So, I’ve moved to Canada, and I’m a little over a week in so far. Strangely, it feels like much longer than that somehow, even though I still feel incredibly new to the city. My first impression of Vancouver is just how big the city is. I logically knew this before arriving, but it still take a minute to adjust. Edinburgh isn’t that big at all and Hong Kong was busy, but compact. Whereas Vancouver (and most of Canada) is just so vast that it’s easy to spread things out – everything is like half an hour away by bus. I like the city in general so far though! And I thought I’d share some more details about what arriving in Canada on a working holiday entails and how my first week has been.
Immigration at the Airport
So possibly one of the most nerve-racking things about arriving in Canada on a working holiday is actually getting the visa. I wrote about the IEC application process in my last post. But that only gives you a ‘port of entry’ letter, which isn’t the actual work permit. When I landed in Toronto Airport, I had to go through Canadian immigration. If you have a connection to elsewhere in Canada, as I did for Vancouver, you still do immigration at your first entry airport. First, they direct you to a self-service machine where you enter some basic information and do your customs declaration. This includes your length of stay – 730 days for a 2-year permit!
Then, you queue up to see a border officer and give them your receipt from the machine and passport. He took one look at mine, with its 730 days, and asked “working holiday?”. He then put a big pink mark on the receipt and sent me to the next officer along the corridor. Where most people continued straight on to baggage, he saw the pink mark and indicated for me to go round the corner to more immigration desks.
Here, I was seen by another officer, who asked for my passport and port of entry letter. They can ask you for proof of medical insurance, proof of funds and any other documents submitted in your application. However, I was asked for none of those – only a remark on the sheer number of stamps in my passport – and he printed my work permit almost immediately. I checked the details were correct – it’s important to tell them then and there if you spot any error, especially in the validity date – and then continued out to baggage. It all took probably 20 minutes and was very easy!
Day One – Get Your SIN
After my connecting flight, I arrived in Vancouver pretty late and went straight to bed. But the next morning, it was an early start to head to the nearest Service Canada centre to get my SIN (social insurance number). This is super important, as you need this to work, open a bank account and various other things, so it’s worth just getting it immediately. You can apply online but this can take weeks apparently, so going in person is more efficient. Most people go early and queue outside. I arrived at the Kingsway centre at 8.05am, ahead of opening time at 8.30am. I was inside the building at 9.40am (with a warm, seated waiting area) and actually seen by someone at about 11.10am. Then, you just show your passport and work permit and they print out your SIN – this part only takes about 10 minutes!
Day One – Banks & Phones
I hopped straight across the street to a CIBC branch to open an account. I’d seen this bank recommended online, as most Canadian banks charge a monthly fee for current accounts, which is a pain to those of us not used to that. CIBC have a newcomers’ offer with no fees for the first two years – ideal if you’re not planning to stay longer! I will have to remember to cancel it when I leave though. I needed my passport, work permit and SIN, plus an address – I used the AirBnb for now. They also asked for a local phone number, which I didn’t have yet to she used the branch number and said to change it at any branch once I had my own.
I have a Wise account with a debit card and reasonable foreign transaction fees that I’d transferred some Canadian dollars into to start with. Then I sent some of this into the CIBC account once I’d activated the online banking and app. You need a local phone number for this first though!
From there, I decided to head Downtown to get my phone plan sorted. There were shops closer, but I was curious to see the city centre. I’d read good things about Fido and Koodo and quickly found a Fido shop in Pacific Centre. Phone plans are more expensive here than back home – but so is everything. There was a decent deal on that day though with a discount for the first year, plus they threw in a free wireless charger. It seems to be that there is some sort of deal on most days. And I can refer more people with a link for both to get a discount! They asked for my passport, work permit and SIN again too. Then it was just round the corner to the nearest CIBC to pop that local number onto my account!
