Can I fly from the United States to Canada without a passport?
October 28, 2004 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Can I fly from the United States to Canada without a passport?
posted by jjg to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
Yes, though they will give you grief for it. I flew into Vancouver earlier this year and forgot my passport on the table before I left. After talking to a customs agent (who was very nice, being canadian and all), he said he wasn't supposed to let me in, but that my drivers license and story sounded plausable, and let me in. Then he said going back into the US could be a problem, but I drove home with friends and the guy at the border crossing didn't say anything.
posted by mathowie at 12:22 PM on October 28, 2004

Yes, although you'll need your birth certificate and photo ID.
posted by deborah at 12:24 PM on October 28, 2004

Exactly. You need either a passport or a birth certificate and photo ID. I've never had a passport.
posted by kindall at 12:26 PM on October 28, 2004

About ten years ago I flew from Chicago to Toronto to pick up a car, so it was a one way ticket (I don't know what bearing that may have had, but I mention it just in case).

I honestly didn't realize they would want my passport, and they certainly didn't check for it in Chicago. I think they were a little put off, presuming that I didn't consider Canada a country, but the fact was I'd driven to and fro across the border a number of times and had never needed a passport, so why should flying be different?

They gave me minor grief for about half an hour, then let me go.
posted by o2b at 12:29 PM on October 28, 2004

Heh, I made the mistake of trying to fly from NYC to Montreal all sans passport. I mean, all these years, just like o2b, I'd *driven* across the border with barely a library card. Why would I need one to fly? How silly.

Yes, as everyone else has more or less said, you do need a passport. Or a birth certificate and a photo ID. If you have a passport (even if it's expired), bring it. If not, get online and order one up pronto.

Anecdotally, here's what happened to me: They let me on the plane at LaGuardia, with a warning that I might get sent home. At Customs, I sat in a brightly-lit office and politely informed a Mountie that I honestly had no idea I needed a passport. She clearly thought I was an idiot (and she may have been right), though she was Canadian Polite about it.

While I was in Montreal, I went to the American consulate where I endured a couple hours of bureaucracy and handwringing (apparently the database was not offering proof of my existence) and schoolmarmish tut-tutting. After being regarded as either a potential terrorist or a retard, I was given an official letter and made to swear my allegiance to the US. It was much less fun than it sounds.

posted by cowboy_sally at 12:46 PM on October 28, 2004

Returning from Montreal (prior to 9/11), I got hassled by U.S. Customs for lack of passport. They let me through with just my driver's license, but were obnoxious about it.

I can only but imagine it's gotten worse since then.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:04 PM on October 28, 2004

U.S. citizens do not require a visa to visit Canada; this page details the entry requirements in general; here's some customs and border information as well.

If I remember correctly and am not mistaken: U.S. and Canadian citizens have historically not needed a passport to cross the border to visit each other's country. (I've never needed it, but I haven't crossed the border since 1994.) I recall that only ID was required (like a driver's licence). Now things may have changed since, but I haven't seen any hard evidence of it in the foregoing pages.

If you've got a passport, bring it: it's about the best ID you can have. It's certainly the safest option.
posted by mcwetboy at 1:10 PM on October 28, 2004

[D'oh, I meant "get online and order a birth certificate up pronto." I *am* an idiot. I *didn't* deserve to be let into Canada.]
posted by cowboy_sally at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2004

I was born to U.S. citizens living in Winnipeg, so I've had dual citizenship all my life. I decided to go to college in the states, but for my first couple of years of college, I didn't have a valid U.S. passport (just an expired one.) Instead, I had to present my birth certificate and a "Proof of Birth Abroad" certificate issued by the U.S. Consulate in Winnipeg (since closed.) Even though this was all pre-2001, I still got grief from the Immigration people, although they never caused me to miss a flight because of it. I finally got tired of having to bring a folder of documents with me every time I travelled, and so buckled down & got a U.S. passport in 2000 or so.

My advice: if you can make yourself look like an upstanding citizen, have a good reason to be visiting Canada, and are willing to accept the fact that you may be given a hard time or possibly even turned back, then you can try entering the country by air with a birth certificate and a driver's license. But I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.

Oh, and nitpick: Customs are the people who ask you if you're bringing produce, firearms, or alcohol into the country. Immigration are the people who ask you where you're going & how long you'll be staying. In practice, though, these people work very closely together (and, IIRC, were rolled into one agency in the Canadian government fairly recently.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2004

I love it when Customs ask whether I've bringing firearms, produce, or alcohol across the border. I look at them like they're barking mad, and deny it all: "Whaaa? [frowny face] Of course not! Produce? Firearms?!"

