Are you dreaming of travelling and working abroad no matter how you identify or express your gender? We had the opportunity to gather wisdom from Rowan, a 27-year-old trans traveller, three years in transition, who did a Youth Mobility Visa in the UK. He’s been abroad four times before, volunteering and for work, and shows that long-term travel is for everyone, no matter how you identify.
What drove you to choose the UK as your Working Holiday Visa destination?
“I wanted to go somewhere for as long as possible. The length of the visa depends on which country you go to. Some places, like Australia, only let you go for a year. It’s two years in the UK. Also, the UK was only a seven-hour flight instead of a full day.”
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Was your destination choice influenced by any policies or social acceptance around transgender people?
“Not really, but it helps to research before you go. I wouldn’t go somewhere where society didn’t accept it. If you need health care or something, you might run into problems. The UK is pretty open-minded.”
How did your family and friends react to your decision to work and travel abroad?
“They were super supportive. I’ve always been spontaneous, so they expected me to up and go somewhere because I’m adventurous like that. I go for random things all the time.”
What steps did you take to apply for your Youth Mobility Visa in the UK?
“I applied online. I had to pay for the visa and my healthcare in advance. Then, I went to my bank for proof of funds. They want to know that you can support yourself if anything goes wrong while you’re there. Next, I made an appointment to do my biometrics (fingerprinting) and get my picture taken in Toronto. After that, I sent my application off to the UK.
Don’t make a mistake on your visa because you don’t get your money back if you aren’t approved. Once you get approved, you’re good to go!”
How did you plan for your work and travel experience, specifically as a trans person?
“I Googled a lot, and Facebook was also a major resource for me. There are great Facebook groups for Working Holiday Visas and for trans in the UK as Transgender UK (support group).
As a trans person, you need to plan more on what to bring. You have to get a doctor’s note saying you can travel with your hormone medication because you don’t want it taken from you at the border. I’ve never been questioned before, but it’s a good thing to bring, just in case.
Contact your pharmacy and see how much of your hormone medication you can buy in bulk. Trans people know it goes out of stock all the time. It can be challenging to find when you’re travelling, so order extra medication before you go. And make sure to budget for it because if you get a year’s supply, you’ll have to pay for it all upfront.”
Did you have to do anything specific on your visa application in terms of specifying your gender identity?
“Everything was fine for me. I haven’t legally changed my name yet, which made applying easier. My old name is on all my legal documents, so my application, driver’s license and passport matched. You need to make sure your paperwork matches your IDs.
If you change your name on your driver’s license but not your passport, you’ll need to update your passport. Then you have to take into account the whole processing time for getting your new passport.
Another important thing to note, if you choose to put X as your gender on your passport, it could cause problems in certain countries that don’t accept that. Even though you have the option to use X, you can end up complicating things more.
For job applications, I just put my new name, Rowan, in brackets, so people know that’s my preferred name.”
How did you navigate not having your legal name match your current identity? Did that cause any issues?
“I was super open about it and it was all fine. I was honest in my application with Go International, and they were great at linking me with an employer that was okay with it.
They relayed all the information and also told my employer that I might need to fly home for more medication. You might as well put it all out in the open because you’re going to have to let them know your legal name when they do the payroll.”
Would you say it’s important to connect with the transgender community before going abroad, whether to the UK or elsewhere?
“It depends on the person. I didn’t feel the need to, but you could look up and connect with LGBT spaces, like youth resource centres and community-based programs.
You can get all your information from the UK trans Facebook groups. They helped to give me an idea of what I was getting into before I got there, so I didn’t need to figure it out all at once. You might want to ask about the average wait time for the visa to come and how long it takes to get a doctor in case you need one when you’re there.”
What were your first impressions during your Working Holiday Visa in the UK?
“Gloomy, rainy, historical, and a little chaotic.”
What were your first steps when you arrived in the UK?
