If you’re looking for a shorter guide about working in Canada (this is an unashamedly long one!), check my basic one out
Before you go
The working holiday program
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 or two year work/travel visa generally available for citizens aged between 18-35 (for some countries it’s 30).
Check out my 2017 IEC application guide.
No question about it, you need travel insurance. For one thing, it’s a requirement of your IEC work permit to have health/travel insurance covering repatriation for the length of your intended stay. If you only buy six months of insurance, you may only receive a six month long work permit and it cannot be extended later.
Check out my guide to travel insurance providers for Canadian IEC working holiday programs.
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 currently $72/month which really adds up, especially in addition to travel insurance.
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 networking (LinkedIn is good for this) 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.
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.
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
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 (but there have been great strides forward in recent years). 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.
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. AirBnb is a great alternative to hostels, especially for couples or groups of friends moving to Canada together.
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!!).
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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. Last updated November 2016. Click the image for more info!