They always say that the hardest part of leaving on a big adventure is making the decision to do it.
With that already done (and your IEC application hopefully approved by now), it starts getting fun at this point!
This post is all about preparing to leave your home country and what you should know about arriving in Canada for a ski season.
It also includes advice about getting a Canadian Social Insurance Number, bank account, local phone number and swapping your drivers licence.
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Flying to Canada
Booking your flight to Canada will make the experience feel much more real. Most ski season workers will fly into Vancouver or Calgary.
Keep in mind that if your flight is not direct to your final destination, you will have to pass through Canadian immigration wherever you first land in Canada.
So if you fly from the UK to Vancouver via Toronto, you will clear immigration in Toronto. Where possible, book your flights with the same carrier. If there are any immigration delays, the airline should put you on the next available flight to your final destination.
Booking a flight
It is not necessary to have a return flight booked for your ski season in Canada.
The IEC arrival conditions state that you must ‘have, prior to departure, a round-trip ticket or the financial resources to purchase a departure ticket for the end of your authorized stay in Canada.’ Financial resources to buy a flight can be a credit card in your name.
It is a good idea to purchase your (mandatory) IEC travel insurance after booking your flights. This can help in the event of an emergency or airline failure before you fly to Canada.
Flying from Europe
I have flown from Vancouver to the UK many times over the last decade. I usually fly Air Canada or WestJet, with the latter being my preference. I have also flown with Air Transat.
- Air Canada offers daily flights to Canada from more destinations while Air Transat and WestJet have more varied schedules
- Air Transat offers one free ski or snowboard bag up to 20kg
My preference is to book direct with airlines (and they usually offer the cheapest rate), but Canadian Affair often have awesome sales and specials for IEC participants arriving from Europe utilising Air Transat.
Be sure to double check the airline’s luggage allowance if you are bringing winter equipment with you. Air Transat, for example, allows one free snowboard/ski bag, which can be a big money saver!
Flying from Australia or New Zealand
If you are from Australia or New Zealand, you will probably consider travelling to Canada via the USA.
Unfortunately, one of the rules of the USA’s visa waiver program is that visitors must have a flight out of North America (USA, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean islands) booked within the 90 days visa waiver period. This is true even if you have a valid ESTA.
Visitors who cannot show a departing flight out of the continent may be refused entry to the USA. This can cause issues even when simply flying through the USA.
Until IEC participants have exchanged their POE for a work permit, they are not considered residents of Canada and hence are still subject to this visa waiver rule.
Although this rule seems to be rarely enforced, it does happen. One member of my O Canada! IEC Facebook group was sent back to Australia on arrival in Hawaii as they did not have a flight booked to leave North America. Another person was forced to purchase a flight during check-in at Sydney.
The only two ways I know to avoid this issue is to either have a return flight booked out of North America within 90 days of arrival (and use it) or apply and receive a B2 Visitor Visa.
Keep in mind that applying for a a B2 is more expensive and difficult to get than the visa waiver and if you get refused, you may not be able to visit the USA in future.
Ski or snowboard bag fees too expensive with the airline? Or planning to travel Canada before the ski season and don’t want to carry your skis or board around? Consider shipping your equipment with a company like SendMyBag
With your flight and insurance both organised, the largest part of leaving home is done. There are a few smaller tasks to do, however, with the main one being booking accommodation for your arrival in Canada.
Even if you do have a job (and potentially long term accommodation) lined up in a ski area already, I would still recommend spending a few days in your arrival city.
This will help you acclimatise to Canada and give you some time to sort out a few necessities (SIN, bank account, SIM card) before heading to the mountains.
Most mountain towns have limited services and shops, so spending a few days in a city will almost definitely save time later.
Before leaving home, you may also want to:
- Submit a form to the tax office to let them know you are leaving the country
- Make arrangements regarding your student loan, if applicable
- Forward your mail
- Consider how to transfer money once in Canada (see below)
- Prepare your arrival documentation (more about that in a second)
- Get proof of no claims driving history, if appropriate
- Find proof of driving licence history, if licence does not show original issue date
- Have a leaving party!
Staying at a hostel is usually the cheapest option for accommodation after arriving in Canada. Couples and groups may find it better value to rent somewhere through Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb before and would like a discount off your first stay, sign up using this link here.
Transferring Money to Canada for your Ski Season
Something else to consider before leaving home is how you will transfer or access your money in Canada for your ski season.
Aside from bringing a small amount of Canadian cash on the journey, you can also load a prepaid currency card. These are reloadable Visa/Mastercard debit cards which allow use in shops and withdrawals from ATMs.
For larger sums of money, I highly recommend using an online money transfer service such as Wise (link offers one free transfer).
A relatively new service, online money transfer services work on a peer-to-peer system which offers the absolute best exchange rate for your money and the lowest fees. Both companies offer a fast service and are much better value than using a traditional bank transfer or PayPal.
You’ll need to open a Canadian bank account to transfer your money to Canada. If you want to transfer money before you leave (say, for a better exchange rate) consider opening a Wise Borderless account. I use mine often. It is possible to order a debit card, so you can use the money in your account (from home) in Canada after you arrive, with low fees.
