International Students: On Arrival To-Do List

It can be an overwhelming experience to leave your home and come to an entirely different country where everything from the language, to the norms are new. Fortunately, we’ve put together a list of things you should do in your first week here!

UBC Student Card:

How to Apply: You can either apply for this card online HERE (if you want to pick your photo) or go directly and get it at the UBC Bookstore. You need a piece of government issued ID for the application, so make sure you have your passport.

You will need to get a UBC Student Card which can be used as your student identification, as a security access card, for borrowing books from the library, and as payment card for printing and food.

Money - You can load money on your UBC Card to pay for food at UBC Food Services locations, purchases at the UBC Bookstore, and printing at all UBC libraries. To do this, simply go to and login with your Campus Wide Login (CWL). You can pay via credit or debit card online.

Food Discounts - If you start a UBC Card Plan with $50, with a minimum $25 reload, you can save 5% - 12% on specified UBC Food Services locations. More details on the plan and discount locations can be found at:

Security - Your UBC Card will give you access to all graduate student breakout rooms, the Henry Angus building (where all your classes will be held) and David Lam Library after hours, as well as the MBA Student Lounge.

Compass (Transit) Card:

The Compass Card is a re-loadable travel card that works everywhere on transit in Metro Vancouver (on buses, the sky train and the sea bus).

How to Apply: You can purchase the Compass Card at the UBC Bookstore or order it online HERE to have it delivered to a Canadian address.

As a student, your transit is included in your tuition, so once you have your Compass Card, simply register it on this website: and you will be able to use your card all over Vancouver.

Once your Compass Card is registered, your UPass can be loaded onto the Compass Card. You must request your UPass every month, which can be done starting on the 16th of every month (

BC (ID):

This is a government-issued photo identity card so you don’t have to carry your passport everywhere; this is important since some places don’t accept your student ID as a valid form of identification.

How to Apply: To get a BCID, visit an ICBC driver licensing office with two pieces of ID (passport and study permit) and apply for your card, which you will receive in the mail. It will take four to six weeks for your card to be issued.

Bank Account:

The two major banking institutions are Scotia bank (most popular bank among students) and TD Bank (big advantage: they’re open 7 days a week). There is a Scotia Bank on UBC’s campus!

Scotia offers a free Scotiabank SCENE Credit Card for students; make sure to take it as this helps build your credit score if you’re new to Canada AND you get rewarded with SCENE points that can be redeemed to watch free movies at selected theaters in Vancouver!

Mobile Number:

For new students, the best cellphone providers are Fido and Koodo. However, if you’d like a new phone, you will have to sign a 2-year contract till you can pay it off (these plans are also postpaid). However, if you’re planning on using your existing phone, you can get a prepaid plan from Public Mobile, or a cheaper postpaid plan from Fido or Koodo.

SIN Number:

A social insurance number (SIN) is a number issued in Canada to administer various government programs. You will need these for your internship so make sure to have the SIN before you secure your job! Primary documents include: passport, work permit and student permit. Original documents must be provided. No photocopies are accepted.

How to Apply: You can get your SIN number at any Service Canada Center. The closest one to UBC is at 1263, West Broadway.

MSP (Medical) Card:

The Medical Services Plan is the provincial health insurance program that covers health-care benefits for BC residents. If you are new to Canada, apply for MSP as soon as you arrive. It takes almost 3 months to get this card in hand so act quick and apply for it during your opening week.

How to Apply: You can apply by filling in the MSP application form, once you arrive in Canada (you can’t do it before because you need a Canadian address). More information on how to apply HERE!


If you happen to rent an unfurnished apartment, buying housewares isn’t cheap. Some good options include HomeSense and Ikea, and if you’re a little less picky, Dollar Stores and Thrift Stores are great options too!