- Have you ever considered moving to Canada on a study visa (and not PR Visa)? Is it worth it?
- In this article, Harsh Shah shares with us the reason why he chose a study visa and not a PR visa when moving to Canada. He also tells us how he settled in Canada and got his first job.
- Harsh is born and raised in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is is a qualified Chartered Accountant from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) and a CPA Canada Aspirant. Presently he is studying at Mohawk College, Ontario.
- Here is my story.
Since I was 9 years old, I wanted to be a cricketer. I started my cricketing journey by taking admission into one of the best coaching institutes in my city – Ahmedabad (Gujarat).
In the Indian Education system, your score in class 10 determines which college you can apply to. So most students in India tend to give class 10 a lot of importance…I did the same! I had to decide what I wanted to focus on – my studies or Cricket. Due to a lot of competition in cricket, my family preferred education over Cricket…most Indian families choose education over anything else!
Though my school friend went on to become the Best Bowler in the world and he is none other than Jasprit Bumrah.This taught me a lesson – Do what your heart says, work hard on it and someday you will be able to achieve your dreams.
Also, when I was 14 – years old school, our family met with a major accident in which my 3-year-old brother lost his right leg and my father had to undergo 9 major surgeries. There was a time when I used to take public transport to meet each one of them in different hospitals. So for me, the struggle started as a kid. My father and my brother motivated me to give my best at every stage in life. Whatever I am today, is because of their blessings and inspiration.
Pursuing Chartered Accountancy: My Journey
Moving on, I went on to score good marks in class 10 and 12. but since I was weak in math I decided to skip the Science stream and opt for Commerce. One of my neighbors was a Chartered Accountant and seeing the respect she got in society, I also decided to be a Chartered Accountant.
My CA journey started after class 12. It was not a very easy journey. I had classes from 8 am till 8 pm with only a one hour break in between. I had never studied so hard my entire life. However, the goal of becoming a Chartered Accountant in my first attempt motivated me to give my best. Luckily my dedication paid off and I passed all the three levels – CPT, IPCC and CA Final in my first attempt.
My parents made sure that everything was ready when I came home after a long day. They never pressurized me to study or clear in the first attempt which gave me mental freedom.
Challenges in Finding a Job After Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant
Even though I cleared all my CA exams in the first attempt I still faced a lot of difficulties to find a good job opportunity. I had applied for job opportunities at Big 4 Accounting firms and various MNC’s. I almost got through EY and PwC but was rejected in the final round. It was very disheartening.
Luckily, after 4 interviews, I finally got a job offer from TCS, Gujarat as a SAP analyst. At TCS, I had the option of choosing the FICO module or the BPC module (Business Planning & Consolidation module). I choose the BPC module.
My Supervisor and peers at TCS were really supportive. I was lucky to get an opportunity to work with my Australian and Middle Eastern counterparts. It was great learning new cultures, different styles of working, etc. I guess somewhere this interaction with different nationalities created the desire to move and live in another country.
Deciding to move to Canada on a Study Visa (and not a PR Visa!)
After working for nearly 2 years as SAP BPC Functional Consultant at TCS, I wanted to do something in the field of Personal and Corporate finance. I wanted to pursue new opportunities and move to a new country.
My friend and I researched for almost 3 to 4 months about the various countries we could move to study further.
We chose on moving to a new country on a study visa and not PR Visa. Honestly, I did consider moving to Canada on a PR Visa (Permanent Resident) however, I did not have enough Indian work experience to get the points required for a PR Visa. I was only 23 years old with 2 years of work experience when I decided to move to Canada. So instead of waiting for a few more years and getting more work experience, I decided to move to Canada on a study visa instead of a PR visa.
Also, I read stories of other students who moved to Canada on a study visa and settled in really well with great job opportunities. That convinced me that – If I invested money and went to Canada to study I would surely recover it in a few years.
I decided to leave my current job, try out a career switch at a young age and explore new opportunities in the field of finance in a new country – Canada. And after all the research we decided to pursue a course in Financial services and move to Canada on a study visa.
