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A Working Holiday in Canada: Everything You Need to Know

As the second biggest country in the world (and dare I say one of the most beautiful?), Canada is a fantastic place to travel.

Whether you love to be in the mountains, by the ocean or in a busy cosmopolitan city, there’s a place for you in Canada. A working holiday in Canada is an ideal way to discover this stunning place.

This post offers a condensed (but thorough) guide to moving to Canada on a working holiday.

I originally arrived in Canada on a working holiday, fell in love with the country and am now a Canadian citizen. I continue to help others to experience Canada the way I have.

A working holiday in Canada with the IEC

The IEC (International Experience Canada) consists of three different programs for young people wanting to live and work in Canada. The most popular program of the three is the working holiday.

The working holiday program allows young people aged 18-30 (18-35 in some cases) from participating to live, work and travel anywhere in Canada.

The length of the included work permit varies from 6 to 24 months. The IEC working holiday program is, by far, the easiest way to try out living in Canada.

This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I have used and would use.

desolation sound views gemma kayaking roscoe bay

Applying for the IEC working holiday program

The IEC working holiday program has an entirely online application, based on a lottery system. If you have already done a working holiday elsewhere in the world, you will find Canada’s IEC application to be quite different.

To apply for a working holiday in Canada, you must first have good timing The IEC works in cycles, with each yearly application cycle starting in late autumn (November/December) and ending the following September or October.

Once the program opens, applicants can submit a profile into a ‘pool’ for their country of citizenship. Invites are then sent randomly to eligible candidates in each pool throughout the IEC cycle.

After receiving an invite, candidates submit a completed list of documents and biometrics. If submitted correctly, a POE (Port of Entry) email will be sent up to 8 weeks later, signifying final approval.

Many of the IEC pools are oversubscribed, meaning that not all applicants will receive an invite. For a lot of people, the IEC working holiday application involves luck and patience. It is, however, absolutely worth it!

Booking your flights to Canada

The first major decision after the visa application is where to book a flight to in Canada. The most popular destinations for IEC participants are Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. A fair number of those heading to Calgary and Vancouver will disperse to various mountain towns in BC and Alberta.

Wherever you decide to fly to, keep in mind that winter weather conditions can be difficult in Canada. So if you have a deadline to meet (job start date, IEC POE expiry etc), be sure to fly out a week before this. It is not unusual for flights to be cancelled.

If you book a flight with a connection in Canada, be aware that you will complete immigration at your first point of arrival. If you miss your connection due to immigration, the airline will put you on the next available flight.

Purchase IEC travel insurance for Canada

To participate in the IEC working holiday program, you MUST purchase travel insurance to cover the length of your intended stay in Canada.

If you do not, you risk being given a shortened work permit or no work permit at all, with no potential extension later. Don’t risk your working holiday in Canada!

Besides this requirement, keep in mind that medical care in Canada is extremely expensive. The cost of a relatively simple visit to the Emergency Department in Canada can easily cost thousands of dollars.

The following insurance companies all offer long stay insurance policies with winter sports coverage available for an additional premium.

  • True Traveller offer 24 month IEC policies for British and EU citizens – I used them for my working holiday in Canada.
  • Australians can purchase 12 months with Fast Cover and then extend another 12 months before departure (please note that Fast Cover paused IEC policy sales in March 2020)
  • For those from New Zealand, Down Under has a 23 month policy available (unfortunately, Down Under paused the sales of policies in March 2020)
  • An alternative for all IEC nationalities is purchasing 2 x 1 year policies with World Nomads
Elevated view looking down on lakes and mountains in Gwillim Lakes
Just some of the beautiful views you can find on a working holiday in Canada

Organising foreign currency for your working holiday in Canada

Before you leave your home country, it is a good idea to consider how you will spend and access money while in Canada. There are quite a few ways of doing so, with varying value and convenience.

