International Students

From PNB Graduate Handbook
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International students moving to Canada to Study at McMaster may find the following resources useful:

  • Explore the McMaster International Student Services site, which has a lot of helpful information.
  • The Newcomer Housing Guide provides a lot of useful information about looking for housing, interpreting advertising, signing a lease, etc.
  • The School of Graduate Studies also has helpful information on their site: SGS Resources (click on the “New to Hamilton” tab)

Tips from international PNB students
Some of the tips on the rest of this page were prepared by international PNB graduate students for international students moving to Canada to study at McMaster University.

Feel free to contact Jessica Miller, who is here from the USA, with any questions about being an International Graduate Student at McMaster.

Study Permits

Apply for your study permit online and obtain your physical study permit at a border crossing before school begins. See section section 2.5.5 Enrolment - International Students on Study Permits in the Graduate Calendar.

Note: PNB offers work in the form of Teaching Assistantships. However, it may be possible to work off campus for a few hours per week if approved by your supervisor and the department.


There are limited opportunities for scholarships for international students in Canada, unfortunately. Due to the limited number, these scholarships tend to be highly competitive, so keep up to date on your scholarship options, and plan for living on a budget. Plan for extra expenses, such as international bank wires, monetary conversion fees, immigration expenses, etc.

Moving to Canada

You must prepare a BSF186 form that lists the personal items you will be bringing into the country with you (this allows you to avoid paying duty on most items). The more detailed your list, the easier and faster the customs process will be. This form and other forms you many need for bringing items into Canada can be found here: BSF186 form

Finding Housing

Finding housing as an international student may require some strategizing because rentals move so quickly. Some of our international students have provided stories about their experiences: International Students Find Housing

See also our Living in Hamilton page.

Living in Canada

Upon arriving in Canada and establishing a living, you must apply for a Canadian social insurance number (SIN). You can get a SIN by mail or in person at a local Service Canada office ( You will need a SIN before you can open a bank account or get a cell phone.

Bank accounts and credit cards:
If you plan on purchasing a cell phone and/or anything online, you will need to apply for a Canadian credit card or some other form of banking method that you can utilize with online orders. In Canada, you will have a bank card that serves as a debit card, but this card cannot be used for online purchases. You can often get a credit card through your bank as well, but they may hold a portion of your funds as “credit” as you are likely to have zero credit history in Canada upon arriving.

Common banks in Canada are RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO, CIBC, and others. Online banks are also an option and often charge fewer fees, such as Tangerine, ManuLife, and PC Financial.

Cell phones:
In order to get a phone with a plan on a Canadian cell phone carrier, you will need multiple forms of Canada-issued ID. Ask an employee at a store that sells cell phones for a list of accepted ID: a Canadian driver’s license and a Canadian credit card are the two most commonly accepted forms of ID (your student VISA or study permit does not count).

Note: Canadian cell phone carriers can require you to sign up for a 2-year contract. Other carriers are more flexible, such as Koodo. Other common carriers/providers are Bell, Rogers, Fido, Virgin, Telus, and Wind.

Health insurance:
Ontario is unfortunately a province in which international students on a study permit or student VISA are not eligible for provincially-funded health insurance (i.e. a OHIP card). You are eligible if you are a permanent resident, however (more information about eligibility here: Instead of OHIP, McMaster University provides international students with similar health service coverage in the form of UHIP. This insurance will cover emergency visits and medically necessary services. Be sure to visit walk-in clinics that recognize this form of insurance (i.e. will directly bill UHIP) or else you may pay out of pocket for some expenses. McMaster also provides international students with prescription drug, dental, and vision coverage currently through SunLife Assurance. Make sure to pick up or print out your health cards (UHIP and additional coverage) when they are available.

Working On-Campus/Off-Campus Currently, visa students are allowed to work on/off-campus. It is however, advised that you talk to your employer to arrange more specific working hours to suit your needs. Please visit the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website at: for more information about your work eligibility.

Keep up to date with your taxes in your home country and your Canadian taxes, you may have to file a tax return in both countries (US citizens must file in the US every year). Free tax clinics are often available on campus to international students, which can help you file your Canadian taxes for the first time. Many free online tax return websites exist and are very helpful, such as

Many grad students use the bus system or their own personal vehicle. Many US states and countries have policies in place that allow you to exchange your current driver’s license for a Canadian license. You should look into your options and transportation needs before going to get a license.

  • How to get a driver’s license in Ontario
  • Note that parking on campus can be quite costly.
  • Keep in mind that bringing a car from the U.S. to Canada can be potentially expensive for a number of reasons (import duty fees, Canadian insurance and registration, and regular expenses like parking and gas).

See also our Living in Hamilton page for tips about buses, bike sharing, etc.