Immigration procedures: the steps to follow for foreign students

Immigrating as an international student can be a tricky thing to navigate, with so many steps to follow and forms to fill in on time. That’s why it’s essential that you make a to-do list, to make sure you meet the different requirements and deadlines. This article is based on my own experiences as a student from France, so you’ll need to double-check the procedures and deadlines for your own country of origin. I hope it helps to clarify your next steps and to make your transition to Québec easier.

Step 1: Choose your university and program (at least 1 year before school starts)

Montréal is home to a range of both French- and English-speaking universities, and each school offers a multitude of programs to choose from. UQAM, for example, offers 300 different fields of study. To select your university, you’ll need to take several factors into account, including how relevant the program is to your planned future profession, the location of the university, and the cost and duration of the program.

Please note: if you’re planning to work while you study, you’ll need to enroll in a full-time program. This will allow you to work 20 hours per week outside of your school schedule.

Once you’ve chosen your university and program, be sure to check the admission requirements and the deadline for submitting your application, which can be done well in advance of your arrival. Some programs have specific admission requirements and may require letters of recommendation. For the Specialized Graduate Program (DESS) in Human Rights at UQAM, for example, I had to submit two letters of recommendation, along with a CV and cover letter.

While you wait for a response from the university, make sure your passport is up to date (this will be important when following the next steps). It can be quite expensive to renew an expired passport so try to avoid it if you can.

Step 2: Apply for the Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) – once you’ve been accepted to a university program

Since immigration to Canada involves being accepted at the federal and provincial level, you’ll first need to apply for the Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ), which you can do online. You’ll need your passport, university admissions letter and proof of good financial standing from your bank. Whether you scan or take a picture of the documents, make sure everything is clear and easy to read. If not, you may need to resend your documents, which can delay your immigration.

Step 3: Apply for your study permit – once you’ve received your CAQ

Once you’ve received the CAQ, you’ll need to apply for a study permit. The sooner you do this, the better. You will need to have your fingerprints scanned at a centre recognized by the Canadian government. You can find more information on this on the Canadian immigration website.

You’ll also need to provide your passport, CAQ and university acceptance letter.

Step 3 bis: Start looking for an apartment

Once your immigration procedure is underway, it’s time to look for a place to live! I strongly advise that you visit the apartment you choose before signing a lease, and make sure you never pay a deposit of more than one month’s rent.

Watch out for scams.

I received the same response on Kijiji for two different apartments and two different landlords. In my case, it was from the parents of a student who’d graduated from school and they were looking to rent out their apartment, but it’s always best to be safe and double check. I suggest you look for a shared place with roommates, or rent a temporary apartment on Airbnb until you can find something more permanent when you arrive. Social media is a great place to start your search. Keep an eye out for ads in local groups (especially expat groups) as subletting apartments is very common in Montréal.

Step 4: Purchase your plane ticket and fill out the SE 401-Q-102 form before applying for your health card

Before buying your plane ticket, make sure you shop around to find the best deals.

If you’re a French student, go to your nearest CPAM office and request the SE 401-Q-102 form before applying for your Régie d’assurance Maladie du Québec (RAMQ) health card. France has a special social security agreement with Québec, which may allow you to have some of your medical expenses reimbursed. Visit the RAMQ website for a full list of countries that have an agreement with Québec.

Step 5: Make the most of the time you have left at home

No doubt you’ll be excited about your big move, but make sure you take time to enjoy your last few days or weeks at home. You won’t be seeing your family, friends, favourite restaurants and hangouts for a while … but don’t worry, you’ll discover a lot of new favourites and familiar things once you arrive in Montréal!

I recommend that you make copies of your immigration documents before setting off and save them on a USB key. Getting into the country will be hard, if not impossible, without them so it’s best to have backups on hand.

If you’re arriving in Montréal in winter, make sure you’re prepared. Warm clothes and lots of layers are a must! I recommend, though, that you wait until you land to purchase things like a winter coat and snow boots. You’ll find a lot more choice and suitable options here … plus you’ll have less to carry in your suitcase!

Step 6: Arrive in Montréal – getting through immigration

After your long flight, you’ll need to pass through immigration at the airport. It’s nothing to worry about, but remember to bring copies of all your immigration papers—especially your passport, CAQ and study permit, which you’ll definitely be asked to show.

Step 7: Discover Montréal and all its opportunities

You’ve finally arrived in Montréal … it’s time to explore all the city has to offer! Don’t forget to finalize the last steps of the immigration process, like picking up your RAMQ health insurance card.

Checklist recap

  • Choose your university and program
  • Submit your documents to the university
    • Write your CV and cover letter
    • Get letters of recommendation where necessary
  • Check that your passport is still valid and renew it if needed
  • Follow the steps to apply for your CAQ once you’ve received your university acceptance letter
    • Go to your bank and get proof of your financial situation
  • Follow the steps to apply for your study permit once you have your CAQ in hand
  • Start looking for an apartment
  • Purchase your plane ticket
  • Fill in the SE 401-Q-102 form (if your country of origin has a social security agreement with Québec)
  • Spend time with your family and friends and eat at your favourite restaurant one last time
  • Make sure you keep your immigration papers with you to get through the border when you arrive
  • Enjoy the adventure!

Please note that the steps and procedures outlined in this article are based on the writer’s personal situation and experiences. They may differ depending on the international student’s country of origin.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.