Travel Tips to cross the US/Canadian Border

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Traveling by Car
  • U.S. citizens do not need to obtain an international driver's license to drive in Canada. Your valid U.S. license is good for trips in Canada as long as you are a visitor and are actually resident in the U.S. Should you wish information on provincial traffic laws, please contact the Department of Transport, Motor Vehicle Division of the particular province you wish to visit. You may also contact the American Automobile Association (AAA) or Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) if you are a member. AAA members are covered by the CAA while traveling in Canada. Be sure to carry proof of your car insurance.

Visas and travel documents

  • Visas are not required for U.S. tourists entering Canada from the U.S. for stays up to 180 days. You will, however, need (1) proof of your U.S. citizenship such as (a) your U.S. passport or (b) original or certified copy of your birth certificate and photo identification. (For information on obtaining a U.S. passport, check with the nearest passport agency located at 13 locations throughout the U.S.) If you are a naturalized 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. All U.S. citizens entering Canada from a third country must have a valid passport. Alien permanent residents of the U.S. must present their Alien Registration Card, commonly called the "Green Card." If you are a dual U.S./Canadian citizen you should always present yourself as a Canadian citizen when entering Canada. However, U.S. citizens should use their U.S. passports when entering or leaving the United States.

    Due to international concern over child abduction, single parents, grandparents, or guardians traveling with children often need proof of custody or notarized letters from the other parent authorizing travel. (This is in addition to proof of citizenship as explained above.) Any person under the age of 18 and traveling alone should carry a letter from his/her parent or guardian authorizing the trip. Travelers without such documentation may experience delays at the port of entry.

    For further information, including information on student or business travel, visitors can contact the Embassy of Canada at 501 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 682-1740 or the nearest Canadian consulate


  • Double check that your insurance policy covers you during your time in Canada. Consider purchasing supplemental or other insurance if your own policy is not enough. You may wish to check with your health insurance company to ensure that your policy includes coverage for medical evacuations to the United States as well as escort to the United States, hospitalization abroad, premature birth abroad, and other coverage for a beneficiary who is involved in an accident or illness outside the United States. Carry details of your insurance plan with you (and leave a copy with a relative or friend at home).

    Please note: The Social Security Medicare Program does not provide for payment of hospital or medical services outside the United States


  • It is important to respect the laws of Canada while you are a guest in their country.


  • Firearms are strictly controlled and generally are not permitted in Canada. While handguns are prohibited, hunting rifles are allowed into Canada with advance permission. Anyone wishing to take a hunting rifle into Canada can contact the nearest Canadian consulate in advance for detailed information. In all cases, travelers must declare any firearms in their possession to Canadian authorities when entering Canada. If a traveler is denied permission to take the firearm into Canada, in some cases there are facilities near the border where firearms may be stored pending the traveler's return to the United States. For example, in Alberta, the Wy Moberlie Company operates such a facility at duty free shops on the U.S. side of the border. They accept items for storage (including weapons) and either forward these items to the traveler's home address in the United States or store them until the traveler picks the items up upon returning to the United States. Canadian law requires that officials confiscate weapons from individuals crossing the border who deny having such weapons in their possession. Confiscated firearms are virtually never returned and are destroyed. A new firearms act slated to take effect in l998/l999 will include a license and registration requirement through Canada Customs for all guns, including hunting guns, before entering the country. Please check with your nearest Canada Customs office for further information.
  • Pepper spray, mace and similar defensive weapons are prohibited under the Criminal Code of Canada. Travelers who declare prohibited weapons are allowed to abandon them or export them without penalty.


  • Penalties for possession, use, and dealing in illegal drugs are strict in Canada. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

Drunk Driving

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense. Penalties are heavy, and any prior conviction (no matter how long ago or how minor the infraction) is cause for exclusion from Canada. A waiver of exclusion may be obtained from a Canadian consulate in the United States, but several weeks are required. There is a processing fee for the waiver.

Automobile Radar Detectors

  • It is illegal to take automobile radar detectors into the provinces of Qubec, Ontario, and Manitoba or into the Yukon and Northwest territories. The police will confiscate radar detectors, whether in use or not, and may impose fines up to $1000.

Previous Convictions

  • Section 19 of Canada's Immigration Act prohibits the admission of people who pose a threat to public health, safety, order, and national security. Prior to attempting a border crossing, American citizens who have had a criminal conviction in the past must contact the nearest Canadian embassy or consulate well in advance to determine their admissibility as visitors into Canada. If found inadmissible, an immigration officer will advise whether a waiver (Minister's Permit) is possible.


  • There are currently over 100 American citizens incarcerated in Canadian prisons. An American citizen who is arrested in Canada will be informed by the police of his/her right to contact the American Embassy or one of the Consulates General. When notified, a consular officer will contact the citizen by phone, and subsequently make a personal visit. Collect calls will be accepted by the U.S. Embassy or Consulates General if coming from a U.S. citizen for the initial notification of arrest.
  • U.S. consular officers can provide lists of lawyers from each local area, but cannot recommend a particular lawyer and can not act as a legal representative on behalf of the arrestee. Arrestees are responsible for their own legal fees. Legal Aid programs are administered by the provinces, and may not cover individuals who are visitors to Canada. There are no public defenders as we know them in the United States. As a foreigner, under Bill C44, work release programs, day parole or bail may be difficult to obtain or refused in view of the flight risk involved. Under the Treaty on the Execution of Penal Sentences signed by the U.S. and Canada 1977, prisoners may request to be transferred to an American prison.

Customs Restrictions for U.S. Visitors to Canada

Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Products

  • For short-term visitors to Canada, the following restrictions apply per person:
  • -- 1.14 liters (40 oz.) of liquor or wine or 24 x 355ml (12 oz.) bottles or cans of beer or ale (8.5 liters)
  • You must be 18 years of age or older to import alcoholic beverages into the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. To import alcoholic beverages into all other provinces and territories, you must be 19 years of age or older .
  • -- 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or cigarillos, 400 grams of manufactured tobacco, and 400 tobacco sticks
  • You must be 18 years of age or older to import tobacco products into the provinces of Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Yukon Territory, and the Northwest Territories. To import tobacco products into all other provinces, you must be 19 years or older .

Other Goods

  • Certain goods are restricted from entering Canada. If you are considering importing meat or dairy products, weapons, plants, vehicles, or exotic animals or products made from their skins or feathers, please contact Canada Customs beforehand for guidance. (See phone number listed below.)
  • Obscene materials, hate propaganda, most weapons and firearms, and goods harmful to the environment are prohibited from entering Canada.
  • If you have any questions about what you can and cannot bring into Canada, call Canada Customs. Customs officers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer your questions. If you're calling in Canada, dial 1-800-461-9999 for the Automated Customs Information System. Outside Canada, call (613) 993-0534.


  • To bring your dog or cat into Canada, you will have to present Canada Customs with a valid Rabies Certificate, showing that your dog or cat has been vaccinated between 30 days and three years ago. For information on importation of other pets, contact Canada Customs at (613) 993-0534.

Where to find consular assistance while in Canada

  • The State Department maintains a number of diplomatic offices in Canada. The U.S. Embassy is located in Ottawa, and there are U.S. Consulates General in Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Quebec, Vancouver, and Toronto. At each of these offices, there are U.S. consular officers available to help you with problems.
  • These offices, in cooperation with the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at the State Department in Washington, D.C., provide a range of services to resolve problems during your visit to Canada. The services include: