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Vancouver is Canada’s third-largest city and is routinely cited as one of the most-liveable cities in the world. Vancouver stands out for its beautiful seaside location, diversity, mild climate, proximity to the mountains, wilderness areas, and west coast spirit.

With a lot of emphasis placed on outdoor living, environmental sustainability, and work-life balance, Vancouver is an easy city to love. It ranks at the 10th position within the QS best student city rankings and features two large universities and many smaller universities and colleges.

Teaching culture

Higher education in Canada is managed by the provinces in Canada and can vary slightly by region. Canada offers universities that grant under-graduate or graduate degrees, and colleges that provide technical training and more commonly grant diplomas. Undergraduate programs are typically 3-4 year programs, while graduate and professional programs can span 1-3 years. Most universities in Canada are public universities meaning that you can receive an extremely reputable degree at an affordable cost.

Programs typically start in September, although it is possible to enter a program at various times of the year. The academic school year is divided into three semesters: fall (September- December), winter (January – April), and summer (May – August) with most students having the summer term off.

Students may find higher education in Canada to be less formal than what they are used to at school. While there is a strong level of respect between instructors and students, the learning environment can be very informal. In the first years of undergraduate courses, students may not have much contact with their instructor as courses are often taught in lecture halls. Instructors will have set office hours each week where students can meet with their instructor or contact them online. As students move through their program there is more opportunity for a strong relationship and mentor-ship with instructors.

Canadians are known for their friendly attitudes and you will find classrooms to be very interactive and friendly with a high sense of openness. Professional boundaries are maintained between instructors and students but it is common for instructors to share personal experiences and get to know their students. Food and drink are common in classrooms and students will sometimes arrive late or leave early.

Teaching language

English is the language of instruction at universities in Vancouver and you will generally have to pass an English-proficiency exam as part of the application process if English is not your first language.

Universities in Vancouver

University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is western Canada’s largest university, known for its innovative spirit that challenges the status quo. In fact, Canada’s well respected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is an alumnus of the University. UBC has an exceptional international reputation for its research and graduate programs. With a beautiful green campus along the Pacific Ocean, UBC is close enough to enjoy the convenience of the metro system, but still feels like a secluded University campus.

UBC is ranked 51st in the world in the QS World University Rankings and features over 54,000 students. Over twenty-four percent of students at UBC are international students from over 162 countries. Standout programs include United States Studies, Earth and Ocean Sciences, and Food Market Analysis.

UBC believes in flexible learning which translates to students having more choice, engagement, and success. They use a six-pillar model to approach flexible learning which entails moving away from a traditional classroom and incorporating new teaching approaches and methods. They have added career and personal education programs that foster life-long learning. UBC is moving the student experience into the 21st century with more online learning and increased experiential learning programs.

UBC recognizes the achievement of international students by giving out over $21 million in scholarships and financial aid to international students. UBC has a guaranteed housing program for first year students and offers 11,000 beds across 13 residences.

Read more about studying as an international student at UBC.

Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University (SFU) was founded in 1965 and has been consistently named Canada’s best comprehensive university many years in a row. SFU is located atop Burnaby Mountain, which is immediately east of the metro station of Vancouver, but also offers campuses in Vancouver and Surrey. Their vision is to be Canada’s leading engaging university where innovative education, cutting-edge research and community engagement intersect. Ranked 245th in the QS rankings, SFU has over 30,000 students with 25% being international students.

You can’t beat the stunning mountain views from the Burnaby campus, but there are so many more things to like about SFU. They offer a three-semester system allowing students more flexibility and they offer extensive co-operative education programs allowing for real world experience. Some of the most well-known programs are Archaeology, the Bachelor of Environment, Business of Design, and Mechatronic Systems Engineering.

Read more about studying as an international student at Simon Fraser University.

Admission requirements

Admission requirements are set by each university and can vary by province as well. If your first language is not English, you will need to complete an English Proficiency Exam. If you do not meet the University’s English language requirements there are English language transition programs that you can enroll in, which range from 6 weeks to 8 months.

To be eligible to study in Canada for longer then 6 months, you will need a Study Visa if you are not a Canadian citizen or resident. Once you have a letter of acceptance from a Canadian University, you should begin the application for the Study Visa right away as it can be quite time consuming. You can apply online through the Canadian Immigration website. You will need to show proof of acceptance to a Canadian University, proof of identity, proof of financial support, and proof of medical clearance. This guide by UBC provides good information on study visas.

Tuition fees

While studying in Canada is generally less expensive than the USA or UK, it is more expensive than many other countries. Undergraduate tuition for international students in Vancouver can vary greatly depending on the university and program. At SFU, undergraduate tuition starts at $21,600 for an 8-month term. At UBC, undergraduate international tuitions ranges from $34,000-$55,000 depending on the program.

Scholarships, grants and bursaries are available to international students studying at Vancouver universities. These can be based on academic or sporting achievement and financial need. QS Top Universities provides an informative guide to financial supports available to international students studying in Canada. Canada has a formal strategy to retain well educated and skilled workers through the university system. Both UBC and SFU have scholarship and awards for international students.

