Friday, September 4, 2009

A Student's Newcomers Guide (Prelude) to Studying in Canada

It has always been in my thoughts to compile sort of a checklist (if you like) of what someone needs to do when they are coming over to Canada to study.

Wait-a-minute, let me rephrase that, I guess this is going to be fairly long and therefore its going to be more than just a checklist. Sometimes going through all the words may be daunting and there will be times when you think there's simply too much information, but trust me, its really worth the time to just read through some of the details and at the very least be aware of some of the points (especially if you don`t intend to repeat some of our mistakes)

A few notes before I begin:
  1. There are few cases where people ask us about coming to work and start a new life, but I'll have to skip that as both of us itself aren't experience in that area. Infact if you yourself have such experience and would like to share them with us, pls do not hesitate to leave a comment for this particular article.
  2. I also regret that this guide is written in English and English only. Although there are fairly large amount of people from Oriental countries who are interested to come over to Canada in pursuit of higher education, but the fact that I am not conversant or able to type my thoughts in Oriental languages is also the reason why English is used here. Also, it should be known that if there's already an intent to come over to Canada, then one ought to have mastered basic understanding of the English language (at the very least reading comprehension would be a step in the right direction).
  3. This guide may be skewed towards those coming from countries like Malaysia, so certain aspects of it may be different from where you come from. But I believe if you're from a Commonwealth country then the differences shouldn't vary greatly.
  4. This of course are based on our experiences and ours ONLY. I'll try to avoid differentiating between those coming in pursuit for graduate studies with those coming for undergraduate studies, but note that there's some elements of differences like your basic requirements for getting an entry which I won't touch on at all. BASICALLY, I'll assume you've received an acceptance letter from the University of your choice and are currently wondering what to do next!
  5. Above all, if there's any questions whatsoever, pls do drop a feedback.
So beginning this year, both of us received our acceptance letter from our University of choice. We're execited and thrilled but after the brief exhillaration, there's pause and doubts started to trikkled into our minds. What doubts? What questions, you ask?

There were many of course. Well first of all, where do we start?

    Always make sure that you've buget what is expected from you (tuition fees, cost of living, travel cost, winter clothings, books, etc etc) vs. how much you have (whether you're on scholarship, or through your own pocket). You probably may or may not have done this while you were waiting for your application to be approve. If you did, than that's great. If you didn't just make sure you go through it 1 more time. Where do you start of with? Well that depends on where you're studying. Different provinces and different cities/ towns may have different factors to it all! If you're going studying in Nova Scotia (Halifax in particular), then hang on a little minute and I'll give you a low-down on the details a little later. But if you're headed to other areas, then pls, do some online research. Google or BING is your best friend!
    Also important is to move on with your study permit application. Without it, you won't be able to enter the country to study. Depending on which country you come from, there would be different restrictions and degree of strictness on the requirements. To apply google up for the Canadian embassy/consulate of your country. If you're coming from Malaysia, then head over to
    If you're like us, who have NO connection whatsoever to Canada e.g. no close family members or close friends who's currently studying/ working here, then you could opt to drop by the Canadian Education Center in Malaysia. Their website is
    But just note that they may treat you differently depending on what you're going to do in Canada. I believe if you coming as an undergrad, they may be a little easy on you as oppose to grads! Not so sure why!
    Of course nothing is more important than this. But you can't purchase it first without knowing that you have gotten (1) your acceptance (2) your study permit. But at the same time, you know that you'll have to pay more if you wait longer and as the date of your departure comes closer. As a rule of thumb it is always cheaper to buy in advace. So check with your travel agent. Book in advance even though you may not have both your acceptance or permit or either one of them. Remember, you don't have to pay a thing if you book! Also, if you're coming from Malaysia, it is always cheaper to fly from Changi, Singapore instead of KLIA (at least that's our experience). While you're trying out your travel agent, do try and research online to see if there's any offers whatsoever. You can try and should try
    Also take note that there's 2 type of flight routes to Canada. There's the Pacific route and there's the Atlantic route. The former is the cheaper and faster route as oppose to the later (trust me on this, its also geographically proven to be faster even though if you're headed to the eastern most part of Canada like Nova Scotia.)
    There are few good things that you ought to know and settle prior to your departure to the Maple leaf country.
    • Make your ISIC (International Student Identification Card) back in Malaysia first! before you come over to Canada. You'll realize that it would be a cheaper solution then to purchase it while in Canada. Why? There's only a few places where they can provide the ISIC card to you. And if the country is so BIG as in Canada, and let's say you're studying in NS but the closest ISIC representative is in Ottawa than that would be a trouble - you`ll have to apply via snail mail and have them to deliver to you (NOTE: Canadian Post is darn expensive) and lastly, it cost more. e.g. It cost about RM15 to do in Malaysia as oppose to about CAD60 here.
      ISIC cards are renewable every year so, remember to make extra copies of your ISIC application forms with your signature and leave with a family member to apply on your behalf when it expires.
      Here are the places that you can purchase your ISIC card in Malaysia
      I'd go to MSLTravel if I were you as I find them more responsive.
    • Make your US VISA. Why? If you can afford it, do proceed with making a US VISA before leaving for Canada. If you're studying somewhere close to the border like in Windsor, Ontario or New Brunswick, you'll have the urge to cross the border before you head home to Malaysia after your studies, but by that time, you realized you needed a visa. Trust me it is easier to do it while you're in Malaysia as oppose to doing it in Canada itself. It would not be much of a problem as furthermore, your VISA would last you about 10 yrs long.
    Your study may be short. Let's say 2 years to complete, then go ahead purchase your laptop from Malaysia, but be sure to buy the international warranty. But if you're going to be away more than 3 years, then its wiser for you to hang on to your horses and make the purchase while you're here in Canada itself.
    Also, make sure you purchase a plug point adapter before hand. NOTE, the plug points in North America (Canada and US) looks like this.

