Can you get a working holiday visa and work abroad right now?

December 02, 2020

In a year where it feels like everything has been cancelled, it appears there may still be some tiny glimmers of hope for those who intended this to be a year of working and travelling abroad. When international travel screeched to a halt back in March, many working holiday makers around the globe were caught in the mix. Some moved home, some stayed put and others had their applications seemingly frozen overnight. Many people who had their sights set on a gap year or work abroad stint were stuck not knowing what to do. The rules vary by country and they’re still in a state of flux, but with help from our friends at International Experience Canada and, here’s what we can tell you about what’s possible for working holiday makers right now, whether you’re a Canadian hoping to go abroad or someone looking to work in Canada.

Working holiday visas are typically part of reciprocal agreements between countries that allow young people from one country to work and travel easily in the other. These visas are available to citizens between 18 and 30 or 35 and are valid for a year or two. Each agreement between Canada and its partner countries is different so criteria such as age and length of stay can vary. The countries that tend to be the most popular are Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and France, which are some of the countries we’ll focus on in this article. If you’d like more information about another country, visit International Experience Canada’s website.

Working Abroad

For Canadians interested in working abroad

Can I get a working holiday visa and go abroad right now?

Some countries are issuing new visas, but perhaps more important is the advice from Canada and many other countries. In order to address public health concerns, limit the spread of the virus, and protect people in the country and those coming into the country, all non-essential travel is not recommended. Now may be the ideal time to learn about your options and plan for a future adventure. So the short answer is that while it may be possible, it’s not encouraged.

The longer answer gets a bit trickier. Australia is processing visa applications, but non-essential travellers can’t currently enter the country, so it’s best to hold off applying until travel restrictions lift. Earlier, France and the United Kingdom were processing some visa applications, but the situation in each country changes on a regular basis. It’s best to check Travel Advice and Advisories and the country’s website for the latest rules.

I had a visa and came home to Canada, but my visa is still valid—now what?

It depends on the country and the answer typically has more to do with travel restrictions than visa rules. Australia and New Zealand, for example, are currently closed to international travel so even if you have a valid visa for those countries, you wouldn’t be allowed in. Canadians with valid visas can, however, enter France and the United Kingdom, however both require a mandatory 14-day quarantine period. Just beware that rules are constantly changing so check with the relevant embassy to get the latest information.

I got a visa but never left Canada, now what?

As above, it depends on the country. In the UK, you can apply for a new entry window until the end of this year, if you don’t want to use the 30-day window originally provided to you. New Zealand and France had been extending visas earlier in the pandemic but have since stopped. If your visa expires before you have a chance to go, you can usually re-apply for a new one, though you may need to pay the associated fees again.

I’m abroad on a working holiday visa right now, can I extend it?

In some cases, you can extend a working holiday visa that you’ve already begun. In Australia, certain conditions will allow to extend a working holiday visa by an additional year or two. Our friends at YHA Australia have put together some great information over on their blog

According to the Government of Canada, Canadian travellers choosing to stay abroad right now should register or update their information on Registration of Canadians Abroad. This lets the government contact you if necessary with important information about an emergency (such as a natural disaster or civil unrest) or with important updates to the Travel Advice and Advisories for the country you’re in.

Front Desk, HI Ottawa Jail

Non-Canadians interested in working in Canada

Can I get a Canadian working holiday visa right now and come to Canada?

Unfortunately, IEC has now closed its 2020 season. While there is no information as yet on when the new 2021 season will open, IEC will look at options that will allow for as many youth as possible to safely participate in the program while still respecting all travel rules and restrictions. 

My visa application was approved pre-COVID but I haven’t left yet, now what?

You can come to Canada if you have a valid job offer (including a written note from your employer in Canada that says their business is continuing to operate and the job you have secured with them is still required), your port of entry letter of introduction, proof of adequate health coverage and a receipt from the ArriveCAN app. You’ll be required to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada.

If you already have your port of entry letter of introduction that is going to expire in 30 days or less and you can’t yet travel to Canada due to COVID-19, you can submit a request for an extension of up to 12 months. If you’re reaching the upper age limit of your visa eligibility, keep in mind your visa remains valid until its expiration date regardless of whether you age out of the program. 

I was in Canada on a working holiday but left. Now what?

If you’d already been issued a work permit and had been in Canada but left and still have a valid visa, you can re-enter Canada without a job offer. The 14-day quarantine requirement still applies.

If you left Canada before your visa expired and it has since expired, unfortunately there’s not much you can do. In most cases, you are allowed only one IEC participation per country per category.

I’m in Canada with a visa but I lost my job, now what?

If you have a working holiday visa, you have an open work permit that allows you to work for any eligible employer. If your work permit is about to expire, you can extend it but only under a limited number of circumstances. You need to maintain legal status in Canada at all times.

Ski Instructor, Banff

Are there actually jobs available for working holiday makers in Canada right now?

There are, but, like many other countries, Canada is experiencing significant labour market challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many non-essential businesses are closed or are operating with limited staff. If you do have a valid working holiday visa for Canada, confirm with your employer that they’re continuing to operate and that the job they’ve hired you for is still needed. You’ll only be able to enter the country right now with proof of an active job offer from a Canadian employer.

Are there insurance concerns for working holiday makers right now?

Border officials in Canada and many other countries may ask for proof of health insurance when you arrive. If you don’t have sufficient coverage, you could be denied entry. If you’re a Canadian abroad, your provincial or territorial health card is not enough.

When visiting Canada, your health care coverage (private or employer-based) must:

  • be valid for your entire stay in the country
  • cover hospitalization and the cost of returning to your home country

You should always check the insurance requirements in your destination country, as they may have changed because of COVID-related concerns. Keep in mind that your insurance may not cover travel back to Canada if your return is deemed unnecessary. Your insurance may also not cover you for trip cancellation if your trip was purchased after your home country or destination country issued an ‘avoid travel’ advisory. The Government of Canada is currently prohibiting all non-essential travel.

Where’s the best place to go for more information about working holidays for Canadians or to Canada?

Find information for Canadians going abroad or non-Canadians coming to Canada at International Experience Canada or

At the end of the day, if you’re a Canadian who is currently abroad with a valid working holiday visa, you might be able to stay and perhaps even extend your trip if you’d like to. If you are a citizen from a partner IEC country, you must maintain your legal status to remain in Canada; otherwise, you’ll need to head home.  

If you’re at home and looking to get out and work and travel abroad, your options are limited right now, and it’s probably best to stay put and hang tight. We’ll get back to adventures soon.

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