Moving to Canada from the UK: A guide to the Working Holiday Visa

If you’re considering moving to Canada from the UK and are aged between 18 and 30 (inclusive), then the IEC Working Holiday Visa is a great option as it gives you the opportunity to travel and work in Canada.

I moved to Canada in June 2019 on the International Experience Canada (IEC) Working Holiday Visa. Moving to Canada was a big decision and I spent a long time debating whether I should go but after 9 months of living here I can safely say that I’m so glad I did.

I’ve put together this guide to give you an overview of the IEC application process, including how to apply, eligibility requirements, as well as practical information such as costs and supporting documents.

Please note: The IEC program is open to citizens in over 30 countries; however, the process and requirements differ for each country so this guide is specifically for British citizens in the UK and Channel Island of Jersey and Guernsey. Although I’ve completed this process I’m not an immigration expert so make sure you check the information and do your own research as well.
Moving to Canada from UK Visa

Moving to Canada from the UK: What is the IEC Working Holiday Visa?

The Working Holiday Visa is one of the categories offered under the International Experience Canada work permit program which gives young people the opportunity to live and work in Canada. There are three different categories, the other two being Young Professionals and International Co-Op. Depending on your country of residence, you may be able to apply for one of these two; however, in the UK the only category available is the IEC Working Holiday Visa.

If you’re a British citizen aged between 18 and 30 (inclusive), you can apply for a temporary work permit through this program, which enables you to live and work in Canada for 24 months. Unlike other visas, you don’t have to have a job lined up before you apply and you can work in any industry, although some industries may require additional checks and an approved Canadian medical check (i.e. childcare).

When you apply for the IEC Working Holiday Visa, you’re placed into a pool with all other candidates. The IEC season usually starts at the end of the year (November/ December) or at the beginning of the following year. Rounds of invitations take place at regular intervals and candidates are selected at random and invited to apply for a work permit, until all spots are filled.

The 2020 quota for UK applicants is 2,500 (subject to change). The first round of invitations took place on February 24th, 2020. You can check the number of invitations issued to date, spots available, and the number of candidates in the pool here.

You can apply for the Working Holiday Visa at any point during the IEC season; however I would recommend entering as soon as the season opens as you will be included in more rounds and have a greater chance of getting an Invitation to Apply (ITA).

As a British citizen, you can only participate in the IEC Working Holiday Visa program once. If you participated in the program before 2015 then you can apply again but if you’ve already participated twice then you can’t apply again. If that’s the case and you want to stay in Canada then you may want to consider applying for Permanent Residency.

IEC Working Holiday Visa Eligibility

If you’re a British citizen from the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey and you want to apply for the Working Holiday Visa, you must:

  • be a British citizen
  • have a valid passport for the duration of your stay in Canada
  • be between the ages of 18 and 30 (inclusive)
  • have a minimum of CAN$2,500 (or equivalent amount in British pounds) to help cover your expenses in Canada
  • have health insurance for the duration of your stay
  • have, before departure, a round-trip ticket or provide proof that you have enough funds to purchase a ticket home at the end of your visa
  • not be accompanied by dependants (your dependents can’t accompany you to Canada under the IEC program. They have to apply to visit, study, or work in Canada separately. You can read more here).

The IEC Working Holiday Visa: Step by Step Guide

When I first started researching moving to Canada from  the UK on the IEC working holiday visa, I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by all the various steps. However, once I read more about the process I realised it is actually quite straightforward and you apply online via the online portal.

Step 1: Complete the Come to Canada Questionnaire

If you are interested in moving to Canada from the UK on the IEC working holiday visa, the first step is to complete the Come to Canada questionnaire. This will determine your eligibility. It takes less than 10 minutes and just asks for basic information such as:

  • What you want to do there (select IEC – Travel and Work)
  • How long you want to stay
  • Your country of permanent residence
  • Your current country of residence
  • Your date of birth
  • Your student status and job offer (if this applies – I answered ‘no’ to both of these as I wasn’t a student and didn’t have a job offer)

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll see what category you are eligible for (remember, the only option for British citizens is the Working holiday Visa). Press continue and on the next page you’ll see your personal reference code. Make sure you write this down as you’ll need it to create your profile and apply.

Note: The countries are broken down into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. I spent ages looking for ‘United Kingdom’ when I applied!

