Passport Documents

Do You Need a Passport To Go To Canada?

If you are a U.S. citizen living close to the Canadian border it may seem like a trivial issue to simply cross the border when and where you please. While it may be possible to cross in certain areas without being confronted by some kind of security force, it can be extremely risky to do so without the proper documents. This is especially true if you get caught one the side of the border opposite to your home country without valid identification.

It can be easy to forget that our country is still considered to be under the threat of foreign terrorism. Security is tighter than ever before. This means that authorities are prone to taking any behavior they deem suspicious or unlawful, regarding the crossing of international borders, very seriously. If you intend to cross the border into Canada, it would behoove you to know the law and follow it.

In 2008, the U.S. government set into law new regulations that require every person traveling to Canada by land, air, or sea to present a passport or a travel document equal to a passport. The law is called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and it went into effect on January 1st, 2009. It prohibits travel in or out of the U.S. regardless of destination without a secure document proving citizenship. A valid U.S. Passport grants you legal departure from the U.S to Canada, as well as to most other countries by any legal mode of travel.
Equivalent Documents
Documents that can be used instead of a valid Passport are;

  • 1. NEXUS Card: A partnership between U.S. and Canadian border security has created this card which allows travelers to move between the two countries by land, sea, or air, and provides fast-lane passes at border crossings and airports. The application process for the NEXUS Card involves an interview and fingerprinting.
  • 2. The U.S. Passport Card: This limited card allows entry into Canada by land or sea but not by air.
  • 3. Enhanced Driver’s License: These indicate both identity and citizenship. They are acceptable for entry into Canada by land or sea, but not by air. As of 2009, via the ¬†Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, it is only available in Washington State and New York. It is expected to be available in Vermont sometime in the near future.
  • 4. FAST/Expres Card: This is made available through a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol program which pre-approves large commercial trucks to travel freely to and from Canada

A Quick Reference Guide
If you have any of the above documents or intend to acquire and use any of them, be sure you know what modes of international travel the document you have permits. Attempting to use a form of travel document for a type of travel that it is not intended for can sometimes be seen as a red flag to security personnel, and it can get you detained- sometimes for hours or days at a time.

By Air

  • Passport
  • NEXUS Card

By Car

  • Passport
  • NEXUS Card
  • U.S. Passport Card
  • Enhanced Driver’s License
  • Fast/Expres Card (commercial trucks only)

By Sea

  • Passport
  • NEXUS Card
  • U.S. Passport Card
  • Enhanced Driver’s License