Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. I was working at a job that didn’t turn out how it was advertised, and I wasn’t enjoying it. Looking back, the silver lining was that it forced me to do something I’ve been wanting and putting off doing for a very long time; travel and work abroad. So, in April 2013, I found an UNREAL deal and booked a one-way flight to Iceland with IcelandAir in July. No plans, no money saved, only faith that it would turn out for the best. I decided to travel solo around Eastern Europe, doing a couple of Work Away’s along my travels and stay abroad basically until I ran out of money. I applied and was accepted into an unpaid marketing internship at an organic salad farm in rural, rural Scotland, but ultimately decided against it (what if they were crazy?!?). About a month prior to departure, I decided to apply to a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa, also known as a Working Holiday Visa in the UK. I was thinking if I was going to be away for a while, I might as well be getting paid for it!
This visa is valid for two years and is designed to let you travel while working abroad. Because Canada is part of the Commonwealth, it opens up SO many doors for us to have visa free travel as well as access to work visas across the world. I never truly realised how powerful our passport was until I started researching the working holiday visa.
After my mind was made up, I thought, wait HOW do I get a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa for the UK? I found some helpful blogs on what the visa application process is like for Canadians, but none that catered to the smaller Canadian cities, who experience a much different process than the bigger hubs, like Toronto for example. Read below to find out what I found to be the best approach and learn from my mistakes – and save money!
Step 1: Do you qualify for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa?
Research, research, research. Make sure the Youth Mobility Visa is something that you really want to do because it’s going to cost you a pretty penny! The government site, International Experience Canada provides a list of all the countries in the world Canadians can get a variety of working visas for and gives you a solid overview on your options.
For the Youth Mobility visa, I think the most obvious thing to do first would be to make sure you qualify for the visa. Do you meet the following?:
- Canadian Citizen with a valid Canadian passport
- Age 18-30 on or before the start date of the visa
- No dependents (children under 18)
- A minimum of £1890 (~3,450CAD) in your bank account with a note from the bank proving it
- Must not be currently residing in the UK
- Have a full blank page in your passport to insert the visa
If so, great! You’re half way there!
Step 2: Create An Online Profile
Once you’ve thought it over and decided to take the plunge, head on over to the Visa4UK website and create a profile. This is the official, and only site available to submit your application. Follow the steps and fill out all the information, this can be time consuming so make sure you’ve given yourself a good chunk of time to do it. The application also asks you to list all the countries you’ve travelled to in the last ten years with exact dates – !!!!?!?!?! It’s a giant pain to pull this together, but I would suggest keeping a running list of every country you travel to from then onwards as some other countries require this information, too (ex/ Russia for a tourist visa). If you’ve been to one country multiple times (ex/ the US), I only listed the last visit I did.
Important: do not lie on the application, if you don’t know the answer try and find it out before you submit. Lying on the application will only harm your chances of getting approved. It could also get you deported!!!
Step 3: Costs
Once you’ve filled out everything, submit the application for the Youth Mobility visa online via the VFS Global website.
Here comes the worst part: pay time. Bye, bye savings.
You must pay for your Youth Mobility visa (~$350USD), and the new National Health Service (NHS) fee (£300) at once. 😐
Make sure you print out all your confirmation receipts for payments single sided. You’ll need to send these away when you get your biometrics taken and submit your final application.
What are biometrics you ask (I had no idea what it meant until it happened). Biometrics are your finger prints taken on an electronic pad, along with a head shot which gets taken once you go to your visa appointment – more on the appointment soon. Once you have your work visa and you’re living in the UK, you’ll have to give your electronic finger prints every time you enter the country. This is a way the UK identifies that you are who you say you are. Some other countries, such as Russia, require it for a tourist entry visa.
If you’re from small town Canada and, like me waited until the last possible minute to apply for the visa, just a heads up, the Visa Application Centre (VAC) User Pay Offices (pop-up biometrics shop), only comes to Halifax, St. John’s, Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver once a month (in Halifax, it’s usually the last Wednesday of the month). I submitted my full application 30 days to the date when I was scheduled to take off for Iceland **insert stress levels over 9000**. The turnaround time for the application process can be up to 3+ weeks, but is usually less. When you submit all your paperwork for the visa, you have to send away your passport along with it as the work visa is a sticker they put inside – hence the panic.
Note, this process changed (April 2016), now, you still have a temporary sticker visa, but it’s only valid for 30 days. Once you land in the UK, you have to go pick up your BRP (biometrics resident permit) card which looks like a drivers license to validate the Youth Mobility Visa. That card will become your lifeline!! Do.Not.Lose.It!
Once you’ve completed the online application form, you will be relocated to the VSF Global website to book your biometrics appointment. To use the Halifax (or St. john’s, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver) office, there will be an additional fee of $100 on top (sigh).