Step 2: Create your profile

If you’re eligible then you can create an online IEC account on the MyCIC portal using your personal reference code. This portal is where you’ll complete your application, pay the fees, and receive messages related to your application. Make sure you use an email address that you check on a daily basis as you may receive emails from CIC to let you know you have a new message and asking you to sign in to your account to view it. There are two ways you can create an account. You can register with a GCKey which requires you to create a username and password, or if you have a Canadian bank account then you can use this to sign in. To complete your profile, you’ll need to submit the following information; passport details, date and place of birth, country of citizenship, country of residence, and contact information. You can save your profile and complete it later on but you must complete it within 60 days otherwise you won’t be able to submit it and will have to start again.
Important: Your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay in Canada. Your work permit won’t be longer than the validity of your passport. If you only have a year left on your passport when you activate your visa, you will only get a work permit for 12 months, not the full 24 months. I didn’t know about this when I applied so I applied on my old passport which would have expired a year into my visa. After speaking to a few people I learnt that a lot of people apply for a new passport once their visa is approved and take both passports when they activate their visa in Canada. I ended up doing this and it was all fine.

Step 3: Submit your profile

Once you’ve completed your profile, you can submit it to any of the available pools (if you’re moving to Canada from the UK, it’s just the Working Holiday visa category). Make sure you have carefully checked all of the information as you can’t edit it once you’ve submitted your profile.

It’s free to submit your profile – you’ll only pay the fees if you get an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for a work permit. Your profile will stay in the pool for the season unless you get an ITA before then. All profiles are removed from the pool at the end of the season so if you don’t get an ITA you will need to create a new profile for the next season.

Step 4: Cross your fingers and wait

This is definitely the hardest part – waiting to see if you get an Invitation to Apply. To be clear, submitting your profile doesn’t mean that you have applied for a work permit. It just means that you are in the pool waiting for an official ITA. Candidates are selected at random during the season so it really is a waiting game! Moving to Canada from the UK on an IEC Working Holiday visa has become even more popular following Brexit, so unfortunately demand far exceeds the quota and not everyone will get an ITA.

I really recommend using this time to get your supporting documents ready. You could get an ITA at any time and you’ll only have limited time to submit your work permit application. Some documents can take a few weeks or even months to get. You’ll need a police check from any country that you’ve lived in for more than 6 months, including the UK. I had to get police certificates from France and Germany which took a little while. I’ve included more information on documents you may need later on in this article.

Step 5: Invitation to Apply

If you’re invited to apply, you’ll get an email telling you that you have a new message in your MyCIC inbox. Make sure you regularly check the email account linked to your application so you don’t miss the message. You only have 10 days to decide if you want to accept or decline the invitation.

If you don’t respond within the 10 days then your invitation will expire. If you are still interested in mvoing to Canada from the UK on the working holiday visa, then you’ll have to go through the whole process again to apply.

If you accept the invitation, you will have 20 days from the day you accept to apply for your work permit.

Step 6: Start your work permit application

You now need to complete your work permit application. You have 20 days from the time you accept your ITA to complete and submit your application. The date and time of the deadline is in coordinated universal time (UTC). This is important to remember as it may be different to your local time and you don’t want to miss the deadline by a few hours because you got the time zone wrong!

To complete your work permit application, you’ll need to show proof of the information you provided in your profile, including information about your background, family, and type of work you intend to do in Canada.

You can’t edit basic information you entered when you created your profile. So make sure you check it is all correct before you submit your profile.

You can save the application and go back to it so you don’t have to worry about completing it in one go. Make sure you answer all questions truthfully and don’t leave any gaps in the work history and education sections. If you were unemployed or doing unpaid work at any point make sure this is included. You also need to include any absences and travel dates in the work history section.

Once you have completed all sections of the application, the system will generate your personalised document checklist which shows you all the supporting documents you need to upload. Everything must be submitted online through the MyCIC portal so you’ll need to make electronic copies of each document. You can upload your documents on the Document Checklist page in your account. Your checklist is personalised depending on the information you have submitted but I’ve included a list of typical documents you may have to submit for reference. You can find more information on this web page.

Documents you may need to submit

  • Police certificates: You’ll need to get police certificates for all countries or territories you have lived in consecutively for 6 months or more since the age of 18, as well as your current country of residence. Each country has a different process for issuing police certificates but you can check what you need to do here
  • CV/ resume: You will be asked to upload a copy of your CV which includes your current job title and the city and country where you currently work and live.
  • Passport: You’ll need to upload a clear and readable copy of your passport. Your passport must be valid when you apply to the program and when you enter and depart Canada. As I mentioned earlier, your work permit will not be issued for longer than the validity of your passport.
  • Family Information Form: You must complete this form which asks for information about your family members.
  • Medical exams: In some cases you may need to get a medical exam before you submit your work permit application. You must see a doctor that has been approved by IRCC. You can find out if you need a medical exam and the requirements here.
  • Digital photo: You’ll need to upload a digital photo of yourself. The requirements are quite particular so make sure you read the instructions carefully before submitting your photo. 

