Indian international students navigate education in Canada

‘When it comes to housing, you have to sort it out yourself’

Image by: Herbert Wang
Students move in upon receiving their visa.

Even before Faraz Haq arrived in Kingston last September from India to study Business Analytics at St. Lawrence College (SLC), he had concerns about his transition to Canada.

In an interview with The Journal, Haq said his initial concern as an international students was securing visas, papers, and documents because there are many consulting services.

“There are 700 students [at SLC] that are being deported because there are a lot of fake consultancies there,” Haq said. “We have to keep ourselves alert.”

“[Fake consulting agencies] take advantage of the fact you’re nervous—you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Visa consultants specialize in assisting individuals and organizations with visa applications and are the direct ladder rung before visas are issued by the local embassy or consulate.

This is in addition to the panic beforehand of wondering if a visa will arrive on time or be rejected.

Finding accommodations is another obstacle international students face. Haq said he struggled finding a place to live when he arrived in Canada.

“As international students, everybody has standard main concerns. One is housing, the other one is finding a job […] It’s a part-time job so that you can manage your finances,” Haq said.

Haq spent three hours attempting to find a place to stay for the night before his dad, who was back in India, could book him a hotel for the night.

Recalling seeing a house-shaped logo on a booth at the airport, Haq grew hopeful it was the key to a housing solution—unfortunately this was sorely not the case, as it was a Fido kiosk,.

“On [Facebook] marketplace, it took me about three days to find something in Kingston. It’s difficult to find accommodations on time and a lot of my friends face the same thing,” Haq said.

Haq said his friends found accommodations that were unreasonable due to the lack of a signed lease, which provides tenants legal security. On the contrary, if they did manage to sign a lease, they were bound to stay in a place for a set period of time, and risk being stuck in a housing situation that didn’t suit their needs.

Instead, these rentals serve as an “emergency place” giving leverage to landlords since they’re able to “kick out their tenants whenever.”

The Legatum Prosperity Index ranks Canada at 13 internationally in economic prosperity.

On paper, economic prosperity is ranked by statistical factors. It’s a completely different experience when an individual comes to a new country. Haq said life in India is much more affordable.

Living in Abu Dhabi for 17 years before India, Haq saved a significant sum. Canada was much more expensive despite the economic prosperity indexes. Rent prices are where Haq said people are facing most of their difficulties.

“I’ve spoken to a few people who lived in Kingston before […] They said the rent prices were low—they were different before and now they’ve gone higher,” he added.

Haq’s comments are in line with the recent rise in concerns about how international students are faring, with many of them reporting that reality in Canada hasn’t matched their expectations.

“Initially, we thought that the first connection we would have is within the student services in our college, [thinking] they’re going to guide us,” he said.

While the student services at SLC were courteous in helping international students sort out study and work permits, as well as securing internships, their lack of help in assisting with living accommodations remained a central problem.

“When it comes to housing, you have to sort it out yourself,” Haq said.

Although housing accommodations proved to be a struggle for Haq amid other international students he knows, he had a good experience in Canada regarding the education he received at SLC, which he said was better than his prior education in India.

“I got to learn a lot of new things. One of our fundamental subjects—and this is the core subject—is statistics so I got to learn a lot about statistics and coding,” he said. “It was a good experience, and I got a lot of new things out of it.”

Other than the education he received, the multitude of diversity and multiculturalism in Canada shaped Haq’s perspective significantly.

Shivanjali Bansal, ArtSci ’25, reported a different experience as an international student at Queen’s University.

Bansal grew up in India and moved to Canada for university.

When applying to universities in Canada, Bansal hired an immigration firm to help her with the process, despite doing her own research. Nonetheless, like Haq, Bansal wasn’t aware of the high cost of housing in Kingston prior to moving.

Bansal believes international students at Queen’s tend to be on the wealthier side because of the difference in tuition fees for domestic and international students. Despite this, she feels Queen’s can better support international students by giving them priority during residence selection in first year.

“It’s especially difficult for international students to have to find a house on top of everything else and literally moving to another continent for the foreseeable future,” Bansal said.

Robin Watts has been a landlord in Kingston for 22 years. He rents rooms in four houses to a total of 23 tenants.

Watts has observed a noticeable increase in international students seeking to rent in Kingston.

“We do have a lot more international St. Lawrence students. We have a lot of students that come from India, from Nigeria. Those tend to be the two places where we see a lot more people coming from,” Watts told The Journal in an interview.

When interacting with prospective tenants who are international students, Watts noted they tend to find the rents in Kingston expensive.

“We had several international students who have said to us that they weren’t aware of the expenses they would face when they would come to Kingston,” Watts said.

“I sense that they’re very stressed, because a lot of them want to negotiate on the rent. I didn’t see this in the past, but it almost seems to be a consistent pattern in recent times.”

Watts noted property taxes and insurance for student properties are extremely high, contributing to the rising rent prices in the Kingston housing market.

Watts mentioned many international students specifically want fully furnished rooms, which usually requires higher rent payment to supplement furniture costs.

Watts observed international students tend to ask if they can share their rooms, and almost half of the international students interested in renting a room at one of his properties has requested to share their room.

Though Watts said his leases stipulate the rooms he rents are single occupancy only, according to Arrive, a website dedicated to providing information to newcomers to Canada, a landlord can’t include a clause in a lease restricting a tenant from having guests, roommates, or additional occupants, such as a family member.

Despite the increasing numbers of international students at SLC, Queen’s has seen a decrease in international enrolment in recent years.

In a statement to The Journal, the University said 4,037 international students across 120 countries throughout all years and disciplines are attending Queen’s.  They represent approximately 14 per cent of all full-time students. These figures don’t include distance, non-credit, part-time, or outgoing exchange students.

The 2022-23 Queen’s Enrolment Report indicated this figure represents a 0.6 per cent decrease in the international student population from 2021-22. The report didn’t suggest any reasons for the decreased enrolment.

The report said the university’s international undergraduate recruitment team grew with the hiring of a Regional Manager of International Enrolment (Asia) who oversees three embedded recruiters and an expanded recruitment agent network.

In addition, new admission awards were introduced to further diversify enrolment from prioritized countries, including India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Kenya, according to the report.

To support international students, Queen’s aims to offer various supports such as hosting online sessions and providing one-on-one advising. In their statement, the University emphasized the Off-Campus Living Advisor (OCLA) as a resource, who provides resources for new and current students attempting to navigate the Kingston rental market.

Queen’s offers residence for first-year undergraduates, and approximately 500 rental units in houses in the University District, John Orr Tower, and the An Clachan complex, the statement added.

Regarding short-term housing options, the OCLA has recently been promoting the Canada Homestay Network. This program allows Canadian families to host international students.

“This can be an excellent option for exchange students seeking short term rentals. Students who live in Homestay become part of the family, have opportunities to practice their language skills, and fully immerse themselves in Canadian culture,” the University said.

“Housing affordability and availability are long-term national issues, impacting many communities. In Kingston, they require collaboration among Queen’s campus colleagues, the City, local developers and landlords, and the Province of Ontario,” the University added.

“The university will continue to work with students, landlords, city partners, and government, to support students on this important issue.”


India, International, migrant, Student, student services, workers

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