Online money transfer services such as TransferWise and CurrencyFair usually offer the best exchange rates possible between your home currency and Canadian dollars (and these links offer you one free transfer!) They are both easy to set up but you will need a Canadian bank account first.

In the meantime, consider ordering a prepaid currency card such as CaxtonFX or signing up for a Monzo account to tide you over for the first few days in Canada.

Booking short-term accommodation in Canada

It is ideal to book a week or more of accommodation after your arrival in Canada. This will leave you more relaxed to settle into Canada. When booking short-term accommodation, keep in mind that most long-term rentals will become available on the 15th or 1st of the month.

The most popular options for arrival accommodation in Canada are undoubtedly hostels and Airbnb. The latter is particularly good for groups and couples.

Never used Airbnb before? Sign up via this link and you’ll get a $45 discount on your first booking.

Canadian flag above Okanagan Lake

Leaving your home country

Here are a few more things to think before leaving home for Canada:

  • Arrival documentation for IEC work permit activation (proof of funds, proof of insurance, see below for more info)
  • Student loan payments
  • Advise the tax office of your departure
  • Mail forwarding
  • Photocopies or scans of your drivers’ license and other important documents
  • Leaving party with friends and family
  • New passport since your IEC application? You’ll need to apply for a new eTA
  • Organising your belongings. Need more space than the airline can offer? Consider using an international shipping service as SendMyBag. This link offers a 5% discount
Sign up to our monthly IEC newsletter and receive a FREE printable packing list designed specifically for working holiday makers heading for Canada!

Arriving for a working holiday in Canada

And now the exciting part begins. Most IEC participants arrive in Canada via a flight from their home country.

On arrival in Canada, you will need to head to customs as normal. Here, you will need to use a Primary Inspection Kiosks to make your customs declaration.

Advise the officer at the customs desk that you are activating an IEC work permit. They will direct you to immigration.

Be sure to have all of your documents ready to show the immigration officer:

  • Passport
  • Proof of $2,500 funds (bank statement dated within the last 7 days, can be a print-screen of online banking)
  • Travel insurance for the length of your intended stay (policy statement)
  • A return flight (or proof of additional funds to cover a return flight)
  • Port of Entry (POE) acceptance letter

I would also recommend bringing a copy of this POE validity FAQ as well as the IEC bilateral agreements page. These documents prove how long your work permit should be. Be sure to double check the expiry of your work permit before leaving immigration. After receiving the work permit, you’ll need to collect your luggage and then hand in the customs slip at the exit.

Getting your Social Insurance Number (SIN)

One of the first things you should do in Canada is secure your Social Insurance Number (SIN). Without a valid SIN, you are unable to work in Canada. Getting a SIN is easy, once you have your IEC work permit.

The first step to securing your SIN is to locate a Service Canada office near you. Bring your passport and work permit during opening hours and be prepared to wait.

When called, you will need to show your documents to an agent and answer a few questions. The actual appointment is very quick and you will leave with a piece of paper with your SIN printed on it.

Orange kayak with aquamarine water, 100 Wild Islands

Opening a bank account in Canada

Banking in Canada is much the same as everywhere else….except it probably comes with more fees than you are used to. The vast majority of banks in Canada charge monthly fees for the convenience of having an account. Luckily, the biggest banks all offer some kind of newcomer deal that waives fees for a year or more.

Opening a bank account in Canada is easy; simply wander in and ask. Some banks will book you an appointment for another time while some will open you an account then and there. Be sure to bring ID.

Alternatives to traditional banks include credit unions and online banks such as Tangerine. These offer basic checking accounts with no fees. The downside is that you need Canadian ID and proof of address to sign up.

I personally use Tangerine for my banking in Canada. If you sign up to Tangerine with my orange key (52249338S1), you’ll receive a bonus $50 into your account.


Getting a Canadian cell phone number

Canadian cell phone plans are amongst some of the most expensive in the world. Be prepared to spend more on your monthly cell phone plan than you did at home. The easiest way to compare plans is to simply walk into a cell phone shop (Best Buy, Walmart, the Source) and ask.

