Is there any way to get into Canada with only a copy of a passport?
April 3, 2016 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way to get from the US into Canada with only a copy of a passport?

I'm driving cross-country from Seattle to Boston with a friend. We have booked an airbnb one night in Niagara Falls on the Canada side. Unfortunately my friend has lost their passport and doesn't have time to get a new one. They do have a copy of it, however. Is there any way we could get into Canada and back with only a copy of a valid passport and a Washington state drivers license, or do we need to cancel the airbnb and find a route that omits Canada?
posted by Cogito to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your friend can cross the border with an enhanced WA license.
posted by praemunire at 2:21 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

From Canada Border Services' website:

If you are a U.S. citizen, ensure you carry proof of citizenship such as a passport, birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship or naturalization, or a Certificate of Indian Status along with photo identification. If you are a U.S. permanent resident, ensure you carry proof of your status such as a U.S. Permanent Resident Card.

If your friend has their birth certificate and a valid photo ID, they should be able to get into Canada. Unsure what returning to the US requires.
posted by scrittore at 2:31 PM on April 3, 2016

If your friend has their birth certificate and a valid photo ID, they should be able to get into Canada. Unsure what returning to the US requires.

In theory, if you are a U.S. citizen, you must be allowed to return to the country. In practice, it can be a total and protracted nightmare to try to reenter without adequate documentation and it's not recommended for anyone. Canada may well not let you enter without evidence that you will be able to leave.
posted by praemunire at 2:38 PM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Personally I'd skip it. Technically you can get into Canada without a passport, but the border officer still might decide to deny your friend entry. Then, even if you're admitted into Canada you'll still have to deal with getting back into the U.S. They won't deny your friend re-entry without a passport, but I would be very surprised if they didn't pull him over to secondary for several hours of questioning.
posted by timelord at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2016

Is getting a new, expedited passport at the Seattle Passport Agency not an option for your friend?
posted by SisterHavana at 2:59 PM on April 3, 2016

You could probably do it, but there's a significant chance that it will take hours at the border in each direction. So it's probably more of a question of "is this route/airBnB reservation worth possibly being detained for hours."
posted by mskyle at 3:32 PM on April 3, 2016

Did your friend happen to get a passport card that might still be at home?
posted by NoDef at 4:02 PM on April 3, 2016

Canada may let you in with a birth certificate and driver's license only but the U.S. expects better documentation and if you don't have it you are probably looking at an extended trip to secondary examination and maybe a note on your record that will delay future international trips.

I would find a new place to stay in New York State and enjoy seeing the Falls from the U.S. side.
posted by grouse at 4:13 PM on April 3, 2016

US Border cops can keep the person from re-entering or can just make it a real drag. However, I went from Maine to Canada to visit the International Peace Park with just my license. No hassle, but it's a quiet border station. Niagara will be much bigger.
posted by theora55 at 4:13 PM on April 3, 2016

I've lost our passports before. We live in Canada and are U.S. citizens so we were going back to Canada. The U.S. consulate (or maybe just immigration office) in Detroit was very helpful and had everything set up for us to get back into Canada when the passports were found. Will you be crossing at Detroit/Windsor and then Niagara Falls? The passport rules for border crossings by driving are looser but it's up to their discretion and you could seriously be sitting in the border office for hours. If you were staying for a week, I'd say it might be worth the hassle but probably not for just a night.

I cross at Niagara a lot (Rainbow Bridge and Queenston) and usually it's fine but there is smuggling that goes on there sometimes as well as people trying to go one way or the other illegally so they are usually a little pickier about everything than they are at the quieter crossings (in my experience anyway).

At a minimum I would also have the airbnb booking printed out and proof of residency and proof of employment/ school enrollment so that you have evidence you're going where you say you are and evidence you have something to go back to in the U.S.
posted by betsybetsy at 5:11 PM on April 3, 2016

1. Canada doesn't care. My wife and I went to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year on her expired passport. The border guard looked at her and said "you know you're passport's expired?", then waved us through. You could probably get into Canada with a MS Paint passport in the name of Osama bin Laden.

2. The US will probably act a little hardass, but if you can prove you're a citizen, they'll eventually let you through. If nothing else, play dumb. "Canada let me in, and now I'm just trying to go home. It's their fault. Don't hold it against me."

3. If you're looking to take theora55's advice and find a quiet border crossing, consider the Lewiston-Queenston bridge instead. There are three bridges in the Niagara region: the Rainbow Bridge, which goes from Niagara Falls, NY to NF, Ont., and is clogged with tourists; the Peace Bridge, from Buffalo to Fort Erie, also fairly busy; and the Lewiston-Queenston, which runs between its two eponymous small towns that nobody crossing the border ever really has a reason to visit. Consequently, it has the least traffic, and in my experience the border guards are friendly.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:22 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your friend has their birth certificate and a valid photo ID, they should be able to get into Canada. Unsure what returning to the US requires.

I have done this. My ass was clenched so tight that i could have made diamonds and then... No one cared. Either direction. Several friends told me to just do it because they had multiple times. No one had heard of anyone getting detained or extended inspections etc.

The canadian border guard asked why i didn't have a passport and i explained(short notice, usually use tribal ID but it's expired, etc). She seemed to already not care when she was saying it.

I got more harassment for my friend eating an apple because we were "smuggling food and i could detain you" from the asshole power tripping US border guard than for the birth certificate, which he didn't even mention. We were still out of there in like 5 minutes.

Would i try it again? Nah, fuck it, i got a passport after that. Would i recommend someone else try it? Sure.
posted by emptythought at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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