If you can’t get a document by the application deadline then you will need to write a letter known as a Letter of Explanation. You need to explain why you can’t get the document or why it is taking longer to get it. If you are waiting on the document, make sure you attach any receipts or confirmation that you have requested it and the date you expect to receive it. I had to do this for my German police certificate as I had to get it translated. I explained this in the letter, attached my receipts and told them the date I expected to have it. Attach this on the Document Checklist page with your other documents. CIC will read your letter and may contact you for more information. In my case, they sent me a message asking me to upload the German police certificate by a new deadline.

Step 7: Pay the fees and submit your application

Once you’ve checked all the information is correct and all sections are complete, you’ll need to pay the fees. You must pay the IEC participation fee which is CAD $153 and the work permit holder fee of CAD $100. If you need to give biometrics, you’ll also pay this fee at the same time which is CAD $85.

Step 8: Give your biometrics

In 2018, the IEC application process was updated to include biometrics. You now need to give your fingerprints, personal details and have your photograph taken after you apply.

After you’ve paid all your fees and submitted your application, you’ll receive a biometric instruction letter in your CIC account inbox within 24 hours. This letter will explain how and where to give your biometrics. Once you receive the letter, you have up to 30 days to give your biometrics in person at an official Visa Application Centre (VAC). There are a limited number of VACs in each country (there is only one centre in the UK in London) so I recommend booking an appointment as soon as you receive your biometric instruction letter. You can go to any VAC, not just the one in your country of residence. You can find out more about how to give your biometrics and where to give your biometrics on these pages.

If you have previously given biometrics, they may still be valid. You can check using the Check Status Tool.

When you go to give your biometrics, make sure you take your passport and a printed copy of your biometrics instruction letter. They won’t collect your biometrics if you don’t have your passport and printed letter.

Step 9: CIC processes your application

CIC will check all of your documents and may ask for additional documents depending on the information you’ve submitted. During this period, keep checking your email account linked to your CIC profile on a daily basis in case you have a new email in your CIC inbox requesting further information. You usually have a certain timeframe to respond.

If you weren’t able to submit all your documents when you paid your fee (i.e. you were waiting on police certificates), make sure you submit them as soon as you receive them as CIC can’t process your application until they have them.

It can take them up to 8 weeks to process your application but it really varies. My application was approved within 2 weeks of submitting my final document (my German police certificate).

You shouldn’t buy plane tickets or insurance until your application is officially approved.

Step 10: Receive your POE

If your application is approved, you’ll receive your Port of Entry (POE) letter in your CIC account. Please note this is not your actual visa. You need to take this letter with you when you enter Canada and show it to a border services officer at the port of entry (airport, land border etc.) in order to get your actual work permit visa. You’ll automatically be issued an eTA (electronic travel authorisation) which will allow you to enter Canada to activate your visa. Your POE will have an expiry date clearly written at the top. You must enter Canada before this date in order to activate your visa. This is usually one year after you receive the visa, so if you receive your POE letter on 1 January 2020, you will have until 1 January 2021 to enter Canada. Your 2-year visa will start on the date that you enter Canada.
Important: You can’t change or extend the expiry date on your POE. You must enter Canada before that date. If your expiry date passes and you haven’t come to Canada to activate your visa then this still counts as IEC participation. UK citizens can only participate once so unless you have dual citizenship, you will have used your one participation and won’t be able to apply again.

Moving to Canada from the UK on the working holiday visa: What Happens Next?

You now have two years to enter Canada! You’ll need to bring a printed copy of your POE along with a copy of your travel/ health insurance, and proof of funds (CAD $2500 or the equivalent amount in British pounds in your UK bank account).

If you’re curious about what to expect when you arrive in Canada (I know I was!), I’ve written an article about activating my working holiday visa in Vancouver. It’s based on my own personal experience but it includes detailed information on the documents you will need to bring, the type of travel insurance you should have, and key things to check on your work permit before leaving the border services office.

If you’re interested in moving to Canada from the UK on the working holiday visa, I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the process and how you can apply for one. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!

If you found this guide useful, please head over to Instagram and follow me to see more of my adventures in Canada.

Love From Steph

2 Responses

  1. Hi Steph what a great post this is, I just have one question. When I do finally end applying for the international experience Canada I will be 30 year’s and 4 month’s (it will be around September when I begin the process and I’ll turn 31 in the following may) would I still be considered in the 8 months before my birthday and if I’m approved by the following April for example, would I have 12 months to enter and activate the visa despite being 31 when I do.

    1. Hi Phil,

      I’m glad you found it helpful. My understanding is that you can apply as long as you’re aged 18 – 30 – inclusive. So if you’re applying when you’re 30, you’re still eligible during those 8 months. If for any reason, you aren’t selected before you turn 31 then I’m afraid you wouldn’t be able to apply anymore for the working holiday (there are other options though). Once you have been approved and receive your POE letter, you have 12 months to enter, regardless of your age. I know a few people that applied when they were 30 and then arrived a year later aged 31!

      I hope that helps!


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