The Essential Guide To CESB Applications: What You Need To Know

Please Note: The CRA rules are often changing so, call them or check their websites to see if any of the information here has changed. We will also do our best to keep this article updated.*

The year 2020 has been quite revealing, really. This year has shown our frailties and the frailties of the people who lead us. It’s shown us how vulnerable we are. It’s also shown us how resilient and tough and human we can be.

The Government of Canada has handled the COVID-19 situation better than many countries around the world. And though the process has not been perfect, we can be proud of the way our leaders and front-line workers have handled the spread of this deadly disease.

Not everyone has been lucky enough to enjoy some of the benefits payments for the COVID-19. The government, however, has tried to make sure almost everyone got a little financial boost.

COVID-19 Relief Benefits

This list may not be exhaustive as there may be more help that the Government is offering to Canadians. For more information on all the benefits available, check the CRA website.

The Essential Guide to CESB Applications

What does CESB mean?

CESB means Canada Emergency Student Benefit. It kicked-off on the 15th of May 2020. 

The intention of the Canadian government is to help students or graduates who would normally work to pay their way through school. This also lightens the financial burden on parents who contribute to the students’ or graduates’ education..

We will discuss who can apply for CESB in detail in the next paragraph.

Who is the CESB for?

CESB is the COVID-19 benefit for a specific group of students.

CESB is for these group of students: 

  • people who have graduated high school, 
  • those currently in post-secondary schools (e.g, universities, colleges, technical schools etc) and 
  • those who just graduated from post-secondary schools/institutions

The government says that in addition to the qualifications mentioned earlier, you must either:

  • Have lost your job due to COVID-19
  • Be looking for work and but cannot find work due to COVID-19
  • Be working but earning $1,000 or less (before taxes) due to COVID-19*

*Please note: If before COVID-19, you were earning $1,000 or less (before taxes), this DOES NOT mean that you qualify. The reduction in your pay must be due to COVID-19.*

Make sure you qualify so that you do not owe the CRA. It’s not a nice experience having the CRA Collections department stalking your phone and freezing your bank account; believe me.

If you have any further questions on this, leave a comment or send me an email. Better still, call the CRA but be ready for long wait times. The phone lines are terribly busy but it’s better to take care before making your application.

Who can apply for CESB?

Now that you know who CESB is for, there are other requirements you must meet before you are able to apply. In the explanation below, we will merge all the requirements so that you have one detailed list.

*Warning* If you’re currently collecting CERB or EI, you should not/cannot/must not apply for CESB.

Your graduation (high school) date must always be before your first CESB application. This means you cannot apply for CESB before you graduate, it must always be after you graduate. The later in the year you graduate, the fewer CESB periods you can apply for if, you qualify.

The CRA says you can only apply for one period at a time.

Update: The CRA says if you graduated or will be graduating between June 7, 2020, and December 31, 2020, you will only be able to apply for the 3rd and 4th periods of CESB.

I believe this is supposed to make it all-inclusive.

Here’s what’s necessary for you to apply for CESB:

  1. You must not have applied for CERB or EI. (see/refer to the first paragraph of this section.) and,
  2. You must be any of the following things:
    • A Canadian citizen or,
    • A permanent resident of Canada or,
    • A registered Indian (e.g Metis, First Nation etc) or,
    • A protected person (e.g, a refugee or person seeking asylum in Canada. If you’re not sure, call the Immigrations Board to find out) and,

3. You must be studying in Canada or abroad and,

4. You must be either:

    • Enrolled/registered in a post-secondary program (that is, after high school study) which goes on for at least 12 weeks in total. This program needs to give you a certificate, a degree or a diploma when you’re done. (add image)
    • Have completed your post-secondary program in December 2019 or after December 2019.
    • Have completed or will complete high school in 2020 and, you must have applied for a post-secondary school program. This post-secondary program you have applied for must start before February 1, 2021.

Not sure if your program or school is recognised?

Check this links to see the CRA’s ‘Recognised post-secondary educational institutions‘. Click on the drop-down on the CRA web page and look through the links there.

Please, check the CRA website to see if your school is recognised. You don’t want to owe the CRA money at the end of this crazy pandemic.

