The time is finally here: You’ve been accepted into a strong program of your choice at a top quality Canadian university. You’ve undergone the mandatory medical checks and been given the all clear. You’ve booked your flights. You’ve even (sigh of relief!) finally managed to secure that precious little visa sticker, held close by your passport pages.
In all practical ways – you’re already an international student, and you’re already on your way! Now there’s just one hurdle left to overcome. Specifically: what to pack?
Below are a number of items and needs you might want to consider. But first, before you start throwing things into your suitcase, you’ll want to find out what will already be provided by your university.
The typical Canadian university dorm room: It contains the following items: a bed (no linens), a dresser and set of drawers, a desk, desk lamp (sometimes), and chair. Anything else, however, is up to you. But the good news is that any room basics, including bed sheets and pillowcases, duvets, laundry items, toiletries, etc., can easily be picked up (usually at reasonable prices) at local Canadian stores. Just make sure that you budget for these items if you plan to buy them once in Canada.
Phones: Sometimes there is also a desk-phone included in your room, but even if this is available, it typically only makes free calls between dorm rooms and/or local numbers – for any long-distance or overseas calls, you will be billed. If you want to bring a mobile phone with you from home, make sure it takes a SIM card (so you can go out and buy a Canadian calling plan), and that it not only works in North America (for this reason, tri or quad-band phones are best), but that it is also ‘unlocked’ to do so. Alternatively, you can, of course, buy a mobile once in Canada, usually as part of a monthly or yearly plan.
Or, if you would prefer not to use a mobile phone, you can always try Skype to call or chat with friends or family back home (being free, this is a great way to save some money), or pick up some basic international calling cards – which can be found at local convenience stores near campus. Ask around for which brand offers the best rates to the country you want to call, but on average, a $20 Canadian card can give you anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours of international calls – just depends which brand you’re using, and what countries you’re calling. These can be used on any phone, including standard public pay-phones that can be found throughout university campuses.
Computers: Although it’s obviously extremely handy to have your own computer, as a Canadian university student, the great news is that you will have access to campus computer labs, the use of which is included as part of your school tuition. Meaning
you don’t need your own! If you still want to buy one, however, you’ll likely want to wait until you get to Canada to do so – as campus computer stores often have great deals on student electronics, as do local office supply shops, such as Staples, Best Buy or Radio Shack (many of which have September ‘back to school’ sales). So unless you run into a great deal or are planning to buy a black market laptop back home (not advisable), it’s likely going to be cheaper in Canada. Another bonus of buying in Canada is that it will come with a local warranty/service plan – which can be extremely useful and money-saving if you ever run into problems.
Medicines and toiletries: Although typically very heavy (and therefore likely to take up a huge portion of your free luggage allowance), toiletries can be a tricky decision – whether to bring some of your own (advisable if you’re particularly hooked on certain brands) or buy in Canada. The good news, however, is that all the basics are available in Canada – sometimes even right on campus – with lots of brands to choose from.
Other items you might want to consider bringing include:
A formal dress or traditional outfit from your own country: Although Western-style formal wear is the norm in Canada, one of your own country’s traditional outfits can be a terrific alternative – especially for any international student events! Regardless of whether it’s Western or not, however, you’ll still want at least one formal outfit for special occasions.
A good dictionary is always useful: Whether it be English – your language or your language – English. Although English only dictionaries are widely found in Canada, a proper one in your own language may be more difficult to track down.
Electronics: If you want to bring radios, alarm clocks, hairdryer, etc., with you, be aware than North American outlets are a different shape/voltage from many countries. In Canada, the standard is 120V, and outlets take plugs with two flat prongs, or two flat and one round prong. You can always buy an adaptor to change the plug-style, but voltage is more tricky. It might be worth buying such items once in Canada – which come at pretty standards prices when compared with other countries, and often have good warranties in case of breaks.
Any documentation you might like to switch over: For example, if you already possess a driver’s license in your home country, but would like to apply for a Canadian one, be sure to bring your original with you.
Finally, think carefully over what you need to carry on your person: When travelling to your new school destination. Besides all official documents – passport, visa, study permit, school registration documents, proof of sufficient funds available (a bank draft, transfer, letter of credit, etc) – you also want to pack anything that you can’t stand the thought of losing on your way. This includes laptops, personal mementos, any necessary medication, etc.
And, in order, to be safe, it’s also a good idea to carry about $100 worth of hard currency, just in case you need it, either to get to your university (to take a taxi, for example), or in the first couple of days at school. Canadian dollars are of course preferable for this (which you can try to purchase abroad, or get from an ATM machine at the airport – if your ATM card works in Canada (another good thing to check before leaving home!).
But in the event that’s not possible, try to obtain a currency that is easily exchangeable once you land in Canada: US dollars, Euros or British pounds being the best.
– ARWEN KIDD
To find out more about applying for Canadian universities as an international student and for more information on your academic career in Canada, visit www.canada123.org
• ARWEN KIDD currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.