Your To-Do List Before Going to Canada

Chapter 1: How to choose your first destination

Published: 03-03-2020

Author

Julie

Are you heading to Canada with an International Experience Canada (IEC) work visa as a Working Holiday permit (WHP) holder, a Young Professional or an International Co-op worker? Now is the perfect time to tackle your to-do list before the big adventure!

Decide when to go and where to land

How to choose your first destination

You will have plenty of time during your Working Holiday adventure to chase dreams or opportunities all over the country. But for now, you have to pick a destination city where you’ll spend your first few days, weeks or months in Canada.

Sometimes, the decision is a no brainer. And if you’re still undecided, you may want to consider the following points.

Airfare

If you’re on a tight budget, start by checking plane ticket prices from your departure city. For instance, from Western Europe, flying to Eastern Canada is almost always cheaper than flying to Vancouver or to off-the-beaten-track provinces and territories such as Alberta or Yukon.

Remember that the destination can be a stop, not the end of the line. You can stay just long enough to complete the first steps of the post-arrival process described in The landing process and your first steps in Canada (i.e. applying for a SIN, opening a bank account, buying a cellphone plan, etc.).

City size

If you love urban environments and dream of living in a North American metropolis, you will likely aim for one of Canada’s three largest cities—Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.

If you want to live in a smaller, community-oriented city, consider settling in Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec City, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax or Moncton. Just remember that French is the sole official language in Quebec. There are English-speaking communities but French is the usual language of work, communication and business.

Finally, WHP holders looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience should check out Whitehorse, Yukon; Regina, Saskatchewan or Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Regions to explore

Canada can be divided into four main regions:

Eastern Canada

The region is home to Montreal, Quebec City (in Quebec), Ottawa and Toronto (in Ontario) and also includes Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador). This part of Canada offers the easiest access to Niagara Falls and American cities like New York, Chicago, Boston or even Miami (which is, admittedly, way, way South!)

Western Canada

The two biggest cities are Vancouver and Calgary. This part of Canada attracts winter sports enthusiasts, hikers and beach bums who want to enjoy summer by the seaside. Winter is milder in Vancouver than in Ontario or Quebec, so those who dread months of snow and slush can migrate to the West Coast, where rain is more common than blizzard. For many travellers eager to explore the US, Vancouver can be the starting point of a road trip along the Pacific Coast through Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles with stops in the desert and in national parks a bit further East. Both British Columbia and Alberta are popular tourist destinations for Canadians.

Northern Canada
The true north strong and free is scary and fascinating. Every year, more and more WHP holders venture into this vast, remote and sparsely populated part of the country for a short trip or a longer stay. Expect extreme temperatures, breathtaking scenery, northern lights and winter activities. Yukon, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Northern Quebec are perfect places for adventurous souls looking for a unique experience.

The Prairies

Many WHP holders cross the prairies by train, by bus or drive through, but few stay long enough to appreciate them. If you decide to give them a try, you’ll be able to take a break from the backpacker scene!

Job market competition

If your work permit is tied to a specific employer (this is the case for Young Professional and International Co-op participants), the local market is pretty irrelevant—you already have a job.

However, WHP holders may want to look for a place where they can find their niche and have a better chance to beat the competition. WHP holders from Europe, Asia and the South Pacific tend to favour Toronto, while French speakers often head to Quebec, and often to Montreal. Of course, large cities probably offer more opportunities, but don’t forget that many job seekers in your age group and with a similar background are also looking for a first work experience in Canada.

To stand out, you could pick an “uncommon” destination or a smaller city, where there is less competition—just keep in mind there could be fewer opportunities as well.

City atmosphere

Big, dynamic, quiet, built on a human scale, by the ocean or close to the mountains, full of cultural activities, in the backcountry—you must know the kind of city or town you’re looking for, right? And if you don’t, maybe this is the perfect time to explore Canada to find your paradise.

How to choose the best time to travel to Canada

If you have a work contract or an internship with a start date, then you know when to arrive—hint: before your first day at your job! On the other hand, WHP holders are usually more flexible and it’s sometimes difficult to know when the best time is to start the adventure. Here’s some food for thought.

Quick reminder: WHP holders must land at the latest 12 months after receiving their Port of Entry (POE) Letter of Introduction. The deadline for entering the country is also written on your letter.

Which season is best for landing?

Contrary to popular belief, Canada isn’t a year-round frozen hell. Summertime can actually be very hot and humid in many parts of the country.

If you want to experience a Canadian winter right away, come any time between November and February with a good pair of gloves. Many WHP holders decide to land in September, when temperatures are mild—you may even enjoy a pleasant spell of Indian summer weather with sunny and clear skies before temperatures drop.

If you’re not into winter wonderland, you can also wait until spring returns in April or May and enjoy summertime activities. Just budget wisely—we’ve heard of WHP holders forced to go home earlier than planned because they had spent all their money over summer!

Note that plane tickets are usually more expensive around Thanksgiving (early October), Christmas and in July/August. On the other hand, you can find very good deals for departure dates in November or February.

The best time of the year for work or housing opportunities

If you arrive in Canada during the summer school break, you may face more competition because many Canadian students are also looking for work (especially entry-level or general customer service positions).

On the other hand, there are generally more hiring opportunities before summer and around major holidays, like Christmas and Boxing Day. A seasonal job could be your first Canadian work experience.

In Quebec, note that leases of rental properties traditionally end on July 1st—read Housing in Canada for more information. While most of Canada celebrates Canada Day, many people in Quebec are busy moving and trading furniture in garage sales—the day is known in the province as “jour du déménagement” (“Moving Day”). There will be fewer rentals available right after this date. If you’re looking for shared housing, don’t worry—WHP holders, students and travellers come and go year-round in every major city.

Final tip (and one of these little ways to save money!): if you’re settling in a city with a good public transit system, you may want to arrive at the very end or at the very beginning of the month to buy a monthly pass. Otherwise, you could be stuck with a costly weekly or daily pass.

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