Working Holiday Visas for Canadians
Chances are you may know someone on a working holiday visa. Perhaps someone at your office is from another country, or maybe you’ve been to Whistler and noticed an abundance of Aussies. But did you know that International Experience Canada also has a reciprocal program for Canadians wishing to work and travel abroad?
IEC Canada’s Youth Mobility scheme enables Canadian citizens aged 18 - 35 to work abroad in over 30 countries around the world. For those who are accepted, the program offers a shortcut to gaining work and travel permits with its partner countries. Best of all — applying is easier than you might think.
What are the benefits?
As much as we love a good vacation, Canada’s two-week vacation deal lags behind much of the world. Experiencing faraway places in an authentic way, or achieving a balance between work and travel, becomes a bit of a challenge. By contrast, a year-long working holiday allows you to discover your chosen destination and its neighbouring locales in-depth. Equipped with a working permit obtained through the IEC program, you’ll be able to work for additional financial support throughout your journey. This can make a big difference, especially for those struggling to pay Vancouver rent and save for a big adventure.
Visas can be complicated. Long-term travel and working visas also tend to be more complex than short-term travel visas… but through the IEC program, both become easier, more affordable, and quicker to process.
Where can you go?
With over thirty partner countries across the globe, there’s a good chance your destination of choice is an IEC Partner. Check the drop down list on the IEC welcome page (pictured above), which includes destinations like Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. It also includes small yet up-and-coming gems like Estonia, San Marino, and Slovenia.
What’s the process like?
As with any international exchange, there is a bit of paper work required to make everything legal. That said, it is not as daunting a process as one might think. Applying shouldn’t be the thing that deters you from the experience.
The whole process may seem like a hassle but in my most recent experience applying for a Working Holiday visa in Slovenia, everything was quite straightforward. After some preliminary research, planning, inquiring, and preparing documents, the application process took two embassy visits, an application fee of $260 CAD, and just one week of waiting (more on that in a moment…)
Though the precise process varies from country to country, the IEC breaks it down into 6 key steps:
Choose Your Destination: Using various factors like available jobs, cost of living, spoken language, and travel opportunities, choose the country that’s right for you.
Check Your Eligibility: Each country may have different IEC requirements including age, place of residency, duration of stay, work restrictions, and proof of minimum financial requirements (amounts are reasonable and in place to make sure you don’t get stranded, don’t let this scare you away).
Choose Your Work Permit: Based on your chosen destination and circumstances, look into the available options ranging from an open work permit to an employer-specific work permit. Open work permits, also known as Working Holiday visa permits, allow you to work for any employer (or number of employers) in that location during your stay — you are not required to have a job lined up before you go. Employer-specific permits are for those arranging international co-ops, internships, or career development with a specific company — an employment contract must be completed before you apply.
Prepare Your Application: While each application is destination-specific, in general you will have to provide: a) a passport; b) proof of funds to cover starting expenses and pay for a return ticket; c) proof of medical insurance; d) a copy of your employment contract (if applicable); and e) recent passport size photos. Some additional documents may include a birth certificate, criminal record check, and medical exam.
Submit Application: In general, you must fill the requisite application form, submit necessary application fees, and submit your application and requested documents. Some countries offer online systems while others require these documents to be delivered in person or via mail. In general, it is best to submit these documents to the designated embassy in Canada; however, I managed to apply for my Slovenian Working Holiday Visa at the embassy in The Hague, Netherlands and an extra return trip to Canada was luckily avoided.
Plan Your Journey: If your application is approved, you can begin the planning stages of your trip. Book your flight, find a place to live, secure travel insurance, etc. Of the entire process, this step is likely to take most of your time and effort. But a proper visa is sure to kick your excitement level into overdrive and fuel the process.
If you’ve got a visa and are moving onto the planning phase of your journey, subscribe below or stay tuned for some helpful tips!
