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“Brief” Guide to Travelling to Vancouver/Whistler, Canada for Working Holiday

I was recently asked if I could give some advice on coming over to Canada, and the Vancouver and Whistler area, for a Working Holiday. I ended up writing quite a bit so decided to turn it into a post on here for anyone who might find it useful. This guide assumes you’re coming from the UK but can apply to many situations.

PLEASE NOTE: All of this is to the best of my knowledge and a reflection of my experience at the time, which might not be up to date as of the time of writing. Where possible, you should use this as an example or indication for your own research rather than a step by step guide. It is not necessarily comprehensive and is heavily my opinion rather than a balanced set of choices. Especially, some of the Whistler topic might have become dated, so especially there, feel free to verify it against other sources. All of this guide assumes you will do some extra research. It also assumes you don’t have any friends where you are going (if you do, get some advice from them as they will most likely have specific and up to date knowledge).

What I did

I’m currently living in Vancouver and I’ve been here nearly 5 years. Previously, I did a year from October 2005-August 2006, in Whistler. Was absolutely amazing, learned to ski etc. I was warned that staying for summer would mean I would want to stay for good…. so I stayed for summer… and that’s what convinced me to move back again after giving London a go for 2.5 years. I actually did a Round the World Trip (through SEA, Aus and NZ) before I arrived in Canada the second time. Since I moved here I’ve really taken up the outdoor lifestyle.

How did you get your work permit/visa and how did you later get your permanent residency?

Note: when people say visa in a lot of these contexts, they actually mean work permit. I may make the same mistake in this post. In the official language a visa allows you to come to Canada, but a work permit allows you work there. Most UK citizens don’t require a visa to come to Canada, but almost all require a work permit to work. Citizenship & Immigration Canada are the authority on this and it’s where you should check.

Both times I arrived on Working Holiday work permit that I received through BUNAC (this has subsequently changed and you can apply directly now), but the second time, my employer decided to keep me and we went through the BC Provincial Nominee Program. Currently, the working holiday program for the UK is known as International Experience Canada.

This will give you a one year work permit for Canada which lets you do almost anything (there are some restrictions, and some things may require a medical exam, see the link above). You can have up to 2 of these work permits. Note that if you had a “BUNAC visa/work permit” prior to 2011, these don’t count, so you can have 2 more. This is the easiest way to get to work in Canada, but also note space is limited. I’m no expert on the current “best way” to apply, so read some forums. Also note that no company can guarantee you a place in this particular program (link above says so), in other words, know the deadlines and be ready to act quickly (e.g. within minutes) when they come up. As soon as my chance to apply opened up, I lept on it straight away and was done in about 10 minutes.

When you apply, you will likely need to get a Police Certificate (from the UK, these are issued by ACPO). When you send your application for this be sure to get multiple copies (at least two, I recommend three) for later use. They are valid for a year but you cannot get a copy after the initial application without doing a whole new application.

Also, let me make this perfectly clear, you must be completely honest and truthful when applying for your work permit or PR, and must comply with the terms of your visa, as it is currently issued. Both in spirit of the application and work permit conditions and to the letter. Do not come and say “I’m a tourist” then do work under the table, that (and other types of immigration fraud) is illegal and you may be kicked out of the country (yes, deported) and not permitted to return. All that said, most of you won’t break your work permit conditions unintentionally, so don’t be scared you’ll trip over them.

If you want to stay or an employer wants to keep you beyond your 1 year work permit: It doesn’t hurt to know what options are available ahead of time. I generally recommend people go for this if it’s available, don’t let circumstances decide what you’ll do, you can always go back to the UK but it’s not as easy to come to Canada. You probably only need to be aware of them rather than an outright expert (until you need them)

  • First and foremost, go to the CIC and treat their word as law (because it is law).
  • Secondly, be aware of provincial options as well. I actually got my permanent residency through the BC Provincial Nominee Program.
  • Thirdly, check out BritishExpats.com‘s forums as they often have or will give advice
  • Finally, treat everything else with a pinch of salt – remember that not all stories apply to your circumstances. Also, I’m sad to say that some stories/strategies are misinformed or made up to “meet requirements”. Be careful, but keep in mind that this can be done. Be careful about listening to urban legends on how people have received work permits.

A lot of people will say “you 100% must have a lawyer and pay them thousands”, “I got into the country because of a great long lost aunt” or “it turns out if you go to the citizenship office and tap dance on desk, they will give you citizenship if you promise to never come back to the office again” - be sure too officially verify all you are told as being plausible and up to date (e.g. you do not require a lawyer and I did the process entirely without one, family sponsorship is restricted to immediate family and come on you really didn’t think the tap dancing thing was true :P).

Accommodation when you first land

Hostels are a cheap bet, or if you’re lucky you could find a short term sublet or similar.

Accommodation in Canada

This varies from city to city… and the reason you are aware of that is because anyone in a cheaper city won’t hesitate to tell you that it’s cheaper. Vancouver and Toronto are two of the highest cost markets I’m afraid, however, both are still lower than London so that’s good news.

I previously shared a 2br apartment for $600/mo (including utilities). That varies depending on what you want and how many you share with. Students are willing to share with non-students and damage deposits are typically half a month’s rent. Some landlords might be nervous about taking you on without a job, but to be honest, do go hunting anyway. I tried staying in a hostel until I got a job, but it drove me nuts, so I found a place and then was offered a job a week later! I wish I had just looked straight away even without a job. Also note that, like the UK, lots of people leave and start their lease agreements at the start/end of the month, so around the 1st of each month is a hot time to look.

