Is a HealthCanada card a legit photo id?
May 5, 2009 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Is a Health Canada card considered government issued photo ID?

My friend is visiting from Canada and I would like to know if her Health Canada card will be sufficient for US Customs and Borders. She has her birth certificate to prove her citizenship.
posted by ascetic to Law & Government (29 answers total)
After July 1 it's passport only at all land and water crossings for entry into the US.


You should have a valid Canadian passport for all trips outside Canada. A passport is the only reliable and universally accepted identification document, and it proves that you have a right to return to Canada.

Some people have used it maybe, but in general, no, it's not good enough. It does not prove citizenship, only residency.
posted by GuyZero at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2009

I believe every province issues their own card. In my case, my Manitoba card does not have a photo so the answer is no.

What province issued it?
posted by utsutsu at 12:27 PM on May 5, 2009

Sorry, it's June 1.
posted by GuyZero at 12:27 PM on May 5, 2009

Probably not (I speak as someone who travels internationally frequently). For one thing, I don't think there is a such thing as a "Health Canada" card. Each province issues its own health card, and these cards (like the Canadian SIN card) do not usually feature a photograph.

The only government photo ID I can think of would be:

- Canadian passport (takes about 3 months to get)
- citizenship card (takes about 3 months to get)
- PR card (takes about 4-6 months, and is only issued to landed immigrants)
- drivers license (need to pass a driving test)

British Columbia also issues a BC ID, which you can use for ID in lieu of a drivers license. Perhaps your friend's home province will have the same thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: She is from Ontario, and her HealthCanada card does indeed have a photo on it.
posted by ascetic at 12:30 PM on May 5, 2009

The current processing time for in-person passport applications is only two weeks. With proof of travel, urgent (24hr) and express (2-9 business day) service is also available.
posted by eendje at 12:33 PM on May 5, 2009

If she's from Ontario, it's an OHIP card. Again, there is no "Health Canada" card. And if the visit is over 25 days from now, she needs a passport, no ifs ands or buts.
posted by GuyZero at 12:35 PM on May 5, 2009

A Health Card doesn't indicate citizenship, merely residency.

It doesn't even count as official ID within some Ontario, so definitely not for crossing the border.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 12:35 PM on May 5, 2009

No, her Ontario health card is not good enough for border crossings. It does not show citizenship.
posted by meerkatty at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: I'm not looking for proof of citizenship. She has her birth certificate. What I want to know is if her health card is proof of identity.
posted by ascetic at 12:43 PM on May 5, 2009

Historically, you could pass through the border with a birth certificate plus Medicare/OHIP card or driver's licence. As people have mentioned, they are changing the rules in the near future, and they may tighten up early, but if your friend is a young woman crossing the border in her own car, she is likely to be safe, as the old rules permitted this kind of crossing. Your friend should bring every reasonable piece of photo identification.

Do not forget that the rules are changing.
posted by jeather at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2009

US Customs has historically taken a provincial driver's licence, with photo, as proof of ID. This proof of ID must accompany a piece of ID to establish citizenship (ie. birth certificate).

So, similarly, her provincial Health Card, with photo, should serve as photo ID and she should be fine. However, the problem is that any individual border guard can decide to be a dick and not accept it. It's up to you if you want to run that risk.

The safest route is, as others have said, to get her passport. Of course after the June 1 deadline a passport will be mandatory and the above will be moot.
posted by pixlboi at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2009

When I was 13, I proved my identity with a Marble Mountain ski pass. DO NOT COUNT ON THIS WORKING. A health card is not proof of identity. At the bare minimum, your friend wants a driver's license (if she does not drive, I think that the office also offers an identity-card-thingie, which looks like a driver's license with all of the security features but is not one.

Realistically, a passport is best because some guards may not be lax in checking when the new rules come out, as people above said. Get a passport.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:59 PM on May 5, 2009

FYI, passing through the Buffalo border with friends a couple of weeks ago, a friend tried to use her OHIP card and the border guy said: "This does not show her citizenship." Which is why I pointed that out. You may be in the right as per current rules with a birth certificate and OHIP card, but just try arguing with a border guard. You need a passport, or license at very best.
posted by meerkatty at 1:06 PM on May 5, 2009

In my experience, what seems like common sense makes little headway with people who are in a position to say "yes" or "no" and have their "yes" answers scrutinized by bureaucrats later. If a passport is what it takes, passport is the way to go. On the other hand, for non-travel purposes (such as voting) "government-issued photo ID" seems to be synonymous with "driver's license." For medical reasons I do not drive, and I cannot tell you the number of elections officials over the years who have told me that a passport is not government-issued photo ID.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:14 PM on May 5, 2009

A provincial health card could be used to establish residency, but it does not establish citizenship: Canadian citizens living abroad don't qualify for coverage under provincial health services, but landed immigrants do, so it's possible to be a Canadian citizen without a health card or to possess a health card and not be a Canadian citizen.

(P.S. Health Canada is another name for the federal Department of Health (I used to work there); health coverage is handled by the provincial health ministries.)
posted by mcwetboy at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2009

According to the Canada Border Services Agency page here:

Up until May 31, 2009, Canadian citizens entering the United States by land or water may use a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's licence, PLUS a birth certificate or a Canadian citizenship card.

