Filing your taxes in Canada

Why you should file your tax return

International students are encouraged to file a tax return even if they don't have any income. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has a list of reasons why you should file a tax return.

Most international students completing a degree in Canada on a study permit are considered residents of Canada for income tax purposes; however taxes are based on an individual’s specific circumstances. It's very important that you consider the significance of your residential ties to Canada and determine your residency status prior to submitting an income tax return.

For more information about Canadian taxes, please see filing an income tax return as a student on the Government of Canada's website or contact the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

Filing an income tax return

The tax year runs from January to December each year and the deadline to file an income tax return is April 30 of the year after.

Whether you hire an accountant or complete your own tax return, you'll need to prepare the following documents (if applicable):

  • Social Insurance Number (SIN) or, if you're not eligible for a SIN, your Individual Tax Number (ITN). To receive an ITN, you must complete Form T1261: Application for a Canada Revenue Agency Individual Tax Number (ITN) for Non-Residents.
  • Income tax slips like T4 or T4A (for scholarships, awards, GRS, and bursaries). If you worked for the university, you can access your T4 from Workday, which is also where you get your T4A. Review the University's viewing tax documents guide for instructions. 
  • Interest tax slips like a T3 or T5 from financial institutions. Contact your financial institution for a copy if applicable.
  • Tuition receipt T2202A. This identifies the number of months you attended university and the tuition you paid. You can find your tuition receipt on your Quest account under Finances, Tax Receipts.
  • Donation receipts if you made a donation to a Canadian charity. 
  • Medical receipts for out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Rent receipts from your landlord. This does not include on-campus residence fees.
  • Any correspondence from the CRA if you've filed taxes in Canada before, including your past notice of assessments.
  • You may have other information slips, receipts, or amounts you can indicate on your income tax return.

Student Financial Services also has information on tax receipts and where to find them.

Residents of Canada are required to indicate any income earned from both inside and outside of Canada. If you worked in another country, your income tax return, including residency status for tax purposes, could be impacted by a tax treaty.

Once you've submitted an income tax return, you should receive a response from the CRA in the form of a notice of assessment. Keep any correspondence you receive from the CRA in a safe place for your records. 

Once you've filed at least one income tax return, received one notice of assessment, and have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN), you can create a MyAccount on the CRA website. Your account allows you to receive correspondence from the CRA electronically, set up direct electronic bank deposits for any refunds or benefits you may receive, and keep your personal information, address and banking information up-to-date with CRA.

Resources to help you file

Tax filing help on campus

You can attend the free AFSA Tax Clinic in March held by the Accounting and Finance Student Association (AFSA) at Waterloo to have a volunteer complete your income tax return for you. You need to bring them the documents listed on the website and meet their requirements to attend.

Tax filing help in the city

Pay an income tax professional or accountant to complete your income tax return for you. If you would like a professional tax preparer to do your income tax return, you can search online for a reputable firm in the city. Make sure you verify that the professional you've chosen has experience filing tax returns for international students. Or you can use the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) or other free tax clinics in Waterloo Region and have a volunteer complete your income tax return for free.

Using tax preparation software

You can use tax preparation software to complete and submit your own income tax return online. The CRA website has a list of tax preparation software that you can use. If you're filing for the first time and/or don't have a Social Insurance Number, you must print out, sign, and mail your income tax return to the CRA with all of your supporting documents.

Income Tax Return Information Session

Join a representative from the CRA for our annual Filing Your Taxes in Canada information session. You'll learn the basics of how to file your own income tax return and understand more about the Canadian tax system. This session is open to undergraduate and graduate international students. Please note that sessions are held during the end of winter term every year and invitations to register are sent via the International Student Connection Newsletter in March.

Graduate Student Association Income Tax Aid

Join the Graduate Student Association (GSA) for free income tax aid. Free consultations are available to graduate students in March and April of each year. You can book a free appointment with the Graduate Student Association (GSA) accountant. The accountant will not complete your income tax return for you, but can help you understand how to complete the forms and answer questions. 

Deductions and credits

Deductions: Your income can be reduced to a lower tax bracket by deducting the amount you paid into pension plans, registered retirement savings plans (RRSP), union and professional dues, child care expenses, and other deductions. Moving expenses may be claimed against certain income if you moved for work purposes only and meet other conditions.

Non-refundable tax credits: Residents of Canada receive a basic personal amount of non-refundable tax credits. Tax credits can help reduce the amount of tax that you're required to pay. You may therefore receive a refund from CRA of the income tax already deducted from your pay. If you were not taxed enough initially, you may be required to pay additional taxes.  

If you didn't have any income in the tax year you're filing, you most likely have no reason to claim tax credits, other than your tuition fees (as these can carry forward to a future tax year) and rent paid for the Ontario trillium benefit.