To get actual figures, check out Craigslist or Kijiji. By far, this is where most people find rentals of any kind. If you’re actually on the ground in Toronto/Van, you might find people posting ads up on the notice boards in hostels, and perhaps the local uni’s have their own sites, but these are a distant second place to CL. In Whistler, The Pique (local newspaper) has listings if you cannot get staff accommodation (more on that later), and CL is not as powerful, but not insignificant.

Employment in general

I’ll separate out Whistler/Mountains a little bit from this part as it’s kind of it’s own set of instructions. For other areas, more short term jobs, Craigslist again is a strong contender… but here is a list of places I can think of:

  • Craigslist or Kijiji
  • Working In Canada has a lot of employment data too (job pay rates for example) as well as a very good job searching system that covers many other sites. Also has job market data so that might answer the “how good is the market” question.
  • BCJobs
  • Workopolis - longer term stuff but might work
  • Monster - longer term stuff but might work
  • LinkedIn sometimes has things, again longer term.

For job hunting, there is lots of advice out there, and honestly most of it is similar to the UK. Your CV/Resume is  important and also is what you can prepare in advance. BritishExpats.com even has some advice on Canadian resumes. Some summary points on the whole Canada jobs market:

  • Recruiters are not as powerful as in the UK (to any recruiters reading, you’re great, but this is an overall honest comparative reflection of both job markets). They do work, but I’m yet to actually get a job with them (only a couple of leads).
  • Microsoft Word, Apple’s Pages, Google Drive’s Documents feature… all work for resumes… but whichever you choose, be sure you have a copy.
  • Unlike what a lot of people say, there is no two-page or one-page rule for CVs/Resumes. Use as many pages as you wish, but be concise.
  • I personally have a long version of my resume that I cut parts of out of when I am tailoring it for a specific job.
  • Have a sensible email address (see Technology section). “ponyfan43452@kittenmail.com” does not work for these purposes, “<first><last>@gmail.com” is better and shows some maturity to a potential employer.
  • Keep a record of who you apply to and what you sent them. This helps for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because:
    • If they contact you for an interview, you know exactly what you sent
    • Once you have the job, you know what was in your job description
    • You can reuse parts of your cover letters between similar jobs without rewriting
  • Mention your degree, but summarize your A-Levels and GCSEs as “High School Diploma equivalent – UK A-Levels and GCSEs”
  • For more esoteric UK terms – add the Canadian terms in brackets. Hard pressed on examples of this, there are not many.
  • Have a couple of references ready to go – add “references available on request”
  • If you speak multiple languages, especially French, put that on.
  • For temporary jobs where you are competing against other working holiday applicants - You might want to exchange your UK Driving License for a Canadian one (Ontario detailsBC details) and state you have this on your resume. Getting you UK license back should be easy if you passed your test in the UK.

I want to ski or board, start talking about getting a job at the Mountains!

For Whistler, the above might apply but not as extensively, The Pique is again a place to check (has literally pages of adverts for jobs) and the big employers have job fairs in September/October. Whistler Blackcomb and the Fairmont (hotel) both have these, and both of them also have employee accommodation in Staff Housing. I stayed there and it’s similar to uni halls. Great fun and right on the mountain.

Whistler Blackcomb’s job site is a place to start. Note that WB has a job fair in Toronto in September! They also seem to be active on Twitter. In WB’s case, the job fair is the main way in for seasonal work and how I got my job. Be familiar with the dates of them well ahead of time (I think WB is doing their’s in September).

There are mountains in Vancouver (Mount Seymour, Grouse and Cypress) but I don’t know the recruiting processes or working arrangements for them. They are not as much of a hotbed of travelers as Whistler. There are also options in the Interior of BC (Silver Star, Big White, Banff, Revelstoke and Jasper to name just a few), again, all smaller.Just in case you are comparing an indoor office job at the mountains to an outdoor one.

This is subjective, but I heard a lot of folks who go the outdoor jobs boasting about how they would be on the mountain all season, before the shine came off that apple and the cold, early starts became a cause for complaint. By contrast, I worked in the Finance office and was nice and warm, 8:30 am starts, office banter, better pay and had something I could put on my resume. However, if someone asked me to be a ski instructor… you know I’d take that! The point is be realistic about what you will be doing.

Important Documents to bring

This is what I can think of, again, not exhaustive, so check your documents to see if you need anything else. Bring your:

  • passport
  • work permit letter
  • birth certificate
  • driving license
  • the copy of the police certificate you received for your work permit (you remembered to get copies, right?)
  • actual education certificates (e.g. degree)
  • copies of recent bank statements (in case you need them at the border)
  • UK Credit Card and Debit Card (likely you will a credit card for a few things)
  • UK Cheque Book if you have one (and if you have one, your two factor authentication security device, like this from HSBC UK)
  • professional qualifications and skills training certificates
  • details of your work permit application/IEC application (e.g. the letter they sent you to present at the border)
  • any other important documents.

For all of these documents, scan them (or photos of them if needs be) and keep a copy of them on Google Drive or Dropbox (or a cloud service of your choosing). Do the same with your work permit when you get it (e.g. take a photo of it and upload it). If you find that you’ve lost any of them for any reason, you have copies. This has the added bonus of having copies you can quickly print or email. If you want to encrypt them, use 7-zip.

Luggage … aka you don’t need a backpacking backpack

Before we start, know your airline check in size limits, weights and how many bags you can have. Also, if bringing skis/board/sporting equipment, look up details on how those are brought. On a multi-month trip, it might not be as bad an idea to willingly pay for extra bags.

Remember you will come back with more than you take and some things you may take to Canada and leave there.

