Moving to Vancouver, British Columbia on a Working Holiday Visa

I first made the move to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada in June 2013. It was my first time living overseas and I may have had a breakdown (or three) prior to the trip. But as it turned out, Vancouver has become one of my favorite cities in the world. I returned to Australia at the end of 2014, before deciding to come back to Canada in August 2016.

Now that I have completed the move twice, and all the paperwork and steps that go with it, I think I am a bit of a pro when it comes to a Canadian working holiday. Here is everything you need to know about moving to Vancouver and getting set up in this brilliant, international city.

The working holiday details

I am in Canada on what is called the IEC visa, or International Experience Canada. It is specifically for people, like myself, who want to work and travel in Canada. As Australia and Canada are both still part of the Commonwealth, I am able to get a two-year working holiday visa. However, I know some Europeans who could only apply for one-year visas. Check out the website and fill out the eligibility questionnaire, which lets you know your options.

Countries with Working Holiday Visa agreements with Canada for ages 18-35: Australia, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine + the UK. If you are from a country that does not have an agreement or arrangement with Canada (like the US), you must use one of the Recognized Organizations to gain a visa.

The visa is very affordable at only $250CAD. Once you have filled out the paperwork and submitted the application, it can take up to 8 weeks to receive a yes or no. The first time I applied, I got my acceptance within a week. This time, it took a month, which may have been the longest month of my life!

To enter the country, you may need to show proof of funds ($2500CAD) and that you have travel insurance to cover you for the entirety of your stay. Both times I entered, the border personnel didn’t check my documents, but I always had proof just in case. As a side note, I’d recommend entering with at least double the required amount of savings, as this will not last long in Canada.

Once you arrive in Vancouver

The best time to arrive in Vancouver is around the last week of any month, as most rentals begin on the 1st. I recommend staying in either a hostel or Airbnb when you arrive. The first time I stayed at Samesun Backpackers, which is in a great central location. However, this year I stayed in an Airbnb, as I was more familiar with the city’s neighborhoods.

The three things you need to set up upon arrival are: a SIN number, a bank account, and a phone number. The SIN number is for tax purposes, and it is simple to get from a Service Canada office. As with most major countries, there are many banks to choose from. Personally, I am with RBC as they had a good newcomers’ package, which worked for me.

The same can be said for phone companies. I am with Virgin Mobile in Australia, so I signed up with them during my first working holiday. However, this time Koodo had a better offer, and so far I have no complaints with their service. It seems most plans, when you bring your own phone, begin at about $50 per month.

Looking for a place to live

Craigslist is where I found a room to rent both times. The funny thing is, I am currently living about a 5-minute drive from my old apartment. I live in Burnaby, which is just next door to Vancouver. It is a great alternative to the central Vancouver prices, and I am only a quick bus ride from the city. Rent prices vary, but you can find a room from anywhere between $450 and $1000. Most rents include all bills as well, and the security deposit is only two week’s rent. If you are looking for a more flexible lifestyle, there are plenty of sublets listed on Craigslist, which would be more suitable.

Finding a job in Vancouver

Once again, Craigslist is your friend. Seasonal work is big in Vancouver and British Columbia in general, and it is what I am focused on this working holiday. I am currently spending the winter working at the Christmas Market and at a sports stadium. Some of the other seasonal positions I found when looking in October included:

  • Retail jobs in pretty much every shop in Vancouver.
  • Working in guest services/hospitality/as an instructor on the three major ski hills located close to Vancouver.
  • Tourism positions at major attractions, including FlyOver Canada and Capilano Suspension Bridge.
  • Many, many server and bar positions, too.

During the warmer months I work on a food truck, which heads to many events across the city. The balance works well for the whole “work and travel” situation, as I am currently looking at places to visit in early 2017, which is my downtime.

The minimum wage in British Columbia is $10.85, which is a big change from Australia (and the US). Hospitality is a good area to work in, thanks to tips. Doing seasonal work during a working holiday in Canada is perfect, as it allows you time to enjoy the country and its neighbors. Win-win for nomads.

Getting around

My friends have told me that although it is cheap to buy a car here, the insurance is a lot more expensive than Australia or the US. I can’t justify buying a car for myself, especially since driving on the other side of the road terrifies me. I rely on public transport, and awesome friends, but the transport system here is great.

There is the Skytrain and the Canada Line, which are both very fast and frequent train services. If you can rent a place near the train, your commute will be quite short. I am in a bus area, which still gets me from A to B, just not as fast. You can buy monthly passes and a Compass Card from all train stations.

Where to travel

It can’t be all work and no travel, and since being in Canada (twice!) I have visited quite a few places in this country and the United States.. My recommendations include getting the bus to Seattle and Portland for a long weekend. I seriously love Portland; it’s just too cool. Keep an eye out for cheap fares to San Francisco as well, my other favorite place on the West Coast.

Elsewhere, I wouldn’t come to this side of the world and not visit Quebec City, the Canadian Rockies, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City. On my wishlist next year is to do more exploring of Canada’s East Coast, but we shall see if that happens.

Vancouver, and British Columbia, are great places for nomads to base themselves for a working holiday. There are plenty of temporary rentals and jobs, which leaves a lot of time for travel. Seeing as I am back for round two, I obviously love this area and this lifestyle. I hope you get to experience it for yourself, too.

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Hayley Simpson is an Australian expat who has lived in four cities in two countries in the past five years. She currently calls Vancouver in Canada home.. She writes about her solo adventures around the world on her travel blog, Hayley on Holiday. With 25 countries visited, she is always looking to tick more places off her never ending bucket list.

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