Also, if you have graduated high school and have not applied for a post-secondary program which will give you a certificate, degree or diploma, please, do not apply for CESB until you have done so.*


5. You must either be:

    • Unable to work due to COVID-19. This means you were working and can’t continue working due to COVID. For example, you work in a school but the schools have been shut-down. (This is not the only example, call the CRA to ask for clarification. There are a lot of ‘grey’ areas.)
    • Looking for work but cannot find work due to COVID-19.
    • Working but earning less than $1000 (before taxes) because the COVID-19 has caused you to have fewer work hours.

Question: What if I’ve applied for CERB or EI and find out that I only qualify for CESB?

Answer: Call the CRA and let them know. They may be able to change your CERB application to CESB if you applied with them. But, if you applied for CERB or EI with Service Canada, you will have to call Service Canada to make any possible adjustments.*

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Note: The CRA will review and/or audit CESB payments in the future. It will be good to have some of the following, just in case:

    • You will have to show proof that you were unable to continue work due to the effect of COVID-19. An employer’s letter or email informing you of the temporary closedown of the business should be enough except the CRA says otherwise.
    • If you are looking for work but can’t find it, keep a record of all your job applications. Using job boards like Indeed or Government of Canada jobs to keep track will be helpful.
    • If you were earning $1,000 (before taxes) before COVID-19, you cannot claim to have had your earnings reduced. It means that you MUST have been earning more than $1000 but have had it reduced because the COVID situation has caused you to earn less.

Example: Lisa worked as part-time as a bartender while studying at the University of Toronto. She earned $1,500 (before taxes) before COVID struck. Now Lisa works fewer hours (because the bar has to close early or not many drinkers as before) and is earning $1000 (before taxes). Lisa qualifies for CESB.

If Lisa earned $900 a month before COVID, and now earns $800 due to reduced hours, it will not qualify her for CESB.

Can International students apply for CESB?

The short answer, sadly, is ‘No’.

This question has been a cause of sadness for many international students. Though some would qualify for CERB based on its requirements, many do not. International students have felt short-changed considering that they contribute over $22billion in revenue (to the educational sector) to Canada from the fees they pay.

The Government of Canada is trying to ease the pressure on international students especially as many cannot get support from home as well (considering that the entire world has nearly shutdown).

*If you’re an international student, please speak to immigration department of Service Canada or the provincial government where you live to see if there are any options available for you*

How does CESB work?

Here, I would explain the amounts, payment and period dates for the CESB benefit.

CESB Payments: How Much CESB Can You Get?

CESB like EI and CERB is a taxable benefit. 

At the moment, except the Government of Canada says otherwise, students who qualify can collect CESB for a maximum of 4 (four) periods or cycles.

Each period is 4 weeks. So a maximum of 4 periods would mean 16 weeks; you know, 4weeks x 4 periods = 16 weeks.

For every period (4weeks), you can receive $1,250. 

If, however, you have a disability or dependant, then you can/may receive an extra $750. This will bring the benefit you receive to $2000!

Again, in the future, when the CRA reviews the CESB money received, you may need to prove your disability or dependant. Medical reports from your doctor (for disability) or documents showing you have a dependant may be enough.

CESB Application Periods and Dates

Period 1 May 10 – June 6, 2020 $1,250 or $2,000*
Period 2 June 7 – July 4, 2020 $1,250 or $2,000*
Period 3 July 5 – August 1, 2020 $1,250 or $2,000*
Period 4 August 2 – August 29, 2020  $1,250 or $2,000*

*Remember, to be able to get the extra $750 (making your total benefit $2,000) you have to have a disability or a dependant.*

Which CESB Period Can I Apply For?

Looking at the table above, each period is 4 weeks and, every period has a start date and an end date. You have to figure out which period you qualify for and apply for that period.

If you’re still in the same position – you’re out of work, cannot find work or earning less than $1,000 (see the section about ‘Who Is CERB For?’) due to COVID – when the next period starts, you can apply again.

*Note Please: If your situation changes during the period for which you’ve applied, you will be required to pay back the benefit received. 

But, What Happens If You Miss A CESB Period?

