A Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada | Visa, Finding Work, Pay, Cost of Living, Travel, Top Tips!
Updated: Apr 20, 2019
A working holiday is a great way to experience life living in a different country whilst earning money to travel in your time off. I've been in Canada for 8 months now on a working holiday visa and I love it! Canada is such a beautiful country, with so much to explore and many opportunities to work in unique places. In this article, I share with you everything I wish I knew about a working holiday before I arrived in Canada!
I arrived in Toronto, Canada at the end of April this year to begin my working holiday. Since then I have worked at a summer camp in Ontario, explored Toronto, marvelled at Niagara Falls, spotted orcas in Tofino, road-tripped the Canadian Rockies, experienced breathtaking views driving along the Icefields Parkway, wandered around the beautiful city of Victoria and lived and worked on Vancouver Island as an Au Pair.
The last few months have been a whirlwind once-in-a-lifetime experience. I've had some of the best adventures and met incredible people from all around the world. If you're considering taking a gap year or hesitating about taking time off to do a working holiday, I say do just it! Guaranteed you'll have the best time of your life.
Please keep in mind that these recommendations are based on my personal experience and the experiences of others I've talked to/read about and may not reflect the experience of everyone. This article (hopefully) covers the basics regarding what you need to know before undertaking a working holiday. I've detailed my experience with:
Getting a work visa
Setting up a SIN, bank account and sim card
Finding work / rates of pay / taxes
Driving in Canada
The cost of living
Getting a Work Visa
In order to be legally allowed to work in Canada you will need a valid work permit. Australian citizens under the age of 30 are eligible to apply for a 2 year work permit under the International Experience Canada program (IEC). It costs roughly $300 and you can apply online easily yourself - don't waste your money and pay an agency to do it for you.
I wrote a full blog post detailing the steps I took to apply for my WHV. See:
When I went through the process of applying I found the Facebook group International Experience Canada (IEC) - Ask Us Anything! and this blog post helpful.
I received a full 2-year open work permit, free to work and travel in Canada wherever I wanted!
First Things, First
When you first arrive in Canada, you'll need to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN), set up a bank account and get a sim card/mobile phone plan.
Flying in over snowy Toronto
A SIN (Social Insurance Number) is like a tax file number. You will need a SIN in order to set up a bank account. It's easy to obtain, just take your work visa and identification to a Service Canada branch (similar to Centrelink) - go early in the morning when there's no line!
Setting Up a Bank Account
Setting up a bank account is fairly easy. You will need to take your SIN paperwork and identification to a branch and sit with bank employee to set up your chequing and savings account. I got given a debit card linked to my account on the spot. I went with CIBC as they offer international workers a free bank account for a year. TD bank is another popular option, they offer 6 months free.
However, after the first year/6 months with these banks you begin to be charged $29/month in account keeping fees. I'm considering swapping to Tangerine when my free period is up as they are a direct bank (similar to ING) and offer no-fee chequing and savings accounts.
In my experience, I've found the Canadian banking system to be quite behind Australia's. Many debit cards don't work for online purchases, it's still common to be paid by cheque and their mobile banking is no where near as advanced.
There is a general consensus from internationals that mobile phone plans in Canada are excessively expensive and bad value. You will get a better deal if you engage into a monthly-paid contract but since I didn't know how long I would be staying in Canada, I went with a prepaid plan from Chatr. I found Chatr to offer a decent amount of data but their service is patchy and for the amount I pay, it isn't great value.
Rodger, Telus and Bell are the big players and all offer similar deals. Just make sure if you're somewhere rural that your provider has coverage in the area.
Finding Work / Pay Rates / Taxes
Working as an aerial park guide at a camp in Muskoka, Ontario
Since arriving in Canada I have worked at a summer camp in Ontario and as an Au Pair in British Columbia. I wrote blog posts about both these experiences. See:
Firstly, you do not need to pay an agency to find you a job. It's actually quite easy for working-holidayers to secure work if you're happy to be flexible and work entry-level jobs e.g serving, housekeeping, bartending etc. Assuming you want to do a working holiday for the experience rather than career advancement, you should be able to pick up work fairly easy!
I already had a job lined up at my camp when I arrived in Canada, but I met plenty of people who had booked themselves into a hostel for their first week and were able to find work on the spot within days of arriving. Facebook groups, Craigslist (watch out for scams), careers pages of big hotel/ski resorts and Indeed.ca are great places to start a job search.
Keep in mind that many jobs are seasonal. Hiring for the summer usually occurs April/May and in September/October for the winter. Many big ski resorts hold hiring fairs around these times. In popular areas like Whistler and Banff finding work is easy, but finding housing can be difficult. Be prepared to share a room. If you can find a job that offers staff housing it will make life so much easier!
