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The basics
Canada: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Ottawa

Bilingual, modern, and home to world-leading universities, Ottawa is known for its beautiful waterways, government buildings and stunning 19th-century architecture.

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As Canada's capital city, it’s no surprise that Ottawa is filled with the best parts of Canadian culture. It’s a magnet for skilled academics, professionals, and students from around the world. The city is highly bilingual due to its location on the borders between English-speaking Ontario and French-speaking Quebec, enjoying easy access to major cities like Montreal and Toronto on either side. It’s recommended that you investigate learning some French before arriving, though many of Ottawa’s universities offer French immersion courses to help you along.


When you aren’t getting a world-class education or exploring one of the city’s many museums, you’ll be able to enjoy the natural beauty of Ottawa. It’s a city with four seasons, and although the winters can be cold, the people of Ottawa know how to enjoy it. You’ll be able to join them in ice skating to class along the frozen canal or heading out of town for skiing and other snow sports on the weekends. The surrounding region is home to endless forests, waterfalls, mountains, and caves to explore year-round.


As a student in Ottawa, you’ll benefit from being in the heart of a thriving urban economy with a strong focus on government activity, administration, and cutting-edge research in many fields. Paid work placements or graduate opportunities await ambitious students who want to make the most of their time in Canada.


Find out why Canada is such a popular destination for international students


What is Ottawa like?


Location and demographics

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, located in the south-eastern part of the Ontario province. The city lies at the meeting point of three major rivers, with the trade opportunities of the Ottawa river being a major reason for the city’s location.


Ottawa has grown into a cosmopolitan and diverse urban community, due partly to its economic influence and historical significance as the capital city. It’s the second most popular destination for migration in the province, behind Toronto. Almost a quarter of its population comes from overseas countries, and the city is home to diverse communities. 


Explore what makes Canada so unique


Culture and history 

Indigenous people have inhabited the Ottawa region for thousands of years, with the city’s name coming from the Algonquin word Odawa, meaning “traders”. Early communities emerged around the lumber industry, and Ottawa was established as a city in 1855 before becoming the Canadian capital in 1857. 


Its location near the river and coast, along with shipping canals, help the city grow into a significant hub for trade and an administrative centre for the country. Today it is a thriving metropolis with significant government and academic activity.


Which universities are in Ottawa?


Ottawa hosts several universities with an international reputation. Between them, these universities offer courses across hundreds of subjects at both bachelor's and graduate levels. It has a reputation for having one of the most educated populations of any city in the world and having one of the highest rates of PhDs by population.


The University of Ottawa is ranked 237th in the world according to QS World University Rankings 2023 and is one of the country’s top 10 universities for research intensity. It has 550 different programmes to choose from and employment boosting opportunities like paid co-op work placements and French immersion courses.


Carleton University has been educating students since 1942 and today offers over 200 undergraduate programmes and many graduate courses. It focuses on hands-on learning and ranks in the top 650 universities globally (QS 2022).


Dominican University College is also based in Ottawa, specialising in theology and philosophy courses. It’s one of the first university colleges to exist in Canada.


Discover more universities in Canada.


What does Ottawa offer international students?


What is transport like? 

Ottawa is a compact city that benefits from great public transport, bike paths, and walking trails accessible across seasons. All you need is a U-Pass, which gives you discounted student travel across the city.


OC Transpo and STO operate a range of light rail and bus services across the city, with each company mainly covering one side of the river. Rentable e-scooters and bikes are also an option if you want to take in the sights of Ottawa on two wheels.


What about entertainment and food?

Ottawa is famously musical, with a huge range of festivals and events taking place year-round like the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and Bluesfest. It’s also a home of learning and culture. This is not only due to its universities but because of the wealth of museums in the city, including the Aviation and Space Museum, and War Museum.


The city is proud of its diverse community, reflected in its food scene. Ottawa offers everything from fine dining to food trucks on a busy street corner. Traditional Canadian food blends with global flavours, from marketplaces and hotel kitchens.


Discover the top five things to do in Canada


What are the accommodation options?

University residences are a popular accommodation choice for international students visiting Ottawa, but you can also check out a range of private companies offering all-in-one rental packages in centrally located buildings. Older or more adventurous students might want to consider a private rental elsewhere in the city, which your university support services can help with.


If you need financial aid, why not review the top scholarships in Canada?



How much does it cost to live in Ottawa?


General cost of the city

The cost of living in Ottawa is generally high relative to the average across Canadian cities but is regarded as an affordable place to live. You’ll be able to get more for your money here compared to Toronto or Vancouver, for example.


Find out what tuition fees in Canada cost


Student budget

As a single international student living in Ottawa, you might spend an average of between CAD 400 and CAD 800 per week. This includes rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other living costs. Your budget will vary depending on your living arrangements, lifestyle, activities, and where in Ottawa you live.


Discover more about the cost of living in Canada


Financial requirements

The Government of Canada asks international students to demonstrate that they can access a minimum of CAD 10,000 per year before starting their studies in Canada. This is equivalent to CAD 833 per month.


Explore how to find a graduate career in Canada and the top five graduate jobs


What are the main attractions in Ottawa?


Ottawa is a dynamic and sophisticated city that offers all kinds of things to do or see and is a city designed with all four seasons in mind. Hundreds of parks and public areas offer a range of walking routes, relaxing spaces and varied wildlife to enjoy on any day of the year.


Though the city experiences sub-zero temperatures for parts of the winter months, Ottawa residents love the winter and enjoy it in all sorts of ways. The famous Winterlude festival is a citywide celebration that sees ice sculptures, hot drinks, and all kinds of amazing winter food hit the streets.


Ottawa is home to the seat of the Canadian government, and its incredible gothic Parliament buildings are the city’s number one sight. These enormous buildings are architectural masterpieces and offer visitors a rich insight into Canada's history.


Buildings of historic and cultural interest abound elsewhere in the city, too, with buildings like the Notre Dame Cathedral and Laurier House National Historic Site being other excellent examples of 19th-century architecture that you’re free to explore.


Ottawa is a city on water, though it’s not on the coast. Several rivers and a canal flow through it, providing a wide range of great walking and cycling routes.


Ottawa is often regarded as an example of Canadian culture in miniature, flawlessly combining English and French-speaking communities. It offers visitors a relaxing, cosmopolitan lifestyle that relies on its stunning natural landscapes as its buzzing cafés, bars, and restaurants to make a city that’s hard to leave. Explore more study options in Canada with our course matcher tool

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