Working without a work permit: what jobs can a visitor do in Canada?

The following is an article that I recent wrote for The Canadian Immigrant:

It is generally understood that visitors to Canada cannot work without work permits. The consequences for doing so can include removal from Canada, being unable to apply for work permits for six months, year-long prohibitions on returning to Canada and even possible criminal sanctions for employers.

Canadian immigration legislation defines “work” broadly. It includes any activities for which wages are paid or commission is earned, and any activity that competes directly with the activities of Canadian citizens or permanent residents in the Canadian labour market. Because of this, volunteer work, unpaid internships and practicums may also require work permits.

However, while the definition of what constitutes work is broad, there are many activities that people would generally consider work that do not require work permits.

Remote work

In our increasingly globalized and digitized world, perhaps the most important work permit exemption is for remote work. Canada’s immigration department allows visitors to Canada to perform long-distance (by telephone or internet) work if their employer is outside Canada and they are remunerated from outside Canada. As such, many people who work remotely for companies abroad are able to reside in Canada for extended periods and continue working for their foreign employers. Typical examples include IT consultants, website developers, accountants, and so on.

Self-employment in a purely remote business can also be permitted. For example, an individual who runs a subscription-based website may be able to do so while residing in Canada as a long-term visitor. However, the legality of this may become questionable if the individual begins selling products directly to Canadians.

Volunteer work

The fine line between work that requires a work permit and work that doesn’t is also apparent when it comes to volunteer work.

While unpaid work can require a work permit, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website also states that people can volunteer for positions “which a person would not normally be remunerated, such as sitting on the board of a charity or religious institution, being a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ to a child, or being on the telephone line at a rape crisis centre.” As well, unpaid remuneration for family members that is incidental to why the person is in Canada is typically permissible, including, for example, a mother assisting a daughter with childcare or an uncle helping his nephew build a cottage.

Business visitors

The largest category of people who are able to work in Canada without a work permit is business visitors. To be a business visitor, the activity must be international in scope, the primary source of the worker’s remuneration must be outside Canada, the principal place of the worker’s employer must be outside of Canada, and the accrual of profits must be outside Canada.

A very popular business visitor category includes intra-company trainers and trainees. Indeed, most business visitors to Canada typically perform some combination of attending meetings, and either giving or receiving training.

Finally, Canada’s immigration department has proclaimed that film producers employed by foreign companies for commercial shoots and any essential personnel can work in Canada without work permits.

Other exemptions

Canadian immigration legislation lists many other types of work that do not require a work permit, including some performing artists, clergy, athletes, convention organizers, public speakers, emergency personnel and more. In fact, given how many exemptions there are to needing a work permit, the starting point for any tourist wondering how to apply for a work permit should be to first determine if one is even needed.


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