So the first day wasn’t super exciting, besides seeing a little of Downtown. I soon saw more of the city over the next few days while flat hunting. I had booked an AirBnb for the first couple of weeks after my arrival, as you can’t really find a flat until you’re there in person to view places. It’s also worth noting that most places have move-in dates for the 1st of the month. I had to book a second AirBnb for the last few days of October as I hadn’t factored this in! It was a good way to get a feel for the city, just wandering around different neighbourhoods, before or after viewings. The area around Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant are my top choices for now!
To find places, Facebook is a good option, as in most cities. There are a ton of groups to join or browse through Marketplace. Craigslist and Kijiji are also both popular here. I used the former more and you tend to start seeing the same places advertised on all three anyway. As with anywhere, be on alert for scams – never pay an “application fee” before viewing! I nearly took a place but then the guy got pushy wanting the deposit the same day. I was still waiting on my Wise transfer to reach my Canadian account! It felt too rushed after him being very confident he’d find someone during the viewing, so I opted out. Trust your gut! Also, in British Columbia, they can only ask for a half month’s rent as a deposit, never more. This varies in other provinces though.
If you’re trying to rent a place to yourself, you’ll likely need proof of employment and references. In which case, you might need longer in an AirBnb while securing work first! I can’t afford a place alone, plus flatmates are a good way of meeting people, so I was looking for rooms in house shares. I recommend messaging with an introduction about yourself, as I was invited for plenty viewings and no one was worried about my current lack of job. In the end, I didn’t find anywhere I wanted to commit to long-term so I took a sublet in Kitsilano for November & December. The place had a good vibe with nice flatmates and gives me more time to get used to the city!
Then of course, If you’re arriving in Canada on a working holiday, the ‘work’ part of that is kind of important! Everyone comes with some funds to start, as this is a condition of getting the permit, so I’m fine to live off my savings for a while. But we’re going into winter soon and outdoor activities will be limited, so I may as well start working! Like with flats, it can be hard to secure work before arriving, as employers prefer you to already have your permit and be here. There are exceptions though, like the winter ski resorts.
I was very lucky to have colleagues back home who gave me contacts and recommendations in tourism here. I sent out plenty of applications quite soon after arriving too. Employers seem to take slightly longer to reply than the flat viewings did! Some I applied to directly on their websites or by email, from the suggestions I’d been given. I found a few others to apply for on Indeed too, which I’ve used at home before. I don’t have anything confirmed yet, but I’ve had a few interviews this week already. There seems to be a decent demand for workers in tourism, as places recover after Covid. So, hopefully it won’t take long and I might have some options to pick from! I’m sure I’ll post an update on that too.
Exploring and Meeting People
And then, the other half of arriving in Canada on a working holiday, is the ‘holiday’! I don’t feel like I’ve done a huge amount of that yet, in amongst all my life admin. But I have explored a few areas now, including Kits, Granville Island and Stanley Park. I’m always drawn to green spaces and the coast! I was also greeted with the most glorious weather; dry, warm and sunny, with the autumn leaves on show. I’m making the most of this with lots of walks before the infamous Vancouver rain begins! I’ve also got plenty of ideas for other places I want to go throughout the year.
Meeting people in a new city as an adult can be tough. Again, I’ve been very lucky to have friends back home who gave me contacts here. A few were lovely enough to meet me for a drink and to help with questions and advice. It’s also amazing who else has popped up with Canadian links. While social media can be awful at times, it can also be very useful! After posting that I was moving here, someone I met while travelling years ago reached out – I totally forgot she lived near here! A few people also got in touch to say they already have or are planning to apply for the same working holiday visa. Meaning I might have a few more contacts here later in the year as they arrive!
I’m also hopeful that I’ll meet people through future sublets and flat shares and possibly through work eventually. I’m keen to get out hiking, and it’s advised to do so in groups (because of bears, eep!), so I might have a look for some hiking groups online too!
So, arriving in Canada on a working holiday visa is certainly a bit scary and stressful. It’s been a funny week of exploring and trying to organise my life. But it’s been great to have the time (and savings) to not need to rush too much. Even though my worrisome self wants it all sorted ASAP! Things are heading in the right direction so far, so I’m optimistic it will all work out as it’s meant to!