Crossing the border without a passport?
July 22, 2005 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Me and a friend were planning a road trip to Canada in the next few coming weeks, but she has a problem: her passport expired, and her expired copy was destroyed. Is there any possible way to cross the border with only American identification documents?
posted by invitapriore to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The passport requirement takes effect on Jan 1, 2006, I believe. Actually, that may only be for Canadians crossing into the US...not sure.

From here:

All people entering Canada are required to provide proof of citizenship. A passport is ideal, however the following documents if presented with valid photo identification will be accepted: birth certificate, permanent resident card, record of landing, or certificate of Indian status.

Also this:

Senate Bill Allows U.S.-Canada Border Crossing Without Passport
posted by jikel_morten at 8:57 PM on July 22, 2005

I've crossed with my driver's license and birth certificate.
posted by cribcage at 9:03 PM on July 22, 2005

I wouldn't risk it if I were her. It may not be difficult to get into Canada, using only a driver's license and other photo ID, but her return to the USA *will* be difficult if not impossible.

Get that passport in order before venturing out of the country.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:03 PM on July 22, 2005

First off, as a Canadian, I apologize for the utter suckiness of the Citizenship and Immigration website. I had to go to the U.S. consular site to get the info you were looking for - it's here.

Short form - with proof of citizenship and photo ID, you should be OK, at least until December.

It wouldn't suprise me if the U.S. also has an expedited passport program where you pay through the nose to get a new passport quickly, to make things easier at the border.
posted by birdsquared at 9:14 PM on July 22, 2005

As a Canadian, I crossed the boarder recently with only my ID (birth certificate + drivers licence). Both ways, absolutely no problem. I am a white male, so that might make a difference, but as far as I know, you won't have a problem until January.
posted by Quartermass at 9:26 PM on July 22, 2005

I think you can normally pay an extra fee to get a passport application fast-tracked to get your passport at much shorter notice. Not sure about this in the post 9/11 world, but I imagine it's still the case.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:28 PM on July 22, 2005

Also, if you're going to be crossing the border without a passport, make sure everything else is squeaky clean. I don't want to be reading no Fark headlines saying "Dumb: Trying to cross the border without a passport. Dumber: Having open containers of beer visible in car while doing so. Dumbest: While the trunk is full of weed". :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:32 PM on July 22, 2005

"I think." Speculation isn't helpful -- and thanks to Google, it's unnecessary.

And disregard the nonsense about being unable to return to the United States without a passport. I probably should have refrained from bitching about it -- but AskMe is the only color I find worthwhile, and its utility is being severely diluted by noise.

If you have a birth certificate, you'll be fine. If you don't own a copy, a couple of weeks should be plenty of time to get one. It's cheaper than a passport.
posted by cribcage at 9:37 PM on July 22, 2005

It would be wise in this day and age to have your passport in order, regardless of the prior known history of ease in crossing into Canada and back.

IE: You could be in Canada just when a large scale attack happened, in which the borders were closed or restricted as a precaution. Plus, having your passport and state ID with you would carry more weight at a US embassy, rather than just a driver's license alone.

But yeah, you generally have not needed a passport for visiting Canada or Mexico. This is soon to be past tense.
posted by loquacious at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2005

If you need to super-duper fast track a US passport, go through A Briggs. A company I used to work for sent expedited passports through Briggs all the time (we were out-sourcing and needed to send a lot of employees overseas for training). It costs quite a bit, but an agent from A Briggs will physically your application through the process. Last time I checked, they could turn-around a simple renewal in 24-36 hours.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:40 PM on July 22, 2005

From birdsquared's link to the State Department:

Current Requirements for Entry Into Canada

Visas are not required for U.S. citizens entering Canada from the U.S. You will, however, need:

1. Proof of your U.S. citizenship such as your U.S. passport (For information on obtaining a U.S. passport, check with one of the regional passport agencies located throughout the U.S.) or certified copy of your birth certificate issued by the city, county or state in the U.S. where you were born. If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen and do not have a passport, you should travel with your naturalization certificate. A driver’s license or Social Security card is NOT valid proof of citizenship.
2. photo identification, such as a current, valid driver’s license.

All U.S. citizens entering Canada from a third country must have a valid passport.

posted by caddis at 9:50 PM on July 22, 2005

There are various levels of expeditery available for passports. You can sometimes get into a faster queue just by demonstrating that you really need the passport by a certain date (e.g., if you have plane tickets you've already purchased). If you can get to the passport office easily enough, I wouldn't bother with third-party agencies. (It's a time/money tradeoff, obviously.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:57 PM on July 22, 2005

I got my passport in May... I believe it only took 4 or 5 weeks (they said within 6), so they're pretty good about getting the paperwork done on-time.