Some people are always late to the party. 🙂

So what happens if you’re about to apply for the 4th period (August 2nd – August 29) but also realise that you also qualify for the 3rd period (July 5 – August 1)?

Apply for both. If you come across any issues applying, call the CRA and the people over the phone may be able to help you out. I use ‘may’ because I’ve had a CRA call centre person tell me the information on these benefits is regularly updated.

How Can I Get More CESB Money?

There are situations where you may be qualified to get more money from CESB. You may get more CESB money if:

  1. You have a disability. The CRA says disability is any impairment (whether physical or mental) that is temporary or permanent. This disability must affect your ability to live a normal life every day.
  2. You have a dependant. This means having a child under the age of 12 years or, someone who depends on you for care and support.

Examples of How to Get More CESB Money

Example 1

Charlie is in a wheelchair as he was involved in a car accident which damaged his spine. Charlie is a permanent resident of Canada who just graduated from the University of Alberta and is desperately looking for a job on Indeed and the Government website. Charlie can apply for CESB as a disabled person and get $2,000.

Singh is a student at York University. He works in the evenings as a guard at a candy factory to pay his tuition fees and take care of his grandfather who’s blind. Singh has lost both his parents and is the sole provider for himself and his grandfather. Unfortunately, Singh is told to stay at home with no pay because the candy factory is temporarily shut down due to COVID. Singh can apply for CESB and get $2,000.

Example Scenario

Example 1

Brad applied for CESB for the second period (June 7 – July 4) and he receives $1,250 (he is not disabled and doesn’t have dependants). However, on June 15th, Brad gets a new job with Smith & Sons bakery, he will have to repay the $1,250 CESB he received.*

Some graduating high school students are sometimes confused about when to apply or whether or not they qualify.

The underlying or common factor here is that you have to have graduated high school and applied to a post-secondary program. 

*Note*If you’re still in high school, you cannot apply until you have graduated. You may be eligible for CERB if you meet the requirements.

Your graduation (high school) date must always be before your first CESB application. This means you cannot apply for CESB before you graduate, it must always be after you graduate. The later in the year you graduate, the fewer CESB periods you can apply for if, you qualify.

The CRA says you can only apply for one period at a time.

Update: The CRA says if you graduated or will be graduating between June 7, 2020, and December 31, 2020, you will only be able to apply for the 3rd and 4th periods of CESB.

I believe this is supposed to make it all-inclusive.

How to Apply for CESB?

Now that we’ve understood the qualification, periods and payments, let’s talk about how you can apply for the CESB benefit. You will need to make a separate application for each period for which you’re eligible. You cannot lump applications together.

Where can I apply for CESB?/Where to apply for CESB?

You can apply for CESB over the phone through an automated/machine phone service or through your My CRA Account

Hold up!

Before you apply you have to first answer the following questions:

  1. Have you filed taxes with the CRA before and have the taxes been assessed(did you receive a Notice of Assessment)?
  • If the answer is ‘Yes’, then:
    • you can call the CESB phone lines – 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041 or, use your My CRA Account if you have one.
    • Also note, if you have not filed 2018 or 2019 taxes, you will not be able to use or set up your My CRA Account so, you’ll have to use the phone lines.

There are a couple of ways you can pay what you owe the CRA. Here’s how:

Online through your My CRA Account

  • When you log in to your account, you should see a COVID apply section (usually the first box in blue).
  • Right under that section, you will see another section or box where it shows the day you applied for CESB and the payment you received.
  • Within that box, around the bottom, you should see a ‘Pay Now’ button.
  • Click on the ‘Pay Now’ button and it should be easy-peasy from then on. You may be required to pay using your debit card.

Online banking with your financial institution

  • Sign in to online banking
  • Under “Add a payee” select option “CRA (revenue) – tax instalment”
  • Enter your 9-digit Social Insurance Number (SIN) as the CRA account

By mail: 

  • Send a cheque or money order to the CRA
  • Make the payment out to “Receiver General for Canada”
  • Write at the back of the cheque that it is for “Repayment of CESB”
  • Write out which eligibility period you are repaying
  • Include your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or your Temporary Tax Number (TTN)
  • Mail your payment by registered mail. I say this because it’s better to know where the cheque is than not to know at all.

