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When you arrive in Canada on a working holiday to complete the immigration process and get your work permit, there are certain items you must bring with you. It’s also helpful to know in advance how the process of arriving in Canada typically works. This page guides you through that process.

The 2024 IEC season is open as of December 11, 2023. The first invitation rounds have taken place during the week of January 8, 2024. Please refer to our IEC News Hub for more details.

Make sure to watch our detailed guide on how to prepare for your Working Holiday Visa in Canada: 

What do I need to bring when I arrive in Canada?

Arriving in Canada should be smooth if you have every important document on you personally.  Most IEC participants arrive in Canada at an airport, but you can also arrive in Canada at a land border — more on that below.

Let’s start with the most crucial items:

  • Your passport

Don’t lose it along the way!

  • Your Port of Entry Letter of Introduction

This is a crucial document. Bring your POE letter with you to Canada and show it to a border services officer at the port of entry. This letter is not your work permit. Rather, you must show this letter to officials at the port of entry when you arrive in Canada to get your work permit. The letter is typically valid for up to 12 months, so make sure you land in Canada while it remains valid.

  • Proof of a valid insurance policy

Yes, it’s mandatory. No, you can’t purchase a shorter policy and extend your work permit validity later. No ifs, no buts, so make sure you get the longest possible work permit validity by getting the right travel and health insurance product for you. Learn more here.

  • Proof of funds

CAD $2500 or more shown on a bank statement dated within seven days. This can be an online bank statement. Try to tread somewhat comfortably above that $2,500 threshold as your date of arrival in Canada approaches — imagine if you were denied a work permit because exchange rate changes in the few days before your arrival means you are now a few dollars short! Yeah, don’t be that person.

  • Proof of return travel out of Canada or additional minimum funds to purchase a flight ticket

If you plan on visiting home or another country other than Canada within a few months, consider buying that flight ticket before arriving in Canada. First, you can save up front by purchasing a return ticket. In addition, you can avoid having to prove additional minimum funds you’ve earmarked for booking a flight out of Canada in the future. If you choose to arrive in Canada without a return flight booked, bring at least an additional $500-$1,000, depending on how much a flight home would typically cost.

You must have each of the items listed above. If you fail to provide any of these, there is a strong probability that you will not be granted a work permit. Moreover, it’s wise to bring a physical printed copy and an electronic copy, saved on a device you are carrying such as a smartphone. All it takes it for the person seated beside you on the plane to spill their coffee for your documents to be ruined — but everything will be fine if you have an electronic back-up to present.

Here are some additional items we recommend you have on you on arrival in Canada:

  • Details of the bilateral agreement between Canada and your country

Each IEC bilateral agreement is different, meaning that there are slight differences in the agreements Canada has with different countries. On rare occasions, applicants who have a legitimate application for a work permit that should have a validity of 24 months are given a work permit for 12 months. Other applicants have reported issues with the details on their work permit. Canadian border officials are, for the most part, friendly, knowledgeable people, but sometimes they don’t know each agreement inside-out. Help them out by having a copy of the relevant agreement with you, but only present it if, and only if, you spot a potential error on your work permit when it is given to you.

To find details of the agreement between Canada and your country, visit this page and scroll to the drop-down menu towards the bottom.

  • Printed copies of police certificates

In the past, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has recommended that IEC applicants arriving in Canada bring with them original copies of documents provided in your application. While the chances of needing to produce your police certificate(s) on arrival in Canada are very low, there is no harm in having it with you.

  • Proof of your medical, if you needed to take one

As above, this is another one that is handy to have with you, but it’s very unlikely you’ll be asked to present it. (Note that most IEC participants do not need a medical.)

When will I receive my work permit?

You should receive your work permit after you present all of the key documents listed in the first list above.

Do I need an eTA or any other sort of visa?

Foreign workers, including IEC participants, from Canada visa-exempt countries will automatically be issued an electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) along with their POE Letter of Introduction. Check your letter to ensure it mentions approval of your eTA before you depart, because you need this to board your flight to Canada. The eTA is electronically linked to your passport, so if you have changed your passport since receiving your POE Letter of Introduction, you need to apply for a new ETA.

There is only one country within the IEC program that is not currently visa-exempt: Costa Rica. If you’re an applicant from Costa Rica, a different sort of visa will be required, approval for which should be clear on your POE Letter of Introduction.

What else should I bring with me as I arrive in Canada?

Most of us have a routine of checking wallet, phone, keys in our pockets when we leave somewhere. Add passport to that check for arrival day.

If you are arriving in Canada any time between November and April in any location other than Vancouver or Victoria, it will in all likelihood be cold when you step outside the airport. In fact, it might be the coldest blast of air you’ve ever experienced. With this in mind, make sure you have a decent pair of gloves, a thick-ish scarf, and warm hat with you, as well as the warmest jacket you have. Beyond that, see our packing checklist for advice on things to bring in your checked luggage.

If I first touch down in Canada in a city that is not my final destination, will I go through immigration during my stopover, or in my final destination?

You will go through immigration formalities at the first place you touch down in Canada. So for example, if your final destination is Vancouver and your first flight touches down in Toronto, you will go through immigration and receive your work permit in Toronto. Consequently, there is a risk if you book a flight journey that includes a short stopover. We recommend that you leave at least three hours between your first touch-down in Canada and the next flight.

Can I enter Canada as a visitor before my IEC work permit application is approved?

Yes! As long as you satisfy the border services officer that you are entering as a visitor and will not be working, you may enter Canada before your IEC application is approved.

This strategy may help with setting yourself up in Canada, such as looking for accommodation and meeting people for employment opportunities down the line. However, it’s crucial to stress that you must not work and you should not give the border services officer an indication that you may attempt to work while on visitor status.

Before you board a flight to enter Canada as a visitor, you will need to secure an electronic Travel Authorization (eTA).

When you are approved to work in Canada, you will need to go to a Port of Entry (exit and re-enter Canada). When you re-enter, you must present your Port of Entry (POE) Letter of Introduction to get your work permit.

What if I am not flying into Canada? Can the work permit be activated when driving in from the US? What if I am coming on a train or bus?

Yes, you can activate your work permit at a Canadian land border.

Anything else I should know about arriving in Canada?

Remember that participation in the IEC program is a privilege that is not available to most people in the world. Sure, the arrival process may seem a pain, or even inefficient, but you’re not going to change it. Be prepared, always be honest, and try to smile!

About the author

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Hugo O'Doherty

He/Him
Canadian Immigration & Integration Specialist
Hugo O’Doherty has over a decade of experience and research in Canadian immigration, establishing him as a recognized authority on immigrant integration and adaptation. His personal and professional experiences with immigration have made him an expert on the practical aspects of successfully moving to and settling in Canada.
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