So you're thinking about moving to Canada, eh? Well, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about moving to Canada from the UK on the IEC Working Holiday Visa in 2020!
We moved to Vancouver in 2015 and it's one of the best decisions we've ever made. What was supposed to be a 1-year adventure ended up being more permanent and we've now been here over 5 years! We first got the IEC visa (back in the day, you could apply twice) and we got our Permanent Residency accepted in 2018 so we can stay here indefinitely which is very exciting! If you're interested in learning more about getting PR, check out my guide on how to get Permanent Residency in Canada.
We immediately fell in love with Canada and I adore the life we have here. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know how much I rave about Vancouver in particular - you can ski, hike, scuba dive, paddleboard, kayak, shop, eat, and enjoy Vancouver's city life all in one day, which for me, is a dream come true. Of course, there are many cities other than Vancouver too. Montreal is wonderful if you're not quite ready to let go of Europe (it reminds me a lot of Paris).
Toronto is a major hub and if you want a more happening city (similar to London UK) then Toronto is a lot busier than Vancouver. And then there are plenty of amazing destinations in-between, such as Vancouver Island, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Calgary and places on the East Coast. Because of its size, Canada is so varied in terms of climate, language, culture and vibe. So, where you choose to live really depends on the type of lifestyle you're after and every city is different.
Included in this guide is everything you need to know about moving to Canada from the UK, including how to apply for a Working Holiday Visa (aka. IEC), eligibility requirements, cost, how long it takes, and practical information such as preparing documents and what to do when you arrive. There are plenty of links highlighted in blue throughout this post that direct you to more info.
Please note that age, quota, and some other information may vary for Irish applicants. Although I have completed this process and know a lot about it, I am not a qualified immigration expert so make sure to fact check and do your own research. Let me know if you have any questions in the comment box below or on Instagram DM, and good luck if you apply!
Key Facts About Moving to Canada From the UK & IEC 2020
The Canadian Working Holiday Visa for Brits is called the International Experience Canada visa, also referred to as the IEC. Visas are issued by the Government of Canada. The IEC provides young people aged 18-30 with the opportunity to live, travel, and work in Canada. Unlike other more permanent visas, you don't need a job lined up to apply, and you get selected at random. When you're in Canada, you can work in any industry (but you don't necessarily have to work), however, some industries may require an approved Canadian medical check.
In 2015, the whole application process completely changed. It moved away from first come, first serve, and towards a pool system instead. Applicants are basically placed into a big pot, and then at regular intervals candidates are selected at random and invited to apply for the IEC visa. There is a fresh pool each year, and there are usually a few rounds of invitations each year. Pools usually open at the end of the year or the beginning of the following year, and applicants are continuously accepted until the allocated quota is used up. The quota for the UK is usually around 5,000 yearly.
You can only participate once in the IEC. Applicants are allowed to stay in Canada up to 24 months on the IEC visa. If you participated in the IEC program before 2015 for a period of 12 months, you are eligible to apply again for the IEC which will give you another 24 months. If you've already participated twice in IEC, you can not apply again. If you want to stay in Canada but you can't apply for your IEC again, your best option to stay in the county is to apply for Permanent Residency or apply for a Work Permit through your employer.
This year's 2019-2020 IEC program opened on December 11th, 2019. The first round of invitations will be issued on February 24th, 2020. Keep an eye out for updates here.
An overview of the facts
(Updated Feb 2020)
IEC is for British citizens aged 18-30 from the UK & Channel Islands of Jersey & Guernsey.
You can only participate in the IEC once (unless you already had an IEC visa before 2015, in which case you can apply again).
The visa is valid for 24 months.
The visa costs $253 CAD (around £150).
The quota for the UK is roughly between 2,500-5,000 annually.
Your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay in Canada. Your work permit will not be longer than the validity of your passport.
The key changes that were implemented in 2015 still apply for 2020, with a few additions.
It is a pool system. This means that when you apply, your name is put into a pool and at regular intervals, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will invite candidates to officially apply for the visa. Candidates are randomly selected, and invitations occur throughout the year. You are not guaranteed a visa. Essentially, the most difficult part of the application process is getting picked because it's completely random.
You cannot apply as a couple. Each applicant applies individually on their own merit.
You will need to prove you have $2,500 CAD in the bank upon entering the country.
From when the final application is sent, it can take up to 8 weeks to actually receive the visa. You then have 1 year to enter the country. Your 2-year visa will begin the day that you enter Canada and officially activate your visa.
You can apply online, and you don't need to be in England to apply.
You can apply directly to the Government of Canada, or you can do it via organizations such as BUNAC who help prepare the application on your behalf.
You must have travel insurance for the FULL duration of your visa. This needs to be obtained before you enter Canada.
You will need to provide biometrics when you apply.
