Study in Canada without a study permit

Study in Canada without a permit

Xiaoyu, a 22-year-old Chinese citizen, arrived in Canada with a six-month authorization from an immigration officer. Eager to improve her English, she discovered a three-month ESL course at a local college. Unsure if she could study in Canada without a study permit for such a short course, Xiaoyu sought advice from an immigration consultant.


Most international students need a study permit to study in Canada. However, can you study in Canada without a study permit? Some exceptional situations allow foreign nationals to study in Canada without a permit.

Your status matters!

You may study in Canada without a permit if you fall under any of the following categories:

The rest of this article is about foreign nationals only.

Study in Canada without a study permit because of the nature of the studies

Sometimes, the nature of the studies exempts a person from a study permit. Here is a list:

  • Courses for self-improvement or general interest
  • Pre-school programs (i.e., before kindergarten)
  • Auditing courses (i.e., you only attend the class, but you do not take the exams or get credit)
  • Distance learning

Distance learning is a bit tricky. If you are outside Canada, you may attend online or distance training without a study permit. However, it would be best if you considered the following:

  • You need a study permit if part of the program is inside Canada and in person.
  • Generally speaking, distance learning does not qualify you for PGWP or similar benefits. Nonetheless, check out special measures because of COVID-19.

Study in Canada without a study permit because of the Regulations

The immigration Regulations, IRPR, exempt a few groups from obtaining a study permit, namely:

  • Private staff and family members of diplomats and similar foreign representatives. Of course, GAC assists with the determination of who qualifies for this option.
  • Members of the armed forces who are visiting Canada under the Visiting Forces Act! However, their family members may still need a study permit to study in Canada.
  • Registered Indians
  • The duration of the course is less than six months. Of course, they must complete the whole program in less than six months. Please also see the following section on Zhang v. Canada.

You cannot break down a lengthy educational program into smaller pieces and then take them without a study permit.

Zhang v. Canada and studying in Canada

The Immigration Regulations has an essential paragraph on the subject of studying in Canada for courses that are less than six months.

R188(1)(c) A foreign national may study in Canada without a study permit if the duration of their course or program of studies is six months or less and will be completed within the period for their stay authorized upon entry into Canada.

Let’s say you enter Canada, and at the port of entry, the officer allows you to remain in Canada for six months. You may only study in the first six months. Also, the course cannot be more than six months. If you extend your stay in Canada, you cannot continue studying in Canada after the initial duration they allowed you to remain in Canada. Of course, if the initial duration of stay upon entry was two years (for example, for work permit holders or super visa holders), you may study without a permit during those two years. However, the duration of the course must be six months or less.

The Federal Court emphasized this in Zhang v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2016 FC 964 (CanLII). In the case of Zhang v. Canada, the Federal Court dealt with Ms. Jin Zhang’s judicial review application of an Immigration Officer’s decision to deny her a study permit.

Ms. Zhang, a Chinese national, had taken a 14-week ESL program in Canada while on a visitor’s visa, an action the Officer considered unauthorized due to exceeding her initial authorized stay. The Court upheld this decision, agreeing that her studies were not completed within her originally authorized visit period. The Court also addressed but ultimately dismissed the relevance of a provision allowing for a study permit following unauthorized study, as the necessary conditions were not met. The request for judicial review was thus denied, with the Officer’s decision deemed reasonable.

What about minor children?

Most minor children may study in Canada without a permit. The Immigration Act, IRPA, defines which minors may study without a permit. Since this is a lengthy subject, I have published another article on it.

Studying without a permit after the expiry of a study permit

Section 189 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) addresses the situation of foreign nationals with expired study permits in Canada.

It states that if a foreign national has applied for an extension of their study permit under subsection 217(1) and has remained in Canada since their study permit expired, they can continue studying without a new permit until a decision is made on their application. However, this is contingent on the condition that they continue to adhere to the other terms of their original, now-expired study permit, excluding the expiry date. Essentially, this provision enables students to maintain their studies uninterrupted while their permit extension is being processed, as long as they abide by the rules of their initial permit.

Remember, if you leave Canada while IRCC has not decided on your new study permit, you may not go back to school upon re-entry unless they issue the new study permit.

Can I apply for a study permit even if I do not need it?

If your studies are less than six months, you may still apply for a study permit. Of course, there are some benefits to holding a study permit:

  • College or university students who hold a study permit may work on the school campus. Unfortunately, working off-campus is only available if the duration of studies is more than six months.
  • When holding a study permit, you may apply for another one from inside Canada.

Immigration officers are aware of these benefits. Therefore, you still need to convince them that you will leave Canada after your authorized stay. Also, remember that officers only issue a study permit if you are studying at a Designated Learning Institution.

Let us help!

Book a consultation session with me if you intend to study in Canada without a study permit. Alternatively, fill out the following form if you are facing an issue.

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.