Travelling to Canada
(If you haven’t read the Part 1 of this series, “The Application Process”, be sure to check it out by clicking here!)
Applying for an International Experience Canada (or IEC) visa involves many steps. Every situation is different. I don’t intend for this to be a step-by-step guide as there are already many great resources out there. Rather, I want to talk about my personal experience.
Furthermore, I applied for the visa in the 2018-19 season. Not only do I not remember every small detail, I’m also not 100% sure how the process may have changed since then. Please take what I write with a pinch-of-salt and as always, do your research!
Thanks for understanding.
I had done it! In my hands was my printed Port of Entry letter from the Canadian government. It felt so surreal. Even though the document was in front of me, I still anticipated an email explaining how there had been a mistake (luckily, that was not the case). The application process was one hundred percent complete. But that didn’t mean it was an easy ride onward. In fact, receiving the P.O.E raised a glaring question; “What do I do now?” I had a whole year to enter Canada but there was still lots to do in England. For one, I was in charge of much responsibility. I had a whole life back home, after all. Family, friends, work. I had no idea how any of them would react when I revealed the news. Would they accept it? I was confident it wouldn’t be a complete surprise; I’d mentioned my intentions to a few people but nobody knew I’d been successful, or that my dream was becoming a reality. Would those that supported the dream also support that it was becoming a reality?
For me, this was the cause of a lot of anxiety.
That evening, I returned from work and told my girlfriend the news in private. It was a fond moment for us both. She was moving back to Canada, her home, and now we wouldn’t have to part. The next two years of our relationship was secure. Then, I did nothing. I gave myself a few days to let the news rest (which I would recommend you do too). The surreal feeling of receiving a P.O.E never vanished, but after a few days my mind grew more rational and allowed me to create an action plan. It was February and I wanted to move in August when my girlfriend’s UK visa expired. That gave me six months to prepare, so I could take things slow. With that in mind, I set deadlines: I would tell my family by April and I would tell my work by July. They were the two aspects I was most worried about. My friends? Any night with a few beers would do the trick. Having a goal kept me from revealing things on an impulse. I was able to formulate how I’d tell all parties and, should I find the revelation met with criticism, I was able to rehearse in my head how to handle it. Doing this was refreshing. It was nice to have a plan though I will warn you now, dear readers, it did create anxiety as the deadlines approached. I had to be strong to not put them off further and no doubt, you will have to be strong too.
In the time leading up to April life felt pretty much normal. Since the journey to Canada was still a while away yet, all I could do was sit and wait for time to pass. It started to feel as if the move wasn’t happening anymore. Yet, the moment was fleeting. April arrived like a speeding bullet and I knew if didn’t tell my family then as planned, I never would. I decided on a weekend within the month and that I would take them all out for dinner. A positive was it allowed me to have a beer to help with the nerves, but alas, without a good reason it was hard to get my parents to accompany me. They questioned the occasion and my expensive restaurant choice and to my annoyance I had to relent, falling back on a cheaper location.
So, to the restaurant we went! The meal wasn’t much to write home about. Today, I can’t even remember what I had! But that’s not why we were there. I waited until the end of the meal. I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s appetite should my revelation go sour. When the plates were empty and the conversation had thinned, I cleared my throat:
“Mum, Dad. We have some news.”
They thought my girlfriend was pregnant.
In retrospect, of course they did, and to be honest, following that assumption telling them I was moving to Canada was easy. I remember the moment well. At first the table was silent. Everyone was taking the news in their own way and then my mother started crying. Somebody needed to break the ice. My Dad stepped up with an awkward smile, saying he’d seen the news coming from a mile away. Good man. That did it. My Mum shook away her tears and told my girlfriend and I how happy she was for us both. She reassured us that she was crying of happiness, because her son was moving up in the world.
Having my parents in the loop was a massive relief.
In fact, I wish I had told them sooner as my partner and I no longer had to discuss our plans in hushed tones.
With the first deadline in the past, the time between April and July – deadline two – was quiet. Though with my family now involved, the move started to feel real. They started to plan visits to Canada and a routine in which we’d still keep in communication. There were moments of struggle with the thought of parting, but for the most part we were all okay. I reiterate here that I wish I had told my family sooner. A loving family will always respect your decision. I learned that in April; that there was no need to be anxious about the reveal. So, if you’re juggling the notion of whether or not you’re ready to reveal your news, bite that bullet. Tell your family why you’re leaving and most of all, reassure them that you will strive to never forget your roots. Today, communication across great distances is a lot easier. The older generation may not realize that as much as you and I. So, keep letting them know you’re only as far away as the nearest phone or computer. I know it’s not the same as being there in person, but it’s better than nothing, after all.