Quitting my job and applying to Colleges in Canada
Deciding on quitting my job and moving to Canada to study was a tough decision. I had to move out of my comfort zone to do this. Quitting my job also meant – NO FLOW OF INCOME. After getting used to a particular lifestyle and getting financially independent, starting all over again was a challenge. But I had to go for it if I wanted a better life.
Moving to another country also meant – Additional expenses and a life full of struggles. I now had to manage everything by myself from food to laundry to various household chores along with studying full time and working part-time in the extreme Canadian weather.
I applied for my study visa to Canada in May’17 and got it within 30 days. So everything went very fast. Once I got my visa, I resigned from my workplace (TCS) and served a 3 months notice period (In India most companies have a 2- 3 months of notice period). The process of admission to various colleges also took around 3 months as I had to apply to 4 to 5 colleges just as a backup. I finally got admission to Mohawk College, Ontario.
“Why did I decided to join Mohawk College (Ontario)?”
In Canada, education at College and University is different. Colleges mostly offer PG Diplomas or Certificate courses and in some cases a Bachelor’s degree. While universities offer proper degrees. In comparison to college, Universities in Canada are pretty costly. I would only recommend them if you have a decent amount of work experience (5 years at least) and thinking of embarking on an executive journey.
The fees at Universities generally range from $50k to $100k plus the additional living costs. Universities help in getting jobs easily and also in getting a permanent residency (PR) status as they have higher points in the ranking system. However, you have an alternative – Pursuing Professional certifications such as CPA, CFP, and CFA along with college courses. These certifications help you get more points.
Hence I decided to pursue a course from a College (and not University) along with a professional certification like CPA Canada.
When I was deciding on which college to join I researched thoroughly the various diploma courses offered by various colleges. I knew I would want to join a college only on the basis of the courses it offered and its faculty. I also did good research on the designations of the professors who taught at various colleges.
And finally, I decided to take up a diploma course in Financial Services at Mohawk College. It seemed to be the right fit for me as Mohawk College had a 2-year course with a 3-year work permit. I also had a lot of friends in Toronto so I wanted to consider colleges in Ontario only.
Every college provides course outlines on its website which makes it easier to select the courses. So you need to research thoroughly before applying to the college and make sure that that’s the best fit for you.
EXTRA TIP: Before deciding which college you want to apply, kindly do good research. Select the college which will be a good fit for YOU.
What are the visas to apply to Canada?
Mostly from my research, you can apply in 2 categories: PR Visa and Study Visa. They also have a sponsored work visa but that is not very easy to get.
Express Entry System
- Express Entry system in which you can show your international education as well as work experience and the certifications you have obtained such as CA, CS, CPA, etc.
- This will help you in scoring high points as the Canada immigration policy follows a Comprehensive Ranking System and the cut off generally ranges between 440 to 470 depending on the month because the immigration department holds a draw every month.
- Once you get a PR status, the fees for colleges and universities are less as compared to the fees paid by international students. Also, certain colleges offer continuing education courses in which you can pursue the courses online at your convenience.
- A study visa in Canada is quite expensive (I am on a study visa).
- You need to study for one year to get a one-year work permit. And if you apply for a 2-year programme (like how I did), you get a 3-year work permit.
- Students are generally confused between which course to take and for what duration – To be honest, I would recommend that if you have less work experience like 2 to 3 years or say you graduated recently, you should opt for a postgraduate diploma course in the top colleges of Canada.
- The education system in the college is pretty much practical and one gets to learn many new things such as communication skills, presentation skills, etc. Canada has a lot to offer in terms of professionalism and work-related skills.
- I took the help of an agent-based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat for my student visa. It might be a little complicated so I would advise students to take the support of a good agent. They do charge minimal fees around $150 and vary from state to state. Some agents do not even charge as the college pays them. Be very careful when dealing with agents!
Unless you come from an English-speaking country, Canadian universities will require you to submit proof of English language proficiency. For College or University, one needs to give Academic IELTS which takes around 1 to 1.5 months of preparation.
