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Flagpoling to Activate a New Work Permit in Canada

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.

If you already visiting or working in Canada and have been approved for a new work permit (or even Permanent Residency), flagpoling is the easiest way to activate it without leaving Canada for a trip elsewhere. Those wanting to activate an IEC work permit can also flagpole.

If you’re like me and wary of border crossings, the idea of flagpoling can be intimidating. Here’s everything you need to know to get the job done quickly and (hopefully) painlessly.

How flagpoling works:

Flagpoling is quite straightforward once you have your head around it.

  1. 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.
  2. They will give you ‘referral’ piece of paper (usually orange) and instruct you to go inside the US immigration office.
  3. In here, you will complete a Refusal of Admission form. They will then send you back to the Canadian side. Follow the directions given.
  4. 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. 

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.

IEC flagpolers will need insurance that specifically starts outside their own home country such as policies offered by True Traveller (EU citizens, including Brits) and World Nomads (over 140+ nationalities).

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 Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • 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!
Canada Work Permit - Flagpoling process to activate

An alternative to Flagpoling – my experience crossing the USA border

When it came to activating my second IEC work permit, I was living on Vancouver Island, BC. It’s a beautiful place, but not super convenient when it comes to border runs. Any route 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. We had a great week in Washington exploring the tunnels beneath Seattle’s streets, hiking through the wettest place in the USA and getting a little freaked out by the Twilight fandom in Forks.

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 asked where I lived and what my occupation was. He was 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! To avoid this tense situation for yourself, read up on my IEC arrival advice.

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Check out these other posts about working holidays in Canada

A Guide to Visiting the USA on a Working Holiday in Canada (IEC)
Everything You Need To Know About eTAs: Working Holiday Canada


Wednesday 18th of December 2019


Are you able to recommend any good land crossing points? Not flagpoling but activating my IEC via US travel ( east coast) ;) I'm unsure how It works outside of an airport. Are there immigration offices on the road?


Friday 20th of December 2019

Yes, there are land immigration offices, located at border crossing points. I don't have any particular ones to recommend in the east but I'd personally avoid the really busy ones with restrictions (Ontario and Quebec, if you happen to head further west), as mentioned in this post.

I'm not sure if you're already in the US, but I don't actually recommend travelling in the US before activating your IEC. More info here


Wednesday 20th of November 2019

Hi Gemma,

My boyfriend’s Work Permit will be expired in two weeks, and already applied the extension of Work Permit online one month ago. We expected his work permit will be renew in 3 months, however, it turns out that now the processing time is 117days. We plan to go back to Korea at Feb 2020, but he will be illegal to work in Canada after get back as “visitor” since he does not have new work permit. So, we are wondering if we can get his Work Permit renewal faster by doing flagpole? He has: CONFIRMATION OF NOMINATION from MPNP. Work Permit Letter of employment

If so, what else should we prepare?

Thank you so much for helping us!

Waiting for your reply, Thanks again!


Saturday 7th of December 2019

Hi Moraine,

Without knowing on what basis your boyfriend was originally issued a work permit in Canada, I do not know the answer. Sorry! Depending on the reason for eligibility for a work permit, it varies how they can be issued (via flagpoling or not).


Saturday 26th of October 2019

hello gamma. I have one question. I am ireland citizen and to child.. we are in Canada as a visitor.. after that visitor visa expired. now we are on extansen.. base of my wife have IEC 2 year work permit.. and she have noc A job from last 2month.. in toronto.. can I get a work permit. if I go to flagpole on niagara border.. what documents I need for that.. thanks.


Monday 11th of November 2019

Hi there,

Your wife will need multiple paystubs and documentation proving your marriage.


Wednesday 16th of October 2019

Hello gemma,

I am an international student from india and recently got gratuated from the college. I have a study permit till next year but my TRV got expired in august 2019.

1. Can i still do flagpolling without TRV for getting my work permit?

2. Can i extend my TRV ? If yes how because i don’t have any study offer letter

Waiting for your reply, Thanks


Wednesday 16th of October 2019

Hi Anubhav,

Sorry, I don't know enough about TRVs to offer advice on them.


Wednesday 16th of October 2019

Hi Gemma,

I am a U.S. citizen who attended UBC with a 4 year study permit and I now work in Burnaby, BC. My study permit expired in August and a few weeks before it expired I applied for my post-grad 3 year work permit. The processing times says it will still take until mid December for my permit to be processed and available for me to use. I have a flight booked home for American Thanksgiving in November. Will flagpoling work for me to get my work permit processed sooner than December? Also if flagpoling will work, would you recommend doing it before my travels home to the US, or could I do it in the airport on my way back into Vancouver? Thank you!


Wednesday 16th of October 2019

Hi Hannah,

If the processing will not be completed until mid December I don't think that flagpoling would speed the process up. Flagpoling is helpful when it comes to actually activating (once processing is over) or during instances when the work permit can be applied for at the border e.g. open work permit for spouse/common law partner of a student.