How to Move to Canada on a Working Holiday Visa (IEC)
Full video version. More helpful stuff on my Youtube channel!
So you want to move to Canada, eh?
That’s the last bad joke I’ll make, I promise.
In this post I’m giving you a comprehensive, step-by-step guide on how to move to Canada on a working holiday visa, also known as a Permis Vacances Travail for those of you in France or an IEC (International Experience Canada). We’ll be going through everything – from how it all works, what you need, how to get everything together, what to do as you arrive into Canada and any pitfalls to watch out for, based on my own personal experiences and what I’ve seen online.
This is part 1 of a Moving to Canada series I’m making, and the next entry I’ll be telling you about everything you need to do when touching down – how to find a job, what banks to go with, apartments etc.
If you have any questions after reading this, the Moving2Canada Facebook group is super helpful – it’s full of people like myself who’ve made the move and I’m sure plenty of people will be able to answer your questions on there.
- What is an IEC
- The Checklist
- The Pool System and Applying
- Receiving an Invite
- Travel Insurance
- Arriving into Canada
These are the things we’ll be going through: A basic checklist of things you need, the pool system and how it works, receiving an invite and getting everything together for the application, getting accepted, and finally arriving into Canada, what to do and what not to do when it comes to immigration.
Just a disclaimer that any recommendations for insurance, buying flights etc are my own based on my experience and this post isn’t sponsored in any way. All things referred to will be linked at the bottom.
What is an IEC
An IEC is part of Canada’s International Experience Canada Program, and provides Working Holiday Visas to 18-30 year olds from many countries around the world for 1-2 years. 18-35 year olds for most European countries excluding the UK. It’s a reciprocal agreement so basically Canada has as many places for your country as your country gives to Canada, for the same time period. For example the UK is really stingy with their visas so Canada only gives out X invites per year, whereas Ireland gets X, France gets X 1 year visas and Australia gets unlimited 2 year visas, because we allow an infinite amount of Canadians into our country. So for the Brits it’s extremely competitive to get in and may take months or years, whereas us Aussies are basically guaranteed to get in – I got my invite in one month and my friend got hers in one week. The visa is an open work permit so you are basically allowed to do whatever you want except study on it – travel the country, work in any industry – except the sex industry – over those 2 years. And you can switch to a different visa if you want to stay longer.
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea,
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, United Kingdom
These are the basic things you need to get the visa:
- A minimum of $2500 CAD, proven with bank statements
- Enough money to buy a one-way ticket back home (or a return ticket, but don’t get that)
- Comprehensive Travel Insurance for your entire stay in Canada.
- Your CV
- A US ESTA visa if you’re transiting through the states on your way to Canada
- Federal Police Certificates from every country you have lived in.
- A medical check if you live in certain countries or want to work in certain jobs
- I think that’s it… oh wait no. Your Passport, you definitely need your passport
- And it has to be valid for 6 months beyond your intended stay. If it’s not, apply for a new one.
There’s a few more things but you will receive those via the steps I’ll be going through later on.
Note: The $2500 Canadian is the required minimum amount to get through, but I would strongly recommend you save much, much more than that. $2500 is meant to allow you time to find your footing in Canada, but that’s cutting it extremely close no matter where in Canada you live. You would have to hit the ground running and score a job within the first month or two of arriving. I recommend at least $6000 not including the flight home money, I myself brought $10,000. The more the better.
The Pool System and applying
The IEC program works as a sort of lottery system where you are placed in your country’s pool of applicants and are selected at random in invite rounds throughout the year. Each country has a set amount of invites per year so depending on your country you might miss out on the first round, or even all the rounds and have to reapply the year after. Countries like the UK have some people who have to wait months or even years to get invited, and similar for France where there’s a ton of people who want to go to Canada. In Australia, we have unlimited spots so it’s literally just a matter of time before you get in.
To get into the pool you just have to fill out an eligibility questionnaire on the IEC website, and as long as you’re eligible, receive your personal reference number, register on the CIC website, complete your International Experience Canada Profile and submit it. Once you’ve seen a confirmation, you’re in the pool.
I personally applied for my visa a year ago – the day before the US election (the site went down the day after) – and received my invite a month later. Note that this doesn’t mean you’re in, this is only an invitation to apply. But you’re close.
