The Descriptive Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada

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on Jun 5, 12 • by • with 23 Comments

The Descriptive Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada

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If you’re looking for a shorter guide about working in Canada (this is an unashamedly long one!), have a look here

Before you go –

Visa

The process to be able to live and work in Canada on a Working Holiday takes a bit longer than similar programs for New Zealand and Australia. The program is called International Experience Canada and provides a one year work/travel visa generally available for citizens aged between 18-35 (for some countries it’s 30). I’m writing this from a British perspective, so if you’re from elsewhere then please visit the IEC’s website here.

My guide to the IEC 2015 program can be found here. Please note, as of January 5th 2015, the program is still not open yet this year.

Insurance

No question about it, you need travel insurance. For one thing, it’s a requirement of your IEC work permit. Check out my ‘choosing travel insurance for your working holiday’ post here for more.

Border control aside, perhaps you’ve heard about Canada’s provincial healthcare. Although Working Holiday participants can apply for medical coverage in theory, a good number of people will not be able to take advantage. In British Columbia for example, Working Holidayers can apply but under certain conditions, see here for BC’s terms. I was not eligible during my two years in Canada. I’m not sure whether I’d pay for MSP anyway to be honest; it is $60.50/month = $726/year, which was more expensive than insurance at the time.

Canadian $100 bill

Money

You will need a lump sum of money in your bank account in order to satisfy the Canadian immigration officials that you can support yourself while job searching once in the country. The amount depends on your country; refer back to the Immigration website for the exact amount (for Brits, it’s $2500). To prove this amount to the officials, you will need to show a recent bank statement. I was not asked on my first arrival to Canada, but was when activating my second IEC visa.

Looking for work before you arrive in Canada

You may be thinking about trying to organise work before you even arrive in Canada. Yes, this is possible, but it’s not easy and personally I don’t advise it. Certainly do some research and enquiring before you leave your home country to see what’s out there, but I honestly wouldn’t try too hard. Unless it’s a very specific and professional job that you’re qualified for, there it is unlikely that a Canadian employer would be interested in you while you are still thousands of miles away in a different country. See it from their perspective; there are Canadians looking for work in the country here and now, and there’s always the worst-case scenario, you might chicken out last minute, or get rejected at immigration. There are some exceptions (see below), sure, but on the whole, I’d wait until you arrive.

I’ve found that Canadian job seeking is as much about networking as it is about qualifications and experience. If you know someone who knows someone who is advertising for help, then you’ve a much better chance of getting in there.

One exception is ski resort jobs, which begin to be advertised anytime from August. I would still advise that going in person to a job fair in Canada would put you in much better stead than applying from your home country, but people certainly do get hired at the larger resorts even if they’re not in Canada especially in the case of more qualified positions such as ski instructors. I will go into this a bit more later.

On arrival:

Immigration

You will need your letter of introduction (final visa email) print-out, bank statement, travel insurance print-out, passport. 

After embarking from the aircraft, head to immigration as normal. Before I got to the queue for the immigration booths at Vancouver, I saw an airport official calling out for anyone with Work Visas of any kind. She directed me and some others to a side area, where we joined a queue for those with working holiday visas. After getting to the front, the official looked at my printed Letter of Introduction and my passport. That’s all. I wasn’t asked for proof of funds or travel insurance, but I did have printed proof ready (bank statement and insurance confirmation).

Social Insurance Number (SIN)

This number is essential for starting work in Canada. Luckily, it’s super easy to get. All you have to do is turn up at your nearest Service Canada office (find it here), ask at the desk how to get your SIN and join the (probable) queue. Then hand over your passport which has your new work visa in it. The official will ask for an address (you can use your hostel one or a Canadian friend’s) and a few security questions. You’ll get a print out with your new SIN number. As of 2014, actual SIN cards are no longer being produced.

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Hiking in Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC

Bank account

You might find banking a little different and sometimes frustrating in Canada if you’re from the UK. For one, most people pay for their account, even the most basic kind. Two, you get charged for everything. The majority of accounts have a certain allowance for taking money out (i.e. how many times you can in a month) as well as how often you use it in a shop. With most bank cards in Canada you can use them like a debit card; in shops and at petrol stations to pay for goods using the Interac system.

