how to get a canadian working holiday visa

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time you’ll know that up until February 2017 I lived in the UK. Then in February I left the UK for Canada on a Canadian Working Holiday Visa (also referred to as the IEC – International Experience Canada visa). One of the things I’m emailed most about is how to get get a Canadian Working Holiday Visa. I don’t blame you, so far things are pretty great here.

The good news is that the pool is now open again which means now is the time to apply for your Canadian Working Holiday Visa for 2018! It’s a pretty simple process (much easier than getting a visa to China was…) and here is how you go about it!

What is the International Experience Canada, or Working Holiday Visa?

The International Experience Canada (IEC) program allows people from certain countries to work and travel anywhere in Canada. You do not even have to have a job lined up before you go. The length of the work permit you get and the age limit depends on where you’re from. Most of the time it is for people aged 18-30 or 18-35 and the permit lasts for two years. But this is not always the case.

Since I’m from the UK I’ll be focusing on the application process there although the steps are largely the same, it’s just the duration and the age that tend to change.

If you’re from the UK you can get a working holiday visa for Canada between the ages of 18-30 and it will be given to you for two years. You get the two years in one go; unlike in Australia where you have to apply for the second year.

Every country that takes part in the IEC programme has an annual quota which is based on reciprocal agreements with Canada. For the UK (and some other countries) the demand is way, way higher than the quota. This means not everyone who wants a working holiday visa will get it.

Should I go through a company to get my visa?

Personally I’d say a big fat ‘no’ to this.

Since the Canadian working holiday visa process is random a company cannot guarantee they’ll get you a visa. They have no more chance than you do. Basically they charge a lot of money for not much.

They do promise to help you with jobs but if you’re open to the type of work you do you should have no problem finding work. Every day I walk by hundreds of shops, restaurants and cafes in Vancouver looking for new staff. Shops like Whole Foods and restaurants such as Cactus Club have one day every week where they will give you an on the spot interview.

TLDR; you do not need to pay someone. It’s easy to get a Canadian Working holiday visa yourself.

When do the IEC pools open and close for 2018?

The pools for the 2018 visa opened on November 3rd 2017. There is no set date for when they close but it is usually around September/October.

Am I eligible for a Canadian working holiday visa?

The best way to find out is to check this page of the CIC (Canadian Immigration & Citizenship) website. To be eligible you will need to meet the following criteria.

  • Be a citizen of one of the 33 participating countries
  • Have a passport that is valid for the duration of the work permit. So, if your work permit would end in 2022 your passport must be valid past that time. You will not be given a work permit that is longer than the the validity of your passport
  • Be between the ages of 18 and 30 (if you’re from the UK). Other countries go up to 35
  • Have the equivalent of CAD$2,500 on landing to help cover initial expenses. You can screenshot your bank statement for this
  • Have health insurance for the full duration of your Working Holiday Visa in Canada
  • Be admissible to Canada
  • Not be accompanied by dependants
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How do I apply for a Canadian working holiday visa from the UK?

Before November 2015 the process used to be first come first served. This resulted in people waiting at their laptops and frantically trying to type in the information requested as quickly as possible. Now the Canadian working holiday visa works on more of a random, lottery based selection.

I applied back in 2015 so was the first year to undergo the newer and current process. Whilst there are quite a few steps they’re relatively easy.

To get a working holiday visa you must:

  1. Complete the ‘Come to Canada’ questionnaire to check your eligibility for the IEC programme.
  2. If you are eligible then you will be allowed to “create a profile”. This involved putting in details such as your name, passport number, citizenship, current residence etc. Once complete, this profile is added to the pool of candidates for the working holiday visa. This is known as “joining the pool” and there are separate pools for each country. You can find out more about the pools here.
  3. CIC will regularly invite candidates from each pool. This is random selection and there is nothing you can do to speed it up. An invite could take a week, months, or could not come at all. It’s worth noting that if you’re applying as a couple there is no guarantee that you’ll both get an invite.
  4. If you get an invite you have 10 days to decide whether to accept or decline.
  5. Once you accept your invite to apply for the IEC programme you will need to submit further forms and information within 20 days.
  6. At this point, provided you submit everything in time and have no criminal convictions, you will be sent a POE (Port of entry) You have a year to activate this by entering Canada upon which you’ll be given a work permit.

Step one: Check your eligibility for the IEC programme

If you’re thinking about moving to Canada as part of the working holiday programme then you first need to check you’re eligible. Remember, this changes depending on where you’re from.