What you need:
- Two recent passport photos (I got mine done at Costco)
- Your current and old passport (if you have it)
- Proof of support funds (bank statement, official letter from your bank) dated within 30 days prior to the date of application
- All your completed paperwork and payment receipts, printed single sided
- Any supporting documents (I used a hostel booking proving I had accommodation booked upon arrival)
If you have any questions about your appointment or the process, in my experience, it was really difficult to speak to someone. In Halifax, the popup biometrics shop is only a leased office space, meaning 99% of the time, the VSF Global people aren’t there. I tried calling but the receptionist didn’t know anything about it. Not helpful. There is an online UK gov visa web chat which you can pay for, but every time I tried to speak to someone, they were never online so it was a waste of money. I tried both during and post UK working hours but didn’t have any luck. I suggest not bothering.
When it’s time for your appointment, arrive 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork. My appointment in Halifax was located in Purdy’s Wharf. When they call your name, the receptionist will ask if you have any electronic devices on you (mobile, tablet, laptop etc) and if so, they hold onto it during your appointment.
Before entering the finger printing room, you get swiped over with a metal detector. Once you go in, they ask you a few questions, take a photo of your face, scan your fingers electronically for your biometrics and get you to place all your completed documents and passport into a courier bag to be sent off. Your passport and visa will be returned to your home address when it’s completed. The whole appointment took about 30 minutes, which was perfect because I snuck away from work at lunchtime to do it! I remember being TERRIFIED I would have to get my finger prints taken with ink for the biometrics and I wouldn’t be able to explain to my boss what from! Luckily, it’s just an electronic touch pad – saving grace!
Where does my application go from here?
After the appointment, your passport and documents go to the British Embassy in … wait for it … New York. Makes sense, right? Once it’s been received in New York, you’ll get an email to notify you. You’ll get a second email once a decision has been made and your passport is on it’s way back. You won’t actually find out if the Youth Mobility has been granted or not until it arrives at your door – the nerves!! The whole process is pretty good at keeping you notified.
How long does it take?
Most of the blogs I’ve read have said it took about 1-3 weeks to have their passport and Youth Mobility visa back, without paying for the express service. Because I was really tight on time, I did pay for the express but when I asked the staff at my appointment how long I could expect, they said between 1-2 weeks. Not sure if the additional express fee was worth it, but it definitely helped to give me peace of mind.
What’s the turnaround time?
My biometrics appointment was on a Wednesday, my whole application arrived in New York on Thursday, it was processed and sent back on Friday and arrived back at my house on the following Thursday. It would have arrived earlier but one day was Canada Day so everything was closed. So, all in all it took about a week – keep in mind that I paid for the express service. Most people I spoke with said it normally takes around 2-3 weeks.
How much does it all cost?
That’s the million dollar question. My situation was a bit different as I paid for the expedited version since I was cutting it so close to when I took off for Iceland. I also had to pay for the pop up biometrics appointment. But here’s a pretty good breakdown of the costs from when I applied in 2013 (I’ve tried to update most of these costs to present so please let me know in the comments if there’s any changes):
- UK work visa web chat $7.52CAD (I tried to talk to someone online to help with the process but no one was ever online when I tried)
- Online Youth Mobility visa application fee $354USD ($442CAD)
- Priority visa service $170USD ($212CAD)
- Visa application centre fee (for Halifax pop up) $100USD ($124CAD)
- Passport photo – taken at Costco $8CAD
- Official letter from my bank stating I had the support funds available $25CAD
- 1 year International drivers licence (optional) $25CAD. I bought this because I was backpacking before I got to the UK and heard it was needed to rent vehicles over there. Update: it’s not needed. Don’t get this.
- ***NEW: £300 for the NHS – here it would have been another ~$523CAD
TOTAL: ~$1,360 give or take with the exchange rate (this blog was written post-Brexit when the pound was still low)
If you’re lucky enough to live in Toronto, you’ll only have to pay ~$965CAD, plus your passport photo and bank letter. Jerks.
Is it worth the price?
Compared to other Youth Mobility visas you can get (example: the Netherlands which only costs €60 at the border), the price for the British one is extremely high. Like any destinations, there’s positives and negatives depending on the reason you’re looking to take the leap (i.e. job or travel opportunities). The UK, and especially London, can be a really challenging place to get settled in. There’s no question that London is global hub for job opportunities and the salary levels are much higher compared to elsewhere in Europe – not to mention the cost to travel here is much cheaper. Personally, I have no regrets. Moving here has been the best (and hardest) decision I’ve made and every day it keeps getting better. Expat life is’t for everyone, but I think if you can make it in London, you can make it anywhere in life. There’s an incredible expat community here which really bands together in the most Canadian of ways to help you when you need it.
To check out more great things the UK has to offer, visit my UK section on the blog.
If you have any questions on the process, feel free to write them in the comments below and I’ll try to address. It can be a complicated and daunting process, but I can promise you it will be worth it.