I’ve put extra time into these ones because I’m explaining a decision, but as with any decision, your’s may vary.

Your main bag that you check in

For a trip where you are going to live overseas for a bit, unless you specifically plan on doing something that needs an overnight hiking backpack, use a normal suitcase or if you must something like this convertible pack (I used that for the round the world trip, but it would be excessive here). In this case you’ll be going through airports and cities more than you will be in the back of random pickup trucks with seats made out of wood (a story of mine from Thailand). In all likelihood, this will sit in your cupboard for most of the season so it’s not as important to have something you can take through hell and high water. I wouldn’t say a new backpack or suitcase is necessary unless you don’t have one at all.

Update 9th April 2013: I was thinking about this some more and actually wish I had done so on the Whistler trip. Unless you know you will be doing further backpacking-style travel/hiking/similar where the easier carrying will be of repeated benefit to you, having something that packs away nicely to the back of a cupboard or under a bed and can carry A LOT is actually going to be more useful. The best thing I can think of is a somewhat simple duffle bag/holdall, but big capacity and the bag itself doesn’t weigh too much (some suitcases can weigh 7kg, and your limit is probably 23kg!) Here’s the Duffles category at Cotswold Outdoor (UK retailer, who are great and I miss you).

All of these are examples of what I might use:

  • REI Classic Duffle – XL size from REI is 91 litres and USD44 ($25 on sale) – XXL size from REI-Outlet is 150 litres and $32 (but might not be around forever) – REI also sell other ranges of duffles, but you get the idea. I actually have one of these and it packs down into the space of a few folded shirts when not in use. This is a good example of a simple nylon bag (but I don’t know of a UK equivalent – you’ll have to find one).
  • Wet & Dry Bags from Mountain Equipment (UK, sold in Cotswold and others) – 100 litres and 140 litres are both options – GBP 60 (sale price of 100L at Cotswold) to GBP 120 (full price of 150L) – also has backpack like straps. Not sure how much they fold down but they look much more sturdy and are also more waterproof.
  • Looking at Cotswold link above The North Face, Vango, Lifeventure all do similar bags – hopefully these give you the idea.

Your smaller bag – hand luggage for the plane

However, having a multi use backpack as your smaller bag is not a bad idea and I personally would get this before I leave as I can expect to be using it from the moment I get on the ground. I have a Deuter Futura 28 in black (without those green bits on the newer one) which I use mainly for hiking, but if I wanted to I can and have used it for skiing, taking to the office, photography trips, weekends away, biking, walking round town etc. Most airlines will accept it as hand luggage.

However, my advice below about perhaps waiting until you are on the ground stands, so if you wish to wait until you get here, go ahead (don’t over think all of this advice… but then again, I’m overthinking it all as I write this article :P)

As an alternative that’s cheap, light and gets you a bag that uses up all of your carry on space, I have a Cabin Max bag.  They are not as costly, starting at about GBP 20 for a bag that uses all available carry on space. It might be a good choice if you really want to use every last centimetre of space, these use the full 55L, the most the BA hand baggage dimensions allow for at the time of writing. It’s also a price I wouldn’t be too upset about if I gave it away or it didn’t make it back.

One more tip about hand luggage

If you really need space, remember, main airlines let you have one item of hand luggage and one personal item. That personal item is typically a briefcase, purse or laptop bag sized item. I’ve used a smaller backpack or messenger bag before.

As always, check your airline’s rules.

Things to bring

Remember, things like toiletries, clothes, skis, bikes, can be purchased here. So in some ways you might actually be happier saving money in the UK and buying things when you get here when you know the market and what you’ll want actually on the ground. Whistler has lots of sales during shoulder season (the run up to the start of the skiing, before the tourists arrive) and people will happily give you suggestions etc. I actually sent some things home because I wasn’t wearing them as much as I thought. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a great place for outdoor gear as are all the Whistler shops.

This is HIGHLY in my opinion and is not necessarily covering all of what you’ll need, just things that might not occur to you. See the relevant sections of this guide for more advice on all of these:

  • Your paperwork (see above)
  • A full supply of your prescriptions (of any kind) as you’ll be paying for any extras. Same goes for over the counter medicines that you know are absolutely not available in Canada. Bonjela is the only one I can think of. Paracetamol certainly is not one of them, it’s called Acetaminophen over here.
  • Enough toiletries to cover a few days, but not beyond that. When you get here and they run out, buy full sized ones.
  • Travel towel – this proves more useful than you’d think, especially when you first move into a house or are in a hostel. Something like this from Lifeventure or this from REI. A word to the wise, always get the largest size you can (as the largest size is usually “normal” towel size)
  • Interview clothes and decent looking shoes
  • Some normal clothes and whatever shoes you want (hiking boots not necessarily required – you’re not backpacking)
  • Electronics:
    • Your camera! This is one area that you will want to spend a bit more as you will thank yourself.
    • A few memory cards too (cheap on Amazon, usually very expensive in high street shops). If you need advice on which, The Wirecutter has a good SD Card Guide.
    • A laptop – only a laptop is a no-compromise resume writing machine (sorry tablets, I love you but you ‘re not there yet). Make sure it has enough room for all your photos/videos (bring an external hard drive).
    • Travel adapters for UK electronics.
    • Charger for your devices (camera, phone etc) – ideally they are all USB so bring extra cables. I discuss this more in the Technology section below.
    • A pair of headphones for the plane – you’re going to want some. In this case, yes your noise cancelling cans are OK, but bring some ear buds as well.
    • At least one “smart” device (smartphone/tablet), two is OK – this can be your smartphone and/or a tablet. I recommend at least one as they are so handy to have (and I recommend lots of apps below).
  • A decent coat to go out in – but just one multi-use one unless you are certain you have the right kit for where you are going. A lot of people brought coats/outerwear for Whistler but then sent them home later.
  • Some multi use clothes – believe it or not, I’d recommend you come with some gym gear and clothes as they can be used for a lot of activities (e.g. downhill biking, hiking etc). Better still if you can bring shorts, longer trousers and a few wicking shirts.
  • Equipment for sports/activities you absolutely love within reason - ok, let’s say you might do some diving because you’re not far from Vancouver, perhaps bring just your mask and dive certs (not your full gear) then rent the rest (for example, from The Edge Diving Centre). Lets say you’re football mad, it’s OK to bring your boots. If you’re going to be playing a much golf as you can… well they are heavy, but you clearly love it, so bring 1 set of your clubs. If you have a great pair of skis that are in good condition bring them by all means.
  • A decent budget - you might not be working for quite a while. Save up with this in mind, and also be ready to live cheaply. Having said that, you’ll want to go out a bit with your new friends and buy some stuff, so budget there too.
  • A padlock for a hostel locker or similar.