It requires at least 6 bands to get into the college program and at least 7 bands to get into the universities. If your score is more than 7.5 or 8 bands out of 9, some colleges do offer a small number of scholarships to international students.
I prepared for a month while working full time. I studied nearly an hour or 1.5 every day and scored 8 bands out of 9. Accepted language tests are:
- Cambridge English: Advanced
Proof of your language skills is not included on the list of required documents for a Canadian student visa. But it is a good idea to have some proof of English ability, just in case.
As far as agents are concerned, for colleges agents charge somewhere from 10000 to 15000 INR ($200) depending upon the profile. Also, certain colleges waive off a $ 100 to $ 150 application fee. So remember to ask your agent about the same.
“How did I fund my education in Canada?”
To study in a College in Canada, the minimum investment required for a 2-year college course is $ 30,000. You also need to have an additional $ 10k for a Guaranteed Investment Certificate in Canada which makes sure that the students have enough money to pay off their living expenses in the first year.
So, while working in India I had saved enough to fund my education for one full year. For the second year, my parents supported me and funded my education. I was able to manage some of the expenses through Scholarships and Part-Time jobs.
The monthly expense is around $ 500 – $ 600. The part-time jobs help you earn an of approx $ 840 per month. When I say part-time – we as students can work for a max of 20 hours a week. Thus with the help of a part-time job, one can survive and manage their daily expenses.
“How did I adjust after moving to Canada?”
As far as living is concerned, the most difficult thing after moving to Canada is adapting to the weather.
Generally, 5 months ranging from December to April, most parts of Canada witness snowfall and the temperature range from -20 C to 20 C in Ontario. However, there are few places where the temperature can go down to -40 C such as Calgary (Alberta) and Saskatchewan.
Apart from that most of the things are accessible from nearby grocery stores to retail giants.
Life without a car is really difficult if you do not live in the city. This is because of the weather.
So after getting a full-time job, one should try getting a car.
Also getting a Canadian Driver’s license can be a good document for you.
“How did I make arrangements for accommodation in Canada?”
I did not face any problems as far as the accommodation arrangements were concerned because few of my friends were already here and they helped me a lot in transitioning to the new environment.
The Indian community is growing day by day and you will find most of the Punjabi and Gujarati students in the colleges across Ontario.
Also, the International Department of the college might help in finding the necessary accommodation.
I would suggest that the student should research for accommodation beforehand from various websites such as Kijiji and Craigslist because hotels and Air BnB houses are pretty expensive even for a temporary stay.
There is this website known as – NewComers Canada. They have some amazing content about moving to Canada.
Finding my First Job in Canada
The Job search in Canada is somewhat tough mainly because of 2 reasons – Solid Networking and Getting References. Across all sectors, networking plays a much bigger role when it comes to finding a job in Canada. In Canada more than half of all vacancies are not advertised online, so making contacts is vital. If an employer needs to hire someone, they will ask their employees if they can recommend someone first.
As far as I have observed in a majority of cases, the technical knowledge matters less at the initial stage of getting a job.
Having good communication and presentation skills really help in Canada. So, do not get demotivated if you don’t speak proper English or have a different accent than the others, just be you, try and improve from your mistakes and you will be good at everything you do in the long run.
Surviving at the initial stage without a job is a bit difficult due to higher living expenses in Canada.
If you are job searching in Canada, keep this mind:
- Jobseekers should have their resumé on –LinkedIn, join industry groups online, go to conferences for their sector, and attend networking events.
- Get comfortable telling people – what you do and how they can help you.
- Your goal is to find a job, but don’t get lost in that. Your focus should be to build contacts and learn more about how you can improve your employability.
- One should start networking through LinkedIn. Also if one is a qualified Chartered Accountant from India or for that matter from any professional body like SAICA or CAANZ, one should get registered with their respective chapter or community in Canada.
What is my personal experience in finding a job opportunity? As mentioned above as an International Student – I am allowed to work only 20 hours a week. When I was in my first semester, I applied for many on-campus jobs (nearly 10 jobs) but did not get any interview calls. The on-campus opportunities were for Peer-Tutor, Audit Assistant, Payroll Assistant etc.
