Travelling through Canada sans passport?
September 7, 2006 4:48 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is in Alaska currently and she's planning to return to the lower 48 by driving down through Canada with some friends, but she can't find her passport. Is this going to cause major problems?

Forms of ID she does have:

AZ Driver's License
College ID card
Credit cards

Her mom could also overnight her birth certificate to AK, if that would help, but it's locked up in a safe deposit box somewhere and we'd rather Mom not have to go through the trouble if it's not necessary.

What's the best plan of attack in this situation?

(She's a native-born USian, if that makes a difference.)
posted by joshuaconner to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, the driver's license will be fine.

Remember that everyone in the car needs some form of ID.
posted by jellicle at 4:53 PM on September 7, 2006

Jellicle's right. I've driven in and out of Canada a few times with just my license.
posted by jdl at 4:55 PM on September 7, 2006

I don't know about Americans travelling into Canada and then back in the US, but us Canadians doing the reverse trip (ie Canada->US->Canada) do need our birth certificate as well, ie we need either a passport or license/birth certificate. Sometime you're lucky and they won't care if you have enough other ID, but I have been with people who were denied entry into the US because they were without their birth certificate.
posted by cgg at 4:59 PM on September 7, 2006

The Driver's License is officially OK.

That said, relatives of mine have managed to get through the border without any ID at all (in one case, because a wallet was stolen while over the border; in another case, it was just forgetfulness). They didn't have to show anything to get through, but offering a college ID or credit card might make things a bit easier if she didn't have her license.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:00 PM on September 7, 2006

The US border agents have always given me shit for not having my passport. They told me that if there were some kind of terrorist attack, I'd be stuck in Canada until the scare was over. Maybe they had standing orders to frighten everyone, I don't know.
posted by agropyron at 5:04 PM on September 7, 2006

Just so you know: In 2007, passports will be required for USians to re-enter the US from Canada or Mexico via air or sea. In 2008, you will need a passport to enter by land as well.

For now, you're supposed to have a govt issued ID [license] and proof of citizenship [birth certificate or voter ID card]. However, 99.9% of the time the driver's license will be all you need. Unless you don't "look" American.
posted by birdherder at 5:16 PM on September 7, 2006

I don't know if just a drivers license is ok anymore. According to the US State department website here (scroll down to Canada) you need proof of citizenship AND a photo ID. However, for a definitive answer you should call a US emabssy (heres the number for the one in Vancouver 604.685.4311).

Good luck on your trip.
posted by jourman2 at 5:17 PM on September 7, 2006

As it stands now, as of January 1 you will need a passport. Right now you need ID and proof of citizenship, and a driver's license isn't proof of citizenship, only proof of residency:

So sayeth the US Department of State.
posted by cardboard at 5:18 PM on September 7, 2006

By the way, here's a list of the rest of the embassies if you'd like to call a different one
posted by jourman2 at 5:18 PM on September 7, 2006

You need a birth certificate though enforcement can be somewhat variable. It's probably not a problem to _enter_ Canada that way, but it will be a problem to leave Canada and enter the US. (My girlfriend and I just did this and we asked the question of the border agents; we had our passports).
posted by arimathea at 5:19 PM on September 7, 2006

Definitely have a birth certificate at least. Though I eventually was allowed entry back into the US, I was once held up for about two hours because I only had a driver's license on me. This was little more than a year ago, so policies were probably similar to now.

