Looking to apply for a working holiday visa for Canada? Perhaps you want to work a ski season or live in Vancouver for a year? The International Experience Canada program is what you need. It is the easiest way for young people to live and work in Canada temporarily.
This guide is intended to help applicants prepare and apply for the IEC, specifically the working holiday stream. It explains everything you need to know about acquiring a working holiday visa for Canada.
If you want to read just one article about the IEC application process and be confident about applying yourself, this is it! I have been writing application guides for the IEC for over 8 years.
There’s a lot of misinformation about the IEC on the internet but you can be assured that this application guide is the most up to date and comprehensive around.
This article is regularly updated to reflect changes in the IEC application process. Last updated 26th October 2020
The IEC has been on pause since March 2020, with no invitations being sent since. As of 18th March, foreign nationals are not allowed to enter Canada, effective until further notice. IEC participants holding a POE are currently only allowed to enter Canada with a valid job offer. It is possible to apply for a POE extension by submitting an IRCC Web Form. A notice was posted on 26th October that the 2020 pools would close on 30th October but was later deleted. Answers to IEC FAQs relating to the pandemic can be found here.
What is the IEC program?
International Experience Canada (IEC) is Canada’s youth mobility scheme. Within it, there are three programs – Working Holiday, Young Professionals and International Co-Op.
Participating IEC countries have at least one of these programs available, with some countries having more than one.
The most popular IEC stream is the working holiday program. The length of the included work permit varies from country to country. Check out the chart below for more info.
|Australia: 24 months|
18 – 30
|Czech Republic: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Denmark: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Estonia: 12 months|
18 – 35
|France: 24 months|
18 – 35
|Germany: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Greece: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Hong Kong: 12 months|
18 – 30
|Ireland: 24 months|
18 – 35
|Italy: 6 months|
18 – 35
|Japan: 12 months|
18 – 30
|Latvia: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Lithuania: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Luxembourg: 12 months|
18 – 30
|Netherlands: 12 months|
18 – 30
|New Zealand: 23 months|
18 – 35
|Norway: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Poland: 12 months|
18 – 35
|Portugal: 24 months|
18 – 35
|San Marino: 12 months|
18 to 35
|Slovakia: 12 months|
18 to 35
|Slovenia: 12 months|
18 to 35
|South Korea: 12 months|
18 to 30
|Spain: 12 months|
18 to 35
|Sweden: 12 months|
18 to 30
|Switzerland: 18 months|
18 to 35
|Taiwan: 12 months|
18 to 35
|United Kingdom: 24 months|
18 to 30
There are also reciprocal IEC arrangements with Mexico and Ukraine but these programs are currently closed
Participation in Canada’s working holiday visa program is usually a one-time deal unless you have dual citizenship. So the moral of this story is: use it or lose it!
Each participating IEC country has an annual quota of places based on reciprocal agreements with Canada.
Demand outstrips the quota in certain countries for the working holiday programs. France, South Korea and the UK are just some examples where demand is high.
How much does a working holiday visa for Canada cost?
The following are the total costs for a working holiday visa for Canada (in Canadian dollars).
Please note that none of these fees need to be paid until you have received and accepted an invite to the working holiday program.
- Participation fee – $153
- Open Work Permit Holder fee – $100
- Biometrics fee – $85
- Police certificate(s) – country dependent
- Medical, if applicable* -country dependent, $300-500 average
- Travel insurance policy for length of intended stay in Canada**
- Flights/travel expenses to Canada
- $2,500 proof of funds to show on arrival in Canada
- Return flight or proof of additional funds to purchase a return flight (credit card is acceptable)
*For those intending to work closely with children or in healthcare AND/OR applicants who have visited certain countries for 6 months or more
**Typical 2 year IEC policy without ski coverage is around £500-600 for British citizens, $2000 for Australians
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Quick Overview of the IEC Canada application process
The IEC application process was completely re-worked in November 2015. Prior to this, the process was first come, first serve.
The application process for applying for a working holiday visa for Canada is now as follows:
- IEC working holiday applicants must first complete the ‘Come to Canada’ questionnaire to check their eligibility for the IEC program.
- Eligible candidates then create a profile (with identity details, citizenship, current residence etc) which is put in a pool for the category they wish to participate.
- CIC will regularly invite candidates from each pool to participate in the program throughout the next year unless the quota runs out sooner. It is a random selection. An invite may take a week, a month, six months to arrive, or in the case of countries with more demand than places (such as the UK) not at all.
- Once an invite is received, the applicant has to decide whether to accept or decline within 10 days.
- After the invite has been accepted, applicants will then need to apply for a work permit submitting completed forms, documents (such as police certificates) and payment within 20 days.
- Up to 8 weeks after submitting the work permit application, a decision will be made.
The IEC working holiday program runs in year-long ‘seasons’, generally running from autumn to autumn. The 2020 pools opened on December 9th 2019 at 9.00am EST, with the first invite round on 6th January 2020. If you’d like to be alerted of further updates, sign up for my IEC newsletter (includes a free packing list on sign up!) or join the O Canada IEC Facebook Group
How to apply for a Working Holiday Visa for Canada
Read on for a step by step guide to the IEC working holiday application process.
Step One: Check eligibility for the IEC program
The first step to apply for your IEC working holiday in Canada is to check eligibility using the ‘Come to Canada’ tool. Note that the first question is ‘What would you like to do in Canada.’ To participate in the IEC program, the answer would be ‘IEC – Travel and Work.’
Entering the rest of your personal information is straightforward from here.
If eligible, you should see a confirmation of eligibility for the IEC working holiday program and then a reference code (e.g. JM1234567890). There will also be a link lower on the page to MyCIC, the next step of the process.
Step Two: Create profile to submit into IEC Canada pool
To create and submit an IEC profile for a working holiday visa in Canada, you will first need a MyCIC account.
If you already have MyCIC account from a previous application, you can use it for this IEC application too. If you do not have a MyCiC account, you will need to use the ‘Continue to GCKey’ link to open one.
- Once signed up/logged in, select ‘International Experience Canada’ under the ‘what would you like to do today’ title.
- On the next screen, you will need to enter that personal reference code you got at the end of the Come to Canada questionnaire. Entering the correct code will take you to the e-service application.
- On the e-service application, there are four categories of information to validate and submit. Some information that you supplied in the Come to Canada questionnaire has already been entered automatically for you. Only basic contact and personal details are required for this section, along with information from your passport.
- Each section must be validated and then saved.
- Once each section is complete, you can submit your profile into the pool.
The profile must be submitted within 60 days of starting it. Once entered, the profile will remain in the pool for a year. Submitting your profile is free and you do not have to accept a place and continue on in the process if invited.
Step Three: Wait for an invite
All eligible applicants in each IEC pool have an equal chance of being picked randomly.
This does, however, mean that if you are applying for a program that has high demand, there is sadly no guarantee you will receive an invite to the Canada working holiday program.
While waiting, consider what police certificate(s) you may need to apply for and whether you need to perform a medical exam.
These are required from any country or territory that you have spent six months or more since the age of 18.
This six month period is not cumulative (doesn’t accumulate), so even if you live in another country (other than your home country) for four months every year, you still wouldn’t need a police certificate for that country unless asked.
The exam must be performed by an approved Panel Physician. If you do not complete a medical before arriving for Canada working holiday, your IEC work permit will state that you are unable to work in these sectors.
Step Four: Receiving an invite for the IEC Program
If you are randomly selected, an invite to apply for a work permit will be sent to your MyCIC inbox. Applicants have 10 days to decide whether to accept or decline the invite.
- Clicking ‘Start Application’ accepts the invite, waiving whatever is left of the 10 day period. As soon as the application is ‘started,’ the next stage begins.
- If you have multiple/complex police certificates to apply for and/or a medical (or just need more time in general) consider holding off clicking the ‘Start application’ button for 7-8 days. Whatever you do, do not wait until the 9th or 10th day! Technical issues sometimes cause the CIC website to fail.