I opened an account with President’s Choice, which is owned by one of the biggest supermarket chains – a bit like banking with Tescos or Asda in the UK. My passport and temporary work visa were good for a ‘basic’ account, which gave me a debit card (usable in shops, not online) and most importantly, a place to put my money. There are no transaction/usage fees with President’s Choice, which is why I chose it – I can take out up to $200/day for no charge from PC and CIBC (a major bank) ATMs. President’s Choice does not have any branches per se, but you can find ATMs and ‘pavilions’ (where you can speak to bank staff) in the supermarket – Superstore, SuperValu, Loblaws etc. If I use my PC debit card in Superstore to buy my groceries, I also get points….double bonus. Find out more about President’s Choice here

goose spit spring beach mountain vancouver island

Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC

Mobile phones (cell phones) and SIM cards

Ah, Canadian cell phones. Unfortunately no matter how ahead Canada wants to be with technology, it is still way behind with telecommunication. Firstly, you pay to receive calls. Yes, both people in a conversation pay to have that call. In Canada things like Caller I.D. (knowing who is calling you, even if they are programmed into your address book) and Voicemail are luxuries that you will also pay extra for. Oh, and if you’re phoning anyone from outside your near location (i.e. your local town or suburb) then technically it’s ‘long distance.’ Bizarre!

Despite these difficulties, there are quite a few mobile network providers in Canada (Bell, Telus, Rogers et al) and dozens more ‘operators’ (Koodo, Chatr, Wind, Virgin etc) who use the main provider’s networks.  You can get both pre-paid (pay as you go style) and contract deals (pay monthly). Cell phones themselves can be bought outright (but are usually locked to a network) or you can get one included on a contract deal.

If you plan to use your own cell phone in Canada make sure it uses tri-band or quad-band frequency and is unlocked before you leave home.

Our Experience: On arrival in Vancouver we signed up with Chatr – a company offering great no commitment pay monthly SIM-only deals. We bought a cheap basic phone through them ($40) and away we went. They have some really good plans, all of them including unlimited incoming and outgoing calls in Canada. We ended up living on Vancouver Island and sadly they did not cover that area so we had to change.

So we then signed up with Koodo. They also have lots of different plans, from $20/month and with many mix and match options on top. Koodo also offers great smartphone deals – you get a smartphone on ‘tab’ meaning the longer you have a contract with them, the more is paid off. If you quit, you need to pay the remaining amount.

Accommodation

Hostels are the most common form of accommodation available for travellers and working holiday-ers in Canada. Even if you’re planning to get your own apartment or room in a house ASAP, don’t shrug off the idea of staying in a hostel for a while. It’s definitely worth it for your first few weeks in town at least, so you can get your bearings and start getting employment sorted.

Road to Hope near AbbotsfordDriving inland from Vancouver

Most hostels welcome long stay travellers; either those who are working locally and just want to live in the hostel for convenience/cost (a cheaper long stay rate can often be negotiated) or want to stay and work within the hostel for accommodation. Otherwise you have the option of finding private accommodation – either through private advertising on the Internet (the local versions of Craigslist and Kijiji are popular) or through a rental agency. You could also group up with other travellers from your hostel if you find others wanting to do a similar thing – get talking to others or have a look on hostel notice boards (not just your own hostel’s!!).


Work

First off, it’s good to know that the Canadian economy is doing OK – it got through the recession better than a lot of other countries due to the massive oil reserves in Northern Alberta/BC. Saying that, the Canadian dollar has lost ground to the American dollar and British pound recently, partly due to the extremely low oil prices.

Resumes and Cover Letters

Just a quick word on resumes – they are a bit different from CVs. I find them to place way more emphasis on your overall skills rather than the different responsibilities and employment experience. A bit hard to explain, but with a bit of Googling of ‘resumes’ and you’ll understand before long! Another difference is the idea of a ‘Objective Statement’ at the top, in which you set out (briefly!) what you’d like to achieve and how you could do this through the position you’re applying for. I received advice from a Career Advisor here who said that you need to tailor your resume and cover letter (explaining more in detail why you’re perfect for the job and what skills/experience you’ll bring to the company) to each job you apply for.

