Citizens of the following countries do not require a visa to visit Canada for a stay of (usually) up to six months, provided they are not working or studying and the traveller has a passport valid for six months beyond the date of intended departure:
Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cayman Islands, Chile, Denmark, Estonia, Falkland Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holy See, Hong Kong (BNO passport or SAR passport), Iceland, Ireland, Israel (national passport holders only), Czech Republic, Hungary, Cyprus, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania (biometric passports only), Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montserrat, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Poland (biometric passports only), Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, St. Helena, Sweden, Slovenia, South Korea. Helena, Sweden, Slovenia, Switzerland The United Kingdom (including British citizens (overseas) who are allowed to re-enter the United Kingdom) and the United States.
A visa waiver also applies to persons whose nationality is not indicated above if they hold a US Green Card or can provide other proof of permanent residence in the United States. Individuals who do not require a visa and are entering the US for a reason other than tourism must have a letter of invitation from the person, business or organisation they are visiting (information on letters of invitation and what they must contain).
Foreign nationals entering Canada by air without a visa must obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) in order to fly. The ETA is issued by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and is similar to the US ESTA, but the fee is lower ($7) and it is valid for the same length of time as a passport or up to five years. US citizens (but not permanent residents) and French citizens of St Pierre and Miquelon are exempt. The eTA is not required if you are entering by land or sea.
Canada is very strict about admitting people with criminal records, and even people who would not need a visa may be refused entry or require additional documentation if they have a criminal record, even if it is a long-standing or minor conviction. A drunk driving conviction also counts, as it is considered a criminal offence under Canadian law. Anyone with a criminal record, including US citizens, should contact a Canadian diplomatic mission for advice before making travel plans.
All other persons require a temporary resident visa to enter the country. This can be done at the Canadian visa office closest to the applicant. Applicants must submit the following documents as part of their application
- A valid travel document (e.g. a passport)
- Two properly formatted passport photos for all applicants.
- Application fee (The fee per person is $75 for a single entry visa, $150 for a multiple entry visa or $400 for a family (multiple or single entry).
- Booking confirmation (for tourists) or invitation letter (for everyone else).
- Proof that you have enough money for your visit to Canada. The amount depends on the circumstances of your visit, the length of your stay and whether you are staying in a hotel, with friends or relatives. For more information, contact the visa office.
- Other documents, if applicable. These documents can be identity cards, proof of employment or a travel proposal. You can find more information on the website of the visa office responsible for the country or region where you live.
If you are planning a visit to the US and are not travelling outside the US borders, you can use your one-time visa for re-entry as long as the visa expiry date has not passed.
It is illegal to work without a work permit while in the country, although Canada has several temporary work permits for youth from certain countries. See “Work” below.
Quebec has been given limited autonomy by the federal government to select immigrants. While immigration regulations differ slightly from the rest of Canada, these differences in regulations do not affect short-term visitors (such as tourists and business travellers) who do not intend to work or immigrate.
US citizens entering Canada by land (vehicle, train, boat or on foot) only need proof of citizenship and identification for short visits. In addition to the passport, a number of other documents can be used to cross the border:
- U.S. Passport Card (issued by the Department of State)
- Enhanced driver’s licence or non-driver’s licence photo ID (currently issued by Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington).
- Improved tribal identity card
- Trusted Traveller cards issued by the US Department of Homeland Security for the Canadian border (NEXUS and FAST).
Mexican Border (SENTRI) and International Air Traveler (Global Entry) cards issued by DHS cannot be used for entry into Canada, but are acceptable for re-entry into the U.S. and can be used in special NEXUS lanes in the U.S., if available.
Before 2009, it was possible to cross the U.S.-Canada border with a simple birth certificate or driver’s licence. Birth certificates are technically still acceptable to enter Canada, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped accepting birth certificates when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) went into effect. This is because many certificates (especially older ones) are little more than a typewritten sheet of carbon paper with no security. If you try to re-enter the US with your birth certificate, you will eventually be admitted, but only after significant delays while CBP verifies the information on the certificate with the agency that issued it. You may also be fined or prosecuted for non-compliance, although it is unlikely that you will receive more than a written warning for a first offence.
Residents of Greenland, St Pierre and Miquelon and certain Caribbean states do not need to present a passport if they can prove their nationality and identity by other means.
Residents of Greenland, St. Pierre and Miquelon and the United States also benefit from arrangements whereby applications for work and study permits can be made upon arrival in Canada at the immigration office at the port of entry without the need for a prior temporary resident visa or application at a consulate. However, all documents normally required for such a permit must be presented at the port of entry as if at a consulate, including a letter of invitation, the relevant documents from the institution/employer and the relevant fees.
