Studying in USA vs. Canada: Which is Best for You? 

 October 30, 2021

By  Chuky Ofoegbu

Country flag for USA vs Canada

Both Canada and the United States can offer great opportunities for international students. However, there are some crucial factors to consider when deciding which country you should study as an international student.

This blog post will settle this million-dollar question by objectively describing what you can expect from studying in each country. You will understand which country is best for you, considering the higher education quality, higher education cost, quality of life, employment opportunities, and immigration policies.

Quality of Higher Education in USA vs. Canada

When comparing the quality of higher education in the US vs. Canada, the two countries vary significantly in their university rankings.

According to the QS World University Rankings of 2022, only 2 Canadian universities make it into the top 100 list globally.

In contrast, US universities dominate this ranking, with 29 universities in the top 100 list (with 18 universities in the top 50).

However, when looking at university rankings, you should consider that they are heavily weighted on the output and quality of academic research at these universities, which is easier to measure. And not so much on the quality of teaching.

Therefore, it is fair to say that the USA is slightly better than Canada in terms of academic research quality.

But when considering the quality of teaching across US and Canadian universities, you will find that both countries are about the same.

So if you are an international student who does not prioritize attending a prestigious research-focused university, the US and Canada are a close call.

However, suppose you are looking for an outstanding university with a high ranking that is also research-focused; in that case, the US has more to offer.


- Canadian and American higher education institutions are pretty much equal in terms of the quality of teaching
- International students who do not care about research will find that both countries offer great opportunities, but international students looking for an outstanding university with a high ranking that is also research-focused will find more opportunities in the US

Cost of Higher Education in USA vs. Canada

When it comes to the cost of education for international students, a Canadian education will cost you significantly less than an American one.

This holds true when you compare the average cost of higher education in public and private institutions in the United States to public and private institutions in Canada.

For example, as of 2021, an international student pursuing an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Alberta - the best and largest public university in the Canadian Province of Alberta - pays a tuition fee of about 32,000 USD per year.

In contrast to that, an international student studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan - the best and largest public university in the state of Michigan - would need to pay a tuition fee of about 56,000 USD per year.

This means that an international student studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Alberta will spend about one-third less than an international student studying at the University of Michigan.


- College tuition in Canada will cost you significantly less than a US university, while the quality of education is about the same

Value of Higher Education in Both Countries

By combining the cost of higher education and the quality of higher education, we get a single comparison factor: the value of higher education.

In other words, how much value do you get for your money studying in Canada vs. the United States?

As an international student, studying in Canada is more valuable for your money, as the average cost of education is significantly less than in the USA. At the same time, the quality of higher education is about the same between both countries.

Quality of Life in USA vs. Canada

When deciding where to study, it is essential to consider the quality of life. This includes factors such as health care, cost of living, and weather conditions.

There is a clear winner when comparing the healthcare costs between both countries.

In general, health care costs in Canada are significantly cheaper than those in the United States.

This is because the health care system in Canada is publicly funded. In contrast, that of the United States is mainly privatized.

For the cost of living, there are significant variations across regions in both countries. So there is no clear winner here.

Generally, in both countries, you would find a much higher cost of living in densely populated regions than in less dense areas.

For example, the cost of living will be much more expensive for international students studying in either Toronto, Canada, or New York City, USA.

In contrast, it would be cheaper for international students studying in Guelph, Canada, or Birmingham, USA.

Some other benefits come with studying in a densely populated region in the USA or Canada. Such as the cost of public transportation.

For instance, there will be much more affordable options if you're studying in a city with an extensive metro system like Toronto, Canada, compared to Birmingham, USA.

For the weather conditions, the USA offers various climate zones, such as warm and dry California or humid Florida. In contrast, Canada offers a more uniform climate that is cold but has less variation in weather than the USA does.

Generally speaking, many international students prefer the United States for its varied climate options compared to Canada.

So if pleasant weather all year round is an essential factor to you, studying in the USA will be a better option than in Canada.


- Compared with the USA, health care in Canada is more affordable.
- The cost of living in both countries varies from region to region. Nevertheless, it'll be much cheaper for international students studying in less densely populated regions like Guelph or Birmingham than Toronto or New York City, respectively.

Employment Opportunities in Canada vs. America

The employment opportunities for international students are an essential factor when deciding where to study.

For many international students, the opportunity to work abroad before or after completing their program is an excellent return on their international education investment.

When comparing both countries by population and gross domestic product, the USA has a population of 320 million people and a GDP of USD 21.4 trillion (2019), while Canada only has 35 million people with a GDP of USD 1.7 trillion.

So statically, there are far more employment opportunities in the USA than in Canada, as the USA has a much larger economy than Canada.

Therefore, when it comes to the job opportunities available to international students before and after completing their program, the United States is the clear winner here!

Canadian vs. American Immigration Policies for International Students

As an international student, your immigration experience in a foreign country could be broken down into different phases, depending on your needs.

First is the experience of obtaining a student visa to study abroad.

Once you begin your studies, you will have new immigration needs, such as the opportunity to work abroad before and after completing your studies. 

Finally, once you begin your professional career, you might want to transition from a temporary visa to a permanent visa. 

You'll find that each of these immigration needs come with challenges unique to each country.

Obtaining a Student Visa to the USA vs. Canada

Comparatively, it is much easier to obtain a student visa to Canada than it is to the USA. 

Obtaining a Work Permit as an International Student

Both Canada and the United States allow international students to work before and after the completion of their studies. 

However, there is an open work permit policy in Canada that allows international students to work in jobs that are not related to their program of study. 

This differs significantly from the United States, where international students must have a job offer related to their program of studies. 

Furthermore, at the completion of your Canadian education, you can pursue employment using the Canadian Post Graduation Work Permit. This allows international students who have studied in Canada for more than two years to work in Canada for up to three years. 

In contrast, US international students can only work for three years after completing their program if they obtained degrees in the STEM fields. 

Obtaining Permanent Residency for Working Professionals

Another immigration policy to consider is the ease with which skilled immigrants could obtain permanent residence in either country. 

There are no caps on how many people can obtain permanent residence from any one country into Canada. 

However, with America's employment-based immigration system, employment-based immigrants are capped at 140,000 people per year. 

Furthermore, immigrants from populated countries such as India and China are subject to annual country limits.

As a result, immigrants from China and India could face wait times longer than 10 years before they transition into a permanent resident status.

To summarize, the employment-based immigration system in the United States is more selective and challenging for skilled immigrants.

This makes Canada a much better option than America regarding post-study immigration!


- Canada offers international students a direct pathway to permanent residency, unlike the United States where many international students must first transition to a temporary working visa before obtaining an employment-based immigrant visa.

Final Thoughts

Make sure you weigh these five factors when deciding whether studying abroad in Canada or America is right for you!

For example, suppose you want a higher quality education at a lower cost and are not too concerned with employment opportunities after graduation, then Canada would be your best option. 

If you value good living conditions and employment opportunities but don't mind paying more for your education, America would likely suit your needs better.

Get our FREE E-book - Roadmap to Studying in the USA that will help you successfully navigate your way to pursuing higher education in the United States.

Chuky Ofoegbu

With almost a decade of experience pursuing higher education in the United States, I fully understand the pain points foreign students endure. I created this website to help foreign students successfully navigate their way through the challenges they will face while living in the United States.

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