You can also visit kiosks and dedicated cell phone shops in malls. Before signing up for a plan, check the coverage map. Not all companies cover everywhere in Canada! This can prove difficult if you plan to travel or live outside a big city.

Koodo is my preferred carrier in Canada. They offer some of the most affordable and flexible month to month plans. Koodo uses the same signal as Telus and has one of the biggest coverage networks. If you also choose Koodo, click this link,  submit your name before signing up and you’ll receive a $25 credit towards your first bill.

Manning Park hiking views - Choosing Working Holiday Travel Insurance

Looking for work in Canada

It is possible to look for work while still in your home country, but it is likely to be more productive after you have arrived in Canada. It is generally more helpful to employers to have applicants who are local and able to work.

The first step to securing employment is to Canadianise your resume. Some quick research on Google will demonstrate the differences from your home country.

Canadian resumes are pretty factual and often only one page in length. They should ideally be tailored to every job. Resumes should be submitted with a cover letter that explains in more detail why you are an ideal fit for the position applied for.


Finding long-term accommodation in Canada

Methods to find apartment rentals and house shares vary across the Canadian provinces but some of the best resources remain universal.

  • Padmapper combines rental adverts across a city or area
  • Kijiji is used in many Canadian cities and communities, as is Craigslist
  • Facebook groups are another good source
  • Watch for signs outside apartment buildings
  • Check local newspapers and noticeboards

Living in Canada

No matter where you are from, you are bound to experience some cultural differences after moving to Canada.

Whether it is the weather, friendly people, incredible scenery or cost of living, there will be something new for you to experience here. Thinking of the latter, here are some things you’ll probably notice:

  • Canada is separated into provinces and territories, each of which is surprisingly different. On the IEC, it is possible to live anywhere in Canada.
  • The cost of living in Canada is quite high. Hourly wages tend to be lower than other developed countries, especially compared to Australia. Groceries (especially dairy), consumer goods and alcohol are typically higher in cost than the UK and US.
  • Taxes are not included in the cost of items. Most provinces and territories charge an additional tax rate on top of the federal tax rate of 5%. British Columbia, for example, charges an additional 7% on most consumer goods, while New Brunswick adds 10%.
  • Canadian weather can be extreme, with freezing cold winters and blisteringly hot summers. It does vary wildly between the provinces, however. One thing is for sure though – you will experience four seasons of weather wherever you go.
  • Most provinces allow IEC participants to sign up for provincial healthcare after establishing residence. If you choose to do so, keep in mind that provincial healthcare is not a replacement for travel insurance and sometimes comes with a monthly fee.

My own Working Holiday in Canada experience

I arrived in Vancouver tired but excited to start my working holiday in Canada. My boyfriend and I had chosen to start in British Columbia, thinking that we would try and work at a ski resort for the winter.

It was a fun plan but we had sadly arrived much too late (mid-November) to easily secure jobs. Disappointed but not defeated, we headed to Vancouver Island for some sightseeing.

We quickly fell in love with the beautiful mix of mountains, ocean and rainforest that the Island offered. It was a good thing too since we were already low on funds!

Settling down for the winter in the small town of Courtenay, our job hunting didn’t initially go so well. Eventually, though, everything worked out. JR began working as a chef and I finally snagged a ski resort job, albeit much later (early January) than I originally imagined.

Within a few months of living the chilled Vancouver Island lifestyle, we had decided to stay for another ski season in Courtenay. We loved the mild winter weather, friendly locals and the ridiculous amount of powder on the ski hill.

By the start of our second year in Courtenay, I was well into preparations for an application for permanent residency. There was no doubt that we wanted to stay in British Columbia for the near future. And here I am, still here seven years later!

Of course, in the meantime, I have travelled across the country to eight more provinces and two territories, visiting countless amazing places. I became a Permanent Resident in 2014 and a Canadian citizen in 2018. Canada is my home and I absolutely love it.

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