HomeScotlandWorking Holiday Visa in Scotland: What Canadians Need to Know

Working Holiday Visa in Scotland: What Canadians Need to Know

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Have you ever considered a life in Edinburgh where you can work and travel and experience the Scottish Highlands on your own terms? It’s possible! We had the pleasure of speaking with Athena, an Ottawa native who has worked in construction as a project manager for most of her career.  She did a Working Holiday Visa in Scotland (known in the UK as a Youth Mobility Visa) for two years and then ended up staying in the country for even longer. Her once-in-a-lifetime experience will make you want to grab your kilt and go!


What drove you to apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Scotland?

“I fell in love with Edinburgh while visiting a friend who was in Scotland with the Youth Mobility Visa. It was a magical place that fooled me with its weather. It was sunny for nine days straight, and it’s never sunny for nine days straight in Scotland. I was also at a point where, at 28 years old, I didn’t want to put my career on pause.

 my company wanted to move me to the United States and that wasn’t my plan, so I went and got (The working holiday visa) instead.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

How did your family and friends react when you told them you were going to work and travel in Scotland?

“They weren’t all that surprised. I used to move all the time for work. I had just moved back from a year-and-a-half job in Vancouver, and even when I lived in Toronto, I kept leaving for remote camps. When I broke the news everyone rolled their eyes and said no big deal. They couldn’t wait to visit me.”

You may also like: How to Make A Living While Working and Travelling in the Netherlands

What steps did you take to apply for the Working Holiday Visa?

“First, I filled out an online application. Then, I had to go to my local bank to get a bank statement stamped and drive to Ottawa to do fingerprinting (through VFS). After that, I handed in hard copies of my application along with my physical passport.

Once approved, I used a company called Brit Pound to help me open a bank account and get a social insurance number, which is notoriously hard to do in the UK.

Thankfully, many Facebook groups, like ‘Canadians in the UK‘, ‘Canadians in London‘, and ‘Canadians in Scotland‘ can help you with applying and finding places to live.

The visa took about three weeks to come. In the meantime, I organized my finances and quit my job, giving my company plenty of notice in case I wanted to work there in the future.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

What did you do when you arrived in Scotland?

“I was lucky to have a friend living in London, so I had all my documents mailed to a post office near her place. This made it easy to pick up the I.D. card for my visa and my Biometric Residence Permit. Then, I got a cell phone. Keep in mind that your credit in Canada doesn’t transfer to the UK. I had no credit, so my friend opened a phone plan for me, and I reimbursed her for a year. Alternatively, a reloadable SIM card is relatively cheap and available in the UK.

Next, I started interviews. I didn’t want to put my career on hold for two years, so I applied to some jobs on Linkedin and had Skype calls with recruiters before I left. 

I rented an Airbnb for three weeks to do apartment viewings. In the UK, and especially in Edinburgh, it’s hard to rent an apartment without physically seeing it in person. So, make sure to book a hostel or an Airbnb to get organized when you get there.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

Do you have any advice on finding accommodations in Scotland? What resources did you use?

“The rental market is crazy! You’ll probably have a flatmate for the first bit while you’re getting organized. Because rent is so expensive in Scotland, many of my expat friends lived in hostels and cleaned for a couple of hours a week to pay for their accommodations. Or they worked at a pub in exchange for a room.

Many landlords on rental websites like Zoopla require six months’ rent in advance. So, unless you have those kinds of funds, it’s best to go through a private landlord who only wants a deposit and your first month’s rent

I used SpareRoom to find a flatmate in Edinburgh, and eventually in Glasgow when I moved there. You can also use Facebook marketplace, but I found that the quality is not as good.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

What steps did you take to find a job?

“Before leaving, I researched site engineers, project managers, and estimators in construction online and through LinkedIn. I did about 10 interviews before I was hired. A Scottish recruitment agency set up a coffee interview with my current employer when I arrived and within two weeks, I had a job in my field!

Fast forward two years of working, after my Youth Mobility Visa expired, and I got a Tier 2 visa through this same company. I was able to stay in the UK for a total of four years.”

What are the main differences between life in Canada and life in Scotland?

“You’re more likely to take public transportation in Scotland. I did have a car in Scotland because I needed to get to work, but most people walk (to and from the pubs). Walking around is a great way to get to know a new city.

In Scotland, there’s less of a “long workday” culture. In Canada, it’s the norm to work overtime, especially in my industry. But in Scotland, pub time hits at five o’clock on a Friday and the whole office is a ghost town.

Also, there’s more holiday time in Scotland. With six weeks’ worth of vacation, it’s easy to pop over to Europe for almost no money at all. I used to do that all the time.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

How did you make friends on a Working Holiday Visa in Scotland?