Step Five: Apply for IEC work permit
After accepting your IEC invite, you will 20 days to complete a work permit application via MyCIC.
- First, you must submit more information regarding your work/education history, citizenship info, communication details (email address, phone numbers etc).
- A fair amount of this info is pre-loaded from stage one (profile) and is not possible to change.
- Your answers to the work permit application questions will determine a list of required documents that also need to be uploaded. MyCIC will guide you through the process to download/complete/upload the forms and complete payment.
For most people the required list of documents will include:
- Family Information Form IMM5707
- Digital Photo
- Police Certificate (multiple) – don’t worry if you only have one!
- Passport/Travel document (scan of photo page plus all stamps)
- Participation fee of $153 plus $100 for an Open Work Permit Holder fee if taking part in the working holiday program
There is an optional ‘Letter of Explanation’ slot which is useful if you need to provide any extra information about your application. If you are having trouble submitting your application without a Letter of Explanation, upload a document in this section and then delete it. You should now be able to submit your work permit application.
Important! If you do not have the required documents within the time you need to submit them (police checks, medical proof if applicable) you should upload a ‘Letter of Explanation’ (self-created) to explain why. You will then be given a time extension for this section of the application.
- Provide as much proof as you can regarding the missing documentation (receipts, medical or biometrics appointment email, a copy of request sent to police)
- If you do not upload any receipts/appointment proof/Letter of Explanation and the 20 days runs out, your application will be cancelled and you will have to wait for an invite again.
Stage Six: Submitting biometrics
Since 2019, IEC applicants have been required to submit biometrics – fingerprints and a photo to complete their working holiday visa application.
These biometrics can only be submitted at Visa Application Centres (VAC), Application Support Centres (ASCs, USA only) and some Service Canada locations (in Canada only).
After submitting your work permit application, you’ll be sent a request to submit biometrics, usually within 24 hours. You must submit your biometrics within 30 days.
Here is what you need to know about IEC biometrics:
- Biometrics can be given at any VAC in the world – applicants do not have to go to the one in their home country
- As of Dec 3rd 2019, IEC applicants can now give biometrics at selected Service Canada locations in Canada.
- It is only possible to submit biometrics with a request letter. This is sent to the applicant after submitting the work permit application (stage five in this guide)
- Submitting biometrics costs $85. Applicants also have to make their own way at their own expense to the nearest VAC, ASC or designated Service Canada location.
- IEC applicants from Europe and Asia have been required to submit biometrics since 31st July 2018. From 31st Dec 2018, IEC applicants from Asia, Asia Pacific and the Americas also had to do so.
Stage Seven: Receiving your POE (final approval)
Once your biometrics have been submitted, you should receive an assessment within 56 days (8 weeks). If not, follow your application up with the IRCC web form.
If successful with your IEC working holiday application, you will find a ‘Correspondence Letter’ in your MyCIC inbox. This is your Port of Entry Letter of Introduction (referred to as a POE or LOI). Here is a POE letter example for the Canada working holiday program.
Congratulations! Be sure to print and save your IEC POE Letter, so you have both electronic and paper copies.
Arriving in Canada for your working holiday
With your POE approved, you can now move to Canada anytime within the next calendar year. I would not recommend waiting until just before expiry to activate in case of flight or other travel delays.
On arrival at the Canadian border (land or airport), you will need:
- Valid POE letter
- Proof of $2500 in funds – bank statement or online banking print-out, dated within last 7 days
- Proof of a return flight OR additional funds that would be used for a return flight (credit card is acceptable)
- Proof of insurance for the full length of your intended working holiday in Canada
I also recommend bringing printed copies of the following documents, to avoid any potential expiry date mistakes on the work permit:
When issued your work permit, triple check all details before leaving immigration.
If there are any issues, it is much more difficult to fix after leaving the airport or border. In particular, be sure to check the expiry date and work location (it should read ‘open’).
Working Holiday Application Advice and Tips
After six years of helping others with the working holiday visa application process, I’ve picked up a few bits of crucial advice that may be helpful along the way.
