There are many things to consider when contemplating your first working holiday in Canada. You most probably have a million questions about where to work, where to live, how to get visas, and the best way of doing things. I know that I spent hours upon hours researching these things before I did my first season. That’s why I want to share all of the tips I learnt along the way, over my two season in Big White Ski Resort, Canada.
A working holiday in Canada had long been on my list of things to do before I was ‘done’ travelling. Luckily for me, I’d found a partner with the same dreams to live and work in Canada for a season (or two) 😍. In 2015, we bit the bullet, and moved to Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia.
It was not without considerable amounts of planning, researching, stressing and saving, that we reached Big White. Even then, once we arrived we did have a few ‘oh shit‘ moments, and you will too!
No matter how organised and prepared you think you might be, moving overseas for an extended period of time can be pretty confronting. But, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid of taking the leap. It will also be one of the best things you’ve ever done!
With this post, I hope to make your planning process a little bit easier. Hopefully, I’ll also shed light on all the reason why a working holiday in Canada should be on your bucket list. Especially, if this working holiday is a ski season 🙌🏼.
Why Big White?
Because it is literally the perfect resort for your first season.
Big White came highly recommended from many of our friends within the skiing world. What drew us to Big White was rumours of awesome snow (Okanagan Champagne Powder is not just a rumour!), fun terrain, ski-in ski-out accommodations and a sweet little village in the middle. It is also easily accessible from Kelowna, which makes life just a little bit easier.
Whether it’s your first season or your tenth, there is terrain suitable for everyone. My favourite pro’s of Big White are the ski-in ski-out housing and accommodation options, and that most jobs give you flexibility to get plenty of riding time in. It’s no secret why you are really in Big White!
Applying for a Visa
The visa application process for Canada has changed slightly since I went through it, and it will likely change again before long. With this in mind, I would highly recommend that you head to the official Canadian Immigration website to read up on the most up to date facts surrounding the application process.
You will want to apply for the International Experience Canada (IEC) program. This program allows eligible candidates under the age of 35 to attain an open work permit for a 24-month duration. There is plenty of detailed information available through the links above. Way more than what was available when we went through the process, which is awesome for you guys!
The two main things to be aware of before starting your application is that you will need a police check and be required to provide biometrics as apart of the application process. Be sure to read the instructions provided to you carefully. If you stuff up or miss the deadline, your visa will be declined and you’ll be sent back to square one (speaking from experience 😬).
Finding Accommodation in Big White
This part could potentially be the most frustrating part of the whole working holiday in Canada idea 😬, so buckle up.
We were pretty lucky for both of our seasons in Big White with finding a place to live. In our first season, we found accommodation relatively early and easily using Kijiji. And in our second season, we lived with friends that we’d met in our first season. Luckily for us, they did all the arranging with the land lord. In terms of ease and convenience, we were really lucky.
During our second season, we heard story after story of people having to leave because they had no place to live! Or that they were stuck living in the Hostel for the majority of the season. Some workplaces will also not hire you without knowing you have accommodation sorted first.
So, what does this all mean? Get onto sourcing some accommodation early. I am talking as early as May, June or July, and tie this in with applying for your visa. You will need to have a bond, and first and last months rent, ready to go, but it will save you so much stress by getting in early.
Where to look for Accommodation?
Big White doesn’t have a real ‘classifieds’ so to speak. You can find listings on websites like Kijiji and Castanet for places in Big White. The most common platform used for finding accommodation is Facebook.
The Official Big White Group is a great resource for everything Big White. From sourcing accommodation, asking for rides downtown and selling your snow gear!
Side Note: If you have a particular way that you like to live, sharing a house for your working holiday in Canada is most likely not going to be for you. It is really important that you get really deep into what your expectations are and what makes you feel comfortable before moving in with someone. Even then, personalities and expectations change and you may find yourself moving out before the season is over. Don’t stress too much about this – it’s way more common than you’d expect.
Where should I live in Big White?
There are three main areas you will find accommodation advertised: The Village, Happy Valley or Snowpines.
The Village speaks for itself. Everything is in the Village. All the restaurants, bars, the Village Centre Mall (VCM), and the retail and rental shops. If you live in the Village, the furthest you would have to walk would be around 10 minutes to reach wherever you were going. It’s highly convenient! I have chosen to live in the Village for both seasons and not regretted the decision once.
Happy Valley lies towards the bottom of ‘Lara’s Gondola’, and provides some beautiful accommodations. The downside to living in Happy Valley is that the gondola will stop running at 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on weekends, potentially leaving you with a long walk up- or down-hill on a daily basis.
Snowpines is about a 15 to 20-minute walk over the resort to get to the Village. If you were looking to live in a party house, or be surrounded by constant house parties, I would recommend living in Snowpines. There is almost always something happening over there. However, do keep in mind that when living in Snowpines, it’s a long, snowy walk to the Village on a daily basis 😬.
Hot Tip: There is a complimentary Village shuttle that makes numerous stops around all three areas. It runs on a half-hourly basis between 7am and 11pm, stopping for an hour for lunch-time changeover. Its reliability can be questionable when there is heavy snowfall, and it has been known to leave a few minutes early on occasion 🤷🏼♀️. But if it saves you from walking, who can complain!
