Language tests for living, studying, and working in Canada

Red seal and imprint "IELTS" on white surface

Image  by Waldemarus.  © Used by permission

Skip to:

One of the first requirements to immigrate, work or study in Canada is to present proof of language proficiency. This underlines the importance of having the skills to listen, write, read and speak in English or in French to be successful in Canada. But did you know that there are various language tests for different purposes?

For immigration

The following tests are designated by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) as proof of English language proficiency for those applying for permanent resident status under these immigration streams: Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Start-up Visa Program and various Provincial Nominee Programs.

Canadian Language Proficiency Index Index Program (CELPIP) – CIC requires the “CELPIP-General 2014” test.
International English Language Testing System (IELTS) – IELTS has two tests, Academic and General Training. For immigration, take the General Training option.
TEF (Test d’evaluation de Francais)– You will need to submit four TEF tests as proof of your proficiency in French: compréhension de l’écrit, compréhension de l’orale, expression écrite, and expression orale.

For the required language scores for the four language abilities and for each test type, go to this page on the CIC website (scroll down and choose the immigration program).

Also read: IRCC now accepting results of new TCF Canada language test

For academic purposes

Important note: Before taking any language test, check with your educational institution or professional association first. Find out the exact name of the test/s and the type they accept as well as the minimum score or level they require. This will save you time, effort and money. Also, take note of the validity of the test results. Most language tests expire two years from the test date. Educational institutions require the tests to be valid at the beginning of your admission term.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)– This test is developed and maintained by Educational Testing Services (ETS) in the US. Its purpose is to “measure the ability to use and understand English at the university level. Its secondary use is for professional licensure.
Canadian Test of English for Scholars and Trainees (CanTEST) – This was developed by the University of Ottawa primarily to “meet admission requirements of Canadian post-secondary institutions”. It also used to “meet requirements of professional licensing associations”. CanTEST scores are reported on a five-band scale. See Community Resources below for more information on CanTEST.
University of Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) – A CPE English qualification is required for very senior professional or academic environment, for instance, postgraduate or PhD programmes.
Canadian Academic English Language Assessment (CAEL) – Professes to be a “unique alternative to standardized English tests” because it provides the closest representation of language use in an academic context. It is also used by a number of professional associations as a requirement for membership.
Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) – This is comprised of two tests: a paper-based listening and reading test for people who use English in the workplace and everyday life, and an online speaking and writing test that measures proficiency in business English at intermediate and advanced levels.

Occupation-specific language tests

Many of the language tests for academic purposes mentioned above can also be considered for membership to a professional association, or required by regulatory bodies for the licensing process. The ones listed below are solely occupation-specific language tests. Again, we recommend that you check with your particular professional association or regulatory body for their specific requirements.

Michener English Language Assessment (MELA) – This is a language test for allied health occupations. The speaking component is an occupation-specific role play, and the writing section includes occupation-specific tasks. It is accepted in Ontario and one pan-Canadian body (Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science).
Occupational English Test (OET) – This was developed by the University of Melbourne, Australia, for immigrating health professionals. It is carried out much like the MELA.
Canadian English Language Benchmarks Assessment for Nurses (CELBAN) – This is Canada’s nursing-specific language test. The speaking component is an occupation-specific role play, and the writing section is an occupation-specific documentation task. Aside from being accepted as a test for language proficiency for internationally educated nurses, CELBAN is also the preferred test for placement into bridging and upgrading programs. CELBAN scores are set by each province.
TESTCan– This test is the same as the CanTEST, only in French.
Test de Francais Internationale (TFI) – Also maintained and administered by Educational Testing Services (ETS) US, TFI is an internet-based test. It evaluates the French level of non-francophones as it is used in the international workplace.

Sources: Citizenship and Immigration Canada page, and the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Communication Competency Assessment (OCCECCA) project.

Back to top

Community Resources

Know what CanTEST is for and how it is conducted by downloading this booklet: Information for Test Candidates

Tests like CELPIP and TOEFL offer preparation programs and study materials (for a fee).

To know which language proof/tests are acceptable for a citizenship application, go to this page on CIC: Acceptable language proof to apply for citizenship wizard.

Back to top


Language tests for living, studying and working in Canada

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

Canadian Idioms : Canadian Fall Celebrations Idioms

Article thumbnail fallback

Study the Powerpoint slides to learn this week’s idioms. Canadian Fall Celebrations from English Online Inc.

A Good Cause – Based on “Volunteering Idioms”

Article thumbnail fallback

City Girl – Based on Autumn Idioms

An illustration of orange, yellow and red maple leaves.

Language Circle: Birth date and the flu

Man feeling the forehead of a lady who is feeling sick

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.