- Be sure to fill in all form fields when completing the IEC application. If a question does not relate to you, enter ‘n/a’ or ‘not applicable.’ This is especially relevant with regards to the intended work/employment questions. Canada’s working holiday program offers an open work permit, so do not enter any job details in these fields, even if you do happen to have something arranged.
- Some countries have a residency requirement e.g. Sweden, the Netherlands. If you are from one of these countries it is mandatory to list a permanent mailing address in your home country to be eligible for the IEC. If you don’t, you will be automatically refused.
- Always answer as truthfully and completely as you can. If there is not enough space in a field to you to fully answer the question, upload an additional Word document with more information under the ‘Letter of Explanation’ section.
- Don’t leave time gaps in the resume. The resume is NOT designed to be used in Canada to look for work, it is a document required by IRCC to understand your movements (employment, education, travel) prior to the application. The immigration team are not evaluating work/education skills, but are looking for gaps in the resume that may suggest travelling/working in other countries (and hence a police certificate may be required). If you leave gaps, it is very possible IRCC may request more information and this will delay your application.
- If you have more than one document for a category (i.e. two police certificates) combine documents into a multi-page PDF using an online converter.
- As per a recent update from IRCC, when submitting the Family Form, you must print, sign, scan and then upload.
- The question ‘What is your current country/territory of residence?‘ refers to where you physically are at the time of application. If this has changed since you completed your IEC profile, add a Letter of Explanation in your application and explain where you currently are.
- Keep in mind that CIC may contact you and request more documentation, depending on your circumstances. This does not necessarily mean you will not get your IEC work permit, but it will prolong the process.
- Police certificates are required from each country or territory where you have lived for six months or more. The certificate(s) must be no more than 12 months old unless they are from a country you no longer live in and not returned to. If not in English or French, the certificate must be translated.
- IRCC have confirmed that this six month period is NO LONGER cumulative, meaning that you could live in another country for four months every year but would not need to provide a police cert from that country unless asked).
- It is generally easier to complete a medical before entering Canada to activate your IEC. It is possible to do a medical in Canada after you have arrived but you will have to go to a border to have your work permit details changed after the medical has been processed. This loses you time on your work permit and may cost extra money.
- Before submitting your IEC work permit application, make sure you have uploaded each document in the right category.
- Don’t leave it until the last minute to submit. Although you have 20 days to submit the documents, do not wait to submit until the 20th day. Anything can happen – computer failure, server issues…both at your end and with CIC. Don’t risk it! If you don’t have a document (e.g. police certificate) by the time you need to upload it, submit the details in a ‘Letter of Explanation’ in this slot instead.
- Once you have your POE, print it at least once and then save it onto your computer and keep a backup via the cloud/email/USB storage. Don’t let your only copy of your all-important POE be an online version. You never know when websites are going to be down for maintenance or have other technical issues!
IEC Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a burning question about applying for Canada’s working holiday program, you’ll probably find the answer below.
It is best to just wait until the pools are open (but read my answer to ‘when should I apply for a police certificate’ below first). Once the pools do open, it is not necessary to rush. Since the IEC no longer runs on a first come, first serve system, there is no benefit to submitting an application on the day the pools open. Invites do not usually start for another two weeks afterwards. Take your time and make sure all details are correct before submitting your IEC profile.
For the working holiday visa program in Canada, your passport must be valid at the time of application. Once you have your POE, I would recommend getting a new passport before you go to Canada. Click here to find out what to do in that scenario
To be eligible, you must submit your profile to the pool(s) before turning 31 (36 for some countries) AND get picked from the pool before turning 31/36. It doesn’t matter how old you are when entering Canada for the actual working holiday.
The most common issue to come up for British applicants is having trouble passing the initial ‘Come to Canada’ questionnaire. Make sure that you have selected ‘British Citizen’ for country/territory of passport.