“I was introduced to friends through a friend and I used Facebook groups and Bumble BFF as well. I’m really into electronic music, so before a party, I would message the group and ask if anyone else was going solo. That’s how I met a D.J. and his sister, and we partied together pretty consistently. My advice is to put yourself out there. Do things solo that you wouldn’t do at home. Remember to be safe and use common sense, of course. Always tell someone local where you’re going to be. First, it was my Airbnb host and then it became the friends that I met along the way.”

© Nomad Junkies

Did you have any savings before you left for Scotland?

I saved close to $15,000 CAD. For me, it was about security. I didn’t want to be stuck with no cash. But I know people who started a Youth Mobility Visa with just a few thousand pounds to float them for a few weeks before they found a job. 

I used Wise (formerly known as TransferWise) to bring over my cash to the UK. I’ve used this transfer method to pay for foreign trips or to pay people back. Make sure to set up an account before you leave Canada because your bank will want to verify everything first.”

Would you say that the money that you made during your Working Holiday Visa (Youth Mobility Visa in the UK) was enough to cover your costs of living there?

“Absolutely! I would say I had a cushy life. My salary was about 40-50% less in Scotland than it was in Canada, but I made it work. I had a flatmate, which was fine because we became close and are still friends. Groceries and phone plans are a lot cheaper. I never had issues paying bills. Your money goes a bit further, especially with travelling. I flew to Brussels with my mom for a $50 round trip per person, which is insane! You can’t even take the bus anywhere in Canada for that kind of money.”

© Nomad Junkies

Where did you travel to in Scotland during your Youth Mobility Visa?

“One of my favourite places was a white sandy beach across from Tongue, on the North Coast 500, a 500-mile coastal road on the north bit of Scotland. The weekend we went, it was 30 degrees Celsius and sunny. It was unbelievable! We felt like we were in the Caribbean. Fun fact, a travel agency used a picture of what they thought was a Caribbean beach in their ads for three years before someone was like, wait, that’s Scotland!

Gairloch was another place that I really enjoyed. It’s a bit past Skye, on the West Coast but still on the mainland. You drive through the hills to get there and it’s so beautiful.

I was lucky to go around and visit sewage works and water treatment facilities all over the country, thanks to Scottish Waters being our biggest client. I’ve probably seen more of Scotland than most Scottish people!”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

What are some must-do activities to do in Scotland?

“The Munros. They’re countryside hills that are over 3000 feet tall. “Bagging Munros” is when you climb a few of them in a row, which I recommend, but it can also be dangerous. People need to get rescued from Ben Nevis, the biggest Munro (and the tallest mountain in the UK), all the time.

If you’re into nature, you can hike to the bothies, which are little huts all around Scotland, only accessible on foot. They provide shelter from all the crazy rain you’re bound to encounter. But the good news about Scotland is the weather changes quickly. One minute it’s raining and the next you’re in the blazing sun.

Make sure to see the castles and the beaches and of course, you have to go for the whiskey tour at the Clydeside, Glasgow’s whiskey distillery. I wasn’t a whiskey fan before, but you learn to appreciate it while you’re there.

In terms of where to eat, the food in Scotland is surprisingly good if you don’t ask what’s in it, like haggis, pizza crunch and their famous deep-fried Mars bars.”

Did you visit any other countries while you were there?

“I went to Jordan, France, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Spain. Then I ran out of time.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

Do you have any tips on how to travel on a budget with a Working Holiday Visa?

“Check out the website to find the cheapest flights from your location. I would put Glasgow or Edinburgh as my departing city and then see the cheapest place to fly to that weekend. If I’d already been there, I’d go next down the list.

If you’re travelling within Scotland or the UK, it’s cheaper to take the bus than the train. The train is obviously more convenient but costs 50 pounds to go from Glasgow to Edinburgh, whereas the bus only costs about 10 pounds.”

© Athena Eleni / Nomad Junkies

What advice would you give someone that’s dreaming about applying for a Working Holiday Visa in Scotland?

“get over your fear and just do it. I was terrified of boarding a plane to the unknown, but it’s the most incredible thing that you will do. Everything else will fall into place.”

Athena is living proof that you don’t need to put your career on hold to see the world!

If you are a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 35 and you want to travel and work abroad, you’ll find all the details on how to apply to over 30 countries, including Scotland, on the International Experience Canada website.

Apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Scotland here!

The NomadTALKS are proudly presented by International Experience Canada (a Government of Canada program). 

For even more inspiration, listen to our #NomadTALKS series on YouTube, where we talk with other Canadians who have travelled and worked abroad.

The original interview was conducted by Safia Dodard and compiled by Britney Claveau. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Safia Dodard
Je voyage parce que je suis accro au mode de vie nomade . J'ai quitté mon emploi en agence de pub pour explorer le monde, d'abord en backpack solo et maintenant avec ma petite famille. Rejoins notre communauté de nomades sur Facebook, Twitter et Instagram.


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