To find out how many visas are left for your country and the invitation dates, see here.
How To Apply For A Working Holiday Visa
The whole process of moving to Canada from the UK on the IEC is fairly straight-forward. You apply for the IEC visa through the Government of Canada website. The whole application is submitted online through the online portal. You can also go through organizations such as BUNAC, but doing this does not increase your chances of getting a visa. When you go through an organization, they will offer you advice on completing the application, and may help with finding cheap flights, getting a job, etc, but you will likely have to pay a fee. It's perfectly fine and simple enough to apply yourself, as long as you follow the guidelines (we didn't go through an organization when we applied).
If you entered the 2018-2019 pool but didn't get selected, you will need to create a new profile this year for 2019-2020. All profiles are removed from the previous year's intake but you can enter again.
Step 1: Become a candidate
The first step is to become a candidate. You must fill out the Come To Canada online tool and answer a series of questions to see if you are eligible to apply for the IEC visa. If you are eligible, you'll then get a personal reference code which you'll use to create your account, so write this down.
TIP: If you're a British Citizen, make sure to select "British Citizens" and not "United Kingdom & Colonies" under the "Country/territory of your passport" drop down menu. When asked what country you reside in, it's broken down into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Check the UK eligibility requirements for more details.
Step 2: Create your profile
If you are found eligible to apply, you will receive a personal reference code which you can then use to create a MyCIC account and create your profile. MyCIC will be your portal for your application. Make sure to keep note of all your logins as well as your reference code. Select the "GCKey" option to create an account, or sign in with your Canadian bank account if you have one. When completing your profile, you will be required to submit the following information:
Name, DOB, place of birth, passport info, country of citizenship, country of residence, contact info, student status (if it applies), and job offer (if it applies).
Remember, you do not have to have a job offer to apply for an IEC visa. Even if you do have a job offer, it may be better just to leave it blank as it may only complicate the application, however, that's for you to decide.
Step 3: Submit your profile to the pool
Once you have submitted and validated all the information on your MyCIC profile, you can submit your profile to your pool of choice. Double, triple check that all the information is correct, as you can't edit it after. Your profile must be completed within 60 days of starting it, otherwise you have to start again. You will remain in the pool for 1 year, unless you get an invite to submit your visa before then.
It is free to submit your profile to the pool, and you don't have to pay anything until you are invited to submit your full IEC visa application.
REMEMBER: If you get accepted for the IEC visa, you then have 1 year to officially activate it and enter Canada. So, even if you don't want to move to Canada straight away, it's good to get a head start and enter the pool at the beginning of the yearly intake as you don't know how long it'll take to get picked. You have more chance of getting picked if you're in the pool earlier on rather than entering later.
Step 4: Play the waiting game
Now this is the hard part! Submitting your profile to the pool DOES NOT mean that you have applied for your visa. You have essentially been placed into a large pool of applicants, and at this stage, you're waiting to get picked out and to receive your Invitation to Apply (ITA), which is your official invitation to apply for the visa and complete the next step.
Applicants are chosen at random. This means that if you're applying with your friend or partner, you're not all guaranteed a spot. I got my invitation to apply in December, and Matt got his 6 weeks later, even though we submitted our profile on the same day. You may receive your invitation to apply 3 weeks after submitting your profile, you may receive it 3 months after, or you may not get invited at all. Demand exceeds the quota, and not everyone will get invited. The rounds of invitations dates and quota information are posted on the IEC website so keep an eye on these.
In the meantime, look at the type of documents you'll need if your application is successful, such as police checks. If you've lived abroad for more than 6 months since the age of 18, you'll need a police check from each country you lived in. You will also need a police check from England. If you're going to work in a job that requires a medical exam, look into this too. There's more info on preparing documents further down.
This year, the pool opened on December 11th, 2019. While there's no set date yet, in previous years, the pools have closed at the end of September (although this intake could be different). You could get chosen to apply anytime between these dates.
Step 5: Receiving the invitation
If you get chosen from the pool and receive your Invitation to Apply, the invite will be sent to your MyCIC inbox. Check the email account that is linked to your application on a daily basis. Check your junk mail too in case the email falls past your inbox. When you receive your invitation to apply, you will then have 10 days to accept or decline the invite and officially start your application.
If you don't respond within this time, your invitation will expire. If this happens, you'll then have to submit a new IEC profile and re-enter the pool if you still want to apply.
If you don't get an invitation to apply, you will stay in the pool until the end of the season or until you're no longer eligible for IEC. When the pools close, you'll be notified and you can then re-apply at the start of the next IEC season intake.
Step 6: Applying for a work permit via MyCIC
From when you accept your IEC visa invitation, you then have 20 days to complete your work permit application.
The application requires further information regarding work/education, citizenship, contact info, and other information. A lot of the info is already inputted from when you initially created your MyCIC profile. You can't edit the basic info so make sure it's correct when you first create your profile.
