Skip navigation

Foreign students to Canada will require new travel authorization

Move affects all students, faculty and visitors from formerly visa-exempt countries, except the U.S., starting next spring.


The Canadian government’s new electronic travel authorization — called an eTA — becomes mandatory for thousands of foreign students, faculty, researchers and visitors to Canada from visa-exempt countries in mid-March 2016. But the federal government would like travellers to apply for the inexpensive documentation ahead of time, and is getting the word out to universities and other groups that will be affected by the new rule.

The new requirement  puts Canada in step with the United States and several other countries that have similar programs designed to screen for security threats.

U.S. passport holders will be exempt from the new requirement, but everyone else who is accustomed to travelling to Canada without a visa must have an eTA or they will be denied entry: airlines will not allow them to board their flights. This includes citizens from most of Europe, including the United Kingdom, and from many Caribbean countries, Australia, and New Zealand. (It’s easy to check whether an eTA is needed by going to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website.)

Immigration authorities are urging people to beat the last-minute rush by applying online now. An eTA costs $7 and is valid for five years. According to a CIC statement, this period until mid-March “gives travellers the time to learn about and obtain their eTA before it becomes mandatory.” The aim is to process the application quickly — within 72 hours — and then the eTA is attached electronically to the applicant’s passport, showing up when the passport is scanned.

However, there’s a good chance that a number of the current holders of study and work permits could inadvertently find themselves barred from Canada after next March. CIC says that “International students from visa-exempt countries who get their study permit on or after August 1, 2015, will automatically be issued an eTA, along with their permit. However, study permit holders who received their permit on or before July 31, 2015, will need to get an eTA if they plan to leave Canada and return by air, starting March 15, 2016.”

The University of Toronto, with the largest cohort of international students in Canada, is aware of the coming eTA deadline but has opted to get through the busy fall orientation period before starting an information campaign to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks. No one wants to see a student who has gone home for a visit or left Canada for some reason stranded at a foreign airport because of a missing eTA.

“We’ve found that our ‘just-in-time’ messaging works very well with students,” said Miranda Cheng, director of U of T’s Centre for International Experience. She said the university’s international liaison officers are aware of the deadline and will get the word out closer to the deadline.

“Because this eTA is a new requirement, it’s important that everyone is aware.” She says this means holding workshops and meeting with students, in addition to the normal communication channels.

“The need for an eTA does seem to be under the radar right now,” said Jennifer Humphries, vice-president of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, who said she hopes applications aren’t left to the last minute.

CBIE will be offering courses for international student advisers this fall so they can meet the government’s criteria for advising on immigration matters. “Knowledge of the eTA is part of that program,” said Ms. Humphries, “so more international student advisers should know about it before the deadline.”

Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. John Smythe / September 2, 2015 at 17:22

    Temporary resident visa/permit: The amendments exempt the foreign nationals who hold a temporary resident visa or permit from the requirement to obtain an eTA.”


    “However, study permit holders who received their permit on or before July 31, 2015, will need to get an eTA if they plan to leave Canada and return by air, starting March 15, 2016.”

    • Léo Charbonneau / September 3, 2015 at 11:48

      We asked the writer of the article to explain the apparent discrepancy pointed out by Mr. Smythe, above. Her response:
      First: Citizenship and Immigration Canada is very clear on its web page for those coming to Canada to study that the information in the article is correct. That page was updated on August 13, 2015 so I would assume it does have the latest information that CIC officials are working under.

      My quibble is that CIC does not put that statement on the page that eTA applicants will most commonly go to. It is only on the general page dealing with students coming to Canada.

      Second: Anyone who has any doubts should do as CIC suggests and check out whether they need an eTA which can be done on CIC’s interactive section or by clicking the link embedded in the page above. As I understand it, the person is asked the name of the country to see if they are from a visa-exempt area. If it’s a yes, the person is asked about documentation they have and once a person checks that they have a study or work permit, they will be asked the date of issue. And they will get an instant answer for their particular case as to whether they need an eTA or not. It wouldn’t hurt to do this anyway since it’s all interactive.

      Third point: This eTA is for people from visa-exempt countries only since those who have permits and a visa have already had the security checks (part of visa approval). So those ones don’t have to worry if their documents are all dated prior to Aug 1. Again check on the site with the interactive questions:

    • Lynette Reid / September 9, 2015 at 14:20

      I am not a lawyer, but I gather from reading your source and a bit of searching the CIC site that a temporary resident permit is different from a work permit or a study permit. The holders of the last two kinds of permit need the eTA.

      • David Fernandez / September 11, 2015 at 07:51

        Actually, I believe that “temporary resident permit” means either a study permit or a work permit, and a “temporary resident visa” means either a study visa or a work visa. The “permit” is the document that allows you to stay in Canada, whereas the “visa” is the document that allows you to enter Canada. So students from a visa-exempt country only need the study permit but not the study visa, whereas students from countries that requires a visa need both (but if the visa expires and they don’t travel abroad it’s not a problem, as long as the permit is still valid). I know all this stuff after 4+ years of dealing with study permits and visas (as an international student), as well as seeing my wife deal with both study and work permits and visas (as the spouse of an international student) during that time.

Click to fill out a quick survey