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Arriving in Vancouver for an IEC Working Holiday: Complete Guide

So you’ve made it through the IEC application process, paid for travel insurance and booked a flight to Vancouver. What’s next?

This post will explain everything you need to know about arriving in Vancouver for the start of your working holiday. This includes a walk through guide of immigration at Vancouver airport (YVR).

Coal Harbour area of Vancouver with paved coastal path next to ocean with skyscrapers in background - Vancouver is one of the most popular destinations for a working holiday in Canada
Coal Harbour area in Vancouver

I’ll also share information about applying for a SIN, bank account and cell phone plan.

Most of this guide is also applicable for IEC participants arriving at other international airports in Canada, such as those in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal or Halifax.

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.

Back view of travellers walking with suitcases underneath large First Nation eagle sculpture at YVR airport in Vancouver
In my opinion, YVR is Canada’s most impressive airport

Immigration at YVR

The first stop on arrival at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is customs and immigration. After leaving your plane, follow the signs to Customs/Immigration.

I would highly recommend using the washrooms before descending the staircases to immigration. The next set of washrooms is in the baggage area.

Before customs and immigration itself, you’ll need to use the Primary Inspection Kiosks to complete the customs declaration. Have your passport handy as the first step is to scan the photo page.

After that, you’ll need to answer half a dozen questions regarding your trip and the items you have brought with you. The kiosk will also take a photo of you.

Overhead immigration and cashier signage inside YVR airport in Vancouver
After leaving your plane, follow the immigration signs

At the end of the process, the machine will print a customs slip. Take this slip and join the line.

On your turn, hand the Canada Border Services Officer (CBSA) your passport and customs slip. Advise them that you are activating an IEC work permit.

The officer will then direct you through to a side waiting area labelled ‘Immigration’. There is likely to be another queue here.

The border officer may advise you to pick up your luggage before joining the queue. If the ticket machine is in operation, be sure to take a ticket.

Looking down on the arrivals hall at YVR (Vancouver airport), with Primary Inspection Kiosks and a huge line of people on the right
Looking down on the arrivals hall at YVR (Primary Inspection Kiosks on left, line on right)

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.

Looking across blue queue system to immigration office at YVR (Vancouver airport), which is a windowed room
Immigration office at YVR

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 restriction

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).

Canada IEC work permit with official crest and immigration details
Your IEC work permit will look similar to this

Leaving YVR and Travelling Downtown

Congratulations, you now have your IEC work permit! Proceed to pick up your bags if you haven’t already.

On the way out of the arrivals hall, head in your printed customs slip to the officer at the door.

To get to Vancouver’s downtown area, there are three main ways to do so – taxi, rideshare or SkyTrain.

Huge lit up YVR letters in arrivals area at Vancouver airport. Fake flowers line the bottom of the letters
Welcome to the arrivals area of YVR!

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.

The fare to downtown Vancouver is $9.45 (2023). This includes the $5 YVR to downtown surcharge.

Tickets can be purchased on the platform with credit, debit or cash.

If you have a contactless credit card, you can use this at the SkyTrain entry gates as payment (no need to use the ticket machines!)

Trains run regularly, every 4 to 6 minutes during the day. Leave the train at ‘City Centre’ or ‘Waterfront’ stations for downtown Vancouver. The journey takes 25 minutes.

Looking across the street at imposing station building in downtown Vancouver, with red brick facade and columns
Waterfront Station, downtown Vancouver

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

Youth hostels or Airbnbs 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. There are some people living on the street here.

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. On our last visit to Vancouver, we secured a great value stay at the Moda Hotel.

Close up of steaming Gastown clock in downtown Vancouver with six storey brick building in background
Gastown Clock in downtown Vancouver

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.

It is possible to apply for your SIN online but I really wouldn’t recommend doing so. Proof of address is required and the process takes weeks. During this time, you won’t be able to get paid.

Vancouver skyline from near Granville Island, with boats and calm ocean in foreground and skyscrapers in background
False Creek, downtown Vancouver

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.

Looking across the street to the golden brick 13 storey Dominion Building in downtown Vancouver with other tall buildings and Vancouver Lookout in the background
Dominion Building in downtown Vancouver with Vancouver Lookout in background (fun fact: the Dominion was the tallest building in the British Empire in 1910!)

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 and communities.

I used Koodo as my cell phone service provider for 10+ years. They offer affordable (for Canada!) and flexible month to month plans. Koodo uses the same signal as Telus, which has one of the biggest coverage networks.

Looking up to the circular Coliseum style Library Square building in downtown Vancouver, with steps leading into the complex
Library Square building in downtown Vancouver

Check out these other posts about working holidays in Canada

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Matt

Tuesday 1st of August 2023

Hi Gemma,

Thank you very much for writing this piece. Super useful - especially checking visa dates as the letter of invitation date was put as the expiry date.

Without reading your post (highlighted in bold) I wouldn't have checked!

Gemma

Saturday 5th of August 2023

So glad this was helpful to you Matt!

Aran Dhilon

Wednesday 8th of February 2023

Hi Gemma, just wondering if you know whether I can land in Calgary with the IEC visa and drive to Vancouver instead of landing straight to Vancouver? (I am planning on working and living in Vancouver but wanted to do the drive from Calgary rather than get a flight to Vancouver)! Thanks

Gemma

Wednesday 8th of February 2023

Hi Aran,

Yes, you can arrive at any Canadian airport you like. All international hubs will have immigration services. As mentioned in the article, be sure to check that your work permit is correct before leaving immigration. This is even more important if you plan to travel/move away from the airport you landed at as any mistakes will be more difficult to fix (you'd have to wait and then try to get the mistake fixed in Vancouver).

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

Gemma

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