The practicalities of leaving the UK for Canada

This is a two parter (leaving and arriving) about the process of leaving the UK and entering Canada on the Iternational Experience Canada (working holiday) scheme. When I was applying, waiting and planning for my trip to Canada I had alot of questions. Some of these questions were harder to find answers for than others so I have been meaning to compile them into a post so that it may help others in a similar situation.

Those of you who know me will know that I don’t much like to plan out my trips in advance, apart from a little research into the main sights to wet my appetite. A big part of the fun for me is to book a flight and get on the plane without much of an idea of what I will be doing or where I will be going. Making it up as I go along gives me freedom over my trip and this freedom allows me to find my relaxed happy place. If you know this about me then you will also most likely know that outside of travelling I like to have things quiet organised. This is something I try not to get on top of me but on a day-to-day basis I like to have things in order. Quiet a mix then – and seeing as this is a ‘working holiday’ planning for my upcoming trip was also a mix of approaches.

Aside from having a starting destination (Comox Valley, BC) I decided not to plan out any part of my time in Canada before hand (for those of you who are interested here is how it is going so far). Instead I decided to apply my organisational skills to making sure I had a smooth transition across the water where make-it-up-as-i-go-along Joe could take over. Below are some of the things which required attention before I left the UK.

IEC (International Experience Canada)

The IEC scheme is aimed at young people wanting to visit and work in Canada to get a taste of what it has to offer. Sounds perfect for me! From start to finish my application took around two months, most of which was just waiting to hear whether I was one of the lucky few.

The scheme has limits on the amount of year long work visas they grant and for the UK this number is 5,350. I applied late in the year when a big chunk of this quota was already gone so I wasn’t didn’t get my hopes up when I started fillig in my application. The application process is quiet long and there are lots of forms to fill in. The information on the Canadian immigration website is also quiet spread out and confusing at times but with a lot of patience I managed to get through it. There is a £90 fee to pay once your application goes through the initial stages and you also need to pay the UK police £45 for a police certificate. All in all not too bad!

My pile of forms needed to apply for the visa

After lots of waiting I discovered I just about managed to get my application in in time and I was the holder of a “letter of introduction”. I had a year to take this to the Canadian border, along with a few other things like proof of funds and proof of medical insurance (see below) and I would get my year long work visa!

Sources: International Experience Canada for citizens of the United Kingdom / ACPO Criminal Records Office


Heading to Canada in the summertime meant flights were not as cheap as they could have been. I had discovered that a return flight was not required for my visa so after doing some online comparisions I found a one way flight for around £430 from London Heathrow to Vancouver with Air Transat. Unfortunately this budget flight had some low limits on the amount of lugguage I could take – 5kg carry on and 23kg checked… for a year – ouch!

Despite a dry run before hand I arrived at the airport with both bags being overweight! Lady luck was on my side however and the check-in girl took pity on me and let me off. I think I was one of the few lucky ones though as there were lots of unhappy looking people trying to re-pack their bags to get the weight down.


I always take out travel insurance whenever I go abroad – it’s better to be safe then to be sorry after all. A condition of being given my work visa upon entry into Canada was that I had medical insurance for the entire year. A year long insurance policy in a place known for it’s winter sports was looking like an expensive purchase, until I found Ace Insure who specialise in long term backpacker travel insurance. They have affordable insurace policies which include winter sports so I soon bought a policy. I even phoned them up and they were great to deal with.

Tax / national insurance

I am self employed in the UK so I am used to filing a tax return and as my tax situation isn’t that complicated this is usually done very quickly. I have to say that until I decided to move abroad, every time I phoned the tax office or inland revenue I found the person on the phone to be very helpful and efficient. Until I decided to move abroad.

After I leave my situation will be that although I am no physically working in the UK I will still be earning some advertising commission through a website I run. I obviously need to pay tax on this but as someone not physically in the UK and knowing that the UK and Canada have a recipriocal social security agreement I wasn’t sure if I was still liable to pay national insurance. I pay two different kinds – class 4 paid through self assessment and class 2, for which I am billed for every six months. I want to everything by the book so what do I do?

Phoning the HMRC to ask about my situation was a necessary, but ultimately painful descsion which took weeks to resolve. The biggest problem is that each kind of national insurance is dealt with my a different department, both of whom refer to it as “national insurance” and do not distinguish between the two. Each department also insists that you need to speak to the other which results in weeks of being bounced around not getting anywhere. I have always kept on top of my tax/NI situation with little problem but the whole situation seems to be hugely complicated to the point where you need to be an accountant to work out what is going on.

