As you get ready to send your child to school in the U.S., your family is surely very excited — and likely a little anxious at the same time. To help prepare your child for a smooth transition to a new country, new school and new experiences, this checklist covers key documents, steps and considerations — so your child can focus on school … and you can sleep better at night.
Canadian students do not need a student visa in order to study in the U.S., but they do need an I-20 certificate from their university. If your child has already been accepted as a student, their school has likely issued an I-20 form by this point.
At the time your child receives their I-20 form, they are registered with SEVIS, the U.S. student tracking system. They are assigned a SEVIS number and are required to pay a registration fee — these steps satisfy their eligibility requirements.
By now, this should sound familiar to you, but if your child has not yet received their I-20 form or SEVIS registration, be sure to contact the school. You’ll want your child to have all their documents in order well before they leave.
The I-20 certificate can be used to apply for an F-1 or M-1 student visa, but this is not required for Canadians studying in the U.S. Whether entering on an I-20 certificate or student visa, students will not be able to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the start of their study or program.
U.S. border crossing paperwork
When crossing the border to begin studying in the U.S., students will need to show a few things to the officer at the port of entry:
- Their Canadian passport
- The original I-20 certificate received from their university
- Proof that the SEVIS fee has been paid
- Proof of ability to pay for school fees and living expenses while in the U.S., such as family bank statements, stock statements, financial aid letters, scholarship letters or proof of the employment status of the individual(s) supporting the student
- Proof of ties to Canada, such as rent receipts, mortgage payments and/or utility bills, which serve as proof of Canadian residence
- Once admitted to the U.S., your student will receive an I-94 record, which outlines the terms of their admission and is used to document their legal status in the U.S., including their length of stay and departure
Students entering the U.S. by land should be issued an I-94 paper card. If your student enters by air, their I-94 record will be entered into the online system. They will need to print it out upon arrival to the U.S. as evidence of legal status and keep it on hand for future border crossings.
Learn more about I-94 records here
U.S. health insurance for Canadians
Given the high cost of health care in the U.S., it’s important for Canadian students studying across the border to be sufficiently insured. In fact, Canadian students are generally required to enroll in their school’s international student health insurance program or else demonstrate that they have insurance comparable to the plan offered before they can begin their academic year. Typically, insurance that is compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be required. Keep in mind, health coverage provided by your student’s province of residence will not be sufficient, as it will not pay for the costs of U.S. health care (and would require them to return to Canada for non-emergency care). Travel insurance is typically not accepted either as it’s designed for short trips — not for students living in the U.S. for an academic year or more. Check with your student’s school to understand the health insurance requirements and coverage offered.
U.S. bank account
It’s a good idea for your student to open a U.S. bank account1 once they arrive to study in the U.S., so they don’t need to worry about tricky conversions or foreign exchange costs. A U.S.-based account will also allow them to easily pay for their expenses — including rent, tuition, books, meals, transportation and more — through U.S. checks, online banking transfers and cash accessed at an ATM.
U.S. credit card
When you use a Canadian credit card in the U.S., you’re often charged a foreign transaction fee, which is typically 2.5 per cent of the amount of what you purchase. These fees can really add up, especially for a student who is trying to make every dollar count. Given the convenience of credit cards — and the fact they’re often needed to secure a cell phone plan, an apartment or a rental car — a U.S.-based card1 is a worthwhile addition to your student’s wallet.
It’s not always easy for international students to get financial aid from U.S. colleges and universities as much of that aid is reserved for U.S. students, and Canadian students aren’t eligible for U.S. student loans. However, it’s possible and worth exploring the opportunities through the student’s school. You can also look at other grants and scholarships available for international students, such as those from scholarshipscanada.com.
Keep in mind, that financial aid received by international students (by a U.S. institution) is subject to U.S. income tax. If your student doesn’t have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN), they will need to complete an application for a federal Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Learn how to apply for an ITIN
Tax obligations for Canadian students studying in the U.S.
Every international student has to file a tax return in the U.S. — regardless of whether or not they’ve earned an income while in the U.S. As a non-resident in the U.S., they will need to file what is known as a Form 8843 before the deadline. Typically, the deadline for filing Form 8843 is the same as any tax return that’s due — April 15th (recently this deadline was extended due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic). If your student earned an income in the U.S., they must also file a tax return — Form 1040NR or Form 1040 NR-EZ as well as Form 8843.
Compliance with the IRS is one of the conditions of the student visa (and if your child wants to get a job in the U.S. in the future, the handling of U.S. taxes can affect future Green Card applications). It’s worth working with an accountant or a tax filing service to help make filing U.S. taxes easy and worry-free.
Attending college or university for the first time is exciting for any student. Going to school in another country adds an extra layer of adventure and perhaps a little bit of added anxiety. By getting your student’s paperwork and finances in order well in advance, you can help get them ready for what’s surely going to be a remarkable year ahead.
Sending a loved one to school in the U.S.?
Help set them up for a seamless transition to life down south.
Learn more about helping students manage money in the U.S.
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This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.