US/Canada customs hate me
October 2, 2009 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Canadian citizen with American green card. Traveling with no passport?

Do I need to apply for a passport (Canadian, since I am not an American Citizen) if I am living in the U.S. and would like to fly to Canada to visit my parents for a week?

Can I not get by with entering Canada with my citizenship card and then entering the U.S. with my green card?
posted by ttyn to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
I did some quick searching, and while it isn't definitive that you need a passport, it'll definitely make life easier even if it isn't required. You don't want to run into hassles at customs - I've been delayed for hours because there was a problem with my paperwork.

I'm in the same position as you (Canadian citizen/US permanent resident) and just renewed my passport so I wouldn't have to worry about this stuff. You never know when you might need the passport and it takes awhile to get one, so its good to have regardless.
posted by L. Ron McKenzie at 9:55 PM on October 2, 2009

How long did it take you from filing to receipt of the passport (I assume you did it from the US)? I've never had a Canadian passport before, so I assume it'll take longer than just a renewal. I was hoping to be able to travel mid-December.

I'm really nervous about mailing my original documents (marriage cert, Canadian citizenship card) and then not having them back by the time I would like to travel, which is my main reason for trying to avoid the passport route if at all possible.

Poor planning on my part, I guess.
posted by ttyn at 10:05 PM on October 2, 2009

The Canadian passport site says 4 weeks is the current turnaround time, so if you're looking to travel in mid-December, you have a good amount of time. Just send the documents by courier, and if, heaven forbid, your passport isn't back by mid-November, you'll have a month to fix things.

It's worth having a passport even if it's not technically required in this case. Especially if you're going to be living abroad (i.e. away from your country of citizenship), a passport is your best proof of identity and citizenship and your only ticket into most countries of the world.
posted by zachlipton at 10:27 PM on October 2, 2009

Use a courier service (FedEx) to send the documents. You can send Customs a FedEx waybill and they'll courier the documents back to you. Call the office you're mailing to verify that this information is correct (it may have changed and the online docs aren't clear). Make photocopies of the documents before you send them.

If you apply now you should get it back in time - it generally takes two months at the longest. I'm traveling around the same time you are and sent my application today, and I'm not stressing out about it. If you're really worried, you can pay extra to expedite the process. I had to do that once and got it back under two weeks.

I've searched around a bit more and it looks like you definitely need a passport or a "NEXUS card" so I wouldn't delay.

Good luck!
posted by L. Ron McKenzie at 10:30 PM on October 2, 2009

Thanks, guys. I'll suck it up and get my stuff mailed in the next two weeks.
posted by ttyn at 10:43 PM on October 2, 2009

I'm in the same situation. I'm a Canadian citizen who is a Permanent Resident living in the US with an I-551 (green card). I had to go visit family in Canada and all I brought was my Canadian birth certificate and my I-551. I did not have a passport.

Before I went I called the border patrol and received verbal assurance that I only needed my I-551 card to re-enter the US. But I followed up by researching on the US Customs and Border Protection website: . If you search for I-551 on their FAQ page, you'll find the official stance:

"If you are a green card holder and you do not stay outside the U.S. for 1 year or more you should have either your green card (INS Form I-551), or your returning resident visa to re-enter the United States. You are not required to present your unexpired passport, however, it is not a bad idea to carry it with you."

"Lawful permanent residents (LPRs), refugees, and asylees (of the United States) will continue to be able to use their Alien Registration Card (Form I-551), issued by DHS, or the Travel Document issued to those with refugee or asylee status to apply for entry to the United States."

"Lawful Permanent Residents (Green card holder's) do NOT need a passport to enter the United States, however you may need a passport to enter another country."

To be safe, I printed out those documents just in case I got hassled, but it wasn't necessary. I flew through the immigration desks both ways with no problem. They did say "You don't have a passport?" because I'm sure that's the norm. I just said, "Nope, but I have my Canadian birth certificate and my I-551 (green card)" and there was no problem or delays.
posted by jcmilton at 11:09 PM on October 2, 2009

JC, when did you travel? Did you drive or fly? The Canadian Border Services Agency website clearly states that you need a passport or a NEXUS card when entering Canada from the US by air. It says that the U.S. entry requirements haven't changed, but the Canadian entry requirements have.
posted by L. Ron McKenzie at 11:30 PM on October 2, 2009

JC, I was not born in Canada. That may complicate things a little for me.

