Entering Canada on a recently expired PR card
April 3, 2018 4:23 PM   Subscribe

My (American) wife and I (a Canadian citizen) currently live in Canada. We are planning on flying into the US next week for a vacation. Unfortunately, my wife's Permanent Resident card has expired and the renewal is still in process, leaving her without a valid card. Is there a way she can still return or should we cancel the trip?

The relevant websites say that a valid card is required for flying in but they also seem to be talking about the case where someone has been out of Canada for a long time, so I'm hoping we have more options.

I'm aware that it's possible to re-enter by car, but that's not an option for us.

(Note: while my wife's PR card has expired, the status itself has not; she is still a Canadian resident.)
posted by suetanvil to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I (US national, UK resident) had to reenter the UK this January in a similar situation, I brought:

- My US passport
- A copy of my completed application for a new card
- All the supporting paperwork for that application (proof of address; tax returns; utility bills and god knows what else)
- A printout of the confirmation email showing the time and date of my appointment to get a new card
- A couple of extra passport photos in case they needed them

They let me through after only a short time in the "please wait over here" corral.

I am freelance, but if your wife is employed, a letter of reference from her employer certifying her identity and providing a contact phone number would probably be helpful.

You might also benefit from bringing a copy of your marriage license.

After all this, they will probably be able to look your wife up in a database using her US passport details. But just in case, drown them in documentation, leaving not a shred of doubt that you are who you say you are.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:38 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, the Canadian government undoubtedly has a phone line for this sort of thing. It will likely be somewhere here. Phone them.

Be prepared to be on hold for ages. Don't give up.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:48 PM on April 3, 2018

PR cards are a very special Canadian thing. They've always taken far longer to process than expected. They're currently sitting on a 78 day processing time, so are only just working on the ones received at the very start of 2018. If you have a processing number, you can check status online.

You can apply for a Permanent resident travel document (PRTD) while you are in the US, though I've no idea how long that takes to process. Sadly, your wife will be refused boarding on the plane back to Canada without a PRTD or valid PR card.

As coming through the border by car isn't an option for you, it sounds like you may have to cancel.

(ms scruss is in the same boat, btw; some important international travel later in the year just after PR card expires, but citizenship application is in progress. Will it arrive on time?)
posted by scruss at 4:56 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hi I JUST DID THE SAME THING. American citizen, Canadian permanent resident, expired card, vacation in America. It was a non-issue. It took an extra ten seconds and the guy processing my re-entry to Canada cheerfully told me about the people who come through with PR cards that expired ten years ago. He did say it was quiet at the time and if it was super-busy (or if I’d gone through a busier airport) it might have taken more time to verify that I was fine to re-enter Canada.

You are in a fairly unique position as an American citizen — even without a PR card or legal status you’re allowed to be in Canada for six months with no paperwork or visa required. You use your American passport to board the plane in the US — it’s a valid and legal document and nothing else is required — and when you enter Canada tell them you’re a permanent resident with an expired card. It will not be an issue.
posted by kate blank at 6:14 PM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

I do agree with Pallas Athena, btw, bringing documentation of your card application and the ETA for processing and anything else you have certainly can’t hurt. But I don’t think Scruss is talking about the same kind of scenario, you will absolutely be allowed to board a plane, fly home, and enter Canada.
posted by kate blank at 6:20 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Any American citizen or permanent resident can visit Canada for up to 180 days without a visa. But since your wife has been living there, she might've maxed out on the 180 days.
posted by thesockpuppet at 10:02 PM on April 3, 2018

I called the border inquiry line here and asked if kate blank's scenario was correct. The person I spoke to confirmed it.

(It's not that I don't trust you; I just want to be extra sure.)
posted by suetanvil at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hi, this happened to me nearly two years ago! Yes, I got back in despite having an expired PR card, but I got the impression from the border guard at Pearson that he could have made it much harder on me (he did this by looking over to the customs office and uh, there wasn't a white person in the queue). So your wife should be fine but seriously, I learned to just make sure my documentation hasn't expired.
posted by Kitteh at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2018

I know that you have already marked Kate Blank's answer as best answer, but I have a slightly different take. My partner and I were in the same situation (American citizen living in Canada with expired PR card and renewal application in process), and we were advised to get a Permanent Resident Travel Document before returning. We were going to Cuba, so that may have influenced the advice, but we just returned from a subsequent trip to the US and when flying in to Toronto the border agent clearly was going to say something about the expired PR cards but was mollified by the travel document. So if you want to be absolutely positively 100% sure, you can get the travel document.
posted by googly at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm not trying to add stress and it's good you called, but all it takes is one cranky border guard and he doesn't have to let your partner back in, or he can make it real hard. Get your travel doc just in case.
posted by Kitteh at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2018

googly's partner here with a slight modification: An PR Travel Document will facilitate the travel. You cannot get it in Canada but need to go to the Canadian Embassy in the USA. If for some reason, you'll be somewhere without an embassy or don't have time to get the document, you will be okay. I called immigration before our trip and it was clarified as follows: Technically, a PR card is needed (only) for the commercial airline to let you on the plane from the US to Canada. They *may* ask for it before you board, but because it's a USA --> Canada flight, they will let you on with a US passport and this will not trigger anyone to ask for a PR card and you will be allowed to board. Once you arrive in Canada at the airport, the immigration agent will let you into Canada (although you may need to jump through some hoops-- bring those documents-- to prove that her PR status is still good.) In other words, get the travel document if you want to be 100% certain that you will travel trouble free, but don't panic if you can't get one.
posted by picklebird at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2018

So anyway, we're back now. We arrived at around 5am and almost nobody was there. My wife showed her expired card to the officer and explained the situation. He directed us to a side room where another officer took the card and my passport and went off for a few minutes, presumably to run some checks. She returned with the passport and card a few minutes later and sent us on our way.

So it looks like for our special-snowflake situation, it's not a problem.

I do want to make a couple of qualifiers in case someone else is reading this:
  1. As mentioned in my previous comment, before we left, I called Border Services, carefully explained the situation and got confirmation from the person I spoke to that this would work .
  2. We have the means and resources to gracefully handle things if my wife were refused entry. It would have sucked and been expensive but if necessary, she had a place in the US she could have stayed while waiting for travel documents to arrive.
Border crossings--even ones as simple as Canada/US--are serious business. Do not take them lightly.

Finally, thanks for everyone's help in this.
posted by suetanvil at 11:15 AM on April 17, 2018

Glad to hear it went well, suetanvil, thanks for the update!
posted by kate blank at 2:14 PM on April 17, 2018

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