Our experience flagpoling at Niagara Falls

Activating our second IEC work permits at Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls

An IEC working holiday visa can only be activated at a Port of Entry to Canada. This means that if you’re already in Canada you have to leave the country and come back in again. In 2014 we chose to do this by taking a trip to Seattle. This time we decided to go for the easier (and cheaper) option of just heading to the nearest border and flagpole.

Flagpoling is the term used when you leave the country just so you can re-enter and activate a work permit or Permanent Residency. You are essentially taking a trip around the flagpole at the border crossing!

Border at Rainbow Bridge
The Canadian/US border runs down the middle of the Niagara River

At least this was our initial plan, until we heard horror stories of people having to wait nearly 8 hours at the immigration office at Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Once you are in that office there is no turning back, no quick trip to get snacks or entertainment, you just have to wait it out.

Obviously we didn’t want to do this and debated our options. Rainbow Bridge is the closest, or perhaps most accessible border crossing to Toronto so we knew we had to head there. We wanted to wait until the last possible few days to get our new visa, in order to maximise our time here (your new visa starts as soon as you activate it so you therefore lose any days left on your old work permit). We also didn’t want to take any time off work so knew we would have to visit at the weekend.

Eventually we decided to grin and bear it, but booked accommodation for the night so we wouldn’t have to panic about missing the train home if we did have to wait for 8 hours. This allowed us to make a weekend of it, visiting the US side of the Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake too.

Halloween display
The incredible Halloween decorations at a house just up the road from our Airbnb

Halloween decorations

Booking that Airbnb for the night turned out to be the best idea ever! After spending a few hours exploring Niagara State Park and Cave of the Winds we walked back to the bridge to enter Canada. We desperately tried to find some snacks to take with us, but it turns out there really isn’t much around the bridge, so we ended up having to buy an overpriced chocolate bar at the State Park gift shop.

Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge in the distance

Full of nervous excitement we headed back across the bridge and entered the little office at the end, stating that we were there to activate our work permits. The guy behind the desk explained that there was a 5 hour wait and that our request for work permits would end up right at the bottom of the pile. With possible more urgent matters taking priority there was no telling how long the wait would actually be. Noting that we still had two days left on our permits, he told us he could let us into Canada and we could come back another time. I’m not sure if we lucked out here, or if all the CBSA Officers are this friendly, but we were so grateful for his help. His advice, which we took, was to go get dinner and come back later when it would be quieter – the later the better.

So we did what any normal person would do when they have a few hours to kill, headed back to our Airbnb and ate all the free snacks, had a nap, ate fish and chips followed by sticky toffee pudding at a British themed restaurant and played dinosaur crazy golf!

Niagara Falls Dinosaur Golf
Playing a couple of rounds of crazy golf after filling up on fish and chips at a British-themed restaurant

The actual flagpoling story

At about 9pm we walked back to the bridge and retraced our steps. The difference this time was that we had to tell our friends at Homeland Security that we were flagpoling. The purpose of this is to get a piece of paper that proves to Canada that you have actually left the country. Being refused entry into the US is a pretty daunting prospect but fortunately it isn’t counted as an official refusal and does not affect any future visits. Proven by the fact that we have since been to Washington DC with no issues.

USA refusal
Proof that we are in fact aliens!

So armed with our alien documentation we walked back and crossed the Canadian border again. After explaining why we were there, we were directed across into the immigration building and told to wait. Our patience paid off – we were first in line!

After scrutinising all our documents for what seemed like forever, and questioning us about our insurance validity, we were handed our shiny new work permits that allow us to work in Canada for the next two years!

IEC Work Permit
My new work permit stapled into my passport

Top tips for activating your IEC Work Permit

  • Make sure you have all your documents – bank statement (no older than 7 days) proving you have $2500 (can be in any currency), insurance, POE letter and of course your passport.
  • Don’t even think about not getting insurance in the hope you won’t get checked. You risk not getting your visa!
  • Take a book and snacks with you in case you end up having to wait a while.
  • Have a copy of the webpage that states your visa entitlement for your country. The IEC visa has changed a lot over the past couple of years and the length of stay varies by country. Some people have had problems getting their full allocation as staff weren’t fully aware of the process.
  • Another handy webpage to have is the one that states that your POE letter is valid for 12 months, this should prevent a CBSA Officer from ending your work permit on the POE expiry date.
  • Check your work permit before you leave – including your name, passport number, expiry date and that it says open for job and location. It’s a lot harder to rectify mistakes afterwards.
  • If you’ve had a medical so you can work with children or in healthcare take this too and make sure your work permit has no restrictions.
  • Avoid peak times, including the weekend. If that’s not possible at least avoid holiday weekends and try to cross early in the morning or late at night.