Although I'll admit that after a 12hr flight from Europe, I had to give up a Norweigan apple that I'd planned to snack on when I went through the gates at Vancouver. I'm pretty sure the buggers just ate it.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:20 PM on October 28, 2004

I did waltz into Norway without showing anyone a passport. It was kind of weird. Transferred at Amsterdam, got hassled about sitting up front instead of way at the back (I wanted a view and the plane was empty but for a half-dozen passengers), and then walked out of the Oslo airport without a single person asking to see ID of any sort.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:23 PM on October 28, 2004

How about if you don't have a birth certificate?
posted by jjg at 4:06 PM on October 28, 2004

jjg, are you saying there's no record of your birth or just that you don't have a copy of it? If it's the latter, try Vitalchek, they might be able to help you. (It's not cheap, but if you have no other option...)
posted by cowboy_sally at 4:28 PM on October 28, 2004

How about if you don't have a birth certificate?

Depending where you were born, you can usually get a legal copy of some record of your birth, usually involving alternative forms of identification or a parent [yes, a parent, yes, at your age] vouching for you. Sometimes you just need a notarized letter faxed to the appropriate records office plus some sort of copying fee. My landlady is going through this right now -- she's 72 -- and is having trouble with the parent part of it, though I think she got a notarized letter. Often they'll take expired passports as a form of ID for you to get new passports, if passport-getting is on your agenda. This all varies state by state. Best bet is to contact someone at the clerk's office in the town you were born in. There are some interesting Loompanics/Libertarian types who have really tried to push the envelope on what form of "government sponsored ID" you absolutely MUST have in order to make your way through an airport, but the account I read were all 9/11 and are likely different now. I think in the absence of a passport OR a birth certificate OR a military ID, you'd be approaching 50/50 in terms of your chances of getting hassled and/or denied either entry into Canada or entry back into the US. Just a hunch. We got denied entry into Canada last month because my sister was carrying mace [who knew?], so I always assume something will go wrong when I try to visit our neighbors to the North.
posted by jessamyn at 4:51 PM on October 28, 2004

It's complicated. Suffice to say that getting a birth certificate is not an option.
posted by jjg at 4:53 PM on October 28, 2004

If you have no passport and no birth certificate, you need an immigration attorney. Avoid Cantor and Siegel.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:42 PM on October 28, 2004

Don't do it. My brother did this and was stuck in the airport for hours, eventually having to pay a ransom of $300 to get out of there. The fact that he has a DUI on his record made it much more of a problem, so watch out if you have anything at all on your record or any immigration-type red flags. Don't wear your turban that day.
posted by scarabic at 7:00 PM on October 28, 2004

I got a snippy "It is an international border, Ma'am", the first and only time I flew into Canada without my passport, but was allowed to proceed with just my driver's license. I've never been asked for anything but a verbal statement of my citizenship and my purpose & length of stay when crossing by land. I travelled alone (by bus) to Toronto many times when still too young to have a driver's license and with no other ID. You will get your working papers checked if it's obvious that's what you're coming in for (like on a band tour bus), though. And coming back in to the U.S. has always been more likely to be a pain. Is land or sea travel an option?

(And to answer a question you didn't ask, but fff alluded to, I think you can bring in 4 bottles of alcohol, but only two can be liquor).
posted by obloquy at 7:25 PM on October 28, 2004

The fact that he has a DUI on his record made it much more of a problem, so watch out if you have anything at all on your record or any immigration-type red flags.

I have one brother-in-law who is not welcome in the US due to an adult possession conviction on his record. Another of my BILs had a teen possession conviction but managed to somehow get it fixed so the US will allow him to visit. A third BIL (my husband has five brothers) doesn't have a birth certificate (born in the wilds of Ontario and his parents never bothered to file for one) and therefore cannot visit the US (there is a way to fix it, but he can't be bothered).

I've never flown from Canada to the US or vice-versa (we always drive, the border is, like, right there) and didn't know there might be a hassle due to a lack of passport. However, with all the immigration crap I've had to deal with these last few years, I always have my birth certificate and passport with me. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's not a good idea, but it's come in handy many-a-time.

jjg: history: lost (from his website) Sounds interesting. I believe you can get your parents to swear to some sort of affidavit. Is this not an option? (If this is too nosy, just ignore :-)
posted by deborah at 10:38 PM on October 28, 2004

The key thing to remember is that the US may not let you back in if you can't produce proof of citizenship. Being denied entry at the canadian border = sad; being denied entry at the US border = BAD.
posted by Mitheral at 9:18 AM on October 29, 2004

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