Flagpoling is a completely legal process to activate a new Canadian immigration status.
The process involves leaving Canada, being refused entry into the USA and then re-entering Canada.
This article was primarily written to assist those wanting to activate an IEC work permit while already visiting Canada.
If you’re already visiting or working in Canada and have been approved for a new work permit (or even Permanent Residency), flagpoling may also be an option for you as well.
Nervous about crossing borders? I know I am! The idea of flagpoling can be intimidating, especially as there isn’t much information about it online.
Here’s everything you need to know about flagpoling to get the job done quickly and (hopefully) painlessly.
Published 2017, last updated January 2023.
How Flagpoling works: the process
Flagpoling is quite straightforward once you have your head around it.
- Travel to the Canadian border. On reaching the border booth(s), advise the USA border official that you are flagpoling to activate a Canadian work permit
- They will give you ‘referral’ piece of paper (usually orange) and instruct you to go inside the US immigration office
- In here, you will complete a Refusal of Admission form. They will then send you back to the Canadian side. Follow the directions given
- To activate your new work permit in the CBSA office, you will need to have all your documents to hand
IEC applicants should have their proof of funds and insurance plus printed POE as per the official checklist (note that proof of job or vaccination is no longer required).
A requirement of the IEC is to have health insurance covering the length of your stay when activating the permit. Those who flagpole without this may receive a shortened work permit and/or be refuse one altogether.
An alternative is BestQuote (120+ nationalities, includes basic ski coverage as standard).
Important things to know about Flagpoling
- Flagpoling doesn’t count as being officially being refused entry. It is an administrative refusal which will not impact any future travel to the USA or anywhere else
- It is not possible to ‘flagpole’ or activate an IEC work permit at an airport unless flying into the airport from an international destination
- Border crossings are found across the country. Note that some of the smaller crossings close at night
- A good option for flagpoling from Vancouver is Point Roberts. This border is accessible via public transport and is also generally quiet, which means a quicker crossing.
- The busiest Southern Ontario (Queenston, Niagara Falls, Rainbow Bridge and Fort Erie – Peace Bridge) and Quebec crossings (Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle and Saint-Armand/Philipsburg) only allow flagpoling on restricted days and times (check before you go!)
- A valid ESTA is not required for flagpoling as you’re not actually entering the USA
- While flagpoling, it’s important to be aware that land border officers are, in general, less familiar with the IEC program than their airport counterparts. Read on for my own experience!
Flagpoling for new work permits and permanent residency
Stumbled on this post hoping to find out if it is possible to flagpole to activate your (non-IEC) work permit or permanent residency? Depending on your situation, it may be something you can do.
Unfortunately, I am not an immigration lawyer or consultant and, as such, am unable to advise whether flagpoling is an appropriate method for you. Sorry! I wish I was able to help.
As previously mentioned, this post was intended for IEC participants who have received their work permit approval (POE) while visiting or living in Canada. For IEC participants, flagpoling is a legitimate method to activate a a new IEC work permit.
My experience activating a work permit at the land border
When it came to activating my second IEC work permit, I was living on Vancouver Island, British, Columbia.
The Island is a beautiful place, but not super convenient when it comes to border runs. Any trip to Washington from the Island involves a ferry and is difficult to do in one day.
For this reason, I decided NOT to flagpole and make a trip of it instead. I still thought it was worth sharing this experience as the Canadian border side of the experience is the same as flagpoling.
Arriving back in Canada at the Belleville border in Victoria, I was the only person from our ferry directed into the CBSA office. I was asked for my POE, proof of funds and insurance. The border officer was seemingly doing everything by the book.
All was fine until I spotted the date of expiry he had entered on my work permit.
The border officer had dated my work permit to only last five months, not the full year it should have been. Awkward.
I started to explain that the expiry date on my POE was a year after it had been approved, not the expiry date of my intended work permit. He read through my POE twice and then got a supervisor.
Twenty nail-bitingly long minutes later, they called me over to check my new work permit. The date was correct!
Always be sure to check the details on your work permit before leaving the border.
To avoid this tense situation for yourself while flagpoling, read up on my IEC arrival advice.
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Check out these other posts about working holidays in Canada
One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada