How to acquire books for cheap in Canadian universities | Exchange semester at UBC Okanagan

I can’t believe that I am already studying at UBC Okanagan for a month now and that I am in Canada for one and a half months. (You can find my first impressions of Canada here.) Time is flying by, which frightens me because it means that my time here will be over soon and I haven’t seen as much of British Columbia as I wished for. Even though I already live in Kelowna for a month now, I still see myself in the acclimatization phase. I have to find my way in a new environment, to accustom myself to the prevalent structures, to the daily university life with its readings and submissions as well as to build trust and new friendships.

I didn’t find my own work rhythm yet. The first two weeks, I needed to set up my room in the students’ residence and to decide on the courses I like to take this semester. Finally, in the last two weeks, I managed to take time-outs on the weekend to go on different hikes and day trips. To be able to plan and attend such events, it is necessary that I organize my time well during weekdays. Why is this so?

As you might have read from the introduction, the university in Canada needs more attention during the lecture period than I am used to from Germany. In all of my courses, I have to prepare chapters of books before the lecture. In the lecture itself, the instructor refers to these readings and adds some new input as well. Apart from the preparatory lectures, weekly assignments or quiz questions about the readings or short, written reflections are due. Presence at lectures is checked, especially in earlier semesters, via an iClicker, a remote control with which students answer quiz questions during the lecture (multiple choice questions).

All these submissions (quizzes, reflections, assignments) and participation marks (= Clicker questions) give points that are included in the final grade. The final exam then often only counts 50% of the overall grade.

The thing about buying books

The preparatory readings cannot be taken lightly. Generally, a heavy reference book is needed (professors do not get paid by the book but by pages), of which reissues launch frequently, thus forcing students to buy the brand-new versions. I still startle when I stop by the bookstore: The textbooks that were required in my courses cost around 110 CAD!! The small iClicker remote with 60 CAD is not cheap either. Taken into consideration the high tuition fees, this adds another tidy sum to the general student debts.

Price tag for a textbook of 110 CAD

An exemplary textbook for almost 110 CAD new, used at UBC Okanagan.

Buying textbooks new: avoid where possible

As a minimalist and refusing to consume, buying all these books is out of the question. My primary objective is to avoid any purchase where applicable. Since, as an exchange student, I am allowed a free choice of courses, I ended up choosing courses also depending on which teaching material they required. Most courses did require books. However, there were also some counterexamples:

  • One instructor let us know that the PDF version of a book can be downloaded for free through the university.
  • Another one sent links to download different free PDFs and articles from their original source (and put it onto us to print them or not according to each person’s environmental awareness).
  • In another course, the course package consists of 10 different essays of which copies are sold for 22 CAD (to be bought in the bookstore belonging to the university), which probably accounts for the copying costs and possibly copyrights.

If you have the choice: Choose your courses in a way that you need to acquire less books.


You can buy new textbooks in the UBC Bookstore. On their website, you can order the books online and pick them up at the counter of the store. In this way, you save standing in line, which can take over an hour at the beginning of the semester.

Although I do not wish to promote online retailers in any respect, based on the article title, I have to remark that the bookstore on campus is more expensive than getting the books from elsewhere. This is very sad in my opinion. I seem to be too spoiled with German fixed book prices. ( Canada has no fixed book prices.)


As an alternative to a hard copy, a few students told me that they buy PDF versions instead, which are significantly lower priced. However, I would like to note that I am not aware of in which way you can resell them at the end of the course.

Another idea to buy books cheaper

Buy the book together with friends and share it amongst each other (or find other ways in which everyone gets access to the content of the book). If you haven’t made any friends yet, this might still happen in the first two weeks. (Or ask in your exchange group. Believe me, people are happy to split costs.)

Avoid new purchases: second-hand books are cheaper

As an alternative to new purchases, you can acquire the book used. Unfortunately, even this option won’t be a real bargain – so much said in advance.

You can buy and resell used books at the Green Text Bookstore at UBCO.

The used bookstore

Some used copies can be found in the UBC Bookstore mentioned above. In addition, there is a store in the University Centre (UNC) selling only used books: the Green Text Bookstore. There, books are offered at 75% of the new price. (Considering a new price of 110 CAD, a used book still costs 82,50 CAD, which is still not cheap in my opinion!) Older editions are a bit cheaper.

Furthermore, you can buy new iClickers for the best price here (~52 CAD). You need to be quick if you want to get used ones.

After finishing your course, you can sell the books again to the Green Text. (I don’t have any experience with this.) In general, you consign your books to the store for one year. In this period, they will display them in the store. If somebody buys a book, you will get 65% of the new price. (To receive the money, you don’t need to be in Canada, so this method also works for exchange students.)

Buying textbooks cheaply via Facebook groups

If 75% of the new price seems too expensive for you, you can try to get second-hand books through sales groups specific to your university. At the UBC Okanagan, I can recommend two groups: “UBCO Books Buy n Sell” and “UBCO Buy n Sell (official)”. In the latter, I was able to snag an iClicker for 40 CAD. There was also an offer for 20 CAD, it’s all a question of good timing.

girl looking for a book in a library

Photo by Clay Banks | Source: Unsplash

Avoid the purchase of textbooks completely

Last but not least, let’s look at the way that I chose for myself. A simple search of the online catalog of my university reveals whether the textbook is available in the library collection. You can also check out other libraries in your city. In Kelowna, there is the library of the Okanagan College, for example.

How to get expensive textbooks at no cost: borrow the books from the library.

For one of my courses (INDG 100), they have two copies of the current edition and a copy of the previous edition in the inventory. Bachelor and exchange students may borrow books for a maximum of 2 weeks. (This is relatively short evaluated from German standards.) However, since the book is needed for a specific course, our professor temporarily shelved it at the “reserve collection”, which means, we can only borrow it for up to 2 hours. The hire can be prolonged for another 2 hours only if the second copy of the latest edition is available. If this is not the case, you have to wait one hour to reborrow the book – provided that no other student requested it.

Trick 1: This restriction does not only apply for older editions. This means you can borrow the previous edition for two weeks in a row.

Trick 2: Furthermore, the restriction does only apply for the two copies of the Okanagan Library. The same book is available from the UBC Library in Vancouver. You can order the book to Kelowna for free and borrow it for two weeks as well.

My courses and textbook usages at UBCO

In total, I take three courses at UBC Okanagan. For one, I borrow a book from the library every week. For the second, I purchased the custom course materials (22 CAD). For the third, a free PDF version is offered online through the university network. In two courses, I need an iClicker  (40 CAD). All in all, I paid 62 CAD for my course materials this semester. The iClicker has a chance of getting resold.

  • Machine Architecture (COSC 211): PDF online via the university network + iClicker
  • Human Geography (GEOG 128 + 129): Order an older edition from the library of the UBC in Vancouver
  • Introduction to Decolonization (INDG 100): You can find the book in the UBC libaries (it is in the “reserved collection” of the Okanagan Library or order from the UBCVancouver) Alternatively, the previous edition is available used on Amazon for a fraction of the original price. + iClicker
  • Introduction to Indigeneity (INDG 102): Custom Course Material
  • Environmental Ethics (PHIL 435): Digital articles


I hope that these tips can help you with your stay or studies abroad.

Are you left with a piece of advice that hasn’t been discussed yet? Then bail out other students and put your advice down in the comments (or send me an email). 🙂


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