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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!