Taking time away from school for international students

Find out what to do if you need to take time away from your studies as an international student.

About gaps in studies

You may need time away from studies, whether it be for health reasons, a family emergency, because you are in-between programs, or other reasons.

All reasons for taking time away from studies will be referred to as "gaps" in the sections to follow.

As an international student, you have special things to think about when taking a gap. Taking a gap could negatively impact:

  1. Your current student status in Canada
  2. Your current eligibility to work on and off campus
  3. Your future eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP)

Good news: Depending on the type of gap, you might be able to keep your current student status and future eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit. Keep reading to see how.

If you are thinking of withdrawing from courses, see immigration impacts of withdrawing from courses.

Types of gaps

Gaps considered actively pursuing studies if 150 days or less

  • Deferring your program start date after arrival in Canada 
  • Switching programs at UBC (whether you completed a program or not) 
  • Changing institutions (whether you completed a program or not)
  • UBC-authorized leaves of absences
  • Undergraduate students on a scheduled break in the summer session
  • Strike or school closure

Your 150-day period begins during the following times depending on your situation:

  • Undergraduate students on authorized leave
    If it is not your first term and you dropped all courses before the add/drop deadline, your leave would start the first day of classes for the term. If you withdraw with a "W", your leave would start on the day you withdrew from all courses. 
  • Graduate students on an approved leave of absence
    The first day of classes of the term in which your leave started, or the day your leave was approved—whichever comes last.
  • Changing programs or institutions without finishing your program
    The end of the exam period of the last term you completed in the previous program as per the UBC Academic Calendar. If you withdrew before the end of the term, the 150-day period would start the day you withdrew from all courses.
  • Changing institutions or programs after finishing your program
    The day your letter of completion first becomes available
  • Deferring your start date after arrival in Canada
    Contact International Student Advising for support.

Gaps which are not considered actively pursuing studies

  • Gaps beyond 150 days when deferring program start date after arrival in Canada 
  • Gaps beyond 150 days when switching programs at UBC (whether you completed a program or not)
  • Gaps beyond 150 days when changing institutions (whether you completed a program or not)
  • Any other gap not on the approved list above, such as being on academic suspension
  • Gaps beyond 150 days due to a strike or school closure

Next steps

If you have taken a gap in the past

No immediate action is necessary until you make your next immigration application, such as for a post-graduation work permit.

Collect as many documents as you can related to the reason for your gap in studies. See “documents to prepare” below for more information.

If you took a gap in studies during Winter Term 2 2019 (January to April 2020) or Summer Session 2020 (September to May 2020)

There was a temporary IRCC policy for these terms due to the onset of COVID-19. See our FAQs for details on Winter Term 2 or Summer Session.

If you are an undergraduate student who took a gap in studies in Winter Session 2020 (September 2020 to April 2021) or earlier

Authorized leave for undergraduate students was not available at the time and you would not have been considered actively pursuing studies. Include our acknowledgement letter (pdf) in your application. 

If you are an undergraduate student who took a gap in studies in Winter Session 2021 (September 2021 to April 2022) 

Under the International Undergraduate Leave Procedure, students in good academic standing could request a leave letter to show they were on leave for one or both winter terms. If you took one or both terms off, request a letter from your academic advising office as soon as possible. If you have a leave letter, keep it until you need to show it to IRCC.

If you take a gap which is considered actively pursuing studies

Status in Canada and eligibility to stay

You are considered to be maintaining your student status and can stay in Canada for up to 150 days. No immediate action is necessary if you will be on a gap for less than 150 days or before your study permit expires—whichever comes first. 

If you will be on a gap for more than 150 days, you must take action before the 150 day period is over. This applies even if you have an authorized leave of absence which is longer than 150 days, for example, an authorized leave for one year.

Before your 150-day period is over, you must do one of the following:

  • Apply for a Visitor Record to stay in Canada as a visitor, which does not allow you to work.
  • Hold a work permit unrelated to studies (if eligible). In general, these are difficult to qualify for and you may find an authorized immigration representative outside UBC for advice.
  • Leave Canada.
  • Start or resume studies. If you will study at another Designated Learning Institution (DLI) you must change your DLI in the IRCC portal. If you return to UBC, you will need to change your DLI in the IRCC portal again. Checkwith an Academic Advisor from your faculty to see if your credits can be transferred back to UBC or count towards your program requirements.

Exception: UBC undergraduate students on authorized leave beginning in Winter Term 2 need not take further action on your status in the summer scheduled break, because UBC considers undergraduate summer to be a scheduled break for immigration purposes.

Working during your gap

As soon as you are no longer enrolled in full-time studies, you are not eligible to work in Canada during an academic term, and also not eligible to work during scheduled breaks before and after the term in which you are taking a gap. If you have a co-op work permit, you cannot use it for work unrelated to studies. To be eligible to work, you must have a work permit which is unrelated to studies, which in general can be difficult to obtain. 

Exceptions: Undergraduate students may be eligible to work full-time during the summer scheduled break, or if you finished a program and will start a new program. Check the links to see if you are eligible.