    And the adapter for Malaysian appliances to a North American plug point, would look like this

    Do check any of the appliances you want to bring over and ensure that they are within the 110 - 120 V. If they are any different, then you'll need a transformer. I myself left anything that was not 110-120 V because transformers aren't cheap but plug point adapters are.
    Pack enough, remember you're not moving house here, you're going to make a new life. So don't bring the mountain, bring enough for you to survive for at least 1 week and then when you arrive, you could hunt for extra clothes there. Check with your airlines what's your handheld baggage limitation and also check-in baggage limit. After you've done a pre-pack at home, just test out how much they weigh to ensure you've not exceed them. Also check with the airline on how to declare that you're a student and that if there's any additional weight provision provided to you. NOTE that if you're purchasing a 1-way ticket, you'll need to proof to them that you are going to study or not they would not allow you to make that purchase.
    If you purchase using ISIC card benifit, you should automatically get additional baggage weight provision. I am not too sure on what the limits are, but I know that there is such a thing and that that it is important. So find out about it!
    As to your locks, if your flight makes a stop to the United States, then make sure you buy a bag or lock which are TSA approve. If you're using anything other than TSA approve, the US security would force open your baggage. You really wouldn't want that. A TSA approve lock would look like this.

    note the red label!
    I can
    't stress this any more. Make sure you make photocopies of your important documents and put 1 copy in different bags with you so that if one is missing, you'll the other available. But hand carry your originals. And if there's anything that aren't important, sort them out in a folder and label them for your parents or love ones to refer for you on your behalf if there's any need to do so. For example, referencing your Malaysian insurance matters or if you've been working and own a property and you need them to sort out some assessment or quick-rent matters, or tax matters etc. etc.
    Jot down all your emergency or important contact numbers of the people or places in the town/city you're going to (for example your registration coordinator or your grad professor or the university's security number, or the Malaysian embassy/consulate's number). And carry it along with you wherever you go. Also get a traveller
    's passport strap-on bag or pouch.
    Where are going to stay when you arrive? Surely not on the street. In most Universities, there are temporary residencies where you could book to stay a few nights. But some may not have them. Some have them, but they are only available during certain parts of the year. For example if you're headed to our university, then you should know that they don't have such things (although they used to). But if you're like us, and are entering during an odd period - like the summer session then you could try to check into their summer services lodging. But check the dates first as, even for this service, it won't start until a certain date. And jot the no. of the lodging / temp lodging to be in once you land.
    You'll spend some time here in Canada. So it would be a good idea to visit the country and enjoy its wonders while you're here. You may want to begin finding which places you are interested in visiting. Get hold of a tour guide book like lonely planet. For me, I purchased the Atlantic Canada Lonely Planet guide.
Alrighty then, after you've done all that, just sit back and enjoy your ride and journey to Canada. But, this is just the beginning. There's more that you ought to know especially when you step for the first time on a foreign soil (especially one as foreign and as far as Canada is). And I am going to share what you need to know when you arrive in my next posting.


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