Many tourists make the most of their trip to North America by visiting both Canada and the US. As the 2 nations share a border, it’s easy to travel from one to the other, as well as heading further north to the US state of Alaska.
Overseas visitors should be aware that separate visas or visa waivers are required to cross the border between the US and Canada. The information below explains the documents necessary for passport holders who are citizens of neither the US nor Canada to travel from:
- Canada to the US
- Canada to Alaska
- The US to Canada
Whilst separate permits are necessary, tourists should not let this deter them from visiting the 2 nations. Both Canada and the US have electronic travel authorizations that are quick and easy to obtain online: Canada eTA and ESTA for the US.
Travelling to the US from Canada
Tourists in Canada need to apply for a visa or travel authorization before crossing the border into the US. It is not possible to enter the US using a Canadian eTA or visa and there is no combined visa for the USA and Canada.
Just like Canada, the United States has a Visa Waiver Programme which allows passport holders from a number of countries to enter visa-free.
As there is significant overlap between the countries eligible for visa-free access to the North American nations, passport holders able to enter Canada without a visa will most likely also enjoy visa-free access to the States too.
Citizens of US visa waiver countries do not require a visa but they must register with ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). ESTA prescreens foreigners heading to the US and is aimed at boosting security and border control.
It is advisable to apply at least 72 hours in advance for the ESTA. As the application is fully online, it can be made from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Tourists travelling to the US via Canada can simply complete the process a few days before they plan to cross the border.
At which ports of entry can I use ESTA for the US?
Air travel is often the fastest and most convenient way for foreigners to get from Canada to the US. Flight times are generally under 2 hours, some popular routes include:
- Montreal to New York: 1 hour 25 minutes
- Toronto to Boston: 1 hour 35 minutes
- Calgary to Los Angeles: 3 hours 15 minutes
- Ottawa to Washington: 1 hour 34 minutes
Another advantage of flying to the US from Canada is passengers from visa waiver countries can enter the states using ESTA.
Some people may decide to drive over the land border between the US and Canada however, this is usually only practical when visiting towns close to each side of the border. Foreign visitors crossing the land border will be asked to complete an I-94W form.
Returning to Canada after visiting the US
One common question that tourists have is whether, after visiting the US, they can return to Canada using the original eTA.
The Canada eTA is multiple-entry and valid for 5 years. The same travel authorization can be used to enter Canada until it, or the passport, expires provided all the Canada eTA requirements continue to be met.
Overseas visitors with an approved eTA can stay in Canada for up to 6 months, this includes any time spent in transit at a Canadia airport.
If foreigners in Canada wish to stay longer than the time permitted by the eTA, they can apply for a visa waiver extension by contacting immigration authorities in the country. If it is not possible to extend the eTA, a visa will be required to remain in Canada.
Travelling to Alaska from Canada
Alaska, the northernmost state in the US, is a unique travel destination. Foreigners in Canada can take the opportunity to visit Alaska, either by crossing the land border or by taking a short flight.
As Alaska is part of the United States, those from visa waiver countries can use an approved ESTA fly from Canada to Alaska.
One of the best ways to reach Alaska via a Canadian cruise. Sea passengers should be aware that ESTA is essential to disembark the ship in Alaska.
Travellers who make the trip to Alaska are rewarded with exceptional scenery including glaciers, waterfalls and mountains
Travelling to Canada from the US
Instead of travelling to the USA via Canada, some tourists start in the United States before heading north. Visitors wondering whether they can travel to Canada with a US visa or ESTA should be aware that these documents are not valid for Canada.
Instead, citizens of visa waiver countries need to apply online for Canadian eTA, Canada’s version of the ESTA. This is a straightforward process, the eTA can be applied for online just a few days before catching a flight to the US.
Tourists who have forgotten to request the Canadian visa waiver can make use of the urgent eTA service for guaranteed 1-hour processing.
Canada’s eTA requirements are in line with those for the US, these include having a valid biometric passport issued by an eligible nation.
Once approved, the travel authorization is linked to the applicant’s passport which is scanned at the selected Canadian port of entry. Conveniently there’s no need to print and carry a paper copy for the permit when crossing the border.
Can I break my visa waiver by travelling to Canada and Reenter the USA as a tourist?
Tourists travelling to Canada via the US with ESTA don’t need to worry about breaking the visa waiver. Just like Canada’s eTA, ESTA for the US is multiple-entry, foreigners can leave the United States to visit Canada, and reenter using the same authorization.
Foreigners travelling from the USA to Canada and coming back to the USA do not need to reapply provided neither the ESTA nor the passport has expired. ESTA is valid for 2 years from the issue date.
The total amount of time a foreigner can stay in the US on one trip, including time spent in transit at the airport, is 90 days. A visa is required to stay longer than this.
Do I need a visa for Canada if I have a US visa?
Even if you have an US visa, you need to apply for either a visa or an eTA before traveling to Canada. If your nationality is visa-exempt, you only have to apply for an eTA when traveling by air to Canada.