You've decided you want give up your current life and go live and work in Canada. But before you can go, you'll need to factor in at least a few months for securing the visa. Anything to do with passports makes me nervous, what with the extortionate admin fees for mis-spelt names and so on. But if you do your research, have all your documents ready and double check for no mistakes, you should be successful.
Although it's tempting to pay some extra money to a "Recognized Organizations" who claim they can help with all the admin, plus get you a job lined up, save yourself the money and apply directly - external agencies cannot guarantee you a visa anyway.
Prior to 2015, applying for a Canadian visa used to be on a first-come, first-serve system. However, that system has since been abolished and now you can apply throughout the year until the number of visas runs-out. For the International Experience Canada (IEC) work permits, the UK is allocated 5,000 each year, with 10,700 visas available for Irish residents.
STAGE 1: CREATE AN ACCOUNT
Right, so how do I start? Go to the IEC website (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/iec/eligibility.asp) and find out if you're eligible. To be eligible for the "Working Holiday" category, you need to have a valid passport; make sure it doesn't expire for at least the next 2-3 years as your work permit will not be issued for longer than the validity of your passport. You also must be between 18 - 30 years old and prove you have CAD$2500 to cover initial expenses when you arrive. There are more criteria, but its likely you can meet those and the ones mentioned above are the major hurdles.
IEC gain this information through the "Come to Canada" questionnaire. First and foremost, you must be honest on your application, but here are a few tips/pointers to overcome issues I stumbled upon that meant the computer said I was ineligible the first time. For some dropdown answers there is the option of both the "UK" and "British Citizen" (British Citizen was the option to choose apparently!)
Once you've completed the questionnaire correctly and you're deemed eligible, will get your personal reference code to create an account. Make you write down your username and password, rather than just saving this information in the browser. If your computer breaks or need to access your IEC account from somewhere else, you need this information. Because your account holds so much sensitive data, there is no "forgot my username/password" button, so you forfeit your application and have to start again if you cannot remember your log-in details.
After you have created your account, you need to complete your profile and choose the "pools" you want to apply for. Now the wait begins. Going from being in the pool to the "invitation to apply" stage is a totally random process. You could have just submitted your profile or you could be waiting months. I sent mine off one month before my boyfriend applied, yet my boyfriend was "invited to apply" within weeks. I was in the pool for at least 3 months. As the weeks went by, I kept thinking I must have made a mistake in my application. I kept logging-in to check my account, but there was no update. Now living in Canada, I can confirm my application was all fine. You just have to patiently wait until you receive an email with a notification that your candidate status has changed. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to speed this process up.
The main advice to increase your chances of getting out of the pool and into the "invitation to apply" stage, is become a candidate as soon as you can. This means you will be in pool longer, which will increase your chances of being successful.
STAGE 2: PAPERWORK & PAYMENT
Once you receive your "invitation to apply" you have up to 10 days to acknowledge this and either start or decline the application. You then have 20 days to submit your work permit application. This stage is the most complicated stage of the application with lots of paperwork to be organised, scanned and submitted. They ask for a full copy of your passport - I interpreted this as scanning in every page of my passport and merged it into a PDF. My boyfriend uploaded just the main page with your photo and passport number on. We both got accepted.
The police certificate can also be tricky. You need 2 proofs of addresses. This can be a headed letter such as from your university, a bank statement, a doctors or dentist letter or a phone bill. Just one of the letters has to be dated within the last 6 months - the other can be older. You just need 2 proofs of the same address you put on your IEC profile. Also, applying for the police certificate can take a while. I didn't want to pay for a police certificate until I was "invited to apply". But even then you only have a maximum of 30 days to get the police certificate. The ACRO website (where you get the police certificate from) was having loads of technical issues at the time, and although the IEC website says its fine to submit evidence that you have applied for this, rather than the actual document, I had neither. In the end, I left it too late and had to submit evidence to the IEC that the ACRO website was down and not accepting applications. Thankfully, this was accepted until my certificate finally arrived, but in hindsight, I would recommend applying for your police certificate at the same time as creating your profile. It would've sucked to have got this far, completed everything correctly but my lack of organisation was the downfall of getting the visa.
Once you have attached all the required documents, you can then submit your application and pay. It's around $225. If you didn't receive the police certificate or medical exam before the deadline to submit your work application, and instead submitted proof that you applied, you will then be contacted by the processing officer to supply the additional documents before your application is approved.
Now is the second, long wait of the process. It can take up to 56 days from submitting your final application to receiving the notification that you've successfully got the visa. I was expecting a piece of paper, similar to the size of the photo page in my passport, but it's a A4 PDF style letter (officially called Port of Entry Introduction Letter).
Your Port of Entry Introduction Letter is then valid for one year from the date you received it, which means you have 12 months to enter Canada and validate the visa. If you go on holiday to Canada in the meantime, you do not have to show the letter if you would rather than just enter on a 3-month "tourist" visa. For many international visitors entering Canada, you'll need an eTA. You automatically receive one of these when your work permit application is approved, however, if you're entering as a "tourist", you'll need an eTA for that trip.
STAGE 3: ARRIVING IN CANADA
The day you enter Canada on your visa, make sure you have your passport (of course!), a printed copy of the Port of Entry Letter, printed copies that show proof of funds (at least CAD$2500) and valid health insurance. Not only is it vital you have health insurance to cover the pricey Canadian health care fees should you need it, but some immigration officers will only issue you a visa for as long as your health insurance is valid for.
Hopefully you make it through immigration and your luggage arrived. You probably just want to sleep, adjust to the time-difference and spend a few days exploring your new home. But when you're ready, there are a few more things you'll need to do before you get that first pay-check. If you're in a big city and heading somewhere rural, make sure you get these things sorted before leaving.
You'll need a SIN number (similar to a national insurance or social security number). To get this, simply just go to your nearest 'Service Canada' centre. Take all your documents along (passport and visa) and you should be issued your SIN during your visit. If there's not too much of a queue, it will take less than 30 minutes.
You'll also need a Canadian bank account. To open a bank account, you'll need your SIN (so get this first!), passport, visa and an address. If you're staying at a hostel, this address seemed fine to use. One thing that shocked me between banks back in the UK compared to banks in Canada, is that here, you have to pay a monthly fee (up to CAD$30) to have an account. The good news is there are quite a few free deals for newcomers for the first 6 months. I would recommend phoning to make an appointment with the bank you decide on a day or two before. It takes about 30 minutes - 45 minutes to set everything up, and you then walk out with a new shiny debit card that you can start using right away.
So now you're successfully in Canada and have all the paperwork you need to begin working. Good luck job-hunting!
This article is designed to complement the guidance on the IEC website to applying for a visa and is primarily aimed at British citizens. Please note, the guidelines for the IEC Canada visa can change and vary between countries.