It was then that I realized many colleges do not offer jobs to students in the first semester as the transition takes time and they are not used to the Canadian way. So then I applied for different jobs such as Cashier and Customer Service Representative at Walmart. Luckily I got a job as a Cashier at Walmart (Remember when in Canada no job is small or big).
Working at Walmart taught me a lot of things such as communication skills, understanding the Canadian accent, getting used to the Canadian way of working etc.
After working for 4 months at Walmart, in the next semester, I again applied for 9 to 10 jobs on campus and got selected in 4 of them. For the last 10 months, I work as an Audit and Research Assistant in the Office of the VP of Mohawk College.
So Don’t give up after applying to many jobs. Just keep on applying while improving your skillset. Eventually, you will succeed for sure.
“What you should consider when applying for jobs in Canada as an Immigrant or a Student?”
- Applicants will be expected to have ‘Canadianised’ their CV, which can also be done using the examples and templates here.
- Canadian employers are very particular about how a resumé is laid out.
- Also, you are entering Canada as an immigrant, which means you need to work harder to impress employers as you are competing against candidates with local experience.
- Work hard on your cover letter and resume.
- The cover letter is the most important thing while applying for a job.
- The resume and the cover letter should be job specific because the employer has scanners in their systems which throws out the generalized resumes.
- The mistake that people makeover here is “they do not research more about the job, neither do they network on LinkedIn with people having the same job profile”.
- They prepare generalized resumes and cover letter and in the end, they do not even get a single interview call.
- Most of the interviews in Canada do not check your technical skills in detail if you have the required designations. However, they might ask you 2 or 3 small yet challenging questions testing your technical skills.
Cost of living in Canada
Toronto is a super expensive place to live in Canada. Rents are typically high in Downtown where you will find most of the companies and access to public transit.
The rent decreases as you go to distant areas. The monthly rent generally ranges from C$1500 to C$ 2000 for a 1 BHK house in Toronto which is the financial hub of Canada. So usually most students share the house with 3 to 4 other students during their college period.
As you move away from Toronto, the rent ranges from C$1000 to C$1200 for a 1BHK apartment. This area typically includes cities like Hamilton, Mississauga, Kitchener, Waterloo and so on.
Toronto requires a bus pass which costs C$120 a month and is valid only in Toronto. So to commute to other places you need to spend at least C$25 per trip. Some colleges in the other region offer free bus pass to students.
Groceries generally range from C$ 200 to C$ 300 depending upon the food requirements.
You can cut down on the groceries by getting it from retail giants such as Walmart as the prices are significantly cheaper than normal grocery stores. (Especially note this if you are a student as it can save you nearly 100 C$ a month).
Car installments and the insurance generally start from C$700 a month and can go up to C$1500 a month depending upon the car.
Best places to work in Canada for Finance professionals
Weather plays an important part in deciding where you want to work. This is because at times it gets depressing due to extreme rain or snow and you need to wear at least 3 layers of clothes when you go out.
In my opinion, Toronto is a great place to work. You can compare it with New York as most of the finance professional work here.
Majority of the Big $ forms and the banks have their presence here and is growing day by day due to the immigration policies and growth in the Canadian economy.
Another good place to work – Calgary in Alberta. However the weather there is too extreme and the economy keeps on fluctuating as it is mainly dependent on Oil.
Vancouver also has many opportunities for the finance professionals but the climate there is rainy throughout the year.
Can Company Secretary and Semi Qualified Accountants Apply to Canada?
There are a lot of opportunities for semi-qualified accountants in Canada.
They may take the college courses in the field of accounting and finance at the top colleges of Canada.
Certain colleges do offer the Co-Op (Internship) option in these programs which help them in getting the necessary Canadian work experience before applying to a permanent job position.
Generally, the internship ranges from 4 months to 12 months depending upon the program and the college.
I have also completed 2 levels of CS professional.
In my opinion, a qualified/ semi-qualified Company Secretary should pursue additional law courses in order to get a job in Canada.
