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International Student Information

International Students

As an international graduate student, you will likely have many questions on various topics.
The best place to find answers is definitely International Student Centre (ISC). Visit them at 33 St. George Street, and you will be provided with lots of useful information. During late August and early September, they provide reception and orientation for the new students.
ISC Website provides information on various issues, such as visa and immigration information, health insurance, housing, obtaining a driver's license, etc.

This website contains the information that is not readily available from other sources.

Language Resources

If you wish to improve your English language skills, there are many resources available at U of T, including free courses:

  • Office of English Language and Writing Support offers free language courses specifically designed for graduate students who are non-native speakers.
  • ISC's English Conversation Program offers "an informal, casual and fun opportunity for international students to practice speaking English and gain insight into Canadian culture and life at the University of Toronto (U of T)". These courses are free for international students, and are a great opportunity to practice your non-academic conversational skills.
Many online resources are also available at Writing at the University of Toronto, and Engineering Communication Centre websites.

Social Insurance Number (SIN)

You will have to obtain a social insurance number (SIN) if you receive teaching assistantship or research assistantship.
You should request SIN as soon as possible because you won't be paid before you have a valid SIN, and it takes from 3 to 5 weeks to get it. Request can be filed in any Human Resources Centre office. Two offices that are closest to the campus are at 25 St. Clair Ave. East and at 900 Dufferin Street (inside Dufferin Mall). To search for other locations go here.
You will need your passport, study permit, AND a contract of employment. The contract of employment is a signed job offer if you hold a teaching assistant position. Otherwise, ask your supervisor for some form of employment contract (it has to be in a form of contract stating that you will be employed and paid by U of T).
HINT: If you have troubles with some tiny detail that an officer at Human Resources insists on, you can try going to another office. Different officers can be picky about different things. :)

Getting a Phone/Cell Phone & Calling Back Home

To install a new home telephone line, visit Bell Canada's website. Bell has previously been the only telephone provider. However, other companies (like Sprint Canada) have entered the market recently as well, and they may offer some better deals.
Local calls to Toronto and suburbs are free from home phones, and cost $0.25 from phone booths. Local calls include area codes 416, 647, and most of 905. If you have a phone in your office you can call for free, but please be considerate of others who may want to use the phone.

Obtaining a cell-phone (also called wireless phone) is relatively straightforward if you want a prepaid service (also called "pay as you go" or "pay & talk" by some operators).
There are several providers (alphabetically): Bell, Fido, Rogers, and Telus.
Getting a monthly package (where you pay monthly charges) is usually not so easy, because some providers require either a credit rating (more about this in the "Credit Card" section), or cash deposit.
If you plan to send text messages to your home country, verify with the provider that they support sending text messages to your home country (not all of them do). The easiest way to verify this is to go to one of their shops, and ask them to give you a sample cell phone to test it on the spot, and send a message to someone home.
Phone calls on your cell-phone are charged per minute of "air time". This means that you pay whether you place or receive a call, and even if you dial a toll-free number. Some plans offer free minutes during evenings and weekends, and Fido even offers a CityFido plan, with unlimited local calls for a fixed monthly fee ($45). This may be cost-effective, depending on how much you use your phone.
Text messages are charged per message sent, but some providers also charge for the messages received.

The cheapest way to make long-distance calls from Canada is by using long-distance calling cards.
There are numerous calling cards available, and rates vary significantly depending on the country you are calling. Many convenience stores have posters with rates for various calling cards and destination countries, so check before buying.
Some places offer calling cards for less than their face value (e.g. you can get $10 calling card for $8). There are many such stores in Chinatown (along Spadina from Queen to College).

Living in Toronto

The life in Toronto is a lot of fun. As one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, Toronto has a lot to offer:

  • ISC offers lots of trips and activities.
  • There are many clubs and organizations at U of T which you may be interested in. Check out the list of clubs at Student Affairs website.
  • There are bunch of events around town all year round. Many of these events are in open, and for free. For listings of such events and much more visit Now Magazine or To search for specific venues, visit
  • If you like reading, your student card (T-card) entitles you to borrow books from any library at U of T, whether related to your studies or not. Check U of T Libraries website. Also, membership in Toronto Public Library is free, so check out what they have to offer.

Getting a Credit card

To get a credit card in Canada you need to have the credit rating. Credit rating is essentially a record containing your financial past. This includes your credit cards, bank loans, etc. Yes, it's absurd! To have a credit rating you need a credit card, and to get a credit card you need a credit rating. Here's the way to get around this paradox.

First of all, you have the best chances of getting a credit card from the bank where you have an account (chequing or savings). If you are EXTREMELY lucky, they may give you a credit card even without the credit rating, if you manage to persuade them that you have a reliable source of income (such as scholarship/assistantship). If that works for you - great! If not, there is another way, but it involves locking some of your money in the bank. Here's how it works:

If your application for a credit card with your bank gets refused, go to the bank, and tell them that you wish to leave a COLLATERAL for your credit card. Collateral is basically an amount on your account that will be locked (meaning that you will not be able to withdraw it) for as long as you have the credit card. Collateral is usually slightly higher than your credit limit (e.g. if you want $500 credit limit on your credit card, you may have to lock up to $700 on your account). That's the way the bank insures itself. If you do not pay your credit card debt on time, they will use that money to cover the debt.
If you decide to do this, it is suggested that you open a savings account, and put money to be locked to it. That way, the money will bring you some interest. None of the money locked is lost if you pay your debts on time, and the money is "unlocked" once you cancel your credit card.

Now why would you want to lock your money indefinitely? The answer is, it doesn't have to be locked indefinitely. After about 6 months, you will have a credit rating which will enable you to get another credit card (This is providing that you have used your first credit card, and paid all debts on time. If you don't pay your debts your credit rating will be really bad for a long time!!!). You can obtain another credit card from department stores, but make sure that they offer a credit card that can be used anywhere (such as American Express, MasterCard or Visa). Once you get this new card, you can cancel your first credit card, and get your money unlocked. Now you have a credit card and a credit rating, and your money back. Congratulations!

WARNING: Always try to pay the full amount shown on your credit card statement if possible. Interest rates credit card companies charge (if you don't pay the full amount within grace period, which is around 20 days) are large, and you don't want to waste your money on those.

EECG graduate admin
Last updated Sept 2004