Impact on your Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) in the future

In general, your eligibility for the PGWP should not be impacted if you are on a gap which is considered actively pursuing studies for less than 150 days, however the officer who reviews your application will make the final decision. You should collect as many documents as you can related to the reason for your gap in studies. See “documents to prepare” below for more information. 

When you apply for the PGWP, write a letter of explanation about the reason for your gap in studies and provide as many supporting documents as possible. Contact International Student Advising for assistance.

If you take a gap which is not considered actively pursuing studies

Status in Canada and eligibility to stay

You are not considered to be meeting your requirements as a student and cannot remain in Canada during the gap without taking further action.

You must do one of the following before your gap begins or as soon as possible during the gap:

  • Apply for a Visitor Record to stay in Canada as a visitor, which does not allow you to work in Canada.
  •  Hold a work permit unrelated to studies (if eligible). In general, these are difficult to qualify for and you may find an authorized immigration representative outside UBC for advice.
  • Leave Canada for most of the gap duration.
  • Start or resume studies. If you will study at another Designated Learning Institution (DLI) you must change your DLI in the IRCC portal. If you return to UBC, you will need to change your DLI in the IRCC portalagain. Ask an Academic Advisor from your faculty if your credits can be transferred back to UBC or count towards your program requirements.

Contact International Student Advising to discuss your options.

Work eligibility

As soon as you are no longer enrolled in full-time studies, you are not eligible to work in Canada during the academic term, and are also not eligible to work during scheduled breaks before and after the term in which you are taking a gap. If you have a co-op work permit, you cannot use it for work unrelated to studies. To be eligible to work you must have a work permit which is unrelated to studies, which in general can be difficult to obtain.

Impact on your Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) in the future

Taking gaps which are not considered actively pursuing studies can impact your PGWP eligibility. You should collect as many documents as you can related to the reason for your gap in studies. See “documents to prepare” below for more information. 

When you apply for the PGWP, write a letter of explanation about the reason for your gap in studies and provide as many supporting documents as possible. You can still submit a PGWP application; however, unfortunately, there is no guarantee the application will be approved. The officer who reviews your application will decide whether or not to approve the application on a case-by-case basis based on your individual circumstances and will make the final decision.

If you might take a gap in the future: Authorized Leave undergraduate students

Undergraduate students

For the 2021/22 Winter Session, UBC offered a new authorized leave procedure for international undergraduate students. As of July 2022, this option is available on an ongoing basis. The undergraduate leave procedure allows you to take time away from studies and still be considered to be actively pursuing studies, maintaining the conditions of your study permit and maintaining eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit program for leaves up to 150 days.

UBC Vancouver Senate’s  Academic Leave Policy enables students in good academic standing to take up to a year away from studies without having to reapply for admission.  If you want to prove to IRCC that you were on an authorized leave, you must request the leave and receive a letter from UBC confirming that you are authorized to take the leave.

If it is your first term in your program

If Winter Term 1 is your first term in your program and you drop all courses before the last day to drop courses without a W, and you are registered in Term 2, you would be considered to have deferred enrolment for immigration purposes. You would not need and would not be eligible for an authorized leave in Term 1.

If in your first term in your program you withdraw from all courses after the Course change dates with a W, you might qualify for the Academic Leave Policy. The leave would start on the day you withdraw.

If it is not your first term in your program

If you withdraw after the deadline to drop a course with a W, you will not be eligible for an authorized leave for that term.

If you withdraw from courses on time, you can request a leave letter at a later date. Request a leave letter by mid-October for leaves starting Term 1, or mid-February for leaves starting Term 2, so your leave will be coded accurately in the Immigration Report which IRCC receives from UBC each winter term. 

If you are considering taking a gap in studies, follow these steps:

  1. After reading this page, carefully consider whether you will take Term 1, Term 2, or both terms away from studies.
  2. Talk to an Academic Advisor to check your program requirements and discuss your options for taking a gap and returning to studies later. You must meet all academic regulations of your program. Taking a leave does not guarantee courses will be available when you return to studies. 
  3. Carefully review how taking time away from studies impacts your immigration, particularly if you will be on leave for more than 150 days and will be in Canada during your leave. Contact International Student Advising if you have any questions about the immigration and health insurance impacts of taking a gap.
  4. After you withdraw from all courses in Term 1, Term 2, or both terms, send a request to your Academic advising office. Tell them you are requesting a leave and for which term(s).
  5. If they agree, the Academic Advising office will email you a letter which you can find on the Message Centre of the Student Service Centre (SSC). The leave will not appear on your transcript. Include the authorized leave letter with future IRCC applications as needed. 

Your authorized leave letter will say when your leave began. You can remain in Canada for 150 days after that date.

Leaves longer than 150 days affect your Post-Graduation Work Permit eligibility and status in Canada.

Graduate students and students in the Diploma in Accounting and Juris Doctor programs

If your leave of absence is approved, you could remain in Canada for 150 days after:

  • The day your leave was approved, or
  • The first day of classes of the term in which your leave starts, whichever comes last.

