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Tips on college costs in Canada

Having recently returned from taking my daughter, Claire, back to school at McGill University in Montreal, I'd like to pass along a few nuggets of financial wisdom to other U.S. parents whose kids are considering the northern route to a college education.

Although U.S. students at McGill pay considerably more than Quebec residents, it's still a good deal. Depending on the exchange rate, Americans get a discount of about one-fourth to one-third on fees denominated in Canadian dollars. We figure costs for Claire are equivalent to what she'd pay as an in-state student at the University of Maryland.

But Canada is a foreign country, and since Claire started college last year, we've encountered our share of financial challenges.

For starters, checks sent from home can take weeks to clear. So we opened a Canadian bank account for Claire and wired enough money to cover a semester's worth of costs, including tuition, which Claire pays. It's convenient, but it's a lot of responsibility for your student. Claire did fine.

Although American students can use U.S. Stafford loans at Canadian schools, we've found that McGill takes longer to process the paperwork than our son's U.S. college — and usually needs a nudge from us.

Then there's the simple — you'd think — task of sending a care package. Mail delivery was unpredictable, and some packages took weeks to arrive. We finally went with UPS, which seemed to have better luck getting packages through Canadian customs — except for the time we shipped Claire her old ice skates.

Claire got a call saying that the skates couldn't be delivered unless she paid a duty of about $100 — way more than the skates were worth. To escape the charge and ransom the skates, I had to send a fax attesting that they were valued at $20 or less and were for Claire's personal use.

And forget sending fresh or unpackaged food. I order snacks and treats online from a Canadian company (at the Web site that delivers in Montreal.

When Claire moved off campus this year, she wanted a cell phone. But we couldn't find a plan that would work in both the United States and Canada for less than $80 a month. Like it or not, she now has a land line that costs less than half as much, with bargain long distance as part of a package that includes cable and Internet service.

Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to