Note that there are some optional things (see the sections of the guide) that I’ve not listed in the above.

Optional things to Bring

  • A sleeping bag – I’m including this one as optional as I think a lot of places will give you bedding and if you absolutely must, you can get it. However, if you don’t want to take that chance, then get a very light weight sleeping bag that doesn’t take up much space. Here is an example I came across that looks perfect. If you’re going hiking/camping etc and know you’re requirements are higher than that, then bring a sleeping bag suitable for that.
  • Hiking boots – if you don’t plan on using them for any hiking or where they are required, I would avoid bringing these. Again, you’re not backpacking here. Normal shoes will do unless you intend to hike or use your hikers as normal shoes.
  • External speaker – If you have a small one, bring it. You can also get them here. Very handy to bring a bit of life to your room/appartment when you first move in. Leave this if you don’t have room. Details in the Technology section.

What not to bring

Here are some mistake items, so don’t bring them:

  • Enough toiletries to see you through 12 months. This is wasted space, you can and will buy them here.
  • A pillow – no you don’t need that, too much volume.
  • Kitchen equipment, spice racks, blenders – again, all provided. No.
  • British Treats – e.g. Marmite, Yorkshire Tea, Paxo, proper HP Sauce, Baked Beans – Firstly, Marketplace IGA in Whistler has quite a few of these, as does the British Butcher Shoppe in North Van and West Van. Secondly, give it a few weeks and you won’t miss them.
  • A library of books –  eBooks are a MUCH lighter choice as you only need your laptop/phone/tablet and you usually cannot loose them. This includes travel guides/Lonely Planet. Also, don’t bring your DVD or CD collections for that matter, get Netflix or online music services.
  • Outerwear for any and every scenario – believe it or not, it’s very possible to be too hot on a winters day in Whistler. You don’t need a fur parka fit for the arctic. I usually recommend you come with one all purpose coat and buy ski gear when you get here if you don’t have it.
  • Clothes for every last scenario – some things will have to be multi use clothes. Sorry, no formal dinner wear here.
  • All of your store loyalty cards – come on, they don’t take Nectar points over here. Load them into the Key Ring app on your phone if you want to take a copy (good idea anyway).
  • 19 inch, 8 kilogram laptop with full size external speakers, 3 desktop external hard drives, mouse, keyboard, stand, projector, 20 socket power bar in their own hardened case with room to spare – please put the limits of reason on your technology items. A small laptop (e.g. 13 inch), portable hard drive and travel mouse is much more easily moved around than all of that stuff. If you absolutely have to have external speakers or laptop stand, buy them when you get here from NCIX. Also, you’re going to one of the most beautiful places in the world, I don’t think this going to be a huge part of your life for the next year.
  • “I’ve never done it before, but I’ve decided I’m the world’s greatest photographer and documentary film maker. I’ll just pack 2 DSLRs with 12 lenses and a full size TV camera” – again limits of reason here. If you have a DSLR and want to bring it, by all means do. If you’re an experienced at making films and have the gear that you know how to use, please do again. However, I wouldn’t recommend people run out and buy loads of gear expecting that the knowledge, skill and desire will magically befall them when the plane touches down.
  • “I’m a great scuba diver, so I’ll take 2 tanks, a BCD, regs, mask, fins, weights with me to the Interior of BC for the ski season” – again limits of reason here. I’m using diving as an example of any sport that you might not be doing as much of out here. I’m a diver and I know there isn’t that much diving out there, and I don’t want to haul all that stuff for the few days of diving I might get in for the year. In that scenario, just take your mask, certs and dive log and rent the rest. Even if you’re coming to Vancouver, where there are dive sites, ask yourself if you will be doing enough diving to justify the luggage costs?
  • “I’ll bring rock skis, rock board, a brand new skis/board I’ll get before I fly out and my backcountry gear in case we go there one day” – ask yourself if you can or want to really haul all that stuff? Don’t bring out some rock skis just to destroy them. If you’re getting new skis, buy them here. If you have backcountry skis that will do for inbounds stuff, bring those if you must… but don’t bring them just for a single day.
  • Ski maintenance equipment – you don’t need your own iron and can buy wax.

Things to sort out before you go

I’ve tried to cut this down to stuff that you should do before you leave. However, a lot of things can be sorted out even after you leave. Also, there are some optional things you can do that I’ve skipped.