It is my opinion that it is not worth applying for police certificates in advance unless:
a) you are from (or have lived in) a country which has low demand or unlimited places (e.g. Australia)
b) the police certificate has a complex application process. Check the latter first here
Yes, you can apply for the IEC from within Canada. The application is entirely online. Do be aware however, of two important issues:
Some countries require you to list a permanent mailing address from the country of your citizenship. If you do not, your application will automatically be refused. This affects citizens of Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Czech Republic, Latvia, South Korea, Sweden, Hong Kong, Denmark, Slovakia and Norway.
Secondly, I would not recommend going to Canada to wait out the rest of the application after submitting a profile to the pool unless you are from a country with an unlimited quota. Visiting Canada for a holiday is fine, but waiting for months without being able to work is not ideal.
Canada has an Electronic Travel Authorization program. This means that every visitor arriving by air needs approval before boarding their flight to Canada. All IEC approvals issued after August 1, 2015, come with an ETA automatically (check page 2 of your POE letter). Applicants do not need to apply for one separately unless they change their passport after application.
Yes! As per this CIC FAQ, dual citizens (or triple citizens for that matter) can take part in the IEC as many times as each citizenship will allow.
Once you receive a second invite for your second citizenship, you’ll need to answer YES to “Have you ever applied for or obtained a visa, an eTA or a permit to visit, live, work or study in Canada?“ then NO “Have you ever participated in International Experience Canada before?”
Finally, you’ll also need to upload a Letter of Explanation to mention your dual citizenship status and prior participation on the other passport. If you have previously provided biometrics for your first application, you do not need to provide them again (they are linked to a person rather than a passport).
There is no longer an example provided but here is an older IEC resume sample. The most important thing to remember about the IEC working holiday application resume is that it is not the same as a work resume. It is a factual timeline of your work, travel and educational history.
If you’ve been asked for this document, you answered ‘yes’ to the “Have you ever committed, been arrested for, been charged with…..” question. You will need to get details of your arrest/offence and submit this.
If you’re from the UK, you can apply for a Subject Access Report. I would also suggest attaching a Letter of Explanation with more details of your offence and how you have been rehabilitated since then.
These are referred to as ‘ghost emails’ by those in the IEC community – think of them as a false alarm. Most Canada working holiday applicants get a couple during their application, but it is perfectly normal to not receive any either. What you need to be looking for is an email about a new message on your account.
Not unless specifically asked by CIC.
A minority of applicants may be asked for an RCMP Criminal Record Check due to previous residency in Canada. Do not apply for this unless you have been specifically requested for one. The request may come even if you have already received your LoI/POE.
If you are in Canada, this is reasonably straightforward to get. Visit your local RCMP station for more info. If you are outside Canada it is much more difficult and involves sending either a postal application (which takes a LONG time) or submitting an electronic application through a third party company.
My friend Joe from morehawes has been through this himself (in fact, this advice is all his) and initially had his prints done at a local police station in the UK. They were rejected. He ended up going to New Scotland Yard in London and paying a high fee to get them done, but these were actually accepted.
The staff at NSY are practised at doing fingerprints the old way (ink), while at smaller police stations it is a rare thing to do.
You can usually request an extension if you are having trouble getting the Police Check done by a certain timeframe.
Even if you did not drive in these Australian states or hold an Australian license while living there, you still need a traffic report/driving history to complete the police certificate requirements.
Contact the transportation authority in Queensland and/or Victoria and explain your situation. Both authorities accept email enquiries.
If you did not have a license while visiting or living there, explain that you need a letter stating you did not hold a license. Provide all relevant details (visit dates, addresses etc). You should receive an official letter back which you can upload to MyCIC.
As per this CIC FAQ, fill out the fields with obviously fake numbers e.g. 99999999 and/or write “Not Applicable – Working Holiday” where possible. The IEC working holiday program offers an open work permit so employer details are not required. Even if you do have a job lined up, it’s best to just receive the standard open work permit so you’re not tied to that specific employer.
The eligibility criteria for some countries require applicants to have a permanent mailing address in the country of their citizenship. Be sure to check the requirements for your own country. I’ve seen people try and appeal this before with no luck. If you are refused, you’ll just have to apply again with the correct info next time.
