International student life in Calgary compared to the rest of Canada

International student life in Calgary compared to the rest of Canada. 

Assessing Calgary in comparison to Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto as an international student destination in 2023.

Moving away from home to pursue higher education can be a life-changing experience, one that many international students find fulfilling and satisfying.

In fact, according to Times Higher Education, Canada (along with New Zealand) was one of the two most frequently recommended “study-abroad” countries among international students in terms of being likely to recommend in 2019.

This lends credence to the fact that Canada is seeing a significant increase in the number of international students arriving. In fact, after welcoming over 400,000 international students in 2019, Canada is on track to welcome a new single-year record number of international students in 2022. (551,405).

Nota bene: As of December 31, 2022, 807,750 international students had valid study permits across the home nation, setting yet another Canadian record.

The most important considerations for international students.

According to survey results from a September 2022 ICEF Monitor report, affordability is becoming a “rising factor in international students’ choice of destination.” In fact, student recruitment agents from all over the world were asked in the report: “When planning their study abroad, what are your students’ most important decision-making factors?”

In response to this question, 75% of respondents stated that “the cost of study and living is the most important factor for students, surpassing even employment and international migration opportunities.”

contrasting various Canadian international student destinations


As international students consider where they want to pursue their education, here is a comparison of four major costs for international students in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary.


Rent: both on and off campus


On-campus housing costs vary, even between residences at the same institution. An in-depth comparison of on-campus housing costs in these four cities is simply too nuanced for this article to discuss.


Meanwhile, off-campus housing is easier to compare thanks to standardized data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on one-bedroom apartment rental prices (CMHC).


The personal information below is based on CMHC’s October 2022 “primary rental market” prices.

City Average Rent (1 bed. Apt.)
Vancouver $1,629
Montreal $909
Toronto $1,527
Calgary $1,224



City (Transit Pass Type) Monthly Transit Pass Cost
Vancouver $102.55
Montreal $56.50
Toronto $128.15
Calgary $112.00


Notably, both Calgary and Vancouver have U-Pass agreements for post-secondary students, though the prices are not listed here because the agreements do not apply to all institutions in either city.


SAIT is currently one of only five post-secondary institutions in Calgary that participates in the city’s U-Pass program with U Pass Calgary Transit.


Statistics Canada releases monthly data on the average retail price of various goods in each province and territory. Prices for three common grocery items – eggs, milk, and butter – will be used to compare grocery costs in these major cities beginning in January 2023.

Province (City) Item (Quantity) Average Cost of Item
British Columbia (Vancouver) Eggs (12)
Milk (1 litre)
Butter (1 pound)
Eggs (12)
Milk (1 liter)
Butter (1 pound)
Eggs (12)
Milk (1 litre)
Butter (1 pound)
Eggs (12)
Milk (1 litre)
Butter (1 pound)


Because tuition varies depending on the program and institution, the table below summarizes the average international student tuition in each province based on preliminary Statistics Canada (Stats Can) data for 2022/2023.

Province (City) Level of Study Average Cost of Tuition
British Columbia (Vancouver) Undergraduate


On average, Ontario has the highest international student tuition in Canada, while Alberta has the lowest (among these four provinces). What follows is an example of tuition costs at one Canadian designated learning institution (DLI) in each of the four major cities mentioned above.


To obtain a Canadian green card, international students must first obtain an acceptance letter from a Canadian DLI.


International student tuition fees for 2023/24 at the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus in Vancouver range from $44,000 to $58,000, depending on the program. International student tuition at McGill University in Montreal was $31,500.50 for those enrolled in an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts (BA) program during the 2022-23 academic year (the most recent available data).


In the meantime, in Ontario, undergraduate For the 2023-24 academic year, international students studying in the Arts and Science faculty at the University of Toronto’s downtown campus can expect tuition of $60,510. Finally, tuition and fees at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, total $21,000 per year.


This SAIT figure includes the cost of a gym membership, health insurance, ancillary fees, and a transit pass (more on that later)


Life as a Canadian international student at SAIT


Returning to the earlier topic of housing options for international students, SAIT has two residence buildings, each with its own set of amenities. Students at Begin Tower can choose between studio apartments with a single bedroom and suites with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. East Meanwhile, Hall provides single-bedroom residence options as well as four-bedroom units with a shared bathroom and common area.


Note: To learn more about SAIT’s on-campus residence options, visit Residence Life and use this link to explore the various Rooms and Rates available.


