Moving to Canada is a major life decision and an international leap that involves many smaller steps. For non-native speakers of English, one of those steps is a going to be a language test through the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS.

Do you need to speak English to move to Canada?

The IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) uses a point system to determine whether a foreigner is eligible to move to Canada. They look a several factors, including age, education, work experience, finances, and language competency.

The official language in most of Canada is English, so the IRCC does require applicants to have at least a basic command of the English language before immigrating into the country. In Quebec, the official language is French, although the province is really bilingual for all practical purposes. So Quebec expects competency in either of the two languages.

How does the IRCC measure an applicant’s language proficiency?

Individuals who apply to immigrate to Canada can demonstrate their language skills through a couple of options. One way to satisfy the IRCC’s language requirement is through the IELTS. This standardized test looks at four different metrics in order to measure a candidate’s level of English. These include reading, writing, listening and speaking. Australia, New Zealand and the UK also use the IELTS for immigration purposes. The United States does not use it for immigration, but some American universities do rely on it for testing their international student applicants.

As an alternative to the IELTS, another option is the CELPIP (Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program.) This language assessment tool looks at the same four metrics and is the only other test approved by the IRCC. Paragon Testing Enterprises, a subsidiary of the University of British Columbia, is the only company in Canada to offer this testing option.

The government of Quebec relies on the Test d’évaluation du français (TEF), a test provided by the Paris Chamber of Commerce, which measures an applicant’s fluency in French. This test includes four mandatory components, measuring reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. Two more optional sections of the test can assess an individual’s writing and speaking abilities.

How well must you speak English in order to pass the test?

The IELTS does not produce a pass/fail result. Instead, there is spectrum of results, combining the four different aspects of language proficiency. Different countries analyze the test scores differently. Canada uses the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) as the national standard to measure an applicant’s language skills. Scores from the four different sections of the IELTS combine and add up to a range of Canadian Benchmarks from 1 to 12.


Depending what type of visa program a person is applying for, the CLB requirement varies. Provincial Nominee Programs only require a CLB of 4. Those applying for a Business Startup Visa need to score at least a 5. Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Federal Skilled Trade Program (FSTP) applicants need scores of 7 and 5 respectively.

For a Student Visa, you need to score at least 5.5 on all four sections to qualify for undergraduate study. Those applying to graduate school need a minimum score of 6 on all four sections. A Study Permit is something different, however, and for this the IRCC does not require an IELTS score. Typically, immigrants get a Student Visa before a arriving, and this allows them to enter the country. At the Port of Entry (POE), a customs agent will issue a Study Permit, which allows them to stay in Canada for the duration of their studies plus 90 days. The student needs to submit an application prior to arriving and have all that documentation ready to present at the POE.

If you wish to become a Canadian citizen, a Benchmark score of 4 on the IELTS is one way to satisfy the language requirement. Applicants for citizenship can also prove their proficiency in other ways.

How long is the IELTS score valid?

Once you take the IELTS, your test score is is valid for three years after the date of the exam.

What are the other education requirements for Canadian residency?

Education requirements vary depending on the type of visa program a person is applying for. Normally a minimum of high school diploma is necessary. In some cases, for skilled workers, higher levels of education are needed. In most cases, a point system is involved. That means that higher levels of education will always help to bring up the overall score.

What’s the best way to improve your EILTS score?

Learning a new language like English can be difficult. And different methods work better for different people. Programs like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo are helpful for beginners, but that will only get you so far. The best practice is to use the language, which means finding a group of English speakers to converse with. Once you have the basics, you can also practice by reading English language books and watching English language films and televisions.

Prepare for the EILTS in Canada

What if your English is not sufficient, but you want to come to Canada to improve your English and prepare for the EILTS? There are language schools across Canada that offer courses in English as a Second Language. In order to enroll in ESL courses, students should come on a Tourist Visa.

This is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door in Canada. In addition to learning English, language schools are a great place to meet other newcomers to Canada and to get acquainted with the local culture. After completing a course and getting your English skills up to speed, the school can also help you prepare for the EILTS, bringing you one step closer to residency in Canada.

Further reading

For more than 20 years, ARIANNE Relocation has been helping students, families and professionals relocate and get settled in Canada. We help our clients search for housing, select schools, and navigate the bureaucracy of their new land. Visit our website to learn more about our personalized relocation services and our unique Online Relocation Guides for Canadian cities. You might also find the following articles helpful.

PHOTO CREDIT: A test of language competency (Unsplash)