You can check your eligibility on the ‘Come to Canada’ questionnaire . If eligible, you should see a confirmation of eligibility for the IEC working holiday programme and then a reference code (e.g. JM12345678). Lower down the page there will be a link to MyCIC which will take you to the next step!

Step two: Create your profile and join the pool

In order to join the pool you need to create a MyCIC account. If you have one already you can use it for this application too. If you don’t then use this GCKey link to create 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. This will then take you to the e-service application.
  • You will see 4 categories of information to fill in and submit. Some of this will be automatically entered from before. At this stage of the application for a Canadian working holiday visa you only need basic contact and personal details (incl. your passport details).
  • Remember to fill in and save each section.
  • Once complete you can submit your profile for the pool!
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You must finish this stage within 60 days or starting it. You will then remain in the pool for a year. You do not have to accept a place on the IEC programme. At this stage you can reject it and try again the following year.

Step three: Wait and wait…and then wait some more

If you’re anything like me then you’ll be checking your email every day. Then logging into your account to see if anything has changed. I’m not the most patient person around…

Everyone in the pool has an equal chance of being picked. All you can do is wait. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get an invite (unless you’re Australian where there’s an unlimited quota!).

While you wait it’s worth thinking about the other documents you will need should you get an invite to apply (ITA).


A medical test is not required for most participants of the Canadian IEC programme. However, you will need one if you have live or travelled in certain countries for six months or more. You will also need one if  you plan to work in health-related services, or with children, while in Canada.

Your medical exam must be performed by an approved Panel Physician.

Police certificate(s):

You will require a police certificate from every country you have spent 6 months or more in since the age of 18. This also includes a combination of different short trips e.g. three months in 2015, six weeks in 2016, two months in 2017.

Police certificates can be no older than 6 months at the time you submit them to CIC. Therefore I wouldn’t suggest getting on on the off-chance that you get invited to apply as it may no longer be valid.

I had to get a police certificate from both the UK (where I’m a citizen), and France (where I did my year abroad). The French one was free and came super quick, the UK one cost upwards of £40 and was a bit slower.

I know that US certificates can take a very, very long time but you can submit receipts to CIC to show you’ve asked for a police certificate if you get to the end of the 20 day window to submit your application.

Step four: Getting that invite!

If you get an ITA you will receive an email to the account you signed up with and will see a message in your MyCIC inbox. At this point you have 10 days to accept or decline the invite.

  • Click ‘Start Application’ to accept your invite. This waives whatever remains of the 10 day period. As soon as you do this step five starts.
  • If you have multiple police certificates to apply for and/or a medical (or just need more time) you could wait to click ‘start application’ for a few more days.

Step 5: Applying for the IEC work permit

You get 20 days to complete a work permit application as part of your Canadian working holiday visa.

This step involves submitting more information including; your work and education history, your citizenship, family details and contact details. A lot of this is automatically entered from step 2 and cannot be changed. However, you can change your passport number if you’ve have to get a new one since entering the pool and applying (which I did).

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You will then be asked to upload a number of documents and pay the fee for the IEC visa.

For most people the required list of documents will include:

  • Family Information Form IMM5707
  • Police Certificate(s)
  • Your CV
  • A photo (passport style)
  • Police Certificate(s)
  • Passport/Travel document (scan of photo page plus all stamps)
  • Participation fee of $150 plus $100 for an Open Work Permit Holder fee if taking part in the working holiday program

If you do not have the required documents you can upload a ‘Letter of Explanation’ (self-created) to explain why.

  • Upload as much as you can and provide as much proof as you can regarding the missing documentation.
  • If you do not upload a letter of explanation and the 20 days runs out, your application will be cancelled and you will have to wait for an invite again. 

Step 6: Waiting (again)

Once you have sent everything off you should hear back within 8 weeks. Usually you’ll hear back quicker. If you do not hear back within 8 weeks you can use the IRCC web form to follow it up.

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). 



Sometimes these letters miraculously disappear from your MyCIC account so make sure you save it somewhere else too.

When you enter Canada make sure to bring this letter along with proof of funds ($2,500), proof of insurance for the whole two years and your police certificates (plus medical certificate if applicable). You should then be given your IEC work permit stapled into your passport! If you’re from the UK this will be for the full two years.

Where can I find out more about the IEC programme?

If you have more questions either ask below or join these Facebook groups. They’re full of people who have been or are going through the process and the members are super knowledgeable.