Once you’ve done this I suggest you start immediately getting your Federal Police Certificates together, as these can take a while to process depending on the country. It’s basically a background check to make sure you aren’t some kind of psycho. For Australia you can request yours online easily for $42 here and it arrives in about 3 weeks. You need to get one for every place you’ve lived in for more than 6 months, and if you have a criminal record of any kind, I’m sorry but that will greatly hinder your chances of getting in, no matter what it is. If you are planning on working in the healthcare sector, a laboratory or with children (teaching) you also need to have a medical exam (will also be necessary for particular countries).
Receiving an invitation to apply
YOU GOT AN INVITE! You’re getting closer. Once you accept that invitation you have 20 days to fill out your application, which is why it’s important to get that Police Certificate as soon as you apply to the pool. Okay now we’re getting into the meat of things and need to gather all of the following documents together:
- Federal Police Certificates
- From every country that you’ve lived in for more than 6 months
- As long as you don’t have any convictions you should be okay, if not you need to provide documents related to them
- Medical exams (if they’re needed from your country) – I didn’t need this as an Australian and the UK doesn’t need one either
- IM5707e form – family information form which you just have to fill out
- The dates and addresses of absolutely everywhere you’ve lived in the past 10 years.
- 4 months of financial history to prove you have $2500 CAD, you can get these from online bank statements. Another option is to get a signed letter from your parents or anyone who is supporting you financially
- Your work history
- Photo of yourself
These are all sent in electronically via the GCKey website, so once you gather these documents upload scans and you’re good. I’m going to be going into detail with the work history and photograph parts because of some issues people have and one I experienced.
With work history they want every job you’ve ever had, details of the job and where it was based. Be careful with this as they go through these details very very carefully. I got caught up with this as I listed all of my jobs as being based in Sydney apart from one – the one where I was getting paid to travel through Europe for 50 days. I started working with them in mid 2014 and finished mid 2015 but was remote in Sydney for most of it, so I didn’t know what to put down for location. I put Helsinki, Finland because that’s where the office was based thinking “Yeah this will look cool on my application”, and after submitting I got a request from Immigration Canada for a Federal Police Certificate from Finland before my application would be processed. I was freaking out. HOW DO I GET A POLICE CERTIFICATE FROM FINLAND?! I’ve never lived there, I was only there for 11 days, they have no idea who I am!
In the attachment box I sent them a signed explanation via pdf that there was a misunderstanding and I was only in Finland as a tourist, and after a week everything was all good and my application went through. Point is, do not mess around with this section because it will bite you in the ass. But do take solace in the fact that you can explain yourself to get over any mishaps.
Digital Photo of Yourself
- This can’t be some random photo of you at a party that you found on Facebook. It has to fit the specifications of the diagram below, more akin to a passport photo.
- Once you’ve met all these specifications, you’re good to send the photo in jpeg or jpeg2000 format. No png.
Once you’ve got all this together and uploaded it to the site, you’re good to accept all the terms and conditions, pay the application fee which is $150 for the 2018 season and submit the application. Getting approved is officially slated to take up to 8 weeks but can be a lot sooner than that, it’s just a waiting game.
It’s been a few weeks of incessantly checking your inbox and there it is. Your acceptance letter, the Port of Entry Document. You’re approved. YOU ARE IN. YOU ARE GOING TO CANADA!
No really, you are going to Canada. Once you’ve received an acceptance letter, you have breached past the point of no return. You now have 1 year from the acceptance date to move to Canada and activate your visa. You will never be able to apply for this ever again. This is it. Hopefully you aren’t watching this step-for-step as you go and are having second thoughts, because you’re all in now.
At this point you seriously need to get all of your stuff together. Right now you need to make sure to have the following:
- Your flights
- Your travel insurance to cover the duration of your intended stay
- Your PoE letter, printed
- Your bank statements showing proof of funds totalling over $2500 CAD + enough for a flight home (or proof of a return ticket), printed
- Your US ESTA Visa if you’re transiting through the United States, and printed (just in case)
- Passport that’s valid over the length of your stay (doesn’t have to be for 6 months more apparently, but do so at your own peril)
- Oh and also quit your job and start saying all your goodbyes, because you’re moving to Canada.
An eTA is an Electronic Travel Authorisation and is what allows you to fly into Canada and is valid for 5 years. You don’t need to pay $7 for this as it is included in your Port of Entry letter. Highlight the eTA number.
