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Arriving in Vancouver for an IEC Working Holiday: A Guide

You’ve made it through the IEC application process, paid for travel insurance and booked a flight to Vancouver. What next? Here’s everything you need to know about arriving in Vancouver for the start of your working holiday, including activating an IEC work permit.

This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase a qualifying item through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you.

Immigration at YVR

The first stop on arrival at Vancouver International Airport is customs and immigration. After leaving your plane, follow the signs to Immigration. Join the ‘Visitors to Canada’ line.

Before immigration itself, you’ll need to use the Primary Inspection Kiosks to complete the customs declaration.

Once through here, have your passport and work permit documents (POE, proof of funds, insurance) ready. On your turn, advise the Canada Border Services Officer (CBSA) that you are activating an IEC work permit.

The officer will then direct you to a side waiting area. There is likely to be another queue.

View of Downtown Vancouver - one of the most popular destinations for a working holiday in Canada

Activating an IEC work permit in Vancouver

When the officer calls you, present your POE (Letter of Correspondence) document. The officer may ask questions about what you intend to do during your stay in Canada. The officer may also request to see your other work permit documents.

When your work permit is printed, the border officer will explain the conditions of the permit. Make sure all the details are correct, in particular, your name and the expiry date. The job location section should say ‘OPEN.’ If you have had a medical, there should not be any health services or childcare work restrictions.

If ANY of the details are wrong on the permit, politely ask the officer to correct the error. Ask for a supervisor if you need to. An incorrect expiry date is the most common mistake.

To help with this kind of situation, print and carry a copy of these CIC advice pages with you – POE validity and IEC bilateral agreements (showing maximum work permit validity for your country).

Leaving YVR and Travelling Downtown

Once you have left immigration with your activated IEC work permit (hooray!), proceed to pick up your bags. You’ll need to hand the printed slip from the Primary Inspection Kiosk to an officer on the way out.

To get to Vancouver’s downtown area, there are two main ways to do so – taxi or SkyTrain (no Uber yet!).

The SkyTrain is fast, direct and reasonably priced. Follow the signs marked ‘Canada Line’ to reach the SkyTrain station on level 3 of the airport. Tickets can be purchased on the platform with credit, debit or cash.

The fare to downtown Vancouver is $8.75 during the day, $7.50 during the evenings and weekend. Trains run regularly, every 4 to 6 minutes during the day. Leave the train at ‘City Centre’ or ‘Waterfront’ stations for downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver city view from Cypress Mountain road

Where to stay in Vancouver at the start of a working holiday

Youth hostels or Airbnbs (never used Airbnb? Get $45 off your first booking with this link) usually offer the best value for money for IEC participants arriving in Vancouver. 

Without a doubt, the most popular hostels are Samesun Vancouver and HI-Vancouver Central. They are located facing each other on Granville Street. The Granville area is convenient for public transport and shopping, though can be a little seedy in places.

Other options include the Cambie Hostel in Gastown (known for its party atmosphere) and HI-Vancouver Jericho Beach (more laid back, outside of downtown).

For cheap hotels, check out the YWCA (shared bathrooms) or the Barclay Hotel

Where to get your Social Insurance Number (SIN) in Vancouver

A SIN is required for working in Canada. The easiest place to get it while staying in downtown Vancouver is at the Sinclair Centre Service Canada on Hastings Street.

Getting a SIN is a straightforward process. Bring your activated IEC work permit and passport to the office and join the line. The SIN takes less than 10 minutes to be issued, but there may be a long wait to be seen.

Vancouver skyline from near Granville Island

Opening a bank account in Vancouver on IEC

The downtown area of Vancouver is home to branches from all of the main Canadian banks. Most banks offer a newcomers deal that waives fees for at least a year.

Interac debit cards are given out as standard with new bank accounts. Some may offer a credit card (with or without a deposit) on the first visit.

An alternative to banks, credit unions such as Coast Capital offer free chequing accounts. Other free options include using an online bank like Simplii Financial. With Simplii Financial, you have to provide Canadian ID (drivers license, ID card) and address proof (utility bill, car insurance etc.)

I personally use Simplii Financial (and have done for years now) and would recommend it for simple, free banking. If you sign up via this link, you’ll receive $50 into your account after depositing $100 and maintaining a minimum bank balance of $100 for two months.

Something to be aware of when choosing a bank is that there is a charge for withdrawing cash from ATMs not owned by the bank you have an account with. Luckily, most businesses in Canada accept debit (Interac) and credit cards.

Signing up to a cell phone service in Vancouver

All of the main cell phone service providers have a presence in the Pacific Centre mall in downtown Vancouver. Most providers have their own standalone store, while others can be found in electronic stores such as Best Buy or Wireless Wave.

Before making a decision, speak to a few different providers. One important thing to be aware of is that not all cell phone companies cover everywhere in Canada – Freedom Mobile for example only provides coverage in Canada’s biggest cities.

I’ve used Koodo for a while now – they offer affordable (for Canada!) and flexible month to month plans. They use the same signal at Telus and has one of the biggest coverage networks. If you choose to sign up with Koodo too, click this link and submit your name first and you’ll receive a $25 credit towards your first bill.

A Guide to Arriving in Vancouver for a Working Holiday - step by step advice including arriving at YVR, receiving your IEC work permit, travelling into the city, opening a bank account and more!

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Brad Duncan

Monday 20th of March 2017

Hi Gemma, I am just seeking clarification on something: I am a British citizen, and applied for my first IEC visa in 2014. I obtained the visa, and entered Canada in 2015. I left and travelled to Australia, and have subsequently applied for, and received, a new IEC visa. However, it does not denote the length of the visa, and I therefore do not know what length of travel insurance I should apply for. Is it safe to assume, that because my first visa (1 year length) was granted within the 2014 pool, that my newly obtained visa has a length of 2 years? (Even thought I did not enter Canada until 2015 on my previous visa?)

Please clarify this for me if you have any time.

Thank you very much, Brad Duncan


Tuesday 21st of March 2017

Hi Brad,

You are eligible for a 2 year work permit as long as you have 2 years insurance on arrival plus two years on your passport. Since you applied prior to 2015, you are allowed a second participation for 2 years - it's the date of application that is important, not the actual arrival in Canada since you have a year to do so from approval