*Important: Make sure your address and bank details are up to date before you apply. This saves you a lot of hassle having to get the CRA to reissue a cheque or payment or worse still, investigate the matter. This could take weeks!*

If the answer is ‘No’, then:

    • You’ll have to call the CRA general enquiries line to update your information. You will not be able to apply if you don’t.

*Note: Only those who have filed taxes before (2018 and/or 2019 taxes) and had the taxes assessed can open an online account (My CRA Account).*

Now, you will need to be prepared before calling the CRA.

CESB: What you will need if you have not filed taxes before

  1. Your Social Insurance Number (SIN)
  2. Your T4 slip information (if you worked) or,
  3. Your T2202 slip information (your tuition certificate)or,
  4. If you don’t have 2 and 3, your parent who receives or received child care benefits on your behalf should be close by. The CRA person may need to ask them questions.
  5. Your current address, postal code and all.

You can also set up bank payments after you’ve gone through all the security questions. Bank payments take about 3 business days while cheques take 10 business days to arrive.

After your account is updated, you will then be able to use the automated/machine phone lines 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041 to apply for the CESB benefit.


If, however, you are not able to answer the questions when you call the CRA, you will be advised to file your taxes even if you made zero income. This will help them update the file. Make sure to ask the CRA person where your tax centre is located and add ‘Urgent: CESB’ on your envelope when sending it in by Canada Post. I would also advise that you use registered mail so you can track things, after all, it’s confidential stuff in there.

*Note: Many tax software won’t allow you file online so there’s a 98% chance you’ll have to send your taxes in by post.*

How To Pay Back CESB Money: You Have Received CESB But Found That You Do Not Qualify 

Well, you received the money and now find that you don’t qualify…


It’s okay. You’re allowed to throw temper tantrums but, you’ll need to send that money back to the CRA. 

For the mailing address on where to post your cheque, check the CRA website here.

Well, I’ve spent the CESB money, what do I do now?

Honey, you’re going to have to pay back that money. 

The CRA has so far said no interest will grow on the money if you owe. You can also make an arrangement to pay a specific amount back at a set time agreed with the CRA. Call them and they’ll fix up something for you.

I Cannot Apply For CESB Through The CRA

There are a few reasons why you may not be able to apply for CESB even if you qualify. You will need to call the CRA to find out why. 

Here are some reasons why applying for CESB might be a pain:

  • There might be a technical glitch with the phone lines or online account.
  • You might not have filed taxes before
  • You might have applied for CERB
  • The CRA might need to review your account to make sure no fraudulent activity is on
  • The CRA might need to check again with you to find out if you qualify for CESB

*Since the Government started giving out these benefits, there has been a rise in fraud. People pretending to be taxpayers calling the CRA to apply for CESB and CERB. 

Also, Canadians who don’t qualify unknowingly or intentionally call and apply anyway. This leaves less money/funds for those who actually need the money. The CRA is doing its best to stop such activities and this may lead to more difficult processes for taxpayers to complete when applying for the benefits.

Will CESB be extended?

Nobody knows yet, the CRA will let you know through their website if anything changes. We just have to pray COVID lets up, it’s bleeding the purse of the government and no one’s sure how much longer the government can withstand the pressure.


It is possible to qualify for CESB and CESB. If this is your case, obviously, you should apply for the one that gives you more money. 

Example Scenario

CESB Example

Example1: Zhang is Canadian and a student at the University of Calgary. He works part-time at the school library to help his parents with living costs. He has no dependents. In 2019, he earned more than $5,000 before taxes. 

Now, COVID has caused the closure of schools and Zhang is without a job. Zhang can either apply for CERB or CESB because he qualifies for both. It would be wise for him to apply for CERB because he’ll get $2000 compared to $1,250 with CESB.


The government is doing it’s best to ease the burden on Canadians in these difficult times. While it may not be perfect, let’s offer solutions to the imperfections and encourage the continuation of the things the government’s getting right. More than ever, we need to support each other emotionally and spiritually while keeping the required social distancing rules.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that we will get through these times.

Look out for our CESB series videos on YouTube where this information comes in smaller chunks.


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