There are job opportunities for Company Secretary qualified professionals as well. It is a booming market as there are many new laws coming up every year and they have good opportunities across Canada.
Should you volunteer in Canada – Why it is important?
Most of the organizations in Canada consider your volunteer hours as it is the most important thing on your resume.
You should be an active student in the college and the community which can increase your chances of getting jobs and also helps you in building a strong network in the community which can help you in the future.
Personally, I spent more than 200 hours in a span of 10 months, volunteering in different events across college and helped the international students in transitioning to the new environment in Canada, helping them in finding accommodation and part-time jobs.
Moreover, I am an active volunteer for the last 12 years at BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha – An International Socio- Spiritual Organisation having more than 55000 volunteers across the globe.
I volunteer in the community events as the host of the program, participate in the social awareness drama and skits, cleanliness drives and also managing the events such as Diwali.
I visit the temple once every week and volunteer there as a junior accountant. I believe in the motto – In the joy of others, lies our own – Pramukh Swami Maharaj and this is what motivates me to volunteer in the community.
CPA Canada exams test the case study skills of a candidate. There are basically 3 days of exams of 4-5 hours a day.
The technical skills hold intermediate importance whereas the writing accuracy and speed hold a lot of importance in this exam. It basically requires a thorough study of nearly 4 months for 3 hours a day and you need to practice a lot of cases to get acquainted with the actual marking style.
CPA Canada provides candidates with a searchable pdf during the exam but you should have read every topic so as to go through the pdf quickly during the exams. Mistakes I made while preparing was focusing a lot on technical stuff rather than practicing more cases.
Also while preparing, one should set a specific time limit while writing cases and adhere to it. One should find a mentor and study buddy to discuss and mark the case studies so that the topics can be understood easily and you can easily find out the mistakes and improve on them.
Also, the preparation is too stressful sometimes so do not forget to take a break in between. Go out for a weekend to a natural place, hang out with your friends and family members and rejuvenate yourselves prior to the start of the new week.
“When did I start with CPA Canada?”
As mentioned above, studying at a University gets you more points for your PR visa than studying in college. So what you can do is? In my opinion, you should opt for a college course along with a professional certification like – CPA, CFA as the points given are higher. So, instead of spending a hefty amount on University fees, one can opt for professional designations such as CPA and CFA.
I started my CPA studies around April’18 and it went on till September’18. I only worked a few shifts like 10 hours per week during this period as I had to make time for studies, online sessions and then had to do some household work too.
My college closed for 4 months in the summer session and so I had enough time to complete my work and studies.
Since I am already a Chartered Accountant from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) I had to give only Capstone 1 and Capstone 2.
I joined Prep Formula, an online coaching class. They had online webinars on the topics as well as certainly recorded webinars which helped me finish my technical. They also had a mentor assigned to me who marked my cases and help me augment my writing and technical skills.
Capstone 1 – A 30 min presentation and so I had to work with my peers on the case and prepare a presentation. Capstone 2 was a module in which we had to submit certain case studies every week and so I also had to make time for that.
My friends supported me a lot throughout the process and hence I was able to clear Day 1 out of the overall 3 days.
I felt heartbroken when I failed in just one subject in CPA Canada Finals. Sometimes you give your best and still you don’t get the results you want but that’s okay. It is a part of growing.
For me, it was too difficult to start the learning journey once again after 2 years of working full time but I cleared my CFA Level 1 and will be giving CPA Canada final exams again this Sept’19.
To all those reading this article – Always be a lifelong student, no matter what.
You can learn from people younger than you, your peers as well as your mentors or seniors.
To all those studying to be a Chartered Accountant or for that matter studying to be any professional – Play a sport.
Playing a sport can give you a good boost. I always played table tennis while studying.
Do what your heart says, work hard on it and someday you will be able to achieve your dreams.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Have you considered moving to Canada on a study visa? Do you know anyone who has moved to Canada on a study or PR Visa?
Or do you have any questions for Harsh? Comment and ask Harsh.
(Image edited by Ankit Lodhi)