That being said, I haven't been to Canada (Ontario/Quebec) for a couple years, but no one in my family had any trouble getting through customs (in either direction), all without passports, in 2003.
posted by strikhedonia at 10:16 PM on July 22, 2005

Ok, so, I lived in Buffalo for just over 4.5 years and crossed the border into Canada regularly (yes, even after 9/11). I never once had a passport or birth certificate and rarely even needed my driver's license. Seriously, most of the time they just said "have a nice day" and waved me through.

Now, I'm not saying try going over with no ID whatsoever, I'm just saying that even post-9/11 getting into Canada and getting back to the US is WAY easier then it should be. Don't pay a ridiculous amount of money for a new passport. Just grab a driver's license with a photo and, if you're feeling anal, your birth certificate. I bet you $10 you won't need either one.
posted by ebeeb at 10:54 PM on July 22, 2005

By the way, this thread has made its way to MeTa.
posted by caddis at 11:07 PM on July 22, 2005

As others have noted, you will be fine with a driver's license and birth certificate. You need a real no-kidding fully-paid-up birth certificate though, not a photocopy, not something your mom says should be fine. You can call the people who do vital records in the state where you were born and they can send you one. Where I was born, it's the creepily named Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

If you really need a passport in a hurry for non-bullshit reasons, call you Representative or Senator's office and they can get you into whatever process will be the fastest for you; this might mean plain-old direct congressional intervention.

After you go through all that to get a passport or birth cert, you might well find that you don't even get asked for ID. I usually cross at Port Huron / Sarnia, and even in the last year they ask well under half the time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:16 AM on July 23, 2005

If you live in a major city you can get a passport in a few hours from the local federal building. I've done this more than once. It's expensive and a hassle, but cheaper than a third party service.
posted by walla at 7:29 AM on July 23, 2005

Where are you entering Canada?

I live in Buffalo, NY and my wife is from Toronto. We travel back to Toronto at *least* once a month for the last 3 years. I have never owned a passport and always use my photo drivers license and have never had a problem.

I wouldn't worry too much about it. Make sure you have a photo driver's license. (Maybe a birth certificate, but I've never been asked for one of those either.)
posted by punkrockrat at 7:53 AM on July 23, 2005

You need a driver's license and birth certificate. This has been told to me by border guards on both the US and the Canada side. I lived in Buffalo (USian), now I live in Canada (husband is Canadian), and we cross the border often: usually they don't check, or only ask for driver's license, but when they ask for both you better have them with you or they get very unhappy. It is at the discretion of the border guard, and you don't want to get hassled the one time you get a strict one checking if you've dotted every I and crossed every T.

Having a passport is a good idea, and easier, and not hard to expedite if she wants to go ahead and get another. It will soon be required (as pointed out by a few people above) -

Washington Post article: The rule's first phase will go into effect Dec. 31, 2005, requiring all U.S. citizens traveling by air or sea to or from the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America, to have passports. The next phase, which will apply these rules to all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada, will begin a year later.

The last phase, which will affect the most people by far, will take effect on Dec. 31, 2007, and will apply the requirement to all air, sea and land border crossings with Mexico and Canada.

But for now, driver's license and birth cert. is all you need.
posted by Melinika at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2005

Thanks for the answers, everyone. punkrockrat, we'll be going to Montreal and entering via I-87, which I guess means through the town of Champlain.

Given the ease of picking up a fast passport at the Federal building in New York City, we might pursue that course, but it's good to know that it's not required at the moment.
posted by invitapriore at 8:23 AM on July 23, 2005

In the course of my business I cross the border daily. A driver's licence and birth certificate are all that are required at this time. That doesn't mean that it won't suddenly change without notice. Get the passport.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:21 PM on July 23, 2005

At the risk of being trashed on meta: If you go with anything less than a passport, it might be a good idea to print out the web page indicating that a drivers license + birth certificate is ok. Print both the U.S. government and Canadian government pages.

I cross the border frequently too (with a passport), and while it may well be different for an issueas commonly encoutnered as yorus, I find that often the customs and immigration officers themselves don't know the rules about various things.

They disagree among themselves and you're at the whim of whichever agent you get. When I've called to check things the agents on the phone point me to the web page with the appropriate rules and tell me to print it out in case they give me any trouble when crossing.
posted by duck at 4:44 PM on July 23, 2005

I completely agree with what you are saying about the level of understanding and enforcement of the regulations, Duck. It can be completey aribtrary and capricious, hence my recommendation to carry the passport.

My own situation is a little bit odd, it is a tiny crosssing, and the customs officers from both countries all know each other, as well as most of the travelers.

Google on Point Roberts Washington, and the uniqueness of the situation will become apparant.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:54 PM on July 24, 2005

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