Managing living expenses as an international student in Canada

In this article, we will explore some budgeting tips and resources available to help international students navigate their finances while studying in Canada.


Understanding the Cost of Living

Before you can effectively manage your expenses, it's important to understand the cost of living in Canada. The cost of living varies depending on the city and province, but according to Statistics Canada, the average cost of living for a single student in Canada is approximately $15,000-$20,000 per year.

Some of the major expenses to consider include tuition fees, rent, food, transportation, and healthcare. It's also important to keep in mind any additional costs such as textbooks, school supplies, and social activities.

It's crucial to conduct thorough research into the specific costs associated with the city or region where you will be studying. For instance, living in major cities like Toronto or Vancouver may be significantly more expensive than smaller cities or towns. Be sure to factor in seasonal changes that might affect certain costs, such as heating during the winter months. Additionally, international students should consider the exchange rate and how it may impact their budgeting.

Budgeting Tips for International Students

Budgeting is essential for managing your living expenses as an international student. Here are some tips to help you create and stick to a budget:

  • Create a budget plan: Start by tracking your monthly expenses and creating a budget plan. Be realistic and include all necessary expenses, as well as some room for unexpected costs.

  • Prioritize your expenses: Identify your essential expenses, such as rent and food, and prioritize them over non-essential expenses.

  • Look for discounts and deals: Many stores and services offer student discounts, so make sure to take advantage of them. Also, keep an eye out for deals and sales to save money on necessary expenses.

  • Cook at home: Eating out can quickly add up, so try to cook meals at home as much as possible. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it can also be a fun and creative way to try new dishes.

  • Use public transportation: Consider using public transportation instead of owning a car. It's often more affordable and can save you money on gas, insurance, and parking.

  • Limit unnecessary expenses: It's important to have a balance between work and play, but try to limit unnecessary expenses such as shopping, eating out, and entertainment.

To further enhance your budgeting strategy, it's wise to utilize financial management tools like spreadsheets or budgeting software, which can simplify the tracking process. Additionally, set aside a certain amount each month for savings; this can act as a buffer for unexpected emergencies or future investments. Engaging in part-time work, if your study permit allows, can provide a supplemental income stream to support your budget.

Financial Aid and Scholarships Available for International Students

As an international student, you may not have access to government-funded financial aid programs. However, there are still options available to help you finance your education and living expenses.

  • Scholarships: Many universities and colleges in Canada offer scholarships specifically for international students. These scholarships can cover a portion or all of your tuition fees and living expenses, so it's worth researching and applying for them.

  • Student loans: Some private lenders offer loans to international students, but these often come with high-interest rates. It's important to carefully consider the terms and conditions before taking out a loan.

  • Financial aid from your home country: Some countries offer financial aid programs to students studying abroad. Check with your home country's government or education department to see if you are eligible for any financial assistance.

Apart from these options, there are also fellowships, grants, and bursaries that may be available to international students. These financial supports are often merit-based or need-based and do not require repayment. Engaging in on-campus employment can be another avenue to finance your studies, and many institutions offer work-study programs to help students find part-time jobs related to their field of study.

Financial Planning for International Students

Proper financial planning is crucial for managing your living expenses as an international student. Here are some steps you can take to create a financial plan:

  1. Research your expenses: As mentioned earlier, understanding the cost of living in Canada is the first step in creating a financial plan. Be sure to research the cost of tuition, housing, food, transportation, and any other necessary expenses.

  2. Determine your income: Consider all potential sources of income, including scholarships, part-time jobs, and financial support from your family. This will help you determine how much you can afford to spend on your living expenses.

  3. Create a budget: Using the budgeting tips mentioned earlier, create a budget plan that includes all your expenses and income. This will give you a clear picture of your financial situation and help you make necessary adjustments.

  4. Monitor your expenses: It's important to regularly track your expenses and make sure you are staying within your budget. If you find yourself overspending in certain areas, try to find ways to cut back or find alternative options.

  5. Plan for emergencies: Unexpected expenses can arise, so it's important to have some money set aside for emergencies. This can help you avoid going into debt or having to ask for financial assistance from family or friends.

In addition, it's advisable to review and adjust your budget periodically to reflect any changes in your financial situation. This could be due to fluctuating exchange rates, changes in tuition fees, or shifts in your income. Moreover, consider investing in health insurance that caters specifically to international students to avoid exorbitant healthcare costs.

Using Technology to Manage Finances

In today's digital age, there are numerous tools and apps available to help you manage your finances. Here are some technology options that can aid in your financial planning:

  • Budgeting apps: There are many budgeting apps available that can help you track your expenses, set budget goals, and monitor your spending. Some popular options include Mint, YNAB, and Goodbudget.

  • Online banking: Most banks offer online banking services, which allow you to easily track your transactions, set up automatic payments, and view your account balances. This can help you stay on top of your finances and avoid overdraft fees.

  • Currency conversion apps: If you're unfamiliar with the Canadian currency, using a currency conversion app can help you better understand the cost of goods and services. Some popular options include XE Currency and Currency Converter Plus.

Leveraging these technological tools can streamline the process of financial management, allowing for more accurate and up-to-date tracking of your financial health. Additionally, consider using expense sharing apps like Splitwise if you're living with roommates, which can simplify the process of managing shared expenses. Keeping an eye on your financial data with these apps can help you identify patterns in your spending and make informed decisions about where to cut costs.

Seeking Financial Assistance

If you find yourself struggling to manage your living expenses, there are resources available to help. Here are some options to consider:

  • Financial aid office: Most universities and colleges have a financial aid office that can provide you with information and assistance on managing your finances. They may also have resources available for emergency financial assistance.

  • International student advisor: Your school's international student advisor can also provide guidance and support regarding your finances. They may have resources available specifically for international students.

  • Government programs: Some provinces in Canada offer financial assistance programs for international students. Check with your local government to see if you are eligible for any assistance.

  • Community resources: There may be community resources available, such as food banks or emergency funds that can provide temporary support during difficult times.

In addition to these options, it's also worth exploring non-profit organizations and local community groups that offer support to international students. Networking with other international students can provide insights into managing finances and may lead to shared opportunities for savings, such as group discounts or communal living arrangements. Remember that many educational institutions also offer workshops on financial literacy, which can be invaluable in helping you understand and manage your money more effectively.


Managing living expenses as an international student can be challenging, but with proper budgeting and financial planning, you can make the most out of your experience in Canada. Be sure to research the cost of living, prioritize your expenses, and take advantage of any financial aid or scholarships available. With technology and resources at your disposal, you can successfully navigate your finances and focus on your education. By staying informed and proactive about your financial health, you'll be better equipped to enjoy your international study experience without the added stress of financial uncertainty.