Canadian Law Group

Crossing the U.S. Canada Border in 2018: What Documents Do You Need?

By Véronique Malka

Prior to 2009, crossings between Canada and the United States could be done via oral declarations of citizenship, or by presenting unofficial documents, which consequentially led to the interception of 129,000 fraudulent documents, and the apprehension of over 118,340 individuals at several United States land and sea ports of entry. Due to this, the United States government decided to abolish this informal practice with Canada, as well as with Bermuda and Mexico. This program, establishing specific rules and procedures for border crossings, is called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and serves as a guide for the required documents for entry into the United States.

Since 2017, with talk of “Extreme Vetting” of border applicants under President Trump’s new Administration, people often ask us if the Identification requirements have changed in order to travel between the US and Canada.  Here is a quick overview of what travelers can expect for 2018:

Going from Canada into the USA:

List of all WHTI-approved travel documents:

  1. U.S. or Canadian Passport
  2. Green Card
  3. U.S. Passport Card - not valid for air travel
  4. U.S. or Canadian Enhanced Driver’s License - not valid for air travel
  5. NEXUS Card *
  6. U.S. Military Identification Card (when traveling on official orders)
  7. U.S. Merchant Mariner document (when traveling on official maritime business)
  8. American Indian Card (Form 1-872) – not valid for air travel
  9. U.S. or Canadian birth certificate or other proof of citizenship (For minors under the age of 16)

* The NEXUS Card is a Trusted Travelers Program which allows frequent U.S.-Canada visitors to cross the border faster by avoiding the long lines at the customs. NEXUS holders can simply scan their cards at airports, or pass through the fast NEXUS line at ports of entry on land and at sea ports.

When crossing the border by car, the American customs uses x-ray technology near inspection booths called Radiation Portal Monitor System, or RPM, to read any type of energy passing by, and also identifies the detected materials. This is often used to prevent the entry of drugs, arms, and other illegal items. However, this also means that visitors must be incredibly careful not to bring items that might set off the RPM at the border.

The United States government is also now applying the Visas Mantis security check, created to prevent espionage or military disruption in the United States. The process involves extreme technological vetting if a visitor’s purpose of traveling to the United States is to conduct a visit, work, study, or research, touching on the following fields:

  1. Conventional Munitions
  2. Nuclear Technology
  3. Rocket Systems
  4. Chemical, Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering
  5. Remote Sensing, Imaging and Reconnaissance
  6. Advanced Computer/Microelectronic Technology
  7. Materials Technology
  8. Information Security
  9. Laser And Directed Energy Systems Technology
  10. Sensors and Sensor Technology
  11. Marine Technology
  12. Robotics
  13. Urban Planning

Going from the USA into Canada:

When traveling to Canada from the United States, visitors must make sure that they are adequately prepared to cross the border. Although United States citizens require a passport to fly or transit through a Canadian airport, they still do not need one when entering Canada on land or by boat. However, since the implementation of WHTI in the United States, the Canadian Border Services Association (CBSA) has begun accepting the same documentation listed in the WHTI, and limiting the documents allowed for crossing the border, to facilitate round trips between the two countries.

List of all CBSA-approved travel documents:

  1. U.S. or Canadian Passport
  2. Permanent Resident Card (U.S. and Canada)
  3. Visas (eTA, TRV, Transit Visa)
  4. Consent letter from children for children with parents sharing custody
  5. U.S. Passport Card - not valid for air travel
  6. U.S. or Canadian Enhanced Driver’s License - not valid for air travel
  7. NEXUS Card *
  8. U.S. or Canadian birth certificate or other proof of citizenship (For minors under the age of 16)

U.S. citizens wishing to enter Canada by land or boat and that do not have a U.S. passport need to carry proof of their citizenship, such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship (or naturalization), or a Certificate of Indian Status. They also need to carry a photo identification from an official U.S. state or federal entity, such as a driver’s license.

The process of clearing customs differs widely on both the border office, as well as the method of arrival of the traveler. Indeed, even if a person coming from the United States is only going through Canada because of a connecting flight to another country, it is very likely that they will have to go through Canadian customs; most people require a visitor visa, a transit visa, or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), which are required for almost all visitors.

Visitor Visas:

A temporary resident visa is an official document stamped on the passport, which allows temporary entry into Canada for brief visits. You can apply for a visitor visa online, on paper, or at the Canadian border, by bringing all the required materials of the application.

Transit Visas:

These visas are required for any visitor coming from non-visa-exempt countries who is traveling through Canada to another country, and whose flight will stop in Canada for less than 48 hours. You can apply for a transit visa online or on paper.

Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs):

An eTA allows people from visa-exempt countries to temporarily enter Canada when traveling by air. The eTA is an electronic process directly linked to the visitor’s passport. It is valid for up to five years or until the expiry date on the passport; if expired, visitors can always apply for a new eTA.

Visitors should always fill out an eligibility form to find out which visa they should acquire in order to enter the country.

There are, however, extremely rare instances when visitors will not have to apply for a visa or eTA in case of a layover in Canada. This only happens when the visitors are traveling to or from the United States with valid U.S. documentation, and a valid passport from Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, or Taiwan.  These visitors must also arrive during business hours of the preclearance area of the airport, be boarding on their second flight the same day they arrived in Canada, not leave the airport, and be traveling with either Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Air China, WestJet, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Philippines Airlines, Jazz Air, Sky Regional Airlines Inc., Air Georgian, or Hainan Airlines. If arriving from the United States, visitors can only participate in the program if landing in Calgary International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport at Terminal 1, or Vancouver International Airport.

In most cases, however, tourists traveling between the United States and Canada should always be prepared to travel, with the right documents in hand. If you are unsure of the application process for Canadian immigration, or if you need help in gathering the right documentation for an upcoming trip, feel free to contact the Chair of Canadian Law Group and Canadian immigration attorney, Véronique Malka, for assistance at