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How to fly to canada without a passport?
February 12, 2006 9:12 PM   Subscribe

I don't have a passport. I'm American. I need to fly to a wedding in Toronto in a month. What's the best way to do this?

So, because I'm silly I've never gotten a passport. The last time I went to canada was before 9/11, and it was extremely trivial, so I wasn't thinking about it when I agreed to go to my cousin's wedding. Anyway, what should I do?

I went to here and found the formal requirements. It looks like I should theoretically be able to get across the border with my driver's license and birth certificate (which I have). Has anyone done it this way? Does this take longer than with a passport?

If that's not the way to go, how do I get a passport quickly? I've heard rumors about express passport places (they just sit in line at the passport office all day for you), but I don't really know how to find them. I live in San Jose, if anyone knows of local places. Any tips?
posted by JZig to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total)
 
While my passport was being renewed last spring, I traveled to Canada with just a birth certificate and drivers license. Nobody batted an eye. I gather the rules are changing, so you might want to double check by phoning the passport office.

You can get an expedited passport yourself by going to the office (first thing in the morning) with the necessary forms, proof of travel, photos and a birth certificate. My guess is that your local office will be in San Francisco. It's a pain in the ass, but if you can demonstrate need, the passport can be prepared the same day.
posted by felix betachat at 9:25 PM on February 12, 2006


I recently got a new passport. You'll be able to get passports at largish local post offices, courthouses, etc. This should answer your basic how-to questions, and this should help you find the right location. Basically, express passports are obtained like normal passports, though you have to pay extra to get them.

I've never needed a passport to get into Canada, but I've always traveled there by car - airport customs facilities may be stricter. I also haven't been there particularly recently.
posted by ubersturm at 9:25 PM on February 12, 2006


I'm pretty sure you will get a passport within a month.
posted by madman at 9:31 PM on February 12, 2006


I can't speak to whether you'll be able to cross a border by land with those documents. That seems to be a much-disputed (in AskMe, among other places) issue. For air travel, my best guess is that you'll need a passport. Last March, I planned a trip to the E.U. and realized at the last minute that my old passport wouldn't work (was expiring within a couple of months of my return date). I went with an emergency service that expedites the process, and while it wasn't cheap, sometimes it's what you gotta do. Got it to me in a few days. I don't remember which service I used that worked for me, but just start making phone calls from this page and you'll find something.
posted by donpedro at 9:31 PM on February 12, 2006


I went into Canada last month via bus in Vermont and I had no problem with my (expired) NYS ID and birth certificate.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:32 PM on February 12, 2006


According to the Canadian and American passport sites, passports are not currently required for travel between the two countries, but will be mandatory by Jan. 1 2007 for travel by sea and air, and by Jan.1 2008 for travel by land.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:38 PM on February 12, 2006


The passport requirement goes into effect Dec. 31, 2006 for air and sea passengers and Dec. 31, 2007 for land passengers. More info and links here. Until then, photo ID and birth certificate are ok.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:41 PM on February 12, 2006


And on preview, what Robot Johnny said. :)
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:41 PM on February 12, 2006


Yeah, my case specifically is flying. I was wondering if anyone had personal experiences flying to canada without a passport.

I've confirmed several places that I'm theoretically fine without a passport until next year, but I'm going to work on getting one now anyway.

Felix, was that flying or by land?
posted by JZig at 9:43 PM on February 12, 2006


It looks like I should theoretically be able to get across the border with my driver's license and birth certificate (which I have).

Yep. At least until 1/1/07, when you'll theoretically need a passport to get back into the US.

Make sure it's a real proper no-shit official birth certificate.

Has anyone done it this way?

Yes, as recently as last Christmas. That was by car. The last time I flew to Canada was, I think, in 02 or 03.

Does this take longer than with a passport?

Not in my experience.

You don't need a passport in a hurry. But if you did, I'd suggest you contact your Representative's or Senator's office and follow their advice.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 PM on February 12, 2006


fwiw, I'm a Canadian, and I've never needed a passport to get into the States.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:14 PM on February 12, 2006


You won't need a passport until 2007. Last July I flew from Canada to the US and back without a passport, just my birth certificate and driver's license. (I didn't realize that my passport had expired until the day before the flight.)
posted by russilwvong at 11:39 PM on February 12, 2006


Felix, was that flying or by land?

Flying.

Regarding expedited passports. There is a real difference between "Passport Offices" and courthouses, post offices, etc. The latter have general forms on file and can accept new applications with a good lead time (a couple months, I think). The former are in major metropolitan areas and specialize in rush or difficult applications. To use them, you need to make a prior appointment.

Be aware that if, if you use the general application process, you need to be very aggressive about following up on your application. The people who work in the passport division are courteous and helpful, but it's a government bureaucracy. Problems in your application may not be caught until after your specified travel date.

If you have the money and don't want to lose a day (or more) waiting in a line, I'd recommend finding a expediting service. A quick google search turned up this, which should give you a sense for what the charges will be. They offer same day service, for a hefty fee.
posted by felix betachat at 12:22 AM on February 13, 2006


Cool, thanks guys. Looks like I'm good for this trip, but it's time to put in application for a passport so I've got one ready for next year.
posted by JZig at 12:47 AM on February 13, 2006


After browsing that american passport it looks like it will be VERY difficult to get a passport, because I just moved to the state of california, so my driver's license is less than 6 months old. Without a 6 month old driver's license, I need someone who has known me for 3 years, preferably a blood relative. Except that I just moved here.

So, driver's license and birth certificate it is.
posted by JZig at 12:55 AM on February 13, 2006


I found out unexpectedly that I had to renew my passport early (I went to India, and they require that a passport be valid for 6 months after they grant you a visa). I used CIBT, and got it renewed in less than a week. It cost an arm and a leg (something like 120.00 over and above the passport fees), but it was fast.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 1:00 AM on February 13, 2006


felix betachat is correct, as is Saucy Intruder.

