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.
IEC flagpolers will need insurance that specifically starts outside their own home country such as policies offered by True Traveller (EU citizens and Brits) and Cover More (Australians).
An alternative is BestQuote (120+ nationalities, includes basic ski coverage as standard).
Read More: The Best Travel Insurance for Working Holidays in Canada
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
Rifat Reza Chowdhury
Thursday 21st of April 2022
I am an international student from Bangladesh. I have applied for my co-op work permit back in January 2nd but still did not receive it. My co-op is starting from next week. I have a valid US B1/B2 visa. Is it possible that if I fly to the US and while coming back, can I obtain my co-op work permit at the Pearson International Airport? If so, what is the procedure?
Friday 22nd of April 2022
Sorry, I don't know enough about the Co-op work permit program to be able to confirm that for you. Good luck with your application.
Wednesday 13th of April 2022
I there any flagpoling at calgary us border for open work permit?
Tuesday 19th of April 2022
@Gemma, Hi Gemma! Thank you for you article on flagpoling.
I get one more question. Can eTA holder( Eu citizens) apply for a open work permit from inside canada with job offer during flagpoling... if so then what are the requirements?
Wednesday 13th of April 2022
I believe the closest border crossing to Calgary is Coutts/Sweet Grass.
Sunday 30th of January 2022
I am currently in Winnipeg and I have already filed my application for SOWP from within Canada on 3 December. Can I do flagpole if I have a pending online application.
The nearest border is Emerson, can I do my flagpole in there ?
Saturday 5th of February 2022
Flagpoling is the activation of a work permit after an application from outside of Canada (outland) was approved. It sounds like you have an application in process which isn't approved yet, and an inland one at that. If you went to the border, it would be like applying for the entire application there and then. This page lists the eligibility requirements for applying for a work permit at the border.
Thursday 20th of January 2022
Hi Gemma, Currently i am on multiple entry Visitor Visa landed in Vancouver in December 2021. I have applied for SOWP in a week after landing. My spouse is on Closed work permit. While landing in canada, Immigration officer stamped in my passport the date of exit, i.e for 6 months only. can i go for flagpoling at nearest border to get the Open work permit while my SOWP application is in process.
Advice on this will be appreciated
Thursday 20th of January 2022
No, I don't believe you could. Flagpoling can be only used to activate a work permit after an application from outside of Canada was approved. I don't believe you would be able to apply for your SOWP at the border either since you are not visa exempt (see 'Eligibility requirements if you apply when you enter Canada at a port of entry' here)
Friday 14th of January 2022
I'm in Vancouver on a tourist visa. I applied for a start-up visa, on the other hand and I applied for online work permit but after 50 weeks I did not receive any answer from cic. Do you think it is a good idea for me to go flagpole or wait and submit inside work permit?
thank you San
Saturday 15th of January 2022
I am not familiar with the Start-Up Visa program and would not want to misadvise you. Sorry I can't help!