Like the US, Canada requires an entry permit even if you are transferring between two international flights at the same airport. The exception to this rule is if you are transferring between another international flight and a flight to the US (but not vice versa) at an airport with US border pre-clearance, and if the connection is made in the same terminal. If you do not qualify for a visa waiver to enter Canada, you will usually need to apply for a free transit visa to pass through Canada. While Canada’s visa policy is generally a little more flexible than that of the U.S., making it a popular route for people who want to avoid transit through the U.S., it should be noted that Canada’s felony inadmissibility rules are even stricter than those in the U.S. In other words, if you have a criminal record or even a conviction for drunk driving, you will likely be denied permission to transit Canada and will need to plan alternative routes.
Canada has very strict biosecurity laws. As in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, all food imported into Canada must be declared to customs on arrival and inspected. Failure to declare food can result in a heavy fine, even if the products are permitted.
Note that Canadian drug laws are much stricter than American laws, and attempting to bring illegal drugs into Canada is a very serious offence, punishable by heavy prison sentences. In particular, while medical marijuana is legal in much of the United States, it is illegal to attempt to bring marijuana into Canada, even if you have a prescription. If you are coming from the United States, please also note that it is illegal to bring firearms and explosives into Canada without declaring them to customs.
Although there are no limits on the amount of money that can be imported or exported to Canada, Customs requires you to declare if you are carrying $10,000 (Canadian) or more or the foreign currency equivalent. Failure to declare can result in prosecution and possible confiscation of the money.
From the United States
If you are a US citizen or permanent resident and travel to Canada frequently, consider applying for a NEXUS card. NEXUS allows pre-approved, low-risk travellers to use expedited inspection lanes at many land crossings to enter Canada and the US – with just a few questions. You can also use kiosks to clear customs and border crossings at major international airports if you opt for an iris scan. The application fee is $50 and you must be legal in both countries, undergo a thorough background investigation, a credit check, fingerprinting and an interview with US Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Participants in other DHS trusted traveller programmes, such as Global Entry (expedited clearance at airports), SENTRI (expedited clearance at the U.S.-Mexico border) and FAST (for truck drivers), cannot use the NEXUS lanes to enter Canada, but are eligible to use their Global Entry, SENTRI or FAST card as a travel document to prove their identity and citizenship. In addition, these cards can be used in the NEXUS lanes for entry into the United States.
If you are travelling to Canada from the US and are not a permanent resident of either country, you must ensure that you satisfy the US authorities that you have not exceeded the North American limits for each subsequent trip. Time spent in Canada will count towards the maximum stay in the US if you return to the US before leaving North America.
- When you return to the United States on this trip, keep your visa documents. Do not surrender your U.S. visa or Visa Waiver Card (I-94 or I-94W) at border control. You can enter the U.S. several times during the validity period of your visa (usually 90 days for Western tourists), but you must also have the immigration document to validate the visa. If you return from the US without this document, you will not only have to reapply for a visa or visa waiver, but also convince the US immigration authorities of the validity of your trip (i.e. show them that you do not intend to immigrate there).
- If your standard US visa expires while you are in Canada and you want to return to the US directly from Canada, you will need to apply for a longer-term US visa (e.g. a B-1/B-2 or C-1 transit visa) before your first trip to the US. For example, if you intend to stay in Canada for six months and travel through the US on a visa waiver, the US will assume that you cannot return to the US after the six months in Canada without first leaving North America because you have been in North America for more than 90 days in total. Note that in this scenario you have done nothing wrong by visiting the US and then staying in Canada for a long time, only that the US will not allow you to return directly from Canada, you will have to reset their clock by leaving North America. Visa-exempt travellers can avoid this situation by returning their I-94W (green) form to their airline when leaving the US or to the Canadian immigration inspector when entering Canada by land; there is no immigration checkpoint in the US when leaving, so it is up to the traveller to remember this.
- If you intend to leave North America completely without returning to the United States on this trip, surrender all visa documents when you leave the United States for Canada. This means handing over your I-94 or I-94W card to the airline staff at the check-in counter if you are leaving by air, or to the Canadian immigration inspector if you are leaving by land. If you do not do this, you will need to prove to the US that you have not overstayed in order to be approved for future travel (see the US CBP website for information on how to correct this error).
If you leave Canada to visit the US for a short period of time and wish to return to Canada within a short period of time, you can usually do so without applying for a new Canadian visa, provided you return within the period originally approved by the immigration officer or have a valid temporary resident permit authorising you to return, and you do not leave US soil before returning to Canada (i.e. including during a cruise that begins and ends at a US point but crosses international waters in between). If you leave the US for any reason on a one-time Canadian visa to a third country, you must apply for a new visa before returning to Canada.