Here’s to another 2 years in Canada!



14 thoughts on “Our experience flagpoling at Niagara Falls

  1. Hello,

    I am happy that I found your blog and thanks for sharing your experience.
    I have few questions about IEC Working Holiday work permit that I thought you may help me with.
    I have been working in Canada on temporary work permits since 2015. Now, as a German citizen, I am applying for Working Holiday work permit.
    The question is, as I will receive my Working Holiday work permit while I am already living and working in Canada, do I need to leave the country and re-enter to be able to use the new permit?

    Also, can I still postpone the activation of the Working Holiday permit up to 12 months from time of issue, although we are already in living Canada (legally on other permits).

    My other question is, can the employer of a Working Holiday permit holder still apply for LMIA for them?

    I would really appreciate if you answer my question kindly as soon as possible.
    Thanks a lot, I will be checking this page every day looking forward to your reply:)


    1. Hey, glad you found our blog too! I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

      Sadly you do have to leave the country and re-enter to be able to use the new work permit. The reason for this is because you can only be given your permit on entry to the country (at least this is what we were told by the CBSA officer). I would suggest making a roadtrip out of it if you can so it’s more fun!

      You can’t postpone the activitation of your working holiday permit but you don’t have to activiate it right away, so long as you do it before the deadline on your POE letter. Obviously if your other work permit runs out in the mean time you will have to change your status to a visitor but you can do this online.

      Finally, yes the employer can still apply for an LMIA.

      I hope that helps and good luck with it all 🙂



  2. Thanks very much Emma. I really appreciate your kind reply.

    So you think, I still will be able to activate the work permit anytime during the 12 months that it is valid? I mean, being living in Canada will not mean that I “have to” activate it as soon as my old permit expires, right?
    I am asking this because I would like to activate it once I find a new job, to use it for a full year!
    Thanks again:)


  3. Sorry, one more thing. I had read that they will give 10 days to accept the invitation and another 20 days (after accepting it) to submit the work permit application. So I though in total I will have 30 days to prepare the documents. But in my account I can see: Work Permit ->days left to submit=9 days (I received the invitation yesterday.)
    I hope they don’t mean I should submit all the documents in just 9 days!
    Any comments from you would be great.
    Thanks a lot


    1. Yeah you shoudl be fine to activiate it at any time, so long as you have another status in Canada (like visitor for example). The application process has changed since we applied so not sure on the number of days you have to submit, I would recommend asking on one of the IEC Facebook groups for more up to date info 🙂


  4. Hi there,
    Great blog and helpful posts!
    I’m heading out from the UK to Canada in the next 5 weeks to begin my IEC adventure.
    I’m a bit confused by your posts though, as you have two posts about activating your IEC, first for one year in Seattle and then later for two years via flagpoling. How is that possible? To my knowledge Brits can only activate IEC once and for 24 months. Am I missing something?

    Kind regards,


    1. Hi Alex

      Congrats on getting your IEC. Exciting times ahead! Whereabouts are you heading?

      We were actually super lucky with our visas, originally Brits could get 2 x 12 month IEC but they changed it to what it is now in 2015 while we were on our first visa meaning we got to also apply for the 2 year visa!



      1. Hi Emma,

        Ah, that was lucky! 🙂 Have you since applied for EE/Permanent Residency? My plan is to apply for EE while I’m on my IEC.

        Thanks 🙂 I’m heading to Toronto, first as a tourist for a few months and then I’ll activate my IEC in December or January. You guys are in Vancouver right?



      2. Yes we have, we got PR back in April. Hopefully we will have a post about our experience applying up soon!

        We’re in Toronto too, you’ll love it 🙂


        On Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 5:54 PM, Brown Bear Travels wrote:



      3. That’s excellent! I’m traveling with my girlfriend and we both have a similar path/plan as you guys had, it seems 🙂

        Where in Toronto would you recommend living? We’re thinking North York.

        Btw. Did the CBSA officer grill you upon entry as tourists and then when submitting your POE? I wonder if it’s a smooth process or if you get asked a lot of interrogatory questions.



  5. Hi. Congratulation on getting work permit. Please help me i have a question. I am still studying in st. lawrence college kingston and this is my last semester. I am afraid about my GPA. Because i heard that we have 2.0 GPA to get post-graduate work permit. But my gpa in past three semester is around 1.7. So is it mandatory to have 2.0 for getting pgwp. Will i get rejected if i not get 2.0 GPA. Please help me


    1. Yes it is, although I have heard that recently Canada Border Services has restricted flagpoling at Rainbow Bridge during peak times. I would recommend not going at the weekend or on holidays.


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