Have you ever dreamed of living in London, England? You might have imagined yourself sipping a pint in a local pub, shopping for vintage clothes and soaking up the fresh air of Hyde Park. The British capital instantly knows how to charm its visitors with its photogenic sites and warm atmosphere (even if a little rainy). Living there is a dream!
In pursuit of his Olympic dream, Farhad Panahi of Toronto jumped at the opportunity of his life to travel and work in London. He’s been back in Canada for a few years now, but he still remembers his Working Holiday Visa experience in the Big Smoke as if it were yesterday.
Can You Explain to Us How Your Passion for the Olympics Brought You to England?
“Since I was a child, I have loved the Olympics. I knew I wanted to be a part of them somehow. In 2009, I found a job at Coca-Cola as a drummer and team leader. I participated in the Olympic Torch Relay, where I met many educated, fun people who had travelled a lot. Naturally, I wanted to have this experience again, and the next stop was the London Olympics.
Fast forward to 2011. I needed a change of scenery. So I went to the UK to see the royal wedding and ended up staying there hoping to find a job related to the Olympics.”
How Long Did You Stay For and What Type of Visa Did You Have?
“The first time, I only stayed for two months and left because my job search failed. I had applied for a Working Holiday Permit (WHV), which allowed me to work and travel in the UK for up to 24 months. So I used some of that time to travel and look for work.
My second visit to the UK was in 2012 for the London Olympics. This time I got a job and stayed for about a year. Also, I had the opportunity to be part of the Olympic torch relay again.”
How Did You Find the Application Process for the Working Holiday Visa (WHV)?
“The visa process was pretty straightforward. The terms on the website confused me a bit, but I reached out to friends with the same visa for help. They were able to tell me what documents I needed for each section. By now, I’m sure there are online forums for this.
After filling out the forms, I got a proof of funds letter from my bank stating that I had the savings to support myself while looking for a UK job. Then I went to the visa appointment, where I did my biometrics. I handed in my passport. It took me about seven days to get it back with my visa approval.”
What Were Your First Steps to Settle Once You Arrived in England?
“The first thing to do is find accommodation so that you can then look for a job. This is where you really need that $3,000 in your bank account. In the UK, many places require at least a £1000 deposit for your rent. Fortunately, I stayed with a cousin for six weeks until he kicked me out.
Then I found a place thanks to the London Housing Association (LHA), which offers affordable housing and hostels for students and young professionals. It was at Notting Hill Gate, near central London. The good thing was that I didn’t have to pay a deposit. I put my weekly rent on my Canadian credit card, and then I didn’t have to pay it for a month. Rent included two meals a day, and I had access to showers, cable and Wi-Fi. It felt a bit like a prison, sharing a room with one or two other people. But I ended up finding them cool.
Staying there allowed me to have an address to apply for social insurance, get a UK bank account, receive mail and find a job. In the UK, they make certain that you have to have the correct visa documents to work. You have to show them all the time.”
What Were the Steps to Find a Job in the UK?
“Facebook is a great tool for finding a job. I have found a lot of brand ambassador work this way. It’s a temporary job, but you meet a lot of nice people. You have to be on top of Facebook groups because the recruitment time is speedy. For example, you will see that an agency like Coca-Cola is recruiting for the next weekend or that Starbucks is promoting the next day.
So you can slowly accumulate income this way. I worked maybe three days a week and managed to pay my rent. I put my heart and soul into it, and it worked in the end. Coca-Cola’s work led me back to the Olympic torch relay.”
Was Your Income During Your WHV Sufficient to Cover the Cost of Living in England?
“Yes. If you don’t go out to the pub every night, you’ll be fine. I think $1.50 Canadian equals about £1, so a budget comes in handy. I recommend installing an app on your phone to track your spending. I set goals for what I can spend each day. Let’s say I wanted to go to Buckingham Palace; I would plan my budget around that.
You can also find a lot of free things and cheaper places to live. When I stayed at the London Housing Association, I saved a lot because I didn’t have to pay extra for utilities, internet and some meals. It worked well for me because I wasn’t a fancy traveller. You can stay in cheap places, have a good time and have fun while on a budget.”
Where Have You Worked in the UK, and What Have Been Your Favourite Places?
“The UK is a magical place because it is a small island with so much history. The Welsh coast is beautiful and underrated. And Scotland was great. I was able to explore Edinburgh by driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I also loved Northern Ireland, particularly the Giant’s Causeway.
My favourite stop was Stonehenge, where I got to watch the sunrise. There’s this cool internet image of a silhouette of a guy holding torch with fire coming out of it at Stonehenge. I am so happy to have seen this with my own eyes. This is precisely where Olympic medalist sprinter Michael Johnson held the torch.”
Would You Say That You Were More Focused on the Travel Aspect than the Work Aspect at the Start of Your Adventure?
“Yes. I was able to see five countries from the UK while getting paid. But before that, I saw the UK as a gateway to Europe. It was $30 for a flight to Italy. Only $20 to take a train to Amsterdam. I ended up going to France, Greece and Germany as well. All in just two weeks. You figure it out as you go along.
I went there for the royal wedding and to find a job, but came back with some fantastic and unique travel experiences. Why not?”
What Was Your Favorite Part of Traveling Abroad?
“I just loved being out of my comfort zone and meeting like-minded people. I was 23 or 24, and I would often share travel stories with people my age or even younger than me. During the Olympic Torch Relay, I met young people who went to Bali and walked on the Great Wall of China. Suddenly all my dreams seemed within reach.
In Greece, I felt like I was fulfilling the dream of a lifetime. I went there, hired a car and drove straight to Olympia. I was able to tour the ancient ruins, take photos and take in the views slowly. I slept in my car for five days while driving in southern Greece. Every morning I watched the sunrise and saw the mist rising from the ground. It was unbelievable.”
Do You Have Any Advice for Someone Who Would Like to Get a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) in England?
“Do not be afraid. And don’t listen to others who try to scare you. Life is too short not to go. Keep a level head, and you’ll be fine. Once you start chasing your dream, things will get easier.
The good thing about the UK is that everyone speaks English. You can easily ask people where to go. I was terrified of going to Greece because I didn’t know the language, but the EU is tight-knit and welcoming to tourists. When you arrive, you may be scared, but then you figure it out. The best thing you can do is step out of your comfort zone.
Plus, if you do your research well and save enough money, you’ll have the best time.”
It’s Your Turn to Follow Your Dreams!
We all probably felt a bit of FOMO listening to Farhad talk about his travels. But no need to be jealous! If you are a Canadian between the ages of 18 and 30 (and for some countries, it’s 35), you too can get a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) in the UK. Soon you will be able to enjoy fish and chips while chatting about the royal family.
To learn more about the Working Holiday Visa, be sure to visit the International Experience Canada website. Canadians can work and travel abroad in more than 30 countries and territories, after the pandemic, of course!
▶ ️ Get inspired by other destinations you could go to by listening to the videos from our “Travel & Work: Working Holiday Visa for Canadians” series on YouTube.
Would you like to move to the UK?
The original interview was conducted by Safia Dodard and compiled by Britney Claveau.