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Working Holidays 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. It provides a good starting point for your working holiday research.

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.

Last updated January 2022. This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of these links, we receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

View from Banff gondola window showing other gondola car ascending mountain, with views of forest and Banff town below, with Cascade Mountain in background
Banff, Alberta

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.

Back view of Gemma in orange kayak on calm ocean looking out to views of islands and snow capped mountains in Desolation Sound, British Columbia
Kayaking Desolation Sound, British Columbia

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 or winter (November/December, sometimes January) 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!

Read More: Ultimate IEC Working Holiday Application Guide

Toronto skyline view from Hotel X at sunset with golden hour colours in sky and on buildings, also highlighting the trees next to Lake Ontario
Toronto, Ontario

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 travellers 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 delayed, or even cancelled, in winter.

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 *should* put you on the next available flight.

Read More: Vancouver vs Calgary comparison, Vancouver vs. Toronto comparison

Back view of JR standing on rock looking out to elevated view of rugged mountains and turquoise lake below (Lake O'Hara)
Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

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
  • Cover More and Fast Cover are two of the most used IEC insurance providers for Australians. 2 x 12 month policies need to be purchased for 24 months of coverage with Cover More. With Fast Cover, the initial 12 month policy can be extended by 12 months on the departure date
  • Cover More also offers policies for New Zealand citizens. It is possible to purchase a 1 year policy and then a second 11 month policy to cover Kiwis’ full 23 month IEC working holiday

Read More: The Best Travel Insurance for Working Holidays in Canada

Hand holding up red maple leaf in front of camera, with sunset colours and calm lake in background
The maple leaf is an iconic symbol of 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.

To transfer large amounts of money to your new Canadian bank account, I’d recommend using an online money transfer service like Wise. These offer excellent exchange rates with low transfer fees.

For the first few days, I’d suggest using re-loadable Visa/Mastercard debit cards which allow use in shops and withdrawals from ATMs. It’s possible to get one of these through Wise‘s borderless bank account. Monzo is an alternative.

Read More: The Cheapest (and Best!) Ways to Transfer Money to Canada

Dramatic shark fin shaped Perce Rock at golden hour, with the surface lit up by sunlight
Perce Rock, Quebec

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. Personally, I’d book one month.

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.

Drone view of Cape George Lighthouse near Antigonish, with red and white lighthouse on edge of cliff, surrounded by forest. The ocean is visible on the left
Cape George Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

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 to take more than the airline will allow? Consider using an international shipping service as SendMyBag. This link offers a 5% discount

Sign up to our IEC newsletter and receive a FREE printable packing list specifically designed 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 the electronic Primary Inspection Kiosks to make your customs declaration.

Once that has printed a slip, head to the customs desk. Advise the border officer that you are activating your IEC work permit. They will direct you to immigration (a nearby side office).

Upon entering the immigration office, take a number.

When your turn is approaching, 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.

Before leaving immigration, double check that all the details on your work permit are correct (expiry date, name, location should read ‘open’). It is difficult and time consuming to correct mistakes after leaving immigration.

After receiving the work permit, you’ll need to collect your luggage and then hand in the customs slip at the exit.

Read More: IEC Arrival Guide for Vancouver Airport

Canadian flag parasail above Okanagan Lake

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 get paid for work in Canada. Getting a SIN is easy, once you have your IEC work permit.

It is possible to apply online for the SIN, but it requires proof of address and the processing time can be very long. It’s a much better idea to go in person.

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.

JR is looking up at a huge old growth tree on the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island
Huge old growth trees on Vancouver Island

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. CIBC is a very popular bank for newcomers.

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 cell phone plans is to simply head to 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. I used them throughout my working holiday in Canada.

Looking for work in Canada

It is possible to look for work while still in your home country (especially professional work), but your search 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
Elevated view looking down on dirt road travelling through wide open landscape in Yukon Territory
Driving the Dempster Highway in Yukon Territory
 

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
Back view of Gemma walking along golden sand beach on Prince Edward Island on blue sky day
One of the many amazing beaches on Prince Edward Island

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 Vancouver 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, 9+ 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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Check out these other posts about working holidays in Canada

Julian Dedig

Saturday 28th of January 2023

Hey, was just wondering if i could talk directly to someone that could help me with the application process? Ive got a german passport, but was born and grew up in Namibia.

Gemma

Monday 30th of January 2023

Hi Julian,

There are companies that offer support with the application process, but honestly, you still may not find them very helpful. You are welcome to ask your question here or join my IEC Facebook group