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So You Want to Move to Canada? A Quick Start Guide

Canada is consistently listed as one of the best places to live in the world. It is not surprising then that thousands of people every year try and make the move to the Great White North.

It’s a land of opportunity, endless wilderness, poutine and a stable, welcoming society. I, for one, am proud to call this beautiful country home.

But how easy is to move to Canada? Put simply, it depends on your skills, age, citizenship and family connections in Canada. Here is the lowdown on the three main ways you potentially can move to Canada plus a quick-start arrival guide.

River near Christina lake
Near Christina Lake, British Columbia

International Experience Canada (IEC) working holiday program

The IEC program offers young citizens of participating countries the chance to live and work in Canada for up to two years. The IEC working holiday program includes an open work permit that allows the holder can work and travel anywhere in Canada.

It also does not restrict how long you can work for an individual employer. Many IEC participants go on to apply for Permanent Residency. Restrictions on age and length of IEC participation vary according to citizenship.

The application process is currently based on a random selection procedure. Applicants complete basic eligibility questions online and enter a pool, from which candidates are then invited from over the next 6-8 months.

The actual application process, after being invited from a pool, can take up to two months.

The demand for IEC places can be higher than available places in certain countries. IEC seasons generally run from autumn to autumn, with the pools typically opening in November.

Check out my application guide to apply for this cycle or get prepared for the next IEC season.

Finally, check out my IEC Discussion and Support group on Facebook. We have over 28k members and counting.

Top tip – if you are lucky enough to have another qualifying citizenship (e.g. British AND Irish), you can apply using both passports. Ireland’s working holiday program, for example, has more places and much less demand than the British version.

View of Vancouver near Granville Island
View of Vancouver, one of the most popular destinations for people moving to Canada

Express Entry to Canada

While the IEC program provides an open work permit, Express Entry offers the opportunity to become Permanent Resident. Being a Permanent Resident of Canada means you can basically come and go to Canada for the rest of your life as long as you live there for a minimum of two years of every five.

Pretty sweet hey? Thousands of people move to Canada every year using the Express Entry system.

Express Entry is a point-based program that evaluates a candidate’s skills, work experience, education and potential to settle in Canada.

Eligible candidates are put into a pool and then the highest scoring candidates will be invited to apply for permanent residency. Total potential point score is 1,200. Once invited, the application process takes around six months.

Important score factors for Canada’s Express Entry

Age – in general, the lower your age, the more points

Language ability – Minimum language ability required, and yes, even native English/French speakers must take a test to prove it

Work Experience – The more skilled work experience you have, the more points. Use the NOC to work out whether you are a skilled worker – candidates must be skill type 0, or level A or B.

Canadian job offer – A very good point scorer (600!) but not easy to get. A job offer has to be backed up by a LMIA – something that proves no Canadian is willing/able to do the job. Without a job offer, your score will not go over 600 points.

Nomination from a Province/Territory (e.g. BC’s PNP program– Also a big point scorer. Each province/territory has their own ‘worker shortage’ list and if your profession is one of these, you can apply for the province to sponsor you.

Canadian work experience – If you have already worked a skilled job in Canada for a minimum of one year you may eligible for the Canadian Experience Class stream within Express Entry (more points!)

The easiest way to see whether you may be eligible is to use the Comprehensive Ranking System

Top tip – Common law partners and spouses can ‘piggy-back’ onto their partner’s application and also gain Canadian Permanent Residency this way.

Toronto skyline
Toronto, Ontario

Family sponsorship in Canada

If you have a cousin or aunt in Canada, you may be wondering whether they can help you move to Canada. The short answer is probably not. 

In general, it is only common-law partners and spouses that can be sponsored to move to Canada, plus parents and grandparents. In the latter’s case, the application takes a very long time.

There are however a few exceptions, notably for orphaned children and for Canadian sponsors who do not have ANY kind of family living in Canada at all e.g. brother, parent, aunt, nephew, grandparent etc.

Spousal or common law sponsorship is straightforward if you already have a partner who has Canadian citizenship or Permanent Residency. Common Law in this context is defined as a couple who have been living together ‘as married’ for at least one year.

There are two routes to apply for Permanent Residency via the common law/spousal route: inland (within Canada only) or outland (within Canada or anywhere else in the world).

Both married and common law couples have to prove the legitimacy of their relationship in the paper application. I received Permanent Residency via the inland common law route.

Top tip – The outland application processing time is generally shorter than inland, but an open work permit is currently being offered within four months of the application process for inland applicants.

Mountains on the way to Yukon
Mountain range in Yukon Territory, Canada

Moving to Canada: the logistics

So you’ve secured your POE (Port of Entry = IEC final approval) or COPR (Confirmation of Permanent Residency) – congratulations! The next move is to start wrapping things up at home and booking that all important flight. The following guide is aimed at those moving to Canada from outside the country.

This moving guide includes affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase using these links, I receive small percentage of the sale. I only recommend products I use (and love) or would use. 

Healthcare considerations

IEC applicants will need to buy travel insurance covering the length of their expected stay in Canada. This is mandatory to take part in the program (please note the other documentation required for arrival on the page linked above).

Two-year travel insurance policies can be difficult to find. Check True Traveller (EU citizens), HeyMondo (Australians), Cover More (Kiwis), World Nomads (over 100+ nationalities) and BestQuote (many IEC nationalities).

Those moving to Canada to become Permanent Residents should consider purchasing private insurance to cover their first few months in Canada. Most provinces/territories have a three-month waiting time for new residents to use their free or low-cost healthcare system.

Be careful to check the small print of any healthcare policy as many do not cover people moving to other countries to live permanently.

