Preparing Your Student for School in the USA: A Checklist for Parents

By RBC Modified on September 09, 2021

Studying abroad for a semester? Be sure your student has everything they need to succeed outside of Canada!

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Preparing Your Student for School in the USA: A Checklist for Parents

With a student heading to the US for post-secondary school, you want to make sure they have everything they need so they can focus on their studies — and not worry about their status or their finances. This checklist can help you and your student prepare for the year ahead.

As you get ready to send your child to school in the US, your family is surely very excited — and likely a little anxious at the same time. To help prepare your student for a smooth transition to a new country, new school and new experiences, this checklist covers key documents, steps and considerations — so your student can focus on school ... and you can sleep better at night.

Student status

Canadian students do not need a student visa in order to study in the US, but they do need an I-20 certificate from their university. If your student has already been accepted, their school has likely issued an I-20 form by this point.

At the time your student receives their I-20 form, they are registered with SEVIS, the US 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 student has not yet received their I-20 form or SEVIS registration, be sure to contact the school. You'll want your student 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 US Whether entering on an I-20 certificate or student visa, students will not be able to enter the US more than 30 days before the start of their study or program.

US border crossing paperwork

When crossing the border to begin studying in the US, your student 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 US, 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 US, 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 US, including their length of stay and departure

Students entering the US 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 US as evidence of legal status and keep it on hand for future border crossings.

Learn more about I-94 records here.

US health insurance for Canadians

Given the high cost of health care in the US, it is 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 US 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 US for an academic year or more. Check in with your student's school to understand the health insurance requirements and coverage offered.

US bank account

It's a good idea for your student to open a US bank account1 once they arrive to study in the US, so they don't need to worry about tricky conversions or foreign exchange costs. A US-based account will also allow them to easily pay for their expenses — including rent, tuition, books, meals, transportation and more — through US checks, online banking transfers and cash accessed at an ATM.

US credit card

When you use a Canadian credit card in the US, 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 US-based card is a worthwhile addition to your student's wallet.

Financial aid

It's not always easy for international students to get financial aid from US colleges and universities as much of it is reserved for US students — and Canadian students aren't eligible for US student loans. However, it is possible, and worth exploring the opportunities through your student's school and other grants and scholarships available for international students such as through ScholarshipsCanada.com.

Keep in mind, financial aid received by international students (by a US institution) is subject to US income tax. If your student doesn't have a US 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 US

Every international student has to file a tax return in the US — regardless of whether or not they've earned an income while in the US As a non-resident in the US, 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 US, 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 student wants to get a job in the US in the future, the handling of US taxes can affect future Green Card applications). It's worth working with an accountant or a tax filing service to help make filing US 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.


Learn more about helping students manage money in the US

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