So to me, it looks like an OHIP card with picture + birth certificate should be enough. But I've always thought OHIP cards didn't count for this kind of thing. You can call them during office hours at 1-800-461-9999. Good luck!
posted by heavenstobetsy at 2:27 PM on May 5, 2009

ascetic, here is a list of documentation which can be used to fulfill the "two-document" method of crossing a land or sea border into the U.S. (If your friend is flying, then a passport is required.) As other people have pointed out, this option will no longer exist after June 1, 2009.

The Customs and Border Protection link I've provided says that any provincially-issued identification card that has a name, photo and date of birth can be used as proof of identity. However, a driver's license is the only kind of id that's actually named on that list, which means that there's room for a grumpy someone at a border crossing to make your friend's life difficult if that someone decided that an OHIP card isn't "government-issued" enough.

So, if your friend is travelling before June 1st, then yes, her birth certificate plus her OHIP card should, technically, be enough to get her across a land or sea border into the U.S. If I were her, though, I'd be filling out a passport application right now.
posted by Hellgirl at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2009

It occurs to me that OHIP cards are not on the list because not all valid OHIP cards have a photo on them. I've had the same OHIP card for a looong time and it's just white & red plastic with a number from before the days of cheap photo ID cards. So that's likely why OHIP cards are not on the list.
posted by GuyZero at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2009

If she's flying, she needs a passport already.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:46 PM on May 5, 2009

OHIP cards are not ID cards. All of the lists that say any government-issued ID cards are okay do not include OHIP cards, because OHIP cards are not ID cards.
posted by Jairus at 3:59 PM on May 5, 2009

It occurs to me that OHIP cards are not on the list because not all valid OHIP cards have a photo on them. I've had the same OHIP card for a looong time and it's just white & red plastic with a number from before the days of cheap photo ID cards. So that's likely why OHIP cards are not on the list.

This. OHIP cards, even the new ones with photos on them, generally don't fly as photo ID, even for such trivial things as buying cigarettes and alcohol. One apparent reason, as stated by GZ, is that not everyone has the new cards - count me in among the old red and white card crowd.

Another possible reason is that the Ontario gov't doesn't appear to be updating the card to conform to modern security standards as they are for driver's licences. As this article states, DLs will eventually be so good that passports won't be required for the land crossing.

Before I was a regular passport holder, I used a DL and a birth certificate and never had any trouble (even for plane travel before passports became mandatory). I've heard of the days when Canadian Tire cards would get you across the border, but that was before people like him and her thought we were a terrorist haven.
posted by hiteleven at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2009

Sorry, link to first article is
posted by hiteleven at 4:16 PM on May 5, 2009

I think an Ontario health card (the new ones, with the photos) should be fine if you also have a matching birth certificate. That said, it's so incredibly easy to get a Canadian passport under the new rules, that it's really best to just go do that I think.
posted by glider at 4:27 PM on May 5, 2009

ascetic has already explained that the friend does, indeed, have the OHIP-with-photo card. I know that OHIP doesn't fly in most other requirement-for-id situations (for lots of good reasons), but the definition of what CBP is looking for is loose enough to include or not include the OHIP-with-photo card, depending upon whatever the border guard in question feels like doing. I know someone who used to cross into the U.S. regularly with the birth-certificate-and-OHIP card combo, another person who was told that a driver's license "would be better" than an OHIP card to fulfill the photo id requirement for future crossings, but was also let in, and someone who wasn't allowed to cross using the OHIP-with-photo card as their only photo id.

I'll now stop being anecdotally pedantic and say that I think getting a passport is the way to go.
posted by Hellgirl at 5:07 PM on May 5, 2009

Okay, let's assume that this person is travelling before June 1st, after which the answer would automatically be "get a passport". Since they are not (presumably), perhaps we should stop lecturing them and their friend about the apparent moral obligation of aquiring one before that time. If the visit is happening in the next few weeks, I'd say that unless the friend is super-organized, there isn't time to fill out the application, get the photos, get a guarantor's signatures, get to a a processing centre, and then wait the week or so to get the thing process and mailed.

And we can all play guessing games with the OHIP card (and yes, OP, it's an "OHIP" card, not a "Health Canada" card), but from what we're all saying it sounds like a Health Card is in general a no-go, at least for a guaranteed cross (keep in mind that a customs official can ban a foreigner from the United States for five years, right on the spot, no questions asked, no way to appeal...and these aren't normally friendly folks we're talking about).

So let's bottom line it: no, a Health Card isn't good enough. A Driver's Licence and Birth Certificate combo, however, will do just fine. Get a passport in the future.
posted by hiteleven at 6:06 PM on May 5, 2009

hiteleven: I cross the border several times a week, and your bottom line -- for the next three-and-a-half weeks -- is wrong. Ontario health card is valid photo ID for crossing into the U.S., if presented with a birth certificate. Yes, every border guard has more power than God when it comes to foreigners entering the country, but with the many people I've crossed with who did not yet have a passport, this has been an acceptable combo.

Ascetic: That being said, IAN the border guard who will choose to let your friend in or not. TMMV.
posted by liquado at 10:09 PM on May 5, 2009

I get the sense that you may be talking about a Health Canada ID card. If it actually says Health Canada on it, it is not a health card (it's done by province). The ID card is not a valid form of ID. The only time a federal government ID card comes in handy is getting into federal buildings and discounts.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:41 AM on May 6, 2009

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