Your problem will not be the Customs officers. Your problem will be **airline staff**. Passports are NOT currently required by CBSA or US Customs for American or Canadian citizens who can prove their identity with other valid documents (you need to prove both identity and citizenship). So if you were driving across, a valid gov't issued photo ID and birt cert would be fine.

However, since there are pretty large fines for airlines who let people without proper ID on board international flights, most airlines require passports as a 'better safe than sorry' rule. [Commerical carrier fines (from CBSA, anyway) start at about 10x the private fines.]

For the record, stupidcomputernickname, almost every country in the world requires that your passport be good for 3 or 6 (usually 6) months after you proposed date of departure.
posted by tiamat at 2:09 AM on February 13, 2006


preferably a blood relative

Funny. Up here in Canada, it's blood relatives that specifically can't be guarantors.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:11 AM on February 13, 2006


dirtynumbangelboy, that is no longer the case since the applicaiton was updated last. Blood relatives cannot be *references*, but family relationship does not effect whether you fit the criteria for being a guarantor.
posted by tiamat at 2:22 AM on February 13, 2006


You don't need a passport to get into Canada.

I'm married to a Canadian, and live in Buffalo. I cross the border at least once a month and I have never owned a passport in my life and have never been asked for one.

At the border they ask for photo id only.

I've never been asked for a birth certificate either....
posted by punkrockrat at 5:20 AM on February 13, 2006


However, since there are pretty large fines for airlines who let people without proper ID on board international flights, most airlines require passports as a 'better safe than sorry' rule

I have not flown to Canada recently, but in 2002 or 2003 this was not the case. D/l and b/c were just fine with American and Air Canada.

JZig, if you haven't made travel plans you might check out flying into Buffalo and taking a rental care to Toronto. Might work out cheaper, might not. You'd need to check with the rental company ahead of time to make sure that taking it to Canada is kosher.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:24 AM on February 13, 2006


I've never been asked for a birth certificate either....

It's nonetheless part of the formal requirement. They ask for it ~100% of the time in air travel.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:26 AM on February 13, 2006


I have both flown to Canada (Vancouver) with a driver's license and birth certificate, post 9/11, and gotten an expedited passport in the passport office in San Francisco (it took less than 48 hours, and I didn't pay for any third party service).

My recommendation... get a passport, either through the normal, expedited mail process (which the state department claims takes two weeks), or by waiting until you've got less than 14 days before traveling, making an appointment and appearing at your local passport office, with your birth certificate, valid driver's license (it doesn't say anything about 6 month old), checkbook, and some reading material (you'll be in line for a while).

When I flew through Vancouver without a passport, I tripped the immigration inspector's radar, and was detained while my luggage was searched and my birth certificate was validated by getting someone in Wasington, DC (where I was born) to fax a duplicate of it from the microfilm. This was an unpleasant process that took about three hours, in a very uncomfortable room in a back corner of the airport.

I never intend to leave the country without a passport again.
posted by toxic at 5:27 AM on February 13, 2006


Friends who live in New England drive to Canada without passports all the time, but it's a different story by air. Even in 2002 I got severely hassled for not having a passport (I had misplaced mine at the time.) I got fussed at when entering Canada and then more severely fussed at and questioned when returning to the US. Not fun. Get your passport expidited.
posted by desuetude at 6:16 AM on February 13, 2006


I was at the American counter last weekend and the person in front of me was going to Toronto from Austin and had just the birth certificate and driver's license and had no problem. I was on my way to Frankfurt with a passport and it was a little faster since all the airport person had to do was swipe my passport # on her terminal and I was good to go.

When in Vancouver a few years ago, the person in line in front of me at passport control had only had the driver license/birth certificate and was detained for further scrutiny like toxic.

You won't need a passport for your next trip to TO, but it is worth the time and effort to get one since you'll eventually need one for Canada and Mexico and it will come in handy when you want to travel elsewhere and see the rest of the world.

Like stupidcomputernickname, I used CIBT to expedite my passport through my company when I got mine a few years ago -- I had to pay on my own, but my company had a corporate pricing agreement so it was about 2/3rd's off their standard rates and I got my passport in 72 hours.
posted by birdherder at 6:34 AM on February 13, 2006


After browsing that american passport it looks like it will be VERY difficult to get a passport, because I just moved to the state of california, so my driver's license is less than 6 months old.

The actual government passport site doesn't say anything about a 6 months old license not being valid. It just says it can't be temporary or learner's.
posted by smackfu at 6:55 AM on February 13, 2006


Thanks guys (and especially tiamat for emailing me), I'll go call the airline and confirm. If it'll be a problem, I've got the resources here I need to go get a passport fast.
posted by JZig at 10:16 PM on February 13, 2006


I was wondering if anyone had personal experiences flying to canada without a passport.

I was in Toronto in January with an American friend of mine who had flown up from Philly without a passport (with original birth certificate and drivers license). She was there for a week and had absolutely no problems with either trip, in and out of Canada/USA.

I asked her specifically about this stuff because the idea of leaving your country without a passport is really weird to me.

You're following the rules, I don't see the problem.
posted by shelleycat at 9:06 PM on February 14, 2006


I've flown to Toronto I think 8 times in the last 18 months from Denver. Half the time I've misplaced my passport and travel on my drivers license/birth certificate. The airline (United/Air Canada, and American) never blinked an eye at the birth certificate when checking in, and as I understand it even an expired passport will work. Having said that, go with the passport. It's the best identification you can have, and truly is easier.
posted by Eekacat at 6:25 AM on March 18, 2006


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