If you’re living in another country and hoping to work in Canada, the process for getting a work permit can be daunting – and complicated.

Just ask Ben Howard, 28, who came to Canada from the U.K. two years ago and now works in sales full-time in midtown Toronto. Howard landed a work permit through the federal government’s International Experience Canada, but says securing a coveted spot through the working holiday program was a “really competitive” process.

Once he arrived, in 2014, he found that finding a job was equally as competitive, but it now came with an extra obstacle. “As soon as someone called me and they heard my accent, the first thing they asked was what my visa situation was,” he recalls. “It felt the process was over before it even started.”

Eventually, Howard’s job hunt worked out – and he’s since applied for permanent residency. But he says the road to get here was stressful. “I’m so glad that I did it,” Howard says. “But it can be pretty daunting some days.”

Ben Howard

There are dozens of options available for foreigners looking to work in Canada, but navigating the various government agencies and programs can be complicated – and the path you take can depend on where you live, your age, and your experience level.

With that in mind, we asked some Canadian immigration experts to break things down. Here are some tips on how to apply for a work permit in Canada.

International Experience Canada

This federal government program allows young people the chance to travel and work in Canada, either through a working holiday, an international co-op internship, or simply as a young professional.

You typically need to be between the ages of 18 to 35 to participate, but for some countries, the age limit is slightly different. “Each different country has different criteria, age qualifications, and time frames,” says Chi-Young Lee, a Toronto immigration lawyer with Bellissimo Law Group.

The first step? Becoming a candidate in an IEC “pool.” In Howard’s case, that meant hoping for one of just 6,000 working holiday spots available to U.K. residents at the time. “It’s a very popular program,” says Lee. “Countries sometimes run out of spots a few hours after opening.”

If you do land a spot, you’ll be able to stay in Canada for around 12 to 24 months, and you don’t need an employer lined up before you arrive. The spot, however, is not repeatable, so even if you end up loving your experience, you can’t apply for another round.

“It’s good for young people… if they just want to come for one or two years and aren’t looking for long-term options,” says Lee.

Click here for more info on International Experience Canada.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

If you’re living abroad and your country isn’t on the list for International Experience Canada – or you missed a spot in a pool, or passed the age limit – then you need to find a Canadian employer willing to hire you.

But there’s a catch. “The employer has to be willing to advertise or recruit, and show there are no Canadians willing to do the job,” says Toronto immigration lawyer Robin Seligman. “And that’s not easy.”

If you manage to find a company that is willing to hire you, they will need to get a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), the document companies need before hiring a foreign worker. Once your employer has the LMIA, you can apply for a work permit – which also requires a job offer letter and a contract.

It sounds tough, but lots of people do it every year – and more than 192,000 temporary foreign workers entered Canada in 2011 alone.

If you like your odds, click here for more information on the temporary foreign worker program.

International Mobility Program

If you’ve been working for a multi-national or Canadian-owned company for one of the last three years, you might be able to get a transfer to a Canadian office through the International Mobility Program, according to Seligman.

“This is typically where people have employers support their applications to come to Canada,” says Lee. Canada has various international agreements, including ones with Chile, Korea, and through the North American Free Trade Agreement, she adds. “If (you’re) from a country with a free trade agreement, it’s much easier.”

Find out more about the International Mobility Program.

The bottom line

If you’re not sure what option is best for you, or you don’t know where to begin, consulting an immigration lawyer might be your best bet.

“I think it’s a good idea to get a lawyer to assess your credentials and experience and recommend which options are available to you,” says Lee.

The good news is, you’ve got options. The bad news is, there may be too many options. Get informed, and you’ll soon be getting to work in the Great White North.

UK native Ben Howard has been navigating Canada's complex work permit laws.

Good luck!

About Lauren Pelley

Lauren Pelley is a Toronto writer and journalist. She has written for the Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Best Health, ParentsCanada, the London Free Press, and the CBC.