Arriving in Canada
On arrival in Canada for your ski season, you will need:
- Valid Port of Entry Letter of Introduction (final IEC approval)
- Proof of funds
- Proof of health/travel insurance for entirety of your stay in Canada
If you completed a medical exam to be able to work with children or in the health services, I would be inclined to also bring your proof of it with you.
CIC recommends to have ‘copies of all the documents you provided for your International Experience Canada application’ available on arrival in Canada for your ski season.
Proof of funds
A bank statement from your bank is the best way to satisfy the financial requirements for the IEC work permit. Online statements or screenshots are acceptable. A signed letter from your banking institution on official letterhead stating your account balance is another option.
Don’t worry about your statement showing the total amount in a currency other than Canadian dollars—the border officials are used to this.
The statement or letter should be issued no more than a week before the date of your arrival in Canada. If you fly to Canada on a one-way flight, remember that you will need to prove you have the financial resources to buy a departure ticket. I’d estimate this at $1000 to be safe.
A credit card is accepted as proof of these financial resources.
Proof of travel insurance
It is mandatory to have travel insurance for your working holiday in Canada.
The travel or health insurance policy you present on arrival must cover medical care, hospitalization and repatriation to your country and be valid for the entirety of your planned stay.
And, yes, they do check. Not every time but they can and do.
If you only have six months of travel insurance, you may only receive a six month long work permit even if eligible for a longer one
In the event that your work permit is cut short, you will not be allowed to have it extended later or reapply
If you have no insurance at all, it is possible that your entry to Canada may be completely refused
DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE – BUY APPROPRIATE INSURANCE!
When checking in for your flight to Canada, you may be asked about your eTA.
To fly into Canada, all non-Canadian (or Permanent Resident) travellers must have a valid eTA (electronic travel authorisation). This is a not a visa to visit Canada, just an authorisation (similar to the USA’s ESTA) that allows passengers to fly to Canada.
When your IEC application was approved, you would have automatically been issued an eTA—check page 2 of your POE for more info.
If you have changed your passport since your IEC application, you will need to apply for a new eTA. Be sure to apply for it on the official website only. It costs $7CAD.
Arriving in Canada by air
After embarking from the aircraft, head to immigration as normal. If you did not complete a customs declaration on the plane already (this is being phased out), you will first arrive at the customs declaration machines.
The machine will ask you a series of questions about your visit to Canada and take your photo. You will also need to declare any food or animal products at this point.
Once you have finished, the machine will print a receipt. Take this and join the visitor line (non Canadian/Permanent Resident) line.
Before I reached this queue myself, I saw an airport official calling out for anyone with work visas of any kind. She directed me and some others to an area by the side of the main immigration desks, where we joined a queue for those with working holiday visas and temporary work permits. If this doesn’t happen for you, don’t worry.
Once you reach the border officer at the main desk, mention you are looking to activate your IEC and they will direct you over to this side area. They may ask you to pick up your luggage first and place it by the exit door of the separate immigration room.
Arriving in Canada by land
The process to activate an IEC work permit by land border is very similar to the airport.
If you are driving, the Border Officer at the main booth will direct you where to park and enter the building.
If you are already visiting Canada, you will either need to ‘flagpole’ or take a short trip to the USA to activate your work permit.
Activating your IEC work permit
The Canada Border Services officer in immigration looked at some of my documents, asked me a few questions (‘what kind of work do you want to do in Canada?’) and then printed my work permit.
When you receive your work permit, be sure to check that all the information is correct.
- First make sure the expiry date is correct and the passport number matches your current passport
- The employer and employment location fields should also state ‘open’
- If you took a medical so you could work in the health services, double check that the restriction is not on your permit
- Ensure your permit is valid for the full length of time allowed
- Make sure your name is spelled correctly
If there is a mistake, speak to a border officer right away. Do not leave immigration as it is much more difficult to fix issues after you have left. Ask for a supervisor if you have to.
The final activation process took around five minutes total, plus about ten minutes of waiting time. Sometimes, it can take much longer. It depends on how busy the border or airport is.
I would recommend ensuring that you have at least three hours between connections if you’re flying on somewhere else in Canada.
Applying for your Social Insurance Number
The SIN is a unique nine-digit number that is mandatory for working in Canada. It is straightforward to get.
All you have to do is turn up at any Service Canada office, explain at the main desk you are applying for your SIN and join the queue. You will need your:
- Work permit
The official may ask for an address (doesn’t have to be a permanent one, no proof is required) as well as some security questions.
You should receive a paper confirmation of your SIN immediately. They no longer send cards or any documentation by mail.
Opening a bank account
Another essential on your to-do list when first arriving in Canada should be opening a bank account. I’ll be upfront here—banking in Canada is not typically free. Monthly fees are normal as are transaction limits and ATM fees (if you don’t use your own bank to withdraw money).
Opening a bank account is pretty easy, however.
The banks that dominate Canada’s banking industry are nicknamed ‘the Big 5.’ They operate from coast-to-coast-to coast and all usually offer one year free for newcomers (you’ll need to show your work permit).