Compared to telling my family, approaching work about the move in July was a lot easier. I was still nervous, but they had no choice but to accept my decision. With family it could have gone either way, but work couldn’t force me to stay. For that reason, I won’t linger too much on the work side of things. One sunny morning in July, I went in to the manager’s office. I explained everything and handed him my written notice. He was professional about it and after my notice period ended on August 1st 2019, I left my workplace for the last time. I had two weeks of freedom before the move on August 15th. Time to begin the real work.
With my girlfriend and I no longer in work, we booked the flight. We both purchased a one-way ticket from London Gatwick to Toronto Pearson via WestJet. I can’t quite remember what booking service we went through, but I digress. With it done, it was time to pack. My girlfriend is a minimalist, so she was happy to bring a small amount. But not me. If something had even a speck of sentimental value on it, I wanted to pack it. Our flight entitled us to one carry-on bag and one checked bag each and that wasn’t going to be enough. We were moving, this wasn’t a holiday. I wanted my whole life with me. Believe me, if my friends would fit, I’d have packed them too!
So, I went online and found on WestJet’s website that we could buy a larger baggage allowance for £40, with increments on each additional bag. Thank you, WestJet, for that cash grab. As much as it hurt, we bought the allowance and, in the end, had a total of five checked bags between us. We packed light on clothes because we could always buy new clothes in Canada, then stuffed the bags with items we didn’t want to leave behind.
I also took this time to check and double check I had all the documents I would need at the border printed out. To be thorough, I printed out the ones that weren’t stated as required on the CIC website as well as those that were. I mean, it was better to have them with me on the off-chance the border agent needed more details, right? By the time my partner and I had finished packing, I had a plastic wallet containing EVERY document I’d received during the application process. I was covering all bases. Among those documents was my health insurance for the two-year period of the IEC. Let’s discuss that.
For my health insurance, I decided to go with TrueTraveller. They offer three packages at varying price: True Value, Traveller and Traveller Plus. I elected to go for Traveller, without the additionally offered winter sports cover. It was a nice middle ground costing around £600 for two years. What made me decide to go with TrueTraveller as my insurer? To be honest, I chose them because it was the recommended one from the consensus of the Facebook groups. Nothing more, nothing less. Think about it. The social media groups are a collection of experienced travellers who have used the IEC Visa. They know what’s up! I put complete faith in them. I signed up on the TrueTraveller website, paid the £600 and added the documents they sent to my growing plastic wallet. Easy.
Last, with the packing complete and my girlfriend and I all but ready to leave, I needed proof of funds dated within a week of our departure. I was quite anxious about this particular step as I’d read all manner of stories online. I had the funds, that wasn’t the worry. I’d read that the proof of funds needed a stamp from the bank and that some banks were difficult about doing it. It turns out, I was over-thinking again. Of course I was. On the last weekend before the move, I logged onto my online banking account and printed my latest statement. Five minutes later, I was in the car on the way to the bank. I imagine with this, the dependability on whether you get your stamp or not is on the teller behind the counter. I was quite lucky because I was served by someone all too thrilled to help. There is a massive chance factor here. Yet, if one branch refuses, go to another and try again. Keep doing this, be forward and someone will relent! Bear in mind I am talking from an English perspective! I can’t attest for other countries.
As far as I’m aware, getting the proof of funds stamped isn’t a rule, but it can’t hurt to be safe, right?
The proof of funds joined the pile. I checked, double checked, and triple checked everything was in place. This was happening. The day before my girlfriend and I were due to fly, we booked the taxi from our house to the airport.
The day of the flight arrived and the taxi phoned, cancelling our travel plans.
British Airport Transfers said their only available car had broken down in the airport and there was nothing they could do about it. I protested but they may as well have responded with,
“Sorry. Better luck next time.”
It was so rage-inducing. How could British Airport Transfers be so incompetent and leave us in a lurch?! I took to the internet looking for another service, completely panic-ridden. I thought it was going to be too short notice for such a long transfer. It turns out taxi drivers prefer short notice. At least that’s what our eventual savior told us. When you put a request out, the drivers fight about who gets to snap it up and the shorter the notice, the fiercer the competition. Drivers can slip in and grab a job like ours, teeming with a payout. That’s exactly what happened. A thrilled taxi driver showed up within a few hours of having the last booking cancelled, solving all our problems. Good riddance to British Airport Transfers.
The goodbye with my family was sad and the journey long. My girlfriend and I both had a lot on our mind, having left home and though we made a bit of small talk with our driver, most of the journey was in silence. It made for a long, depressing trip. Though the taxi driver was quite thrilled by the end of it. He requested we phone him personally should we need a transfer in the future, but alas his number has since been lost in all the chaos of the move. Should we ever return home and need to commute again, we’ll be back to square one in searching for a reliable driver. We’ll manage though, we always do. Even when British Airport Transfers threw hurdles in our path, we overcame them and made it to the airport.
