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Do you need a passport to go to Canada?

What to know about traveling to Canada

U.S. passport book
Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Traveling to Canada from the United States is relatively straightforward, but the documentation required can vary depending on your mode of transportation and citizenship status. While a passport is the most widely accepted form of identification for international travel, alternative options are available for U.S. citizens entering Canada by land or sea.

Airplane in mid-air during the day
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What you need to know about traveling to Canada

So, what exactly do you need to cross into Canada? It really depends on how you’re getting there.

What documents do I need to cross the Canadian border by car?

If you’re a U.S. citizen traveling to Canada by land or sea, you have a few options for acceptable documentation:

  1. Passport: A valid U.S. passport is the most widely recognized and accepted form of identification for international travel, including entry into Canada. It’s also the only document accepted for air travel to Canada.
  2. Passport card: This wallet-sized card can be used to re-enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports of entry. It cannot be used for air travel.
  3. Enhanced driver’s license (EDL): Several U.S. states, including Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Washington, issue enhanced driver’s licenses that are designed to meet the document requirements for land and sea travel into Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. EDLs are not valid for air travel.
  4. Trusted traveler program card: U.S. citizens enrolled in trusted traveler programs like NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST can use their program card to expedite entry into Canada at designated land border crossings.

What do you need to enter Canada from the U.S.?

To enter Canada from the United States, you need to present one of the following acceptable documents:

  • Valid U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card (land and sea travel only)
  • Enhanced driver’s license issued by an approved state (land and sea travel only)
  • Trusted traveler program card (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST) (land travel only)

Can I travel to Canada with my U.S. birth certificate?

No, a U.S. birth certificate alone is not sufficient for entry into Canada. Although it serves as proof of citizenship, it does not include the necessary identification information required for international travel. A birth certificate must be accompanied by additional approved documentation, such as a government-issued photo ID.

Can you get into Canada with an enhanced license?

Yes, an enhanced driver’s license (EDL) issued by an approved U.S. state is a valid document for entry into Canada by land or sea. However, an EDL cannot be used for air travel to Canada or any other international destination. For air travel, a valid passport is required.

EDLs are currently issued by the states of Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Washington, specifically to facilitate land and sea travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico, and some Caribbean destinations. These licenses incorporate additional security features and are approved by the Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian government for border-crossing purposes.

Before traveling, it’s always a good idea to check the latest entry requirements and regulations with the Canadian government, as these can change over time. 

flag of Canada
Jason Hafso / Unsplash

Bottom line

While a passport is the most widely accepted and recommended form of identification for travel to Canada, U.S. citizens have several alternatives for land and sea travel, including passport cards, enhanced driver’s licenses, and trusted traveler program cards. Regardless of the documentation used, all travelers need to meet Canada’s admissibility requirements and should familiarize themselves with the latest entry regulations before going on their trip.

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Kelly Baker
Kelly is a writer who loves good books, baking homemade bread, playing the piano, and spending time with her family.
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