If you plan to take a gap:

  1. After reading this page, carefully consider which term(s) you plan to take time away from studies.
  2. If you are a graduate student, review UBC’s Graduate Student Leaves of Absence policy.
  3. Talk to your program staff to discuss your options for taking a gap and returning to studies later, as well as any impacts on funding.
  4. Contact International Student Advising if you have any questions about the immigration and health insurance impacts of taking a gap. 

Documents to prepare

Whether you have had a gap in studies in the past, are currently on a gap, or plan to take a gap in studies in the future, you are not required to notify IRCC right away. 

However, no matter the reason or length of your gap, you must keep documentation in case you are asked to show why you took the leave and/or include them in your future Post-Graduation Work Permit application. Prepare the below documents and connect with an International Student Advisor before submitting your application.

Step 1. Download the UBC Acknowledgment Letter

This letter affirms UBC’s policy towards time taken away (e.g., gaps) from studies.

Step 2. Create a timeline

Create a list in chronological order of all  decisions, events, and action steps leading up to your gap in studies. Include key dates which would be helpful for the officer to understand your circumstances; for example, the date that you withdrew from courses, received approval for a deferral, left and returned to Canada, received medical care, had a family emergency occur, etc. Keep this timeline for your records in case you are asked for information from IRCC or need to write a letter of explanation for a future immigration application.  

Step 3. Gather supporting documents

Gather as many documents as possible related to your reason for your gap in studies and keep scanned and original paper copies (if applicable) in an accessible, safe place. 

Examples include a doctor’s recommendation for treatment, hospital documents, flight tickets showing when you left and returned to Canada, letters issued by your program or faculty, documents relating to a family emergency, confirmation of your internship or military service, etc. Any documents which are not in English or French will need an official translation if you submit them to IRCC.

Letter of support

If possible, request a letter of support with the below guidelines:

  • The person should be aware of the reasons you took a gap, for example a doctor, counsellor, or advisor.
  • The letter should contain factual information to attest to the reason for your gap in studies.
  • Individuals can only attest to things they have not observed or witnessed themselves.

Potential impacts of taking a gap

Traveling on a gap

Ensure your study permit and entry document (Temporary Resident Visa or Electronic Travel Authorization) are valid to return to Canada, if necessary. See our Travelling to Canada guide to learn about what documents to prepare before you travel. 

If you have not registered for courses before returning to Canada, request a letter from your academic advisor or graduate staff before re-entering Canada. This letter should state that you are eligible to return to your program of studies at the end of your gap. Upon return to Canada, if you are asked by an officer, present this letter along with any documentation of your break (e.g., leave approval from G+PS if applicable, copies of plane tickets proving when you left Canada, etc.).

Study permit extension during a gap

After your gap, you can resume studies on your current study permit if it is still valid. A gap in studies does not cause your study permit or Temporary Resident Visa to become invalid. 

If your study permit will expire during your gap, contact International Student Advising before the expiry date to discuss your options to apply for a study permit from inside or outside Canada. You may need to provide additional documents to explain how you plan to resume your studies.

Medical Services Plan (MSP)

It is very important to maintain valid health insurance at all times to avoid overwhelming medical bills and help you access the health support you need when you need it. Your MSP coverage is usually valid for the same length as your study permit.

If you will leave Canada for an extended time or your study permit will expire during your gap, see our MSP page for information on next steps. 

AMS/GSS/UBCSUO Health and Dental

Check if you maintain eligibility for the Alma Mater Society (AMS)Graduate Student Society (GSS), or UBC Students’ Union Okanagan (UBCSUO) Health and Dental Plan. Coverage ends on August 31 each year and you must have basic health insurance, such as MSP, to be able to make a claim. 

Social Insurance Number

Your Social Insurance Number (SIN) remains valid until the expiry date, however you can only work in Canada if you are enrolled full-time for immigration purposes, or are eligible to work on a scheduled break. Having a valid SIN is not sufficient to work in Canada.

Dependents’ status

If your common-law partner or spouse has a work permit as a result of your study permit, it remains valid until the expiry date indicated on the work permit unless there is a condition which says otherwise.

If you have children, they may continue to study with or without a study permit while your study permit is valid, even if you have applied for visitor status. 

However, if you are on visitor status due to taking a gap of 150 days or more and your study permit and your spouse’s open study or work permit has expired, your children must obtain their own study permit.

See documentation for your family for more information and contact International Student Advising for support.

Scholarships/awards or other funding

If you are currently receiving funding, such as a fellowship, scholarship or award, check with your funding agency to see if taking a gap will impact your eligibility.

If you are an undergraduate student and have financial assistance or awards, check with an Enrolment Services Advisor to see if taking a gap will affect your funding.

If you are a graduate student and receive funding, check with your graduate program staff to see if taking a gap will affect your funding.

Eligibility for on-campus housing

Ask about your eligibility to remain in on-campus housing with Student Housing and Community Services.

International Student Guide

Find everything you need to know about life as an international student at UBC's Vancouver campus.

View the guide

If you have questions

International Student Advising is ready to support you on questions related to immigration, health insurance, and life as an international student in Canada.

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