Cost of living

Vancouver is Canada’s most expensive city to live in. Its stunning location of a city set among the ocean, mountains, and forests comes at a price. The cost of living is, however, relative to the individual’s needs and preferences, and there are many things you can do to control costs. Sharing off-campus accommodation, limiting spending on entertainment and eating out, and using public transport will lead to lower costs of living. Use this financial planning tool from UBC to estimate total costs for international students at UBC. You can expect your monthly costs, not including tuition to be $1,600-2,000 a month.


Students can choose to live on campus in student housing or off-campus. Each has its advantages. Living on campus is convenient and allows you to make quick connections to the university community. However, it generally comes at a higher cost. In Canada, it is typical for students to live on campus in their first year of undergraduate studies and then to live in off-campus housing for the remainder of their studies. Many universities offer special residence accommodation for graduate students.

If you would like to live on campus in residence, you will need to apply through the university’s website as early as possible because space is limited. Residence housing can range from shared or private dormitory rooms to shared apartments or townhouses. UBC does have a guaranteed residence program for first year students. SFU has a wait list each year for their residences, so you want to make sure you apply early even before you have been accepted into an SFU program.

Residence costs are paid for the 8-month academic term (September to April) and range from $10,700-$13,850 depending on the residence and if a meal plan is included.

If you will be attending UBC and living off-campus, you will want to make sure you have convenient transportation to the UBC campus which is located on the eastern side of the city on Point Grey.

If you plan to live off-campus, the UBC website provides lots of good information to help you find accommodation and to understand the process and your rights as a tenant. Accommodation costs are highest in the neighbourhoods directly surrounding UBC and metro Vancouver, and many students choose to live in less-expensive “East Van” (East Vancouver). However, you then need to factor in more time for your commute (45-60 minutes to the UBC campus from East Van). Rents can range from $700/mo for a shared with roommates apartment to $1,150/mo for a 1 bedroom apartment, $1,600/mo for a 2-bedroom apartment and $2,100 for a 3-bedroom apartment (total price for all inhabitants). Sharing an apartment or house is a much more affordable option and you can find roommates through the university websites.

Getting around

Students receive a BC U-Pass through their universities which allows unlimited travel on public transit in Vancouver. This subsidized and affordable pass allows students to ride the bus, Seabus, SkyTrain, and Canada Line Transit Services within metro Vancouver. The U-Pass term fee of $164 ($41/mo) will be automatically charged to your student fees. Vancouver has an extensive bike infrastructure and you can take your bike on all public transportation in the city.

Employment and internships

If you are an international student with full-time status, you are generally eligible to work on-campus and off-campus with your study visa. You will need a Social Insurance Number (SIN) which can be applied for through Service Canada. Off-campus employment is limited to 20 hours per week during the academic school year.

It is very common for students studying in Canada to participate in co-operative education and internship programs as part of their curriculum. This is an excellent way to make connections between theory and practice. It is also a wonderful opportunity to gain Canadian work experience and make connections in your field. You will have to apply for a Co-op work visa through Immigration Canada before beginning a co-op or internship.

Student life

Vancouver is currently ranked the 3rd most livable city in the world and is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In addition to your studies, you want to make sure you enjoy all that the city has to offer. Vancouver has something for everyone, from the great outdoors to its multicultural community. Vancouver has a much milder climate than most other areas of Canada, although it does receive a lot of rain, and less snow than other parts of the country.

Vancouver’s original nightlife district is Granville Street which can be incredibly busy on the weekends. Gastown is a neighbourhood with lots of unique bars and restaurants. Students love to hang out in up-market Kitsilano with its hip bars located near the beach.

Metro Vancouver and the surrounding areas offer students so much, but both UBC and SFU also have distinct campuses where students can find their passion. Meet like-minded people and find your community with the hundreds of clubs, sports teams, and organizations you can join. Canadian universities value the development of the whole person, not merely their academic achievements. By getting involved in campus life you will meet friends, better transition into University life, gain support, and feel more settled in your new city and campus.

Things to do

Vancouver is known as a city that embraces its natural splendour, and you are never far away from a beach, mountain, or forest. Just within the city, you can explore Stanley Park, a 400-hectare green oasis of West Coast rainforest and parkland. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a popular tourist destination where you can cross the Capilano River on a 140m long suspension bridge. Granville Island is a great place to hang out on the weekends with its market, restaurants, theatres, and artisan workshops.

With Vancouver’s proximity to the sea, Pacific Northwest style, and Asian influence, you don’t have to look far for a good meal. Test out the city’s multitude of craft breweries, enjoy fresh and healthy café treats, and try the tastiest sushi outside of Japan. Penny pinching students will want to check out Vancouver’s huge food truck scene, all-day breakfast joints, and Asian hawkers stalls.

Less than two hours drive away is the world-renowned Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort which you can enjoy during all four seasons. If you want to ski even closer to campus, Grouse Mountain is only 20 minutes out of the city. There is a myriad of outdoor activities to explore outside of Vancouver; endless hikes trails, whale watching, mountain biking, and so much more.

Local culture

Canadians are renowned to be some of the friendliest people in the world and known for their chronic need to apologize. You can expect Vancouverites to be very easy-going and non-judgemental. They are proud of their West Coast spirit which sets them apart from big-brother Toronto and the East Coast.

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