For your bank statements, they have to be from within the week before you enter Canada. If you have multiple bank accounts, staple the statements together and write the total amount on the top. You basically want to make the Canada Border Services Agent’s job as easy as possible.
With flights just a quick general travel tip – what I normally do is use Google Flights and their crazy quick calendar search to quickly find the cheapest dates to fly, and then I check other websites like Momondo, airline sites and with travel agents to get the best deal. In Australia, Student Flights is pretty great if you’re under 26, as you’re potentially able to score a discounted seat.
Getting this right is extremely important as getting it wrong can severely mess up your intended stay in Canada.
- You need to purchase comprehensive travel insurance that covers hospitalisation and also repatriation in case you fall deathly ill and/or die.
- The only issue is that nearly every standard travel insurance plan you can get is at maximum 1 year, so instead of buying one of those look out for specifically named IEC insurance which is tailor made for Canadian working holiday visas, lasting the 2 full years. Be careful and read the terms when purchasing the insurance as some of the cheaper options will not allow any trips back to your home country during your stay, or have it limited to just one. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s ok.
- A lot of people talk about how they bought one year of insurance and were given a two year work permit when arriving into Canada, but that completely depends on the Border agent you’re dealing with and how lax they are. You’re taking a huge risk with the next two years of your life and if you get an officer who follows all the rules to a T then you’re gonna get screwed. Once you receive your work permit start and end dates, that cannot be extended. That’s the rule.
- For the Aussies out there watching I went with DU insure which is underwritten by Allianz – covers everything you need for 2 years as well as unlimited trips back home. It is a little pricey at $2,199, or $2600 for the winter sports package, but that’s the price we get in Australia. Link in description. There are cheaper options more around $1400 but you are not allowed any trips back to Australia, so take them at your own peril.
- For the UK/Europe I’ve seen a lot of people recommend TrueTraveller as well.
- Once you have purchased the insurance you need to print out not only the Certificate of Insurance but the actual policy document as well – it’s not valid without it. The officer at Canada Border Services will check through this to make sure your insurance is compliant.
Arriving into Canada
You’ve said goodbye to friends and family, you have all of your documents printed out, accessible and highlighted, you’ve hopped onto one of potentially many planes, perhaps danced with the TSA if you’re from Aus or NZ, and you’ve finally landed in Canada.
At the Customs desk show them your passport and when asked why you came to Canada say you’re here for X amount of time on an IEC Working Holiday visa. They’ll process you and send you to Canada Border Services just behind them (in the Montreal airport). At the desk give the agent all of your documents and wait for them to process you. They’ll be checking your passport, proof of funds, insurance and might ask you a few questions. At this stage make sure they give you the correct amount of time on your work permit. Because of a human error some people have been given only a week or even a day in Canada and had to appeal to get it fixed. My officer didn’t even know Australians got two years.
Officer: Why did you buy two years of travel insurance?
Me: …because I wanted to make the most of the working holiday visa?..
After that he spent 5 minutes looking it up online and discovered that yes, we do get two years. Crisis averted. Point is, make sure they do their job correctly.
Once everything is processed and approved, the agent will hand you your beautiful work permit document, you’re free to grab your bags and enter the land of the Great North. You now have permission to freak out. Congratulations, you made it to Canada.
That’s it! Thank you for reading this tutorial, hopefully you found it helpful and if you did please feel free to share it around to anyone looking into moving to Canada. This is part of an ongoing series of Canada posts and in the next one I’ll be going in depth with everything you need to do once you arrive into Canada and how to do it – this goes for everything from looking for jobs, accommodation, drivers licence, banks and phone plans. I post these first to my YouTube channel and here later, so be sure to subscribe so you get them as soon as they come out.
Until next time,
IMPORTANT: Of course make sure to check official sources for information while going through the application. This is a compilation of everything I know but things may change in the future. Hopefully this gives you a solid understanding of what’s involved in the application so you’ll be able to go through it without hiccups, and if you do have any hiccups you’ll take note of my experiences and know what to do. Links to everything are below.
Moving2Canada FB Group
^The idea behind this post was to limit all the repetitive questions on there, so if this video, the official sites and the questions already asked on the group didn’t answer your query – then go right ahead.