As of 2019, Big White has also opened up staff accommodation in the Black Forest area. My understanding is that each department head of Big White Ski Resort is allocated a certain amount of accommodation to delegate with employment. So if you’re applying for a job direct with the resort, be sure to ask about this option!
How should I find a job in Big White?
Thankfully, this is the easiest part! 🎉 🙌🏼
Big White hires hundreds of staff on a yearly basis. They start to hire around August, however job postings will start to pop up on the Employment section of their website around late June or early July, so keep an eye out for that.
There is also a ‘Job Fair’ held in Canada each year, around the end of October for any left over positions. This is a great option for people who have decided last minute that they’d do a season, or are super brave to just wing it once they arrive 😬.
Working for the mountain does give you access to great perks. These include a free season pass, discounts at all the Big White owned hospitality and retail outlets, and reciprocal lift passes at local resorts.
However, if you have bar tending or waitressing experience, I would highly recommend that you work in this area for your working holiday in Canada. I did my own research of independently owned restaurants and bars on the hill, and applied to them directly.
While you won’t receive a free seasons pass this way, you will make excellent money earning tips. Tipping 15 to 20% of your bill for good service is customary in Canada 🙌🏼. And even if you don’t work for Big White, you will still get access to some great ‘mountain staff’ discounts and perks, including a discounted season pass!
How do I get to Big White?
Big White is incredibly accessible and getting there is super easy, which is another reason why it’s so popular. Many major carriers provide direct flights into Vancouver from Australia and New Zealand. From there, you can get a quick connection in Kelowna, and then it is just a quick drive up the hill.
If you arrive before the season is open, the airport shuttle will not be running. However, you can use the ‘Official Big White Group’ or ‘Big White Ride Share’ on Facebook to organise a lift up.
If you’re in Canada a little early, and are doing some exploring, you can reach Big White by car quite easily. From Vancouver you’re looking at around a 5-hour drive. Of if you’re coming from the East, you’re looking at least a 7-hour drive from Calgary.
Five more insider tips to your Working Holiday in Canada
To round up this post, I want to make sure you’re completely covered and ready for your season in Canada! Here are five more insider tips that you can apply to any working holiday in Canada.
#1 Travel Insurance IS Essential
Travel insurance is a compulsory part of your visa checklist. Some people have been denied entry without it 😬. Depending on who you get at immigration, you may only be provided with a visa for the length of your insurance policy. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to purchase a policy for the expected length of your stay in Canada.
#2 Be Diligent with your Visa Process
What I mean by this is take your time with the visa ‘terms and conditions’. Be sure that you understand what is required of you, and that you action those things. Just because you have attained the Letter of Entry, doesn’t mean you will be provided a visa when you arrive. Scary right!
For example, some requirements for approved entry into Canada include having travel insurance, proof of onward travel or enough money to purchase an onward ticket. You also need proof that you have $2,500 CAD in your bank to support yourself during your time in Canada.
Side Note: I’ve never been asked to prove any of those things, but it all depends on who you get in immigration that day. Is it really worth the risk to make it all the way to Canada and then be denied entry? No. It’s not.
#3 Timing your Arrival in Canada
Of course it’s hard to anticipate exactly when a mountain is going to open, but you can use previous years as a guide. I would suggest to aim to arrive at the ski resort at least one week prior to the official opening day. This will allow you to get your bearings and settle in, meet your housemates and check out your workplace before you’re scheduled to start work.
In many cases, your employer will ask you to arrive a few days before the mountain opens anyway for employment training. You also don’t want to miss any pre-season staff sales.
Hot Tip: Big White has a massive pre-season sale to sell last seasons gear super cheap to help anyone needing new gear, at a relatively low cost. You can also get awesome deals on new season retail. Be prepared to wait in line for a long time though. Seriously, take snacks with you.
#4 Go to Canada with as much Savings as Possible!
This is a big one. Even though you will be working straight away, hours are sparse and December’s rent comes around real quick. You’ll also most likely be eating out a lot and partying with your new friends, so don’t leave yourself short.
Even after the excitement of having started your working holiday in Canada, money flows like water on seasons. You’ll be earning minimum wage, and the cost of living is not as cheap as you’d expect. Having some savings behind you will provide a huge release of pressure, I promise.
#5 Tipping is Expected!
Tipping 15 to 20% for good service in Canada is customary. This can be tipping your waitress or bartender, your hairdresser, beautician or massage therapist, or even your cab driver. Basically, anyone who provides you a service will expect you to to tip them on top of the set price. It can be hard to get used to, especially for those who don’t work in a service industry, but it is the way of life there.
No matter if your server is Australian, Canadian or English, they’re all living a Canadian life and it’s important to pay them appropriately. By all means, if you receive terrible service, leave a reduced tip or don’t tip at all. It is by no means compulsory. If you’re not sure who, or what to tip, just ask! It might feel awkward at first, but your server would far rather you ask, than to leave nothing at all.
Okay guys, that’s a wrap! I hope that you feel like you understand the basic steps you need to take to put your working holiday in Canada dreams in motion. Even though this post is heavily based on Big White, you could apply the steps to any resort!
Big White really is an awesome mountain and provides a great place to call home. If you have any other questions, I am more than happy to help – so reach out! ☺️
If you want to read more about Big White, and the next steps in your working holiday adventure, head over to Big White Season for Beginners – Part 2.