If you are a citizen of an IEC participating country and it is your first application, I would highly recommend applying independently of any company.
While it may be your first time travelling or living abroad, there is a lot of information already available about working holidays online plus a range of different forum websites (including Facebook) on which you can gather advice on the application and arrival process.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you apply to the IEC yourself, your first priority is your own application. Allowing a business to apply on your behalf gives the control away to someone else and you will NOT be their first priority. My advice would be to keep your own IEC destiny in your own hands!
My advice would not be the same, however, for those applying through a Recognized Organization (RO) for necessity. This could be because your country does not have an IEC program. More recently, ROs have also been given separate allocations of IEC that they can offer to second time applicants or even to people beyond the regular age limits. This information is changing so often that it is best to check the files in my Facebook group for updates.
I’m afraid you have missed your opportunity to get your POE and will receive a refund for fees paid. You will need to apply again for the IEC and hopefully receive another invite.
You are probably opening the PDF on a mobile device – try opening the document on a computer. Or better still, save the file onto your desktop and then open it.
No, you’ll receive the actual work permit in Canada. For more info on the arrival process, check out this post (it’s refers to Vancouver but the process is roughly the same at any Canadian border or international airport)
Unfortunately, receiving a POE counts as participation whether you go to Canada or not. If your country only allows for one IEC participation, I’ve afraid you’ve used it and will not be able to apply again.
Yes. POEs are not automatically activated so it is no issue to visit Canada without accidentally starting your working holiday. The eTA issued with your POE (page 2) will be valid to use to fly to Canada so be sure to have a printed copy of this to show at check in.
Yes, as long as it has your name on it. This is what I used.
Travel insurance for a working holiday in Canada must cover repatriation, medical expenses and be the length of your intended work permit. Otherwise, you risk having a shortened permit with no option of extension.
Two-year travel insurance policies are not common. Check True Traveller (EU citizens), Fast Cover (Australians), Down Under (Kiwis) and World Nomads (over 100+ nationalities).
It depends on your citizenship. I listed all of the working holiday lengths at the beginning of this post but you can also see them here.
The other considerations are passport validity and work insurance policy length. Be sure that your travel insurance policy matches the length of your allowed stay in Canada. If your passport expires during your working holiday, don’t panic, there is a process to extend your IEC work permit once the new passport arrives.
Yes, as long as the course is completed within six months.
Only in very specific situations. These specific situations include correcting expiry date mistakes made by border officers. It is NOT possible to extend an IEC work permit outside of these specific scenarios. If you want to stay longer in Canada, consider either applying for Permanent Residency or a sponsored work permit.
Communication – Who can I contact?
As a government organisation, IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, previously called CIC) is notoriously hard to get in touch with.
There is a Canadian call centre but to be honest, like many call centres, they simply repeat information from the website. They cannot really offer much in the way of advice and updates on your individual application.
Other than that, Facebook groups are a great resource for advice from others who are currently applying or have done before.
If you are refused or need to add anything to your application after step five, use this IRCC webform
Final notes and disclaimer
For more advice and tips about the IEC working holiday program, check out my ‘Ultimate Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada’ eBook. It contains everything you need to know about going on a working holiday to Canada!
Any questions? Leave a comment or check out my O Canada IEC Discussion & Support Facebook group!
About me: I have been helping people with the IEC process since 2012. I originally moved to Canada on the IEC program in 2011, became a Permanent Resident in 2014 and finally a Canadian citizen in 2018.
Please note: I do not work (or have not ever worked) for IRCC/CIC. I am not an immigration lawyer or consultant. The information here has been gathered from personal experience/online research of the IEC working holiday program as well as second-hand information from previous applicants. If you follow the advice above and in the comments below, you are doing so on the understanding that it is peer-to-peer advice. I cannot be held liable for you, an applicant, experiencing any problems (including a refusal) with your IEC application.
Secondly, be aware that I refer to ‘working holiday visas’ in this article but what IEC actually offers is an open work permit. Most participating countries are part of the visa waiver program and hence citizens from these countries do not need a visa to enter Canada.
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