You’ve decided to embrace the land of snow, poutine and lakes that is Canada and call it your home. Congratulations! Canada is awesome! Or perhaps you’re just interested in moving abroad in general? If you’re from a country that has a reciprocal agreement with Canada, then you’re in for a mostly stress-free application process.
Since permanently moving to Canada at the end of 2011, I’ve had a lot of people e-mail me with questions on how we did it. First up, let me just say it obviously differs from person to person. I found the process relatively simple each time I visited, first on a student visa and then on a working holiday visa.
I travel using my Australian passport, not my South African because the visa gods do not like SA passports!
Pick Your Visa
If you have a partner, you might want to consider sponsorship or a partner visa. If you’ve got wicked work experience or a PhD then a working holiday visa probably isn’t your best bet. If you’re broke and just looking for a change of scenery, a cheap and short term visa will probably do it.
There are heaps of visas out there and it’s important that you pick one that works for you. I chose the working holiday visa because it was cheap, easy to get and would guarantee me a two-year work permit. But I also knew that at the two-year mark I’d probably need to start looking for something more permanent.
Check Your Eligibility
This is pretty obvious, but before applying for a visa you want to make sure you’re eligible. As an Australian citizen, I didn’t have any major issues getting the relevant visas, but I do know of lots of people who have been stopped by red tape.
Additionally, if you’re under 30 you’re going to have a much easier time getting a visa than someone who is older.
So, if you’re planning on living in another country do it before you hit 30. It’s a lot easier to apply for visa extensions or changes when you’re living in your desired country.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
I can’t stress this one enough. Start preparing your documents a good few months in advance. Again, each case is different but sometimes you’ll need to send your passport away to get stamped. You may need a police clearance, finger prints or even a medical. These things take time.
Visa offices are open 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. If they say the visa will take four weeks, don’t include weekends in your calculations for when it’ll be ready.
When I decided to extend my working holiday I gave myself two months before it expired. I hadn’t factored in several public holidays or the time it would take to drive down to the States and reenter Canada on my new visa. Cue two months of super-stressed- crazy-check-my-visa-account-every-two-minutes Pascale.
Get Your Credit Card Ready
Yikes, visas are not cheap! Moving to Canada wasn’t bad as the average working visa will only set you back about $200. Depending how many times you renew or what sort of supporting documents you need (medicals, x-rays, finger prints) the costs can start to add up.
I’ve watched several friends spend thousands on a visa I only spent hundreds on. And each country is vastly different, even if they have reciprocal agreements.
In Canada, a partner visa costs around $600 as a base rate. For Johnny to get an Australian partner visa it costs over $3000!
Save yourself some money and apply directly to the embassy where possible. It always looks a lot harder than it is. It usually doesn’t take an expert to figure out which forms are which.
I’m a firm believer that travel is an investment and you won’t regret the money you are spending now for your new life later.
If you’re healthy, don’t have a criminal record, meet all the eligibility requirements and pay your fees, you will get your visa for Canada.
Logging into the your MyCIC account every five minutes at work to check your status won’t speed up the process but it might get you fired.
The first time I applied for the working holiday visa, all it required was filling out a few paper forms and getting some police clearances. When I went to renew two years later the entire process had changed. Everything was paperless and I had to create several new online accounts.
I’m not a patient person and the added stress of knowing the clock was ticking towards my deportation made me a bit of freak job.
In retrospect, the online process is fantastic! Everything is step by step and easy to navigate if you do it calmly and rationally. Crack open a bottle of wine to get you through the forms if that helps.
Visa applications can get pretty miserable. Just when you think you have all the paper work complete, another form pops up. There are often visits to the police station and appointments with doctors. And there’s absolutely no one to answer your questions because each application is so different.
It’s easy to get stressed out and despondent, especially when there are delays in processing. It’s easy to get angry at your new country and their rules.
Try to stay positive. Focus on all the reasons you’re doing this and why living abroad is so worthwhile. Trust me, when that rude official finally stamps your passport and you walk out of the airport into your new country, it will all be worth it!
The Student Visa
I took advantage of the student visa when I took part in my university exchange program to study in Montreal.
- The student visa will allow you study in Canada and only expires 90 days after your program end. This worked out perfectly for me as I finished at the beginning of May and then stayed in Canada for the rest of summer.
- You can work on a student visa but you’ll need a student work permit and can only work up to 20 hours a week. If you’re a full time student, you can work on campus without a permit. This worked really well for my science friends who picked up lab jobs in the summer but not so well for us arts students.
- Quebec has a whole separate set of rules to the rest of Canada on what you can and can’t do in regards to a student visa. Don’t let this deter you! Be patient, fill out the forms and everything will go as smoothly as if you were applying for a standard student visa.
The Working Holiday
If you’re under 30, Canada offers three types of working visas: working holiday, young professional and international co-op. After two years of being on the working holiday visa, I considered switching to the young professional visa. In the end, I decided to stick with the working holiday visa and renew.
- With the young professional visa you need an offer letter confirming that you’ve been hired. You’re then confined to sticking with that one company in Canada. I love my job, but I prefer the visa status to be reliant on one person and one person only, me! This is also why I haven’t applied for any sort of sponsor or partner visa despite being married to a Canadian.
- The working holiday application is now split into two stages. In stage one you’ll apply online via Kompass to participate in the IEC and receive your conditional acceptance letter. In the second stage you’ll apply online (it’s all paperless, remember) to receive your Port of Entry Letter of Introduction (LoI). Print and keep this letter because this is what will get you your visa when you enter Canada!
- As an Australian we get to participate in the working holiday visa as many times as we want. You do have to renew after two years. I found that renewing inside Canada was a lot easier than my original application from Australia. As long as you leave the country (this involved a quick day trip to the States for us) and reenter on your new visa, you are good to go.
Have you made the move to Canada? What are some of your tips?