After that, there may be a monthly fee if you do not have a certain amount of money paid into the account regularly.
To open an account with one of the Big 5, it is first worth researching what banks are available in your desired ski area. Some mountain towns only have one or two banks, so if you open an account with one that isn’t present, you will be at a disadvantage.
A quick Google search is all is takes to find out which banks are available. In Whistler Village, for example, there is CIBC, RBC, BMO and TD. From the map, I can also see there is a ScotiaBank in Creekside, just down the road.
The Big 5 Canadian banks are TorontoDominion Bank (TD), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Bank of Nova Scotia (ScotiaBank), Bank of Montreal (BMO) and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
Free banking options
Online banks and credit unions offer free banking options. These do, however, require some form of Canadian ID e.g. provincial drivers licence, provincial ID card.
I use both Simplii Financial and Tangerine, online banks with zero fees. The downside is not having a physical bank to go to.
If you enter my ‘orange key’ 52249338S1 when signing up to Tangerine, you’ll receive an extra $25 ($50 if they have a promotion running!) into your account with your first $100 deposit. I also get a bonus so it’s a win-win. Another way to get free banking is to use a local credit union.
For Simplii, use this link to sign up and you’ll get $50 as a bonus. A deposit of at least $100 within 6 months of opening the account is required – you also must keep $100 in the account for 30 days or more.
Cheques are still used for a number of different purposes in Canada. When starting a new job it is the standard to be asked for a blank cheque so that the employer can set up a direct deposit to your bank.
Getting a Canadian phone number and phone plan
Having a Canadian cell phone number is so important for job searching. Employers are very unlikely to consider calling an international number and will most likely assume you are not in Canada yet.
Bear in mind, however, Canadian cell phone plans are expensive, especially when data is involved. Canada is literally the most expensive country in the world for phone plans.
So be prepared to pay more than you do at home to get a Canadian phone number and plan during your ski season.
There are three national cell phone network companies in Canada – Rogers, Bell and Telus. These three companies contain various brands and subsidies using the same network such as Koodo (Telus), Fido (Rogers), Virgin (Bell).
There are also various provincial and regional services such as Freedom Mobile. These can offer awesome sounding deals but their coverage is usually limited to the main cities and hence pretty useless when you’re doing a ski season. Be sure to check the coverage map first before signing up.
Cell phone providers have their own standalone stores as well as booths in malls and within electronic stores (e.g. Best Buy) and grocery stores. Shop around for deals and be sure to check coverage before signing up for anything.
Transferring your drivers licence
Most Canadian provinces and territories require new residents to swap their drivers licence to a local one after a certain time period.
You’re generally considered to be a new resident if you plan to live in the province for the foreseeable future and have a job (or are looking for work).
Driving licensing is regulated provisionally so the process and time limit for swapping varies depending on the province.
Each province has a list of countries they have a reciprocal swapping arrangement with. If your country is not on the list, you may have to take a theory and practical driving test. If you have less than two years of driving experience, you may only be able to get a restricted drivers licence.
Getting a BC drivers licence
In British Columbia, you need to change your drivers licence within 90 days of moving. Go to a Service BC office (note that small ski resort villages usually don’t have one) with your current drivers licence, work permit, passport, proof of years of driving experience (if licence does not show this).
Getting an Albertan drivers licence
In Alberta, the time limit is also 90 days. You’ll need your current drivers licence, work permit, passport, proof of residency in Alberta and proof of years of driving experience (if licence does not show this).
Canada has a publicly funded healthcare system, individually administered by each province and territory. Eligibility and enrollment requirements vary from province to province and there is usually a three month waiting period before coverage kicks in.
Medical care costs in Canada rival those in the USA so if you are not able to use the provincial health care insurance programs, prepare for expensive treatment (and that is why travel insurance for your ski season is SO important!)
In British Columbia, public health insurance is called the Medical Services Plan (MSP). Working holiday participants can apply for MSP but must have:
- a working permit valid for at least six consecutive months or more
- be staying in British Columbia for at least six consecutive months, and
- be working a minimum of 18 hours per week
If you’re eligible, apply as soon as you can.
The Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) is possible for working holiday participants for those who ‘intend to stay in Alberta for 12 months’ and have a work permit with more than six months left on it.
On application, you’ll also need to show proof or residency in Alberta (e.g. tenancy agreement, utility bills).
Planning a ski season in Canada? Here are some helpful resources
Secure your working holiday visa – your first step to an amazing ski season in Canada is to apply for the IEC program
Research Canadian ski resorts and apply for work – Get the low down on Canada’s huge range of ski resorts and learn tips and tricks for finding a job
Book arrival accommodation – It’s a smart idea to spend at least a few days in whichever Canadian city you land in. Booking.com usually offers the best rates for hostels and hotels
Don’t forget travel insurance – A mandatory part of the IEC working holiday program in Canada, travel insurance also protects you against serious medical care costs in case of illness or injury. I have personally used True Traveller
Get prepared for arrival in Canada – This moving guide includes everything you need to know about immigration, getting a local Canadian number, opening a bank account and more