“I had to go to a post office and pick up my residency permit within ten days of arrival. Then, once you have the address where you’ll be living, you can apply for your National Insurance Number, which allows you to get paid at a job.
It can be hard to move somewhere by yourself, but International Experience Canada has partner organizations that can help. I used Go International to support me throughout my whole trip. They helped me apply and find a job with accommodation in the UK. That way, I already had an address when I arrived.
It was all set up for me, so I didn’t need to stress once I got there. I could just start enjoying myself.”
What job did you get with your Youth Mobility Visa in the UK?
“I did pub work. Different things are popular in different countries. In the UK, there are a lot of pub jobs and opportunities for au pair work. Go International had a pub program, so I joined that. It was basically work in the kitchen, serving and bartending at a pub.”
What kind of accommodation did you find?
“I stayed at a separate staff building associated with the pub where I had my own bedroom and a little kitchen. Every job is unique. Some employers subsidize your rent, and others give you food.
Accommodation is never perfect, but you need to stay open-minded. Remember that you’re in a totally different country, and you’re not going to have all the comforts of home. You might not have Wi-Fi, and in the UK, the heating system is different. I was a little chilly when I was over there.
While travelling, I sometimes stayed in hostels, which can be a source of fear for some trans people. My trick was to always pay a little bit more to have a private room with a private bathroom. I’m also more like an introvert in that sense.”
Where did you travel in the UK, and what were your favourite places?
“I went to England, Scotland, and Wales. Scotland was my favourite. The accents are the best, and everyone was super friendly. The Edinburgh castles were magical. And I’m also Scottish, so I felt like I fit in better.”
What do you wish someone had told you before leaving for your experience abroad?
“Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re the only Canadian in the country, the only solo traveller or the only fully English-speaking person and it gets lonely. It’s okay to have a breakdown. The environment is different, and so are the people and the culture. It shakes you up a bit. It’s fine to hang out in your room for a day to recuperate and feel your emotions.
Homesickness is another thing. Life at home keeps going on with or without you. You try to talk about what you’re going through, but no one back home understands unless they’ve done what you’ve done. They can’t fully relate, so you’re alone in that sense too. But it’s all worth it in the end.”
Do you have any tips for dealing with airport security as a trans person?
“In the United States, they have something like a pink or blue button that they press based on your physical appearance. If the scanner detects physical characteristics where they don’t expect them to be, it might set off an alarm. Before I had top surgery, I always set off the alarm. But ever since, I haven’t set it off again. It’s not like this worldwide, but just know there is a chance you’ll get searched.
These days, airport security workers are more knowledgeable, I like to hope. Just be honest and tell them you are trans. The more silent you are, the more complicated it can become. It’s hard to open up and explain your situation, but you have to think that you’ll never see these people again.
If you run into someone who isn’t educated, you will have to educate them. That’s the thing about being trans. You’re always having to share your knowledge, and knowledge is power. It’s good to be the person that makes it easier for the next person who comes along. I think it’s important to be open as a trans person, but I get that not everyone wants to be.”
What advice would you give to someone from the LGBT community wanting to do a Working Holiday Visa?
“It is scary going into the unknown, but don’t let anything hold you back. There’s so much to see and experience in the world. There are so many places where you can live and work, volunteer and thrive. It’s 2022, and the world is a lot more accepting than it once was.
Go big or go home. Just be brave and courageous all the time and go for what you want.”
You will encounter weird situations, but you can’t let that stop you. You just have to laugh it off. Like, men’s bathrooms don’t have a lot of stalls. Sometimes you need to walk back out and try again later when the stall is free or opt for the family bathroom. That stuff is going to happen regardless of whether you are trans or not.”
We hope Rowan’s experience has helped someone overcome the fear or anxiety of stepping outside their comfort zone.
If you are a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 35 and want to learn more about the Working Holiday Visa, be sure to visit the International Experience Canada website for more details.
️ 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.