  • Make sure you have a good, sensible email address before you go if you do not already have one. Not “<myname>likesponies41543125234265@idontlikemeanthings.com”. Something like “<firstname><lastname>@gmail.com” is much more useful, I explain why and how to switch in the Technology section below.
  • Make sure people have your email address – seriously, I bet you’ll find a lot of people do not.
  • Tell people you are leaving – text them and/or email them. Let them know that it’s easier to contact you by email/Skype etc for the next year. If you’re going to do a travel blog, give out the address. If you’re going to use a Skype number, distribute this too.
  • Change your address at your bank, important services, taxes etc – most of you will be moving back to your parents for a week or two before you go, so be sure to change everything from your university accommodation or old house/flat.
  • Make sure your bank accounts, all of them, are in good order. You don’t want to accidentally leave an overdraft unpaid.
  • Discuss with your parents/people living there if they can open your post/mail for you. If they can use a scanner, great, they can email them to you.
  • Cancel or close any unnecessary accounts. It’s easy enough to get a new mobile number and distribute it after you haven’t been in the country for a year(you won’t have been handing out your old one). You also don’t need a gym membership in the UK do you?
  • Write a Canadian resumé (aka CV) and have good version ready before you go. This saves time later and you can edit it when you get here to meet your needs. More on that below.
  • Make sure your phone is unlocked if you are taking it (see Mobiles section)
  • Read the other sections as there is preparation advice in all of them that might apply to you.
  • OPTIONAL: Perhaps give you parents power of attorney to act on your behalf while you are away. In a pinch, they can do some things for you with your legal authority. Consult legal advice on this before proceeding if you are unsure or do not understand. Here is a Citizens Advice UK link.

I want to do a travel blog/avoid mass emailing

I started this one as I was sending out mass emails to everyone… that I was worried would get spammy, and I was really writing them to myself. Beyond that though, it can be a very rewarding experience to do a 2in1 travel diary and mass email. I’m told that people would read my blog to check up on others in Whistler!

Anyway, if you want to do one, I recommend WordPress.com. I’ve bounced around quite a lot of options (including self hosted) but this was the easiest to maintain long term with low effort.

SIN Number

This is the Social Insurance Number, which is similar to the UK’s National Insurance Number or the US’s Social Security Number. You get one from Service Canada and it should be your first move to get one as soon as you can. You need this to work.

Phones/Mobiles

Phone costs are generally higher in Canada than the UK and work very differently. You can bring an unlocked phone from the UK and possibly get a month-to-month contract… but be ready to pay more than you think for this one. Also, unlike the UK, Canada and the US gives a location linked number for mobiles as well. In other words, 604 is one of the area codes for Greater Vancouver, and my mobile number is 604-3xx-xxxx. Also note that incoming calls also cost you money to receive them (although some plans have unlimited evening calls or unlimited incoming calls in your home area).

Get yourself set up on Skype and get some Skype Credit. Optionally, if you want a UK Landline number people can use to call you, look at getting a Skype Online Number (previously known as SkypeIn Number and occasionally called Skype Numbers).

Some folks have asked if they should bring one from the UK or buy one here. Here are some scenarios:

  • I have a fancy smartphone and I want to use it as my Canadian phone: Make sure that it’s unlocked (network unlocked – talk to your mobile network) and can be used in North America, but go right ahead. If you’re keeping your UK SIM active, put it in a cheap/old mobile for now.
  • I have a fancy smartphone and want to keep it as my UK number in Canada but still use it: Honestly, here, get a cheapo phone/use an old phone for your UK SIM while in Canada and use the fancy one as your Canada phone. If you must, be sure that mobile data roaming is off and you only use WiFi.
  • I have a cheap phone of any kind and would like something similar/use my own in Canada: If it’s cheap and you don’t mind, just buy a second, cheap, “burner” phone in Canada and save yourself the hassle of unlocking etc.
  • I’m in the market for a new smartphone that I want to use in Canada and later in the UK: Well you can buy ones in North America and I can’t think of any that won’t work in the UK. NCIX.com sells them and has retail stores in Vancouver. I recommend the Google Nexus 5.

Banks

In Canada there are 2 groups of banks, the Big 5 banks (CIBC, TD Canada Trust, RBC, ScotiaBank and BMO) and then a group of smaller Banks and Credit Unions that vary from region to region. HSBC is here falls in that last category (although it’s getting much larger). All charge monthly fees for an account, and to skip the debate about it, be ready to pay between $10-14 for an unlimited chequing account (e.g. you can do as many transactions as you like with your debit card or from ATMs).

Unlike the UK, the banks charge each time you use an ATM which is not their own. HSBC and many smaller credit unions have an agreement called The Exchange Network which let you use any ATM on that network for free as if it was your own. I mention this because it means that you are more likely find an ATM you can use for free. For example, HSBC doesn’t have a Whistler branch, but BlueShore Financial (formerly North Shore Credit Union) does, and I can withdraw cash and deposit cash at their ATM. Also, if you have an HSBC UK Account, HSBC Canada can have a look at your banking history and get you set up more like what you are used to in the UK (e.g. you can get a credit card etc).

Update 8th April 2014: It’s been pointed out that ScotiaBank and HSBC, and likely others, will let you set up accounts before you arrive in some cases and offer free accounts to new immigrants for a year. Keep an eye out for offers like this (and naturally be aware of their terms and conditions) and go for it if it suits your circumstances.

Also, some banks, including HSBC, will give you a debit card (usually called a “bank card”) right there, on the spot, in the branch that you open your account. Your name isn’t on it but that is OK. Quite handy really. If you ever loose it, you can just pop into your bank and get another straight away.