Maneuvering around the airport with five suitcases and our carry-on bags was tough. The two of us had piled them onto a single trolley, fitting them like a game of Tetris. Our tower was unstable so we tied together several luggage straps to hold the pieces together. It must have looked comical to the other travellers. It was a struggle, but when we dropped the bags off at WestJet’s counter, the relief was indescribable. Each bag slipped under WestJet’s weight limit by mere grams and vanished into oblivion. I didn’t matter who took them or where they went now; as long as they showed up on the conveyor belt in Toronto Pearson.
There’s not much to say about the rest of our time in the airport. It was a pretty smooth ride, and everything went perfect. Which, for my girlfriend and I, made for a bit of a bad omen. Things were going too smooth. Something had to go wrong.
We boarded the plane at around 11:00am. As the scheduled departure time drew near, the pilot announced over the speakers that there was a problem with one of the emergency exits. Hello four-hour delay! My girlfriend and I were furious. For the entirety of the delay, we had to sit with nothing to do, while we were spoon fed information and excuses from the captain. It was agonizing.
When the flight did take off at last and I mean, at last, it was a typical, uneventful journey. Crying babies, little room to move and a bad selection of films to watch! But by the time we landed, the earlier delay was all but forgotten about. Everyone aboard was just thrilled to finally be in Canada!
Now I’ve hedged over the flight, onto the part you’ve all been waiting for (or skipped ahead to) …
Crossing the border!
As you can imagine, by the time my partner and I arrived in Canada, we were both shattered. To make matters worse, our plane landed so far away from the terminal, we had to get a bus to arrivals! It was salt on the wound but we wouldn’t let it get to us. We’d made it. I had to keep telling myself that was the most important part. We’d made it.
The first step upon arrival was to fill out a deceleration card using an electronic terminal. It’s pretty standard procedure. In fact, the only difficult part I discovered was when it asked how long I intended to stay in Canada. The machine doesn’t assume you’re in Canada on a visa, let alone an IEC. So, you have to enter the duration of your stay in days. I had arrived on a one-way ticket so I didn’t know how long I would stay in Canada for. Especially if you also consider I very much intended to return home and visit my family. If I put 730 days into the machine, would I be making the future more difficult if I visited England? Would the border accept that? The matter left me stumped and of course, there’s no help anywhere. My partner didn’t know either. To push us onward, I bit my tongue and entered 730 days anyway. If there were any problems, I would deal with them and be honest. It was as close to the truth as I could get without guessing when I planned to visit my family. Thankfully it sufficed. We got to the border and the officer that greeted us looked at the declaration receipt the machine spat out at me. He raised an eyebrow and asked if I was a permanent resident of Canada. I mentioned the IEC and with a glint of recognition in my eyes, he scribbled a big green cross on the declaration receipt and ushered me to a second checkpoint. Here a second officer greeted me. This was the real check. The one before was child’s play. This is where my papers would come out.
To my surprise, the officer was friendly! Very friendly. In my head, I’d always imagined a gruff old man with no thought of others but himself. One that would be by the book and as hard as rock. But the officer that greeted me couldn’t have been further away from that. He was all smiles and good spirits! I dropped my teeming plastic wallet in front of him, expecting I’d have to stand there for the next while as he dug through the papers, but interestingly enough, he only took my Port of Entry letter out. I handed him my passport, of course, but the biometrics, the proof of funds? Waste of time. He checked over the passport and letter and then asked what my plans in Canada were. I explained I was coming over to find work and settle for the extent of my IEC. He then asked if I had a medical check done, to which I responded I didn’t need one (it’s not a requirement coming from England). He nodded, tapped some buttons on his computer keyboard – I imagine bringing my file up – then walked away and printed off my visa. I couldn’t believe it. He handed it over, asked me to check my details were correct and directed me to a booth where I could get my SIN number.
Yep. That. Was. It.
Aside from my Port of Entry letter and passport, I didn’t need to produce any documents. At all. I don’t know if it helped having them in front of me in the big intimidating plastic wallet or if the officer just wanted to move me along after a busy day. It didn’t matter. The point is, I had made it through and it was easy despite all my months of panic and anxiety.
I was through the Canadian border in about twenty minutes.
I did have some issues at the SIN booth but we’ll touch upon that in the next article. What matters here and now is that I’d made it and I didn’t need to worry for all of the months I had. It was done, and you shouldn’t worry either. Be organized. Be on point and remember, there’s no limit to how much information you can bring with you. I got incredibly lucky but the person looking over your documents could be anybody. You could very well get the gruff old jobs worth. But the point is, I had all my paperwork prepared so even if that was me, then I would have still made it through no problem. Plan, plan, plan and don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t go in feeling anxious. You won’t get turned away if your documents are there. I spent months worrying — which I will reiterate — for only twenty minutes at the border.
In hindsight, I’d have been way more relaxed in the months before August 2019.
With that, my move was over and I had made it to Canada! Join me for last article of this series, where we’ll talk about settling down on the IEC Visa!