Living in Canada on the IEC program and planning to visit the USA? If you’re from one of the countries with the Visa Waiver Program, it’s pretty easy. Here’s everything you need to know whether you’re arriving by plane, bus, bike or even foot!

If flying from Canada:

Visitors travelling to the USA by plane must have prior authorisation to do so with a valid ESTA. After arriving, visitors are still screened at immigration (fingerprints, photo) as normal.

– Make sure you use the official government website
The application cost is $14 but there are plenty of agency websites out there who will be happy to charge double or triple that (or more!)
– It only takes around 15-20 minutes to fill out the application
– Don’t leave to the last minute – you should apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before travel
– Most people will get a response within 72 hours after submitting their application
– Your approved ESTA is valid for multiple trips over two years, for up to 90 days or less each visit

If crossing a land/water border from Canada:

Getting an I94W on arrival in the USA is straightforward but can take a bit of time. After reaching the US border booths (sorry, there is no way to skip the queue!), you will be directed to a secondary building. Here, you will fill out the I94W card with your personal info and travel plans. This green card will be stapled into your passport.

– Have the address ready for the first place you intend to stay as this is required when filling out the I94W card
– A photo and fingerprints will be taken after you have completed the card
– Payment for the I94W is $6 and can only be paid with credit card or US cash
– The I94W is valid for up to 90 days, multiple entries allowed
An ESTA is not required for crossing land/sea borders but does help speed the process up
– If you visit the USA with a valid I94W already in your passport, you won’t have to enter the secondary inspection building

Important! After leaving the USA for the last time, be sure to hand in your I94W (the green card) to Canadian officials. They are supposed to pass it to the US border guards who will record the date of your departure. If you leave the I94W in your passport and visit the USA again after its expiry, it is likely that you will be questioned (and not in a good way) about your prior leaving date.

A free pass into the USA

Having lived in Canada for over 5 years now, I’ve hopped over the border quite a few times. At the moment, I live close enough to go for dinner. One of my most memorable experiences, however, was when I was travelling to Skagway, Alaska from Yukon Territory. The border, for reference, is on the edge of a valley surrounded by jagged mountains. Picturesque, but I still wanted to get the border crossing process over and done with as soon as possible. 

At the secondary inspection building, the only other person there was a Dutch IEC working holiday participant. After eavesdropping for a few minutes, I learned that he was in something of a stalemate with the US border official. He had planned to pay the $6 fee with his Canadian debit card but this wasn’t accepted (if only he’d read a useful post such as this before leaving Canada!). Paying with a credit card was also not possible at their machines were currently down.

Without any US cash on hand, both men seemed to be a complete loss of what to do. Their conversation went around and around for quite a long time, with no resolution. I started counting my money in the midst of the conversation and realised I had exactly $12.40, just enough to cover both of us. The border official was thankful yet also quite surprised and decided in the end to waive both of our fees. I’m not sure why he didn’t do that in the first place, but it just goes to show how handy it can be to have at least a handful of local currency before visiting a country.

I’d love to hear your own experiences of crossing the US/Canadian border if you have any!

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

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