Food & Drinking

  • Food: It will feel more expensive here. I’ve never fully explained this one but other Expats have reported feeling the same way about going to the supermarket. Eating out seems cheaper than the UK on the otherhand.
  • Booze: Also kind of pricey in the same way.

Travel

  • Air: Bad news, there are not really any budget airlines I’m afraid, not as we know them in the UK. However, WestJet and Air Canada are two among many airlines in Canada. If you can make it, you can also go to Bellingham International Airport just over the USA border for lower cost airlines like Allegent Air.
  • Cars: You can buy a beater and insure it and sell it later if you want to use one for a road trip… not necessary though and insurance is significant. There are also car-shuttling agencies that set you up with people who need their car driven across the country if you want an adventure but I don’t have details.
  • Bus and TrainGreyhound are the main long distance bus service in Canada. Rail isn’t as commonly used but is an option, VIA Rail.
  • Driving Licence: You might want to exchange your UK Driving License for a Canadian one (Ontario detailsBC details) – you can also switch back as easily (I’m told). If you don’t want to swap your driving licence, get a Provincial ID card instead just for ease and so you don’t have to carry your passport.

Healthcare

Make sure you have health insurance for when you arrive and make sure it covers any extreme sports. You can get on the Provincial Health Plan ($60/mo ish) in some cases (check provincial details), for BC: http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/msp/infoben/faqas.html#whp (this has changed from when I was here the first time). Also note that drug costs are not covered like the UK, so if a prescription is necessary, be ready to cover the cost unless your employer provides benefits that cover this.

Technology/Electronics

I could go on for ages about this…

  • Make sure you have a sensible email address. I know “<my name>and<other half’s name>4evr@mylittleponyemail.com” was a good idea when you were 13 and it’s “just the one everyone emails” but you can’t use that for job hunting and might not want to use that when you’re a 20-something doing a job hunt and meeting people who didn’t know you from childhood. You’ll be meeting a lot of new people you will want to stay in touch with and handing this out to potential employers who want to see maturity. It is a good time for something more long term and grown up:
    • Go to Gmail.com (there are others, but I recommend Gmail) and get a new, sensible address, like “<firstname><lastname>@gmail.com”, “<first initial><lastname>@gmail.com” or perhaps “<firstname><last name initial>@gmail.com”.
    • If you have old email accounts, here are 3 ways to move, you can forward them to this new address, or even get Gmail to check them for you. You could also put an autoresponse on the old accounts in addition to this.
    • Change longstanding accounts, like Paypal or other things you want to keep.
  • Make sure your electrical devices will work on 110-120 volts, their labels will usually say 110-240v if they can be used anywhere. Don’t forget travel adapters and put a few in your hand luggage (On some devices, you might be able to full on swap the cable use with them for a US one if you don’t want to bother with travel adapter)
  • You’ll want a decent charger your phone and other devices. With that in mind, I recommend this 5 port charger from Anker (page has links to various countries’ Amazon stores where it can be purchased). You can use the US power cable I linked above with it. Why this one in particular? Because that small, standard sized cable means you are more likely to find a free, single power outlet in a hostel or airport where you can charge everything in one go.
  • A few extra charging cables for your electronics (most phones and tablets can charge off microUSB cables these days, Apple products are an exception, in any case, buy some extras)
  • Bring a decent camera. You’ll thank yourself :) There’s more advice on this point out here than I can ever summarize, but I will say that a tough, waterproof, freeze proof, drop proof camera is an idea if you want to do more outdoorsy things. I have an older version of the Panasonic TS5 that I take skiing, hiking, diving etc… (p.s. remember you could buy it over here or in the USA if you wanted to). The Wirecutter has lots of advice on this and great reviews.
  • Action Camera: Optional, but lots of folks like GoPros. You can buy one here if you want to save space in your luggage.
  • Smartphone (or any phone): See above about Mobiles.
  • Tablets: Consider getting a Nexus 7 or a LG GPad 8.3 if you want a cheaper tablet for when you are here. Or bring your iPad etc… whatever you prefer . If you’re getting a burner phone, you might find a small tablet an asset for those times you miss your iPhone/Galaxy S4. Again, whatever it is, if it can charge by microUSB, that’s better.
  • Laptop: A small 11-13in laptop if you are getting one for the trip – you want something you can easily move but large enough to work on. As you get in to larger laptops, like 15-17in ones, weight becomes a factor to consider, especially if you plan to move about a lot. Honestly, that’s just traveler specific buying hints rather than actual advice. One thing though, honestly, for resume writing and blog writing etc, a laptop is what you want over a tablet (as much as I love them). Also, you don’t need a laptop bag this time round, perhaps bring it in a laptop sleeve.
  • If your laptop will not have enough space for all your photos and videos, bring a portable external hard drive.
  • You can also consider a laptop locking cable if you really want.
  • See if you can find some Facebook groups or online forums ahead of time to get a little more information from people actually doing it or having more recently moved here. This helps because you get a few contacts in the area as well. Here is the one at Lonely Planet’s Thorntree.
  • General travel advice for a sec: If you buy travel books, buy them as eBooks. It’s easier to have a file on your phone or on Dropbox than it is to lug 1kg of travel books around. Also, use Pocket so you can have things waiting for you offline on your phone/laptop. A lot of times I will go to a new city with just things from Wikitravel on my phone for advice.
  • A decent set of headphones for the plane and one of those external bluetooth speakers or similar is a good move for Whistler staff housing (or anywhere). Especially in Whistler we usually looked for such things when we wanted to have an impromptu party/drinking session. Anker has recently come out with this one I might pick up. The Wirecutter has a good guide.
  • TripAdvisor has really decent city maps in their apps. I used these a lot when I drive down to Seattle and Portland. It will do maps of downtown cores etc.
  • If you want an offline GPS for driving or walking around cities, I prefer CoPilot.
  • If you want a backcountry GPS, firstly be safe on your backcountry trips through proper knowledge and training (here is some MEC advice), take a paper map and all the essentials… then you can also supplement (but not replace all that) with Backcountry Navigator for Android. You can also use that for street maps in some areas.
  • PDF Xchange Viewer is free for personal use (download the trial version) and you can save PDF forms using it and also, you can use the typewriter feature to type on top of PDFs even if they are not PDF forms. This has saved me loads of time when form filling and they are nice and clear at the end. Perfect for dyslexics with poor handwriting like me.
  • Back up all of your data, e.g. using Dropbox, Google Drive or better still Crashplan.