In the work and education sections, don't leave any time gaps when filling out the "history" section. Include all periods of unemployment, absences and travel dates and include paid and unpaid work in the "work history" section.
You will also be required to submit the following documents to MyCIC. It is all done online and submitted electronically. More information can be found on this web page.
Documents to submit
Family Information Form - this asks for family details, including spouse, parents & siblings.
CV/Resume - upload an updated CV, outlining your education, qualifications, and work experience.
Digital Photo - upload a digital photo of yourself. It must be a certain size, file, & resolution. The final frame size must be at least 35mm x 45mm. The photographs must show a full front view of the head and tops of shoulders, with the face in the middle of the photograph. The size of the head, from chin to crown, must be between 31mm and 36mm. The physical dimensions in pixels must be at least 420 x 540. If you scan a digital photo, the minimum resolution must be 600 pixels per inch. The digital file must be JPEG. Find more info here (scroll down to Digital Photo)
Medical Exam - if you intend to work in healthcare, with children, or in certain other roles, you may need to submit a medical exam. This web page has more info. If you don't intend to work in these fields, you don't need a medical check to apply for the IEC.
Passport - upload a copy of your passport. Your passport must be valid when you apply, when you will enter Canada, and when you will depart Canada. Your work permit will not be issued for longer than the validity of your passport, so make sure you have a few years left. Your passport must include a blank page other than the last page.
Police Certificates - you must obtain police certificates from all countries that you've lived in for more than 6 months since the age of 18, including the UK. For example, I lived in France for a year, so I had to obtain a police check from the UK and France. Use this web page to find info on how to get police checks from different countries. Some checks are free (such as France), some are not. For the UK, apply to ACRO online or via post. The fee is either £45/£80, for 10 day/2 day service.
Keep in mind that some police checks can take a few weeks to arrive, and you only have 20 days to submit your application. If your police check doesn't arrive in time, go ahead and submit your application and upload a "Letter of Explanation" when uploading your documents. Include a photo of the police check receipt or any proof that you have requested your police check, and briefly explain why you haven't included your check. You can then send the police check certificate to CIC on the online portal when it arrives.
eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) - if you need an eTA, you'll automatically be issued one when your work permit is approved. See here for more info.
Step 7: Pay and submit!
When your work permit application is complete, it's now time to pay and submit. The total application fee is $253 CAD. The IEC participation fee is $153 CAD, and the Working Holiday permit holder fee is another $100 CAD. If you need to give biometrics (more on this on Step 8), you will also need to pay the $85 Biometric fee when you pay your IEC participation fee. You can pay via Visa or Mastercard online through your IRCC account. Find more info here.
Step 8: Give your biometrics
In 2018, biometrics were introduced to the IEC program (and other immigration programs) and it's now a required step for your application. The biometric process essentially involves collecting your photograph, electronic fingerprints and personal details and it's used for immigration and safety purposes.
Once you've submitted your IEC application and you've paid your fees, you'll receive a letter in your CIC account inbox within 24 hours confirming whether or not you need to give biometrics. The letter will include instructions on the biometric process (see more info here).
You have up to 30 days upon receipt of the instruction letter to give your biometrics. It needs to be done in person at an official Visa Application Centre (VAC) and you can go to any VAC (i.e. not just in your country of residence) to give your biometrics. When you arrive in Canada your identity and fingerprints will then be checked. There are limited VACs in each country, and there is just 1 centre in the UK (in London), so keep this in mind.
GOOD TO KNOW: On arrival at the biometrics centre, they will ask for your passport and a printed copy of your biometrics letter. You may be able to print it at the centre (you can in the London centre, but i'm not sure about other locations). However, it's quite expensive and can take up valuable time, so print it out beforehand to save yourself the hassle. You won't be able to get your biometrics if you don't bring your passport - so don't forget it! The testing process is easy and doesn't take too long.
Step 9: Wait for your approval
This is the final step of the waiting game! Once you've paid the fees, submited your application and supporting documents and given your biometrics, CIC will begin processing your application. Don't forget to submit your police checks or medical exams if you weren't able to submit them before you sent the application (if you just uploaded the receipt). All communication will be through your MyCIC account. You will be notified via email of any new messages so keep an eye out.
CIC says that it can take up to 8 weeks/56 days for your application to be approved. My visa only took 2-3 weeks to come through, but it can vary. Don't buy your plane tickets or buy travel insurance until your visa is approved.
If successful, you will then receive your Port of Entry Letter of Introduction (POE) through MyCIC. This is what you will need to take with you to the border when entering Canada. This is not your actual visa. Your visa will be given to you when you enter the country. Your POE letter will clearly state an expiry date, which is usually 1 year after you receive the visa.
