4 of the most affordable Canadian cities for international students

Kristina Spencer
Kristina Spencer

16 November 2020 • 4 min read

Canada ranks among the highest countries in the world when it comes to secondary education, making it a great place for international students to consider when picking universities. On top of great quality of education and a great selection of schools, the country is also famous for openness to foreigners — from welcoming immigration policies to receiving work visas after graduation if you meet the qualifications required. 

The country boasts both undergraduate and graduate programs across a variety of subjects from agriculture to business to engineering to film studies. So, if you are sold on the idea of moving to the birthplace of maple syrup and ready to brace the winter (promise, it is not that bad), where do you go — especially on a student budget? A teacher once told me that sometimes picking university is like picking a flat — sometimes when you walk in, it just feels right; and it is the same with cities you put down your roots in. We put together a list of cities and towns that offer both competitive monthly living costs and good schools for you to consider.

Montreal, Quebec

Quebec’s average yearly tuition is one of the lowest in the country if you are a local resident, but for international students the prices are competitive with other provinces. Quebec’s competitive advantage is its cultural scene, which is extremely prevalent in Montreal. The small island of Montreal is home to a dozen universities and colleges, creating a unique feeling of a small university town in a big city. As an international student, there is a high chance you will spend your university years downtown Montreal — McGill students have infiltrated the area so much that the area closest to McGill is called the McGill Ghetto. The streets are filled with familiar faces and Halloween and St Patrick’s Day are celebrated as a big community; but if you feel like that is not for you, Montreal offers a variety of other spots for you to settle down. Many students live in the Plateau, the city’s young neighbourhood that is best described as a lovechild of Brooklyn and Shoreditch, filled with cafes, quirky shops and delicious and affordable restaurants (if you haven’t been to Romados, you haven’t lived). The city is filled with art and culture, with endless food options for you to pick from. Montreal has one of the most affordable student rents among Canadian cities.  

Calgary, Alberta

Alberta’s largest city is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, so if you are a fan of ski seasons in Europe, this may be the place for you — Banff and its world famous mountains are basically on your doorstep (in Canadian, that means less than two hours drive). Home to 1.4 million people, Calgary residents have the youngest age average of any Canadian city. Calgary has some of the top engineering programs in the country, due to the city’s proximity to the oil and gas industry. If you are after a creative program, the Alberta College of Art and Design is one of four accredited design and art colleges in the country. Sometimes dubbed as the Texas of Canada, Calgary is also home to the Calgary Stampede (cowboy boots and all), a 10 day festival that takes place every July and is an absolute must on your to-do list.

Ottawa, Ontario

Canada’s capital is a vibrant city and home to two large universities — University of Ottawa and Carleton University. If you are after a career in politics, Ottawa may be just the golden ticket; many of the citizens work in the civil service, with many bars and restaurants filled with politicians at night. There is a buzzing downtown area with quirky bars and a hopping craft beer scene, but Ottawa is a quiet cousin at the Christmas table if you put him next to Montreal and Toronto; so if nightlife is a big factor in your decision-making, you may want to think again. Consider the Centretown, Little Italy and Old Ottawa South for apartment hunting.

Kingston, Ontario 

University applicants tend to divide into two categories — those who want the bright lights of big cities and those who prefer a smaller school with a tight-knit community. Kingston, the home of Queen’s University, the Royal Military College of Canada and St. Lawrence University, is located in Eastern Ontario, about 200km from Ottawa, and has the definitive air of a student town. It has a bustling pedestrian city centre and all of the conveniences of modern life; the campuses are small enough that you can walk anywhere you want to, and the student life is buzzing. Social life and the student community create the instant at-home feeling; and Queen’s University’s Homecoming weekend is a major annual highlight. 

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Kristina Spencer
Written By
Kristina Spencer

Kristina Spencer is a writer, editor and producer based in London, UK. She’s written for Vanity Fair, Vogue Business, The Business of Fashion and more.


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