How do I actually make a plan for all of that?

You’ve just seen a wall of text and it’s a lot to take in isn’t it?

First thing you should do is accept that you cannot preplan every last move. So in other words, don’t worry that you will be getting on the plane without long term accommodation or a job. Some stuff you will just work out on the ground when you get here, and that’s part of the fun. More rarely will you be able to sort your employment out ahead of time, but in my experience, most employers will not do this without seeing you in person.

However, you can preplan things like getting your SIN Number, picking up a SIM card for your phone, getting a bank account, having your new resume in order, an idea of how much housing will cost, an idea of what jobs you might want and the major employers in some cases.

Chilkoot Trail

Eight months ago, I eagerly posted that I was in Whitehorse and about to start the Chilkoot Trail… and of course I get back and get busy so forget to actually write a post about it Still, no time like the present?

If you want to see a map of all of this, here is one courtesy of Parks Canada.

Day 0: Whitehorse

I’m calling this day 0 as it’s not really day 1… we had to get into Whitehorse the day before and stayed at the Beez Kneez hostel (great, well kept, brilliant hostel, has WiFi, friendly owners). We explored for a little bit and found the

Getting to sleep that night we did notice the longer days up that far North.

Day 1: Travel to Skagway, Dyea and setting off

Early start and headed to find some breakfast before setting of on the bus for Skagway, Alaska. The bus driver seemed extremely pleased that I had my I94-W already from an earlier trip. Saved time at the border. We also stopped for an hour at the (somewhat touristy) Carcross, Yukon.

Once in Skagway we got registered at the trail office and were told in no uncertain terms that metal detectors were not allowed! Seems they had a bit of a rash of people going hunting for treasures with them. All signed up, we head off to find some food and something to remember the first time in Alaska! In Skagway itself, we did observe quite a lot of cruise ship passengers… and suitable places to serve those passengers. I’ll be honest, the heavy tourist focus isn’t my thing and not something I really like that much. If I go to a place I don’t want to think that I’m being fleeced for cash at every turn, and as nice as Skagway was, unfortunately that felt true. We toured round for a bit and found a few decent shops none the less, you had to look for them but they could be found… Also, see that place call the Red Onion? It’s a former brothel turned into a theme restaurant.

We caught a bus (all of this organised by Hannah by the way, thanks again) up to the trailhead just near Dyea, Alaska.

So we headed off into the first of what would be several different areas… the first being coastal rain forest… and at least in my mind, the definition of it. Green, wet, leafy trees and (despite being early summer) somewhat humid. For the most part this was easy going, mostly a gentle uphill (but some steeper sections). Note that you won’t get water until about the 6km mark where there is a stream, so don’t do what I did and set off with just 1L that morning! You’ll see quite a few leftovers that the goldrush folks dropped (but not that many) on your way. We had great fun spotting these and shouting “artifact!” when seen. We did about 8km that day before setting up at Canyon City for the night.

By far, the note of this night was a laminated book which contained the journal of Leo Healy, titled To the Klondike, quoting the abstract:

Diary of nineteen-year-old Leo R. Healy, who with his brother George, journeyed to the Yukon Klondike gold fields in 1898. They arrived in Seattle after a train trip from Chicago. There they bought their outfits and voyaged to Skagway, then went over the Chilkoot Pass to Dawson. After a brief stay, seeing the conditions in Dawson, they returned home via the Yukon and St. Michael.

Later I emailed the Alaksa State Library and they were kind enough to send me a copy of the diary, unfortunately, I don’t think the copyright notice gives me permission to post it here, but you can request it from them for personal use. I strongly suggest you all do using the details above, MS0013-07-04 is the document number). Made good reading in the hut to hide out from the rain.

Day 2: Canyon City to Sheep Camp

Started off wet unfortunately but dried up. We saw a few more artifacts along the way. Things began to get more rocky and trees thinned out a bit. However, it was flatter than yesterday. Just as well, because your pack should still be pretty heavy with food at this point… you’ll need your energy for tomorrow for The Pass (see this elevation profile I posted of that). I probably shouldn’t have polished off a whole bag of beef jerky then…

The wettest night of the trip ensued. We just got the tents up in time to avoid it. We hung out in the huts with the new friends we were making (you tend to see the same people each night in camps) and played asshole. Enjoyed eating a bunch of tortilla wraps and Buffalo Chicken filling for them. We met some folks who were shuttling food drops up to a group, they were doing almost our entire route so far in a day, no problem at all! The Rangers (who had a small house nearby) gave a briefing on what to expect and where the border actually was. Sleep time for what was ahead…

Day 3: The Pass

Oh this is the one we were working up in our heads. Got up a little earlier, got walking as soon as the food was done. We headed into more mountainous terrain now, a few streams to cross, snow starting to appear in patches. You have a general uphill for about 2 hours until you start to reach a moraine and scree field. There are a LOT of discarded artifacts in this area.