Notably, in our more than 105 years of education, SAIT has welcomed international students from 140 different countries. The polytechnic college, which is only five minutes from downtown Calgary’s famous Peace Bridge, is also one of only fifteen DLIs in Alberta’s most populous city. This means that international students who attend SAIT will be eligible for a three-year Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) upon completion of an eligible program. For This is critical for international students who want to become Canadian permanent residents because obtaining a PGWP is required to accumulate the one year of work experience required to be eligible for Canadian permanent residence.


More information on Alberta and Calgary


Alberta is becoming a more popular destination for arts and recreation in Canada.

Indeed, The Last of Us, one of HBO’s most recent global television successes, was shot in a number of communities throughout the province. Alberta has become a popular backdrop and destination of choice for television and film producers worldwide, with shoot locations including Fort McLeod, Canmore, Edmonton, and Calgary.

Alberta is also rich in recreational opportunities for some of those seeking to unwind.

From history to the great outdoors, there is something for everyone. From sightseeing tours and museums to activities like camping, canoeing, and ice fishing, Alberta has plenty to offer in terms of affordable events and experiences year-round. To learn more, go to Travel Alberta.

This article provides only a brief overview of the costs and expenses associated with living in these four major Canadian cities as an international student. Nonetheless, each international student will have different priorities and will choose to prioritize certain expenses over others.

What we hope is that this article has given prospective international students a good starting point for understanding the financial realities of coming to Canada for higher education.

Please visit our website to learn more about SAIT and feel free to contact us if you have any concerns or questions about applying to study here, coming to Canada as an international student, or anything else.

Investigating the Student Direct Stream for Study in Canada

For international students who are coming to Canada, there are numerous study permit options available, including the expedited Student Direct Stream.

The Student Direct Stream (SDS) program in Canada is a fast-tracked program designed to expedite the study permit process for qualified international post-secondary students.

At the moment, the SDS program aims to quickly provide foreign students from the 14 countries listed below with a study permit in Canada:

Countries Eligible for the SDS Program


  1. Antigua and Barbuda
  2. Brazil
  3. China
  4. Colombia
  5. Costa Rica
  6. India
  7. Morocco
  8. Pakistan
  9. Peru
  10. Philippines
  11. Senegal
  12. Vincent and the Grenadines
  13. Trinidad and Tobago
  14. Vietnam

If you are a citizen of one of the above countries and live in that country (other than Canada) when you apply for a study permit through the SDS program, you must meet the following requirements to be considered fit:

  • script(s)
  • You must be able to show proof of payment for your first year of study, as well as a confirmation document for your upfront medical exam.
  • You must be able to demonstrate that you have obtained a $10,000 Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC).
  • You must be able to present a police certificate before applying.
  • If you intend to study in Quebec: possess a Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) issued by the Ministered de immigration, de la Francization, et de l’Intégration
  • Send your implementation to a Visa Application Center (VAC)

Some of these eligibility criteria are explained in detail on the Canadian government’s website. This page contains extensive information about the various ways you can prove your first year of tuition has been paid, the various financial institutions that offer GICs, and who would require (and who would not require) a medical exam and/or a police certificate to accompany your application.


Furthermore, depending on where you live, you may need different documentation for visa application processing as a prospective applicant. The following is a list of documents written by the Government of Canada for 11 of the 14 SDS-eligible countries that detail the visa office instructions for each country.


At the time of writing, the Canadian government did not provide any documents. On their website, with visa office instructions for Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or Trinidad and Tobago.


Instructions for the Visa Office in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

  1. China: China Visa Office Instructions
  2. Colombia: Bogota Visa Office Instructions
  3. Costa Rica: Mexico City Visa Office Instructions
  4. India: India Visa Office Instructions
  5. Morocco: Rabat Visa Office Instructions
  6. Pakistan: Abu Dhabi Visa Office Instructions
  7. Peru: Lima Visa Office Instructions
  8. Philippines: Manila Visa Office Instructions
  9. Senegal: Dakar Visa Office Instructions
  10. Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh-City Visa Office Instructions


Canada intends to process all SDS applications within 20 days. However, IRCC warns that if additional supporting documents are required for your implementation, this may take longer.


The Post-Submission Procedure

When your application for a study permit through the Student Direct Stream is approved, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will issue you a Port of Entry (POE) letter as proof to a visa officer that you have been approved. This will be accompanied by a temporary resident/visitor visa or, if required, an electronic travel authorization (eTA). It is critical to understand the requirement for a travel visa in addition to a study permit because the Canadian government wants applicants to remember that SDS program permits do not guarantee admission.

“Permit you to access or travel to Canada.”

In other words, these two supplementary documents will be your true key to entering the country as an international student. Only then will your study permit be activated and you will be able to continue your post-secondary education in Canada.


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