Financial Vulnerability

Official statistics indicate that in 2022 and 2023, international undergraduate students paid 429% more than domestic undergraduate students, while international graduate students paid 184% more in tuition than their domestic student counterparts. This significant differential in tuition exacerbates the cost-of-living crisis that many Canadians, including international students are experiencing in today’s economy. Statistics Canada estimates that living costs have risen by 5.9%, compared to the same metrics in January 2022. Research has also found that international students often have high levels of debt but also bear the high expectations of their families and home communities. While the federal government requires incoming international students to have the equivalent of $10,000 Canadian, post-secondary institutions have begun to recognize that this is not sufficient when accounting for the full expense for many students.

Financial stress has been linked to significant negative mental health outcomes. Students with fewer financial resources are likely to have diminished academic performance, poorer physical health, and increased levels of anxiety and depression. They may be forced to drop out of their studies due to these financial issues and are also likely to struggle with developing healthy coping mechanisms, which can affect their overall quality of life.

In October 2022, there was a federal policy change that allowed students to work an unlimited number of hours until the end of December 2023. This recent change is aimed at alleviating labor shortages while also helping eligible students to address rising living costs. However, as it is a short-term strategy, it does little to address the structural issues that place students in a position of increased financial vulnerability. While this opportunity addresses the national affordability crisis, it also has the potential to increase levels of stress for students as they are required to balance their academic commitments with their employment commitments. Furthermore, finding and maintaining a job, a necessity for most international students, may be a struggle in and of itself.

Qualitative research has demonstrated that international students often lack an in-depth understanding of personal finance and the Canadian financial system. This is especially concerning as these students are undertaking expensive educational pursuits and may have taken large loans that will have long-term impacts on their financial and overall wellness. Research consistently demonstrates that international students are uninformed about the Canadian banking system, and often struggle with making sound financial decisions to help fund their education. Data shows that families often underestimate the full cost of their Canadian post-secondary education for their students.

Post-secondary institutions often have dedicated staff in place to help support international students with their transition, but this staff is often not equipped to provide personal finance education to students, who are often navigating these issues on their own for the first time in their lives. While many institutions have made information on emergency loans or bursaries accessible for students, international students often require more support, given the fact that they have significantly higher costs.

Financial norms also differ between countries, and international students may be unaware of common Canadian standards. For example, it is common to use credit cards for everyday purchases in Canada, including online transactions, while many other societies rely on cash. Many students have also struggled with a weakened home currency, increasing their chances of experiencing financial hardship. These unique factors mean that international students often require increased support compared to their domestic counterparts. These supports are not only vital for the long-term success of students but also to ensure that they have enough financial savvy not to fall prey to scams. Research demonstrates that students would benefit from having financial conversations embedded into their orientation experience. Furthermore, having ongoing opportunities to educate students on the basics of Canadian banking, and ensuring they have timely access to important resources, such as emergency bursaries and financial professionals is also critical.

  • The online resource developed by the University of Waterloo also provides overarching financial information to students prior to their arrival. This resource outlines simple but critical information, such as the amount of money that the average international student will require in their first few months in Canada, how to set up a Canadian bank account, and how to pay tuition fees to avoid delays and late penalties. By providing this information for students to learn some banking and financial basics, they are helping to alleviate financial anxiety, while also ensuring that students understand common Canadian banking norms.
  • York University has developed a series of pre-arrival webinars to provide students with information they need to make informed decisions while planning their finances. This includes the general cost of living in Canada, available sources of aid and resources for budgeting and financial planning.
  • RBC also offers educational resources, providing an overview of Canadian banking basics. These resources also provide a snapshot of some common issues that international students face, including how to find a part-time job, managing money and how to build a professional network. By providing these resources, international students can learn long-term strategies of how to manage and build financial resources within the Canadian context.


  1. Enhance financial literacy programs and support – Develop comprehensive financial literacy programs specifically tailored for international students.
    • Examples: Programs can include topics such as personal finance, budgeting, banking systems, and navigating the Canadian financial landscape. Offer ongoing support and resources, including access to financial professionals and emergency bursaries, to ensure students have the necessary tools to make informed financial decisions and manage their financial well-being effectively. Ensure ongoing opportunities for financial education and support throughout students’ academic journey.
  2. Embed financial conversations into orientation and ongoing support – Integrate financial education and conversations into the orientation process for international students.
    • Examples: Resources and workshops during orientation to educate students about the Canadian banking system, credit cards, and financial norms. Realistic estimates of the cost of living in Ontario. Realistic estimates of the time needed to find a job in Ontario.
Guide: PDF Version