Oh did I mention a large scree field known as The Scales? This is what seperated the men from the boys back in the Gold Rush days. People would charge $1 (a great deal in that time I might add) to haul your Gold hunting gear up and you would quickly pay it to avoid doing it yourself. Clearly such a fearsome terrain adversary would best anyone meeting it these days…

Nope.

Quite easy really!

On we went, now the terrain was above the treeline high alpine stuff. Rocky at first. We found where the US border was. So we stop for a photo. Simple enough isn’t it? Just set up the camera, set it on self-timer and run like hell towards your spot right on the side of a ledge with a heavy pack on your back?

P1230347

I nearly fell off a cliff between Alaska, USA and British Columbia, Canada so I could be in this photo!

Instead when I sat down I lost my balance, Christina fortunately realized this and dived across my legs before I tipped backwards!

On we trotted to the ranger station and outhouses. The Rangers (one Canadian, one American) were great, really friendly and informative… in addition to hiking at the speed of mountain goats! (Seriously, they almost ran up the Scales)

Hiking alongside the gigantic, blue Crater Lake you could see the ice/snowbergs (is snowberg an actual term?) well on their way to breaking up. This section is also memorable as it’s where the downhill really started coming in.

A few river crossings later we arrived at Happy Camp. Mosquitoes were bad here so it’s time to break out the nets we bought in Whitehorse.

That Dark Chocolate Cheese Cake was hiked up in secret, along with some candles, for Hannah’s birthday (well, a little early, it was the day after we got back).

Day 4: Happy Camp to Bare Loon Lake

This was a more downhill day, we felt we deserved that. You started off in Alpine areas and glacial bowls with lakes everywhere, until you reach Deep Lake campground.

After this it’s a walk along the edge of a gorge, following the river, moving noticeably faster now. This area takes you down into the treeline again and the soil becomes a richer red colour, more desert-like. Eventually you make it to Lindeman City and the small museum there.

This is where we kept thinking we would get to Bare Loon Lake in no time at all… but we were not aware of the smaller lakes in the area so kept thinking it was closer than it was. We found ourselves on undulating terrain here too. Eventually though we reached it. This was easily my favourite camp because:

  1. It was sunny and warm weather
  2. After 4 days without a shower, we could have swim in the (freezing bloody cold) lake
  3. It was more like summer than the last few days

Day 5: Bare Loon Lake to the finish line at Bennett

Started off the day by taking plenty of photos are Bare Loon then did the final, very sandy section of the trip. Plenty of artifacts now and our packs noticeably more empty and lighter.

We got to Bennett just in time to see the train we would take tomorrow depart. We’d planned for this to be an easy day of chilling out and swimming… although we did notice a lot of glass around the place. I was down to my last 2 freeze dried meals, so a disciplined diet was needed (that means I looked at them both as if they must be eaten immediately). We then continued our crib playing (taught by Hannah).

During the crib games, the heavens opened on us and we decided it was easier to just move the tents onto the deck, as we were the only ones around (we thought about sleeping inside but didn’t).

Day 6: Trip back to Whitehorse

Final day, final bagged meal… I had to have Chicken Teryaki for breakfast. A game or two of crib then lunch was served at the train station that we had prebooked. The hikers get their own room away from the tourists (as we all smell by that point)!

Train trip back to Carcross was quite scenic, I’ll just post the photos as it really was a scenic train trip…

A few hours in Carcross again then we headed back to Whitehorse… look I’ll be honest, I wanted the following:

Done!

I added extra bacon!

I added extra bacon!

However, I shot myself in the foot there… the rich food kept me awake all night and I wound up only sleeping a couple of hours…

Day 7: Flew Home

Back home!

In Whitehorse, Chilkoot starts tomorrow!

I’m writing this on the plane to Whitehorse. After a year of planning, many changes, it eventually became just the three of Hannah, Christina and myself leaving for the the trip.

As I write this, we are flying over Deeks Lake, The Chief, Squamish, Tantalus, Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk… Christina is taking a bunch of photos. The view out of the plane is amazing! Better still because we’ve actually hiked all those places. We also know that those areas are clear and will be a good place to go when we get back to normal.

Anyway, back to Chilkoot talk, the forecast is 40% chance of rain for the next 3 days (until Sunday), then sun for the rest… I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about that rain… We have rain jackets with us but it will be a rather miserable experience if we are getting wet for three days. But, the less arduous days are sunny, so that should lift our spirits.

Equipment wise, we were somewhat disorganized after our last trip. Hannah can’t find her tent, so has borrowed one. It seems she had my cook set and bowl, thankfully I have those back! All of us are debating how much food we actually need. We’ve found there is a Coast Mountain Sports in Whitehorse and we are going!

I wish we could have brought Jesse!

Another hour to Whitehorse then we get some sleep for the night, then bus to the trailhead tomorrow.

—– Some time passes —–

So we got to Whitehorse and checked into the Beez Kneez Hostel. Nice place, very friendly owners. Went out to Whitehorse and had a great afternoon lunch at the Alpine Bakery. This place has a small town feel to it, but you see all the things from the bigger cities. We headed to the excellent Coast Mountain Sports in Whitehorse and loaded up on bits we had forgotten or needed, including bug nets. While there, we were told to get up at 3am to start The Pass, as falling rocks will be a concern…

Back at the hostel, final packing done, now off for a proper dinner before dehydrated bagged meals for 5 days.

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