My Working Holiday
Luckily, my recent experience applying for a Working Holiday Experience was quick and smooth. I attribute part of this to choosing a partner country that receives fewer applications yet is eager to have more participants. The most difficult part was choosing a country. I had been feeling the urge to live abroad for some time before embarking on a 6 month-long journey through India. When that adventure came to a close, we found ourselves visiting family in the Netherlands and itching to stay somewhere in Europe. While the selection process will be unique for you, the factors that weighed most strongly on our decision were lifestyle and access to unexplored parts of Europe. In the end, we chose Slovenia because it offered uncharted climbing and hiking destinations, quaint historic towns, and a gateway to the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
I used the IEC website to check eligibility and fortunately, Slovenia was among the list of nations with a reciprocal working visa agreement. The IEC page led me directly to the Slovenian government’s website, where I was able to determine the right visa type for my situation and get a checklist of the application requirements. The site instructs Canadians to submit their applications to the Slovenian embassy in Canada but in my case, I was in Netherlands — a 12-hour drive away from Slovenia. I contact both the Slovenian embassy in Canada and in The Hague and was very pleased to hear back from the Hague embassy shortly after; they said it was possible to apply through their office rather than flying back to Canada. By another stroke of luck, their office was within walking distance. They clarified everything I would need to prepare and submit my application. In my first appointment, I submitted the following:
filled-in visa application form & work permit (two separate forms found here)
valid Canadian Passport with the validity of at least 1 year
printed bank statement that prove sufficient financial resources (minimum 1,500 EUR)
application fee in cash
Just seven days later, my visa application was processed and my updated passport returned! The visa application process turned out to be much easier than choosing a place or planning the logistics of the move. Though geographically close, we had made the mistake of overpacking. Our initial plan was to rent a car and make a lovely summer road trip out of the move. But when we realized that the $200 rental had an additional $1000 one-way drop fee, that plan was quickly abandoned. Each of us had two suitcases plus a 55-70L backpack in tow; fitting two lives into 6 bags (including 70m of climbing rope and enough camping gear for long backcountry stints) may sound reasonable, but we learned that it is way too much stuff when you start to add up checked baggage (which would have cost 5x more than the flight itself) or think about dragging it all down a train platform. After much research, we discovered FlixBus. It cost 60 euros each for a one-way fare plus 12 euros per additional piece of baggage (with one included). With the help of taxi rides on both ends of the journey, we managed to haul all of our stuff from The Hague to Ljubljana without it costing an arm and a leg. It also served as a very important reminder that, though prepared for the upcoming change of season, we certainly had more than the ‘bare necessities’.
Finally, we arrived—legally—in a new country with the option to work locally. While most of my income has been acquired through global freelancing for the past eight months, I have had the opportunity to work with two Slovenian film production companies on various commercial and feature film projects. While I may very well have gotten by without these local job opportunities, they have led to meeting two very close friends as well as the unique experiences of learning about Slovenia’s history as part of ‘writing research’, starring in a commercial for a local startup, and working on a film production in Triglav National Park. Each of these jobs have enriched to my time here in Slovenia. Thanks to the IEC program, we have enjoyed a balanced lifestyle of career development and leisurely travel. So much so, that as our year here nears its end, we’re planning ways to prolong the adventure!
Is a Working Holiday right for you?
So much can be gained by spending a little time away, including a greater appreciation for the place you call home. If you’re looking for new opportunities, itching for extended travel, or curious to uncover a new part of the world — but concerned about your finances and career — a year or two abroad on a Working Holiday Visa may provide the right balance between work and travel. We’re lucky to have global mobilization at our fingertips — and a working holiday is one memorable and rewarding way to take advantage!
TIPS AND Resources
Having trouble choosing a destination? Websites like Nomad List can help with the research phase. This resource is geared towards digital nomads but can help anyone guesstimate living costs and rental prices. It also scores factors like air quality, walkability, and wifi-speed, which all factor into the destinations total Nomad Score.
Thinking about relying on freelance work? Start before you leave. Building up a resume of freelance work before you set off will help immensely, especially when using sites like UpWork, where experience and positive reviews factor into the bidding process. Looking for tips and resources? Find some here.