To cut a long story short after weeks of phone calls and after being lead to believe that I needed to de-register as being self employed but still file a tax return I was given a exemption for class 2 national insurance contributions and everything else remains the same. I finally got a letter from the National Insurance Contributions Office saying I was not liable to pay national insurance. What it actually meant was I was not liable to pay class 2 national insurance contributions and I had to play class 4 as normal. Meaning I saved £137.80… part of me felt like I shouldn’t have said anything!

Electoral role

Knowing I needed to inform the electoral role about my overseas move I contacted them to ask about the best way to do this. They told me there is a form available online which you can fill in to register as an overseas voter. Unfortunately this needs to be countersigned by a British passport holder not currently living in the UK! Something to sort out after I arrive then.

Source: About My Vote

Driving License

As the holder of a full UK driver’s licence I am able to drive in B.C for 90 days without needing a Canadian license. After those 90 days I need to trade in my UK license as part of a reciprocal agreement and get a BC license. No examination required – just a vision test, three simple safety questions and a processing fee ($31 at time of writing)

Source: ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia )

My British bank accounts / credit cards

As far as my bank was concerned I just needed to tell them where and when I was going and that was that. Using my card overseas was going to incur fees, in both a skewed exchange rate and cash withdrawal fees. After talking to an advisor I worked out that doing what I usually do by taking out large amounts from cash machines would take advantage of the maximum £5 processing fee but there was no way around the poor exchange rate I would be getting. So I better start to earning Canadian dollars as soon as I can then!

Canadian bank accounts / credit cards

From everything I read it is relatively straight forward to set up a bank account upon arriving in Canada. Credit cards on the other hand seem to be a different matter, with financial institutions being reluctant to load money to people without a credit background in Canada. I’m going to have to look into that one when I arrive.


Not wanting to take too much paperwork with me I decided to take with me everything required to get my work visa at the border as well as various proofs of address. I then scanned any other important document I thought I might need like birth certificate, qualification certificates and copies of my passport, driving license etc.


I didn’t need any vaccinations for Canada, but I did go to the travel nurse and get a couple of boosters before I left. No harm in checking before you leave.


As I was taking my iPhone with me I had to pay o2 to unlock it which was a bore but in the end not too much of a problem. As I was going to be using my phone as my camera, diary, iPod and mobile everything I decided to invest in a case which would protect it. After all they are expensive items and I didn’t want to be afraid of using it to snap my holiday photos. After lots of research I decided to go for the waterproof LifeProof iPhone case which I have been very happy with so far.

Other Sources

I found that searching online for other people’s experiences was an excellent way to answer some of the questions I had from people who had done similar things. There is some really useful information out there like this. Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences.


Hi, call me Joe. I am a traveller, a runner, a beer drinker, a film lover, a web developer, a hiker and not a very good darts player. I am from the UK, have a BSc in Computer Science from Cardiff University and currently live in Canada.



about 6 years ago

Hi Joe! Wow, a lot has happened since I last posted here 2 and a bit years ago! Anyway, the reason I'm posting is that I have recently registered as an overseas voter so thought you may be interested. Not sure what it was like in 2012 but it is now super simple. I registed to vote as normal ( and then for the actual voting part my mum will be voting for me (by proxy). I arranged this by downloading the form ( and sending it to what was my local electoral office in the UK (Brighton) when I left. Just by chance I'll actually be in Europe during the election next year but still a distance away in Italy!




about 6 years ago

Thanks for the tip Gemma. I was thinking about this just the other day, I'll look in to it for sure.




about 6 years ago

Thank's a million for this valuable info, Joe!
Grtz from your appartement in Comox




about 8 years ago

Thanks Gran, yes I hope it will be as useful as the information I found. Thanks for your comment Gemma, what a coincidence that we are both in Comox Valley! It would be great to meet up - I will email you separately.


Jessica A. Hawes

about 8 years ago

What a complicated business! I'm sure this will be very uaseful to other people following in your, Grandma



about 8 years ago

Hi! Thanks so much for linking to my blog and also taking the time to comment - I'm so glad that my experiences helped your planning a bit. I've just had a read of your own blog - I can't believe you too have ended up in the Comox Valley?! I'm so amazed since I have met so few British people (let alone people on the IEC visa) since arriving here almost a year ago. Send me an email if you feel like having a chat!

- Gemma


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