Cities

There are opportunities for employment in the big cities of Canada as there a huge number of businesses with a high turnover of staff, such as restaurants/bars, hotels and offices.. Coming from the UK, you have a limited two year work permit and Canadian unemployment still isn’t that low so be realistic about your options. No doubt that many British working holiday-ers have managed to find well paying employment with potential to stay in Canada for longer, but just be prepared to be a bit flexible and perhaps do a different job role than you used to do in the UK. In the bigger cities people will be far more used to newcomers applying for job roles unlike if you’re based in a small town.

A surprising amount of jobs can be found advertised on the local versions (there’s one for each major city and almost every big urban area) of Craigslist and Kijiji. Do be prepared for some people attempting spams on these sites; Craigslist has a good warning before you go into job section.

There’s also the nationwide government run Canada Job Bank as well as other job searches such as Wow Jobs Canada and Monster Canada.

There’s a local ‘JobShop’ in my area, which is a bit like the Job Centre. Useful place since you can job search on the computes/Internet for free, and also print out a number of resumes for no charge. I also was able to see a Career Advisor here who helped me out with my resume.

Whistler Village

Whistler Village, BC

Ski resorts

Want to spend the winter skiing or snowboarding (or learning to, like I did!) while earning a bit of money? If so, definitely look into ski resort work. It may not make you a lot of money and not be the most exciting job you’ve ever had, but you’re sure to have a good time outside of work, with a free ski pass/free lessons/free rentals and more! Furthermore, there are lots of different work opportunities even if you don’t have much or any experience; guest services, housekeeping, waitressing, lift operations, parking, retail and more!

There are loads of ski resorts in Canada, the biggest concentration being in the Rockies around the BC/Alberta border. And of course there’s the West Coast mountains, with Whistler being the most well known. The snow is more reliable and long lasting in the West, with Eastern resorts often closing a month or so earlier than in the West. Most of the Western resorts open early or mid December until April.

Ski resorts start advertising for staff anytime from August onwards, depending on the size and expected opening date of the resort. As well as online advertising (check each resort’s individual website) there will be Job Fairs in September and October, where you can potentially get hired on the day. Only problem is, often the season doesn’t start until mid-December, so you have to be willing to hang around for a while.

Being hired from the UK can happen, as ski resorts are way more open to hiring international workers than…basically any other industry in Canada!

Exchange work

Another option for your time in Canada is working in exchange for room and/or board (food). Now you might think that doesn’t sound amazingly appealing, well…it can set you up with a place to stay really easily and quickly and also will most likely provide you with a unique Canadian experience. It can also help tide you over if you are having trouble finding work or are not sure what to do next. Accommodation is often the biggest dent in daily expenditure, so cutting that out can really help your budget, especially if it’s near the end of your trip and/or is pretty low!

One of the most common exchange work opportunities is in hostels; many will advertise for cleaners to work 2/3 hours a day in exchange for a dorm bed.  Look around the web for organised work/accommodation exchange websites, such as HelpX or WorkAway.  There is also the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program – see website here.

If you’re not adverse to a bit of hard (and dirty) work and need a bit of cash, then consider fruit picking. One well known area for this is the Okanagan in British Columbia.

Paying tax

As a Brit, you may be surprised to find that in Canada you will have to file your own taxes. The government does not do this automatically for you. Don’t know where to start? Head on over to my ‘how to file taxes during or after your working holiday in Canada’ page.

Did you find this information helpful? Consider purchasing my ‘Ultimate Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada’ eBook, available now for £2.99. Release date – March 1 2015. Click the image for more info!

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23 Responses to: The Descriptive Guide to a Working Holiday...

  1. Joe says:

    Thanks for all the useful advice! I found this very helpful while planning for my trip.

  2. Alex Cole says:

    Thank You!

  3. matt jackson says:

    very helpfull thanx alot

  4. paula says:

    So far the best blog on IEC, thanks for all the important details. So, um, time to book my flight, I guess. x

  5. Jodie says:

    Such a helpful blog, thank you! I’ve been putting off booking my flights as I felt I was unorganised, but you have helped immensly!

  6. Megan says:

    I am looking into going to Canada on a working holiday but am from Aus so a little different. Still helped a lot so thank you :)

  7. bren says:

    Even after a few years since posting this is still super helpful. Thank you!

    • Gemma Gemma says:

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment! I am actually currently in the middle of writing a ‘Working Holiday in Canada’ e-book, which I hope to release in the next two weeks. Check back if you’re interested!

