be tricky. It's important to have a good plan for these international payments to make sure everything goes smoothly and doesn't cost too much.

Using an expert foreign exchange service like MTFX can really help. We offer bank-beating rates for exchanging money and charge less for sending money abroad. Planning ahead, watching for changes in exchange rates, and picking the right service can save you money and hassle. So, as you get ready for your adventure in the US, keep in mind that smart money management is key. By tackling money matters wisely, you can spend more time enjoying your studies and new experiences in the US.



Study In the US as a Canadian – FAQs


Do you need a student visa to study in America as a Canadian?

Not at all. You still need to obtain Form I-20 from the school, though. Form I-20 provides supporting information about your proposed course of study and confirms you have sufficient financial resources to complete the course of study. 

What's the difference between F-1 and M-1 status?

F-1 visas apply to academic programs, while M-1 visas are for vocational or non-academic programs. You must have been accepted by a SEVIS-certified school to be eligible for either visa. 

Should I be worried about exchange rates?

If you're studying in the USA and need to move money from Canada to a USA bank account, exchange rates are something to watch out for. Unfortunately, banks generally don't offer competitive exchange rates, which means your study costs just got more expensive.  The best way to make exchange rates work for you is by using a foreign exchange service like MTFX. With bank-beating rates that are 3-5% lower, you can get great bargains (save as much as $1,500 for every $30,000) that enrich your student experience and wallet. Use MTFX's rate calculator to check the current USD/CAD exchange rate before initiating your international transfer. 

Any tips for navigating the overall American landscape as a Canadian student?

  • Most schools have a guide for international students. This is an excellent resource you should take advantage of. 
  • Join forums and talk to other international students to learn more about integrating into the U.S. culture. 
  • Prepare for the weather change and stock up on the appropriate clothing items. 
  • Read up on the rules of etiquette that most Americans subscribe to, such as tipping at restaurants. 
  • Always keep all your immigration documents organized. 
  • Don't assume that American life or culture is identical to what you see in the movies. 

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