For example, if you receive your POE letter on 1 March 2020, you will have until 1 March 2021 to enter Canada. The 2-year visa will then begin on the date that you enter the country. Your expiry date cannot be changed or extended, so make sure to enter the country before it runs out! Once your visa is active, you are then free to work/travel etc and you can also leave and re-enter the country on your IEC visa as you wish. Remember, you must carry your IEC visa with you whenever you plan to leave Canada.
For more information, visit the International Experience Canada website.
Preparing For Arrival In Canada!
Now time for the fun part, actually coming to Canada! Your POE letter will state the documents that you need to bring with you to enter Canada. You will need to bring a printed copy of your Port of Entry Letter, a copy of your travel/health insurance, and proof of $2,500 CAD in your bank account.
You must have travel insurance for the FULL duration of your visa. If you only get 1 year of insurance, you will only be given a 1-year visa. I went with True Traveller, who are one of the few companies that offer travel insurance for a continuous 2 year period. I paid about £500 for 2 years (this was the cheapest I found), so factor this into your budget. You can't just get regular cheap insurance, as most travel insurance only covers you for short trips up to 90 days. This article from Moving2Canada has a good overview of insurance providers that may be helpful.
Proof of funds
You will need to prove you have $2,500 CAD in your bank account when you enter Canada. Print off a copy of your bank statement, or take a screenshot of your bank account on your phone. It must be dated within 1 week before your departure. Some forums will say that you don't need this money and you don't need to take proof - but don't follow this advice. We weren't asked for copies of these documents, however, many people are, and it is an official requirement. It really depends on the officer you get that day and they may refuse your visa if you don't have proof of funds.
Entering the country
When you arrive in Canada you'll need to go to Immigration to exchange your POE letter for your official visa and get it activated. From experience, I recommend that you're as organised as possible with your documents and have everything printed and ready. At this point you still haven't been granted the visa, so make sure you have all your necessary documents as it's the Immigration officer who will officially activate your visa and grant you entry into Canada.
Keep in mind that you will have to activate your visa at your first port of entry into Canada. For example, if you're flying to Vancouver via Toronto, you will clear Immigration and activate your visa in Toronto. If this is the case, make sure you build in enough time before your connecting flight. Immigration can get busy and it could take up to a couple of hours to get seen, so it's better to allocate more time than less.
Arriving in Canada on a Working Holiday Visa
Aside from exploring, there are a few essential things you need to organize when you arrive in Canada, such as banking, phone contract, and housing.
It's a good idea to line up somewhere to stay for at least the first few nights after you arrive. If you're coming to Vancouver, I highly recommend House-i, which is a huge house in Downtown with many en-suite double bedrooms. We've stayed there a few times and it's great. There's also AirBnB and a few hostels. Apparently HI-Vancouver hostel is quite nice.
Don't ever accept a tenancy or hand over any kind of deposit or money before you've actually arrived in the country and seen the rental (in person, with your own eyes!). There are plenty of scam artists out there, so be careful. Sites like Craigslist, Rent it Furnished and Kijiji are commonly used to find rentals. I recently wrote a piece on Apartment Hunting in Vancouver which you may find useful.
Depending on the type of employment you're looking for, it's a good idea to fix up your CV and think about the type of work you want to do. Matt got his job lined up before we arrived, so consider reaching out to companies prior to getting here. There are also companies that help you find work (particularly if you're looking for resort work), such as Canago, Gap Work, & Smaller Earth. Websites like Indeed and Craigslist are good for job hunting too.
Setting up a bank account should be one of the first things you do. We're with Scotiabank, but there are others. Moving2Canada recently wrote a really good piece about the best bank accounts for newcomers that may help. Shop around, as some banks offer good perks, such as cash back or points. It's also a good idea to get a credit card, as Canada is old school for certain things and occasionally you'll need a credit card as debit isn't always accepted.
Phone contracts are generally quite pricey compared to England. One of the best contracts I've found is the TELUS Peace of Mind plan. Packages range from $75 for 10GB data to $125 for 50GB data (SIM-only) including texts and calls and the cell coverage across Canada is fantastic. Freedom does offer affordable packages too, however signal is usually restricted to just within the city and anywhere outside of their home areas may be considered as roaming and you get charged. Remember to get your phone unlocked before you arrive.
Your SIN number is basically the equivalent of your national insurance number. Get this sorted straight away, as you'll probably need it for your phone and definitely for a job. You get your SIN number from a Service Canada Office.
So there you have it - pretty much everything you need to know about moving to Canada from the UK in 2020. The IEC Facebook group is also quite good for information from other applicants and for connecting with other people, and Moving2Canada is a great source of information and they regularly post updates.
I hope you've found this guide useful, and if you have any questions please drop me a comment in the box below and i'll do my best to answer them!