How to Get a Working Holiday Visa for Canada

Getting a working holiday visa for Canada is a great way to supplement your travels. If you are from the UK and are aged 18-30, you could be eligible for the International Experience Canada (IEC) scheme. This allows work and travel in this vast North American country for a year.

However, going through the application process can be slow and extremely confusing and there is a mountain of paperwork. Take this from somebody who managed to mess up their first IEC application and therefore had to apply from scratch.

Points to consider

There is usually a quota for the amount of people allowed on the IEC programme. It is possible to keep track of the number via the Government of Canada website, but keep in mind that it can take up to three months, during busy periods, for applications to be processed.

When I applied for 2012, there was a quota of around 5,500 and the busiest time of year seemed to be January and February. 

A step-by-step application guide can be found on the Government of Canada website, detailing how to complete the two application sections. Part one is for the IEC department and does not take too long.  However part two, which is for the visa section, made me want to pull my hair out.  It is a lot more time-consuming and complicated, mainly because you are required to obtain a Police Certificate.

How do you get a Police Certificate? You need to contact the ACPO Criminal Records Office in order to request an application form. It can take up to two weeks to receive, but you can pay more for a fast-track service of a couple of days. This certificate is needed as an official declaration that you do not have a criminal record and you are required to supply the original version (no photocopies).

There is an option on the application form to pay for more copies, just in case you reapply in the following years and do not want to incur extra administration costs.

My  biggest piece of advice: read the instructions with a fine tooth comb and be meticulous in checking that you have everything needed and that all of the pages have been validated before being printed off (this will make sense once you begin filling in the forms online).

Once the IEC part of the application has been accepted, you will receive an email informing you that the forms have been passed on to the visa section.

If everything is okay here, this department will request a payment.

They also ask you to send electronic versions of a couple of the forms you would have already submitted in paper form (by attaching the files to a reply email).

Although signatures are required on the printed forms, they are not on these ones. So do not worry about printing off, signing them and then scanning the forms like I did. This made them invalid.

Just make sure each of the pages has been validated by clicking a button at the bottom that checks all of the necessary questions have been answered and produces a bar code on the last page.

If your application is a success, a Letter of Introduction will be emailed to you.

This will be needed to prove to Canadian customs that you have been accepted, so they can issue a working holiday visa as you enter the country.

A recent bank statement (for proof of funds), a confirmation of where you will be staying and details of a return flight may also be required.

What if my visa is not ready in time?

This is what happened to me. My travels were not due to begin until May and I had initially applied in early January.

But I managed to skip an entire section and, because there was so much missing, had to start from scratch at the end of March. Needless to say, I was already in Canada when my Letter of Introduction appeared.

How did I activate the visa? I needed to cross over the border and activate it on the way back into Canada. I was in Victoria, Vancouver Island, at the time and decided to take a ferry to Seattle.  

I spent a week here, but some people just go for one night in order to get the job done. 

Please note: The ferry customs are very thorough in checking all of your documentation, unlike the officers manning the busy queue at the airport, so make sure you have everything they could possibly ask for with you.

Have you ever applied for a working holiday visa in Canada, or would you like to?







  1. Gideon
    October 10, 2012 / 13:46

    Great advice Alison thank you!
    I’ve been tuning into your blog for a few months and looking to get out to Canada for a working holiday. Visas have to be one of the most daunting aspects and this gave me a great idea of how to tackle it when they’re released in December. Anyway, great blog keep it up, happy travelling!


    • October 15, 2012 / 20:15

      Hi Gideon, I’m made up that you found this helpful. Best of luck in Canada, you’ll have an incredible time in this beautiful country!

      • Gideon
        November 14, 2012 / 20:11

        Thanks I’m looking forward to planning it all. Going to apply for my criminal record check early. Do you happen to know when visas are released for 2013? Do they announce when application is open on the IEC website?

        • November 19, 2012 / 11:38

          Hi Gideon, they should be released now I think, or very soon definitely. Have a look at the IEC website, there’s loads of info on there. I first applied in January.

  2. October 15, 2012 / 12:51

    Wow that sounds like a lot of paperwork. I’ve had working holiday visas for the US (though that was through BUNAC so I didn’t have to do a lot) and Australia which was pretty easy to get. Would’ve loved to do the Canadian one too but I’m too old now! Though having said that I was always a bit of a rubbish working traveller, who did much more travel than work and ended up paying off my trip when I got home!
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    • October 15, 2012 / 19:59

      Ah, it was annoying but worth it to have a security cushion, even though I only worked one month in the end! Like you, I wanted to travel more than work :-)