How to activate your Canadian work permit

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Special thanks to Lizzie Gross for preparing this article for the Moving2Canada community.

While Lizzie outlines the straightforward process to activate your Canadian work permit when entering from outside Canada, she also shares her experience of activating her second IEC visa from within Canada. The process is known as “flagpoling”. This same process applies to activating all Canadian work permits from within Canada.

Disclaimer: The Moving2Canada Team are not registered immigration professionals. We always recommend verifying information provided with an immigration expert. Immigration rules are constantly evolving and we do our best to keep your informed. See Immigration Advice for a list of recommended experts.


Today, I am the proud owner of a brand spanking new temporary work permit (IEC visa) which allows me to legally live and work in Canada until March next year. Yessssss!

It’s been quite the process, not least due to the timing of the visa programme which meant I had to apply for my work permit this time last year and wait ten months to activate it. There are countless blog posts out there (as well as a very informative official website) about the actual application process, but this post will focus on activating my new work Canadian work permit whilst living in Canada.

Getting your temporary Canadian work permit when you first arrive in the country is actually very simple, assuming you have been issued confirmation of your visa and have the relevant documents (passport, proof of insurance, proof of funds, proof funds for a return flight, etc.) with you.

You get off the plane, queue in a line at immigration, answer some questions and leave the airport with an official permit stapled into your passport. The difficulty comes when you have confirmation of a second work permit, but you’re already living in Canada.

To activate a new visa (i.e. hand in your confirmation and get the actual permit in your passport) you have to visit the same kind of Canadian immigration office, which means you need to leave Canada in order to come back in.

One option is to go on vacation at the same time as your visa expires and then just activate it on your way back through, but if you don’t have the time or the money for an extended trip, you’ll probably just want to cross the border and immediately turn round and come back in again.

This is where flagpoling comes in.

The Peace Arch border crossing, allowing visitors from the Vancouver area enter Washington state at Blaine.

The Peace Arch border crossing, allowing visitors from the Vancouver area enter Washington state at Blaine.

Flagpoling is the term used when a person leaves a country with the sole purpose of re-entering just to activate a work permit or Permanent Residency visa. Think of the flagpole as the marker dividing Canada and the US (in this instance); the trip you’re taking is ‘around the flagpole’.

This is a completely legal visit, though is by no means straightforward. My boyfriend and I arrived at the border in a rental car, handed our passports to the officer in our lane, and told her that we were crossing the border so we could come back and get our new visas. Without batting an eyelid she gave us an orange piece of paper with ‘flagpole’ scrawled across it, drawled ‘2 flagpoling in lane 3’ into her radio, and directed us to the US immigration building.

Here’s where it gets bureaucratic.

In order for the United States to be sure that Canada will take you back, they need to refuse you entry to the country. Yes, I said you must be refused entry to the United States of America. A terrifying prospect if ever I heard one.

Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s just an administrative refusal which means it won’t affect any future visa applications, and is necessary to prove that you left Canada and are therefore eligible to go back in through immigration.

Despite this, it was still pretty scary being given a piece of white paper with ‘Refusal of Admission’ at the top of the page and our names in the middle. We were then escorted out of the back exit of the car park past the ‘Return to Canada’ signs and told ‘show this to Canada, they’ll deal with you now’. Quite.

Activate your Canadian work permit

THE orange piece of paper . . . eeeeek!

We arrived at the Canadian immigration building and had to show our passports, official Letter of Introduction (confirmation of our visa), proof of insurance coverage and proof of a return flight out of Canada. The immigration official then spent a long time checking over our application while we sat in the world’s most uncomfortable chairs, before finally being handed back our passports with a shiny new work permit stapled to the inside.

Once all our documents were safely back in our clammy little hands, we raced to the local Service Canada office to extend our temporary SINs (Social Insurance Numbers), which also expired today. This was by all accounts a far smoother process, with much less sarcasm and guns. On the plus side the entire process, including SIN extension, took a little over five hours from home to home again, which really isn’t too bad. Phew.

I would love to be able to tell you that this is it for paperwork for the next year, but alas, this is not so. I’ll be taking my new Canadian work permit into work tomorrow to scan and email to my parents in the UK, who will in turn insert them into my application pack for my third and final working holiday visa.

Once that has been sent off, I will focus my attention on my application for Permanent Residency, which I hope to send off by the end of this month. But that, my friends, is a blog post in itself…

For more on the IEC program, including working holiday visas, click here.

To read more about Lizzie’s experiences in Canada, you can visit her Marmite to Maple blog. If you would like to write an article for Moving2Canada, please feel free to contact us at

Note: Due to some confusion on part of border officers, we suggest that all Irish residents bring a copy of Operational Bulletin 490 below which highlights the change in term to two years for Irish IEC applicants. It’s available at this link.

Immigration to Canada

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