Also, when I came to the US in 2005, no passport was necessary. But I think some rules regarding Canada-US travel have changed since.
posted by ttyn at 12:46 AM on October 3, 2009

jcmilton's trip was either by land or prior to June 2007. If you are flying, you need to have a passport. The airline probably won't even let you board the aircraft without one.
posted by oaf at 5:41 AM on October 3, 2009

The green card should work if you're driving into the U.S.
posted by oaf at 5:48 AM on October 3, 2009

The green card works driving into the U.S. During the period of time when the requirements for crossing were changing weekly (and also the requirements for a Canadian passport!) I filed for a passport and got it in just under 2 weeks. This was about around June 4th. The passport folks in Canada try very hard to get you your passport in time for an event if you give them the date. Emphasis on try of course.

For a while your green card wouldn't get you entry, which is odd because it's a much more secure document than a passport. For flying from the U.S. into Canada you need a passport.
posted by substrate at 8:29 AM on October 3, 2009

Start working on getting your passport right now. My husband had to renew his expired Canadian passport while we were in the US and it was a lot more trouble than we had been expecting. I think he had to have another Canadian living in the US vouch for him.
posted by betsybetsy at 10:05 AM on October 3, 2009

betsybetsy, currently you only need a signature from another Canadian holding a passport, and they can be blood relatives. The requirements changed a few times over several months.
posted by substrate at 10:41 AM on October 3, 2009

From the passport website:

U.S. entry requirements have not changed for Canadian citizens who are U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs). U.S. LPRs may continue to present their permanent resident card (Form I-551) or other valid evidence of permanent residence status in the United States.

Note: Under U.S. law, all travellers (including Canadians) departing the United States by air to any destination (including Canada) must present a valid passport (or a NEXUS card for return to Canada only). For example, if a Canadian citizen enters the United States by land by presenting acceptable documents other than a passport, and then plans to board a flight in the United States destined for Mexico (i.e. an international destination other than Canada), a valid passport is required for the air travel portion. Similarly, if a Canadian citizen drives to the United States and returns to Canada by air, a valid passport or a NEXUS card must be presented to board the plane. It is important to note that a passport is not mandatory for air travel within the United States.

Canadian citizens intending to fly to, through or from the United States should apply for a passport, keep it up to date and carry it with them when travelling. For more information about passports, please visit Passport Canada's Web site.

The NEXUS program offers a simplified and expedited border clearance process to low-risk, pre-approved travellers. For more information, visit the NEXUS Web site.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:10 PM on October 3, 2009

Another Canadian/US permanent resident here. What took me the longest getting my paperwork done for the passport application was finding someone in my town who could take a picture that was consistent with Canadian photo specifications. Your guarantor must be a Canadian passport holder who has known you for at least two years. And definitely send it by courier service.
posted by Killick at 12:15 PM on October 3, 2009

Killick, where did you end up having the passport photo done? I wonder if the post office will be able to handle it if I tell them what the specifications are...

I have a Canadian guarantor here in the US, so that shouldn't be a problem.
posted by ttyn at 12:35 PM on October 3, 2009

I did have it done at the post office -- but it took the photographer three tries to get something close, and even then I was crossing my fingers after I sent it in, because I think the picture was pretty blurry. One thing you should do is bring a ruler with a millimeter scale -- it helped when I asked them to redo the picture to show where it didn't match the specifications.
posted by Killick at 2:00 PM on October 3, 2009

"jcmilton's trip was either by land or prior to June 2007. If you are flying, you need to have a passport. The airline probably won't even let you board the aircraft without one."

Nope. It was in September 2009. And by air (Alaska/Horizon airlines). The airline employees ASKED for everyone to present a passport both coming and going at the gate, but when I showed them my green card (I-551), that was sufficient. It was also sufficient at the immigration desk. Again, I had the appropriate documentation printed off from the US Customs and Border Protection website (links above) but I never had to produce them. Everyone I encountered behaved as if it was perfectly fine.
posted by jcmilton at 3:19 PM on October 5, 2009

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