Minimum wage in Canada is very low compared to Australia. It differs in each province: British Columbia is $12.65/hr, Ontario is $14.00/hr and Nova Scotia is the lowest at $11.00/hr. However, servers and bartenders in popular touristy areas can make good money from tips
In Canada, the financial year is the same as the calendar year: January 1 until December 31. Provincial/territorial income taxes are paid in addition to federal taxes, based on where the taxpayer resides on December 31 of the tax year. You can earn a taxable income of $11,809 before paying any federal tax (after that you pay 15% up to $46, 605). Provincial and territorial tax rates are all different. For example, in British Columbia you pay 5.06% on the first $39,676 of taxable income and in Ontario you pay 5.05% on the first $42,960 of taxable income. Quebec works on an entirely different system.
Driving in Canada
Driving through B.C
Canada drives on the right side of the road, opposite to Australia. It differs between provinces, but in Ontario you can drive for up to 90 days with a valid driver's licence from your own country and up to 90 days as a new resident or up to 6 months as a tourist in British Columbia. After the initial time period is up you are required to trade in your Australian license for a provincial one, which is simple providing you have at least 2 years of driving experience.
Road rules differ between provinces and there are some slight differences in road rules compared to Australia. For example, traffic is required to stop in both directions when a yellow school bus stops to let kids off and outside cities, many 4-way intersections have 4-way stop signs at which all cars must stop and cross in the order they arrived to the intersection at. Make sure you read up on the road rules of your province before driving there!
I found learning to drive on the other side of the road a lot easier than I expected - driving an automatic certainly helped! In my experience, Canadians can be crazy drivers and speed limits seem to be just a 'suggestion' rather than a limit. Keep in mind that driving in winter can be treacherous and in most areas of Canada, you will need to switch to winter tires between October and March.
Hiking in Pemberton
Canadians are super friendly, polite and welcoming people! I found the culture to be similar to the Australian way of life in many ways. Everyone is very outdoorsy, loves a beer or two and enjoys a super relaxed lifestyle. Summer days are long and filled with hiking, kayaking, biking and SUPing and winters are spent doing snow sports or cosied up by the fire.
It's not required, but it is good manners to tip. People in the service industry really rely on tips to supplement their income!
Cost of Living
I've found the cost of living in Canada comparable to Australia however, the minimum wage is much lower in Canada. Toronto and Vancouver are the most expensive cities to live in and Google cites Sherbrooke, Quebec as the cheapest.
When making purchases, you should keep in mind that sales taxes (HST, PST and GST) aren't usually included in the listed price. For example, if you purchase a coffee listed on a menu at $4 once you add taxes and a tip you would have paid out at least $5.50. Taxes differ province to province and are dependant on the item you buy - there is quite a high tax on alcohol! Alberta has the lowest sales tax at 5%, British Columbia is 12% and Ontario is 13%.
Public transport outside big cities is not great - and it is expensive! As of 31 October 2018, Greyhound Canada has discontinued operations in all provinces except Ontario and Quebec. As far as I know, there are limited options in B.C and Alberta. Train travel is slow and expensive.
In most provinces you can apply for provincial health care (similar to Medicare). However, your eligibility depends on the requirements of the provinces you're in. In Ontario for example, you must be living and working in the province for 3 months before you can apply for coverage. Quebec doesn’t provide provincial health care unless you’re on a closed work permit or are a permanent resident. Even if you have provincial health care, it's important that you still have valid travel insurance as the provincial plans don't cover emergency evacuation/repatriation, dental etc. I use Fast Cover for my travel insurance.
Canoeing in Banff
In my opinion, the greatest part of a working holiday is being able to travel the country you're living in. Canada is an incredibly beautiful country and is also in close proximity to the USA, Central America and the Caribbean. You can pick up some cheap flight deals to these destinations - I got a flight from Vancouver to Mexico for only $195 one-way!
Canada is a huge country - there's so much to see! There are a seemingly endless amount of National and Provincial Parks, hiking trails, lakes, mountains, small towns and cities to explore. Many people hire/buy cars or vans to explore Canada as generally you will need a car to explore outside of big cities. Keep in mind that flights within/across Canada are really quite expensive. It's around $500-600 to fly from Vancouver to Montreal and $300-400 to fly from Toronto to Halifax one way!
My Top Tips!
Use Facebook groups to find advice, jobs, housing and for connecting with others on WHVs. Some great ones are:
Get a job that has staff accommodation - it's cheaper and saves you the hassle of organising everything yourself
Wait until you get to Canada to buy winter clothing - the quality is better and the clothes sold here are made for Canadian conditions
Bring any medication you need from home - prescriptions are super expensive
Bring a supply of Vegemite and Cadbury chocolate - you can't buy Vegemite in Canada and Canadian Cadbury chocolate tastes gross (they add wax into the chocolate) :(
Save money by doing research and organising everything yourself rather than relying on an agency
Bring a credit card if you plan on renting a car - they won't accept debit cards
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You can check out all the adventures I've had in Canada so far here on my blog!