  8. Jenny says:

    This is incredibly helpful, thank you for taking the time to write this out for everyone :)
    I’m in a spanish speaking country so when I arrive to Canada and if I’m asked for a bank statement, would it suffice to show the original one or would I have to get my bank statement officially translated? I mean, they would only need to see the number, wouldn’t they?

    • Gemma Gemma says:

      Hi Jenny,

      Unless the conditions and instructions for your program state that you must have a translated financial document, I would consider the original one fine for entry.

  9. James says:

    Great guide, great site all together really!

    Got a question about banking in Canada. So if I got this right, I could open an account with Presidents Choice without a ‘real’ address? (hostel/motel/…)
    I’m wondering because I intend to go on a WH but want to travel around first before finding a place to ‘settle’ for a while.
    But other banks I have found all need you to have a permanent address, witch I probably won’t have
    Thanx ;)

    • Gemma Gemma says:

      Hi James,

      Thanks!

      Technically, according to the 2003 Access to Basic Banking Services regulations NO Canadian bank should require proof of address (“the individual shall disclose, orally or in writing, the information listed in Part C of the schedule if the information is not available on the pieces of identification presented by the individual”) UNLESS they believe you are going to use the account for “for illegal or fraudulent purposes.” Part C lists “The individual’s address, if any.” The regulations can be found here http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2003-184/FullText.html

      President’s Choice did not ask for proof of address so yes, I could have given them a hostel or hotel address.

      I’ve got more info about bank accounts (and more great info) in my eBook available https://payhip.com/b/1Rn4

  10. Alex M says:

    Hi Gemma!

    Thanks so much for your blog, it’s help me so so much. I got a place in the quota for round 1 of the 2015 intake.
    One question – hopefully you can help:
    When registering I used my passport information of my current passport. However, that passport expires soonish (2017) and I’d rather get a new one before flying to Canada for my IEC. How should I go about this? Will getting a new passport screw things up?

    Thanks so much if you can help

    • Gemma Gemma says:

      Hi Alex,

      I’m happy to hear my blog has helped you. Apply to IEC with your current passport details and then when you enter Canada to activate the work permit, present your brand new passport to the border officer and explain you had to renew it. They will update the work permit with your new passport details and give you the full length work permit (as long as you satisfy the other conditions). Have your old passport to hand just in case. Before you leave the desk, double check your work permit has the correct (new) passport number on it.

  11. henning says:

    Gemma,

    your blog is not only incredibly helpful, but it really makes me look forward to my work & travel in Canada. Everything is very clearly explained. However, I have a rather particular question that I was hoping you might be able to help with:

    One or two months into my stay in Canada, I might have to return to Europe (Germany, to be precise) for a fortnight, before then flying back to Canada for the rest of my 12 months or so. I was wondering if leaving Canada for a few weeks might invalidate my work permit might. There is nothing on the embassy’s website that says so, but I would rather like to be sure.

    Thank you so much!

  12. henning says:

    after browsing through several dozens more of the questions you have already answered (great job!), i have just realized that you already answered my question here: http://offtracktravel.ca/2015/01/05/how-to-apply-for-a-canadian-working-holiday-visa-2015-step-by-step-iec-guide/#comment-260774 (short version: leaving and entering Canada on an IEC work permit is possible, aside from a practically negligible risk of not being permitted re-entry.)
    thank you!

    • Gemma Gemma says:

      Hi Henning,

      Leaving and re-entering Canada on an IEC work permit is absolutely more than possible! :) You are correct about the risk being practically negligible.

  13. Zen says:

    Canada looks absolutely amazing. I would love to do something like this with my boyfriend. However, we are wondering how we can possibly do it by just going and hoping to find a job when we get there. Does anyone have any ideas where we can look for work in advance? Its a bit scary going there with very limited funds and risk not finding a job.

    • Gemma Gemma says:

      Hi Zen,

      Very few people on working holidays manage to set up jobs before arriving. For one thing, employers will hold preference to people already in Canada. For them, there is no guarantee you will even arrive! Consider setting up some work in exchange for room and board through WWOOFing or Workaway or HelpX if you’re concerned about money. The minimum amount you need on arrival for the Canadian IEC program is $2500, and this could last you 1-3 months depending on how frugal you are!

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