US to Canada: no problem with only a driver's license.
Canada to US: have your birth certificate. Original (certified) copy.
posted by whataboutben at 5:21 PM on September 7, 2006

Ooo. Land entry won't require a passport until 2008. Air and sea will be in January.
posted by cardboard at 5:23 PM on September 7, 2006

i've been turned away at the canadian border when i had only a driver's license, so it certainly *could* be a problem.
posted by christy at 5:58 PM on September 7, 2006

I've been held for a few hours (and our car got searched. thoroughly.) for only having a drivers license. I think they changed the rules a few years ago because prior to that I'd done it with no problem.
posted by fshgrl at 6:16 PM on September 7, 2006

Bring the birth certificate. As of 2006 or so, proof of citizenship is required (well, encouraged maybe) to enter the US from Canada or Mexico. "If they do not have a passport, they should be prepared to provide a government-issued photo ID (e.g. Driver’s License) and proof of U.S. citizenship such as a U.S. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or U.S. passport. "
posted by muddgirl at 6:17 PM on September 7, 2006

if what muddgirl has posted is true, it's kind of contradictory: "If they do not have a passport, they should be prepared to provide a government-issued photo ID (e.g. Driver’s License) and proof of U.S. citizenship such as a U.S. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or U.S. passport. "
posted by matkline at 6:29 PM on September 7, 2006

When I was 18, in college, and coming back from Canada, I reentered the country with two forms of identification. One was my driver's license and the other was my fake ID that customs promptly confiscated.
Moral of the story, if your girlfriend has a fake ID tell her to hide it somewhere other than her wallet for the crossing.
posted by aereoperro at 6:37 PM on September 7, 2006

D/L and B/C is officially acceptable, D/L alone is not. Often they won't ask for the B/C or even for ID at all when crossing by car, but I'd vote for better safe than sorry.

She doesn't necessarily need to bother her mom about a B/C. Lots of states have online or phone facilities where you can order a new but completely official birth certificate and have it overnighted. I've gone through at least 3 over the past few years.

matkline: they probably mean an expired passport the second time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:48 PM on September 7, 2006

Why isn't proof of residency (DL) enough? Why would you need proof of citizenship? After all, if you're a legal resident, presumably you're allowed in the country ...
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:27 PM on September 7, 2006

Why isn't proof of residency (DL) enough?

Because a DL is patently not proof of residency. It's generally proof that you were a legal resident of a particular state at the time it was issued, but that can mean nothing a few years later, when a visa may have expired but the DL hasn't.
posted by holgate at 12:04 AM on September 8, 2006

Answering for posterity: my husband and I just returned from a daytrip to Vancouver BC and were asked for both DLs and birth certificates when returning. Thankfully, we had them. Now more than ever, it's just goddamned unnerving to be detained at the border -- don't go through that if you don't have to. Bring both forms of documentation, or go get a passport.
posted by melissa may at 12:11 AM on September 8, 2006

Why isn't proof of residency (DL) enough?

Because the government decrees it is not enough, even if it should be.

And as holgate notes, you might have a perfectly valid driver's license that you got while on a student visa but still be out-of-status, deportable, and barred from entry into the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:07 AM on September 8, 2006

Unless you don't "look" American.

This is (in my experience) very very valid... To be blunt, is she caucasian? Because that seemed to help.
posted by inigo2 at 6:28 AM on September 8, 2006

I recently flew from Canada to the US with only my drivers license. Nobody batted an eye. A couple of Air Canada agents had incorrectly informed me that I needed a passport, but I checked the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website, and it turns out that, for now, US citizens are not required to show more than a license to enter the US from certain countries, including Canada.

Here is the CBP's message on the subject: "U.S. citizens are currently exempt from the requirement to show a passport unless they are returning to the U.S. from outside the Western Hemisphere (Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia). However, it is highly recommended that you be prepared to present documentation such as valid U.S. passport, U.S. birth certificate, or naturalization certificate to avoid delays. " Border entry is the CBP's game, so I believe they are the authority, not State. When I prepared to fly, I printed out the CBP's fact sheet on travel for US citizens and had it with me, but I didn't need to show it to anyone.

I have crossed the Canadian land border (Calais) numerous times with only a license or no ID at all. (I am white, female, young, and frequently in a mini-van with my parents when I cross the land border -- yes, I'm sure that all helps.)
posted by Amizu at 7:44 AM on September 8, 2006

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