Taking your belongings To Canada

When booking your flights to Canada be sure to check luggage allowances of each airline first. The most straightforward option for bringing your belongings to Canada is to take them when flying over.

If this isn’t realistic for you, I’d first get a quote with Send My Bag (using this link will give you 5% off) for their worldwide luggage shipping services.

Another option, if you have a LOT of stuff and are moving to Canada permanently, would be to rent a shipping container. 

Finding accommodation

While it would be convenient to have accommodation set-up before the move, this can be difficult. I would recommend booking a short-term house/flat rental instead via a company like Airbnb (never used Airbnb?

Use this link to receive a discount on your first booking) to ease the transition. It is a lot easier to look for accommodation (rental or otherwise) in person.

Arriving in Canada

There are two main ways to activate your work permit (IEC) or Permanent Residency in Canada. The first is to fly in and activate at your arrival airport.

After departing the plane, follow the directions to customs/immigration, complete the electronic customs declaration at the machines and hand the printed card to an officer. From here you will be directed to immigration, in a separate area of the arrivals area.

There may be a wait, depending on how many other new residents have also recently arrived. You’ll be able to pick up your bags after immigration.

The other way to activate a work permit or Permanent Residency is by travelling to the US/Canada border. Perhaps you were visiting or touring Canada when your IEC or PR application was approved. Or maybe you felt like doing a bit of travelling first.

Either way, you can either take a holiday to the USA and then return to Canada OR flagpole. The latter is a completely legal process that involves an administrative refusal at the US border so you can return immediately back to Canada.

Read next: A Guide to Flagpoling in Canada
Penticton, British Columbia, in winter
The town of Penticton, British Columbia, in winter

Applying for a SIN

After activating your work permit/PR and settling into your accommodation I’d recommend getting your Social Insurance Number (SIN). 

This is required for working in Canada. Fortunately, getting your SIN is a quick process.

Bring your passport, immigration documents (work permit, COPR etc) to a Service Canada office. While the SIN takes less than 10 minutes to be issued, be aware that there may be a long wait.

Opening a Canadian bank account

Most Canadian banks have monthly fees to have an account with them. Luckily, there are quite a few ‘newcomers’ deals around that waive fees for at least a year for new residents.

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.

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.

So pay attention to which banks are the most common in your local area before opening an account. Luckily, most businesses in Canada accept debit and credit cards.

An alternative to banks, credit unions often 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 almost 10 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.

Moving money to Canada

Now with a Canadian bank account, you may decide to start transferring money from home. The easiest and cheapest way of doing this is by using an online money transfer service such as Wise.

The fees for online money transfer services are lower than any other transfer option and the exchange rate matches the ‘mid-market rate’ – this is the rate listed on live currency websites such as XE.

Transferring money using TransferWise and CurrencyFair is also incredibly easy. If you sign up to one of these services with the links above, you will receive one free transfer.

Getting a Canadian phone number

Having a local Canadian number is important, especially when applying for jobs.  All of the main cell phone service providers usually have a presence in major city malls and electronic stores such as Best Buy.

Most providers also have standalone stores. Canadian cell phone plans are not cheap but there are often deals. Be sure to speak to a few different providers before making a decision.

Something to keep in mind is that not all cell phone companies cover everywhere in Canada. Freedom Mobile for example only provides coverage in Canada’s biggest cities.

Are you moving to Canada? Tell me your story in the below comments section!

Looking to move to Canada but have no idea where to start? Click here for the lowdown on the three main ways you can move to Canada plus an arrival guide.
Canada is consistently listed as one of the best places to live in the world. It is not surprising then that thousands of people every year try and make the move to the Great White North. It's a land of opportunity, endless wilderness, poutine and a stable, welcoming society.But how easy is to move to Canada? Put simply, it depends on your skills, age, citizenship and family connections in Canada. Click here for more info!
One of the most beautiful countries in the world, Canada is also one of the most popular countries for people to immigrant to. If you're also wanting to head to Canada, have a look at this guide for an overview of the process.

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Joanne A.

Thursday 5th of October 2023

Isn't there a necessary Immigration Medical Exam for people wanting to move to Canada?


Monday 16th of October 2023

Hi Joanne,

Yes, for permanent residency all applicants must complete a medical. The requirement for a medical for work permits varies between programs (e.g. for the IEC working holiday program, you only need a medical if you plan to work in health settings or with children).


Saturday 18th of August 2018

Hi Gemma,

Im a 49yo HR Professional currently an international student, arrived in Canada last April 2018 together with my partner. My 17yo daughter is also with me now. But my eldest daughter, 22yo has to go back to the Philippines, she was borderline age (19yo) when we applied in October 2017, (so we were only able to get her a tourist visa, but she was given only single entry) But by Oct 24, they increased the age to 22yo but prospective application. Can we appeal for her to be given an open work visa (like my partner) as my dependent coz she now meets the age criteria. She got work back home thats why she got a tourist visa, but its not enough to sustain her. She is alone back home and its better that she is with us.

Also, can i apply for full time work while im studying (its expensive, best if i can work full-time on work visa/PR and study on the side instead of on a student visa and work part time). Im looking for a company who can give me a job offer so I can convert/apply for PR is this feasible?

We want to stay and live in canada. My study permit is only 2years, afterwhich we should leave canada. but when i graduate (but it will cost me 32k for my 2years study) i can apply for work visa, then PR, then citizenship (goal). Is there a shorter way?

Thanks to advice. Grace


Tuesday 21st of August 2018

Hi Grace

The fastest way to citizenship would be for you to be able to apply for PR now via Express Entry. But this requires certain education and skills. I believe you can only work part-time as a student. I have no clue about your daughter's situation I'm afraid. I wish you well finding answers!