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.

Check out these other posts about working holidays in Canada

53 thoughts on “Flagpoling to Activate a New Work Permit in Canada”

  1. Hi Gemma!

    Your posts have been a huge help to my boyfriend and I during our IEC application. We have been living in Canada for just over a year now!!

    I have a question about flagpoling….I have been offered a job as a teaching assistant and am trying to go through the motions of updating my visa so the restriction to work with children is removed. I have spoken to IRCC twice now – the first person I spoke to advised me to get my medical and then to go to the US/Canadian border to update my visa. Today I rang to confirm that my medical has been received and is all ok (which it has! YAY!) and again was told I could go to the border, but in the information he emailed to me there is a whole section talking about application forms needed to change work permit conditions. I asked both IRCC agents about the process I would need to follow, and neither of them mentioned anything about filling out a form to change my visa status / remove the restriction to work with children. They simply told me I would need to provide the IME number on my medical validation to the border agent so they could update the visa. Is that correct?

    Do you have any idea whether I will be able to flagpole in order to get my visa updated, or if I will have to go through filling out an application form before I’m able to do this?

    It’s so frustrating as there is contradictory information flying at me from all over the place!

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Hi Maya,

      I have heard of people doing either – sending off the form and waiting OR going to the border. With that second option though, there is a chance you will be asked to pay up to $150 to get the conditions removed.

    • Hi Gemma,

      I stumbled across your post. However my question is….. am I able to flagpole if my visitors visa has expired and I want to get my permanent residency? Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control I was not able to renue my visa in time.

  2. Hi,
    My boyfriend and I, like you did, supposed to do a trip in USA before return in Canada and activate our Work Permit.
    I’m, as Italian, under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which allows me to stay up to 90 days in the USA.
    When, from Canada, I pass the border and enter to the US for flagpoling, this 90 days’ clock starts. So for respect the VWP rules I need to exit from the North America for stop the 90 days count, not only USA, because Canada and Mexico can’t be considered as an exit from USA.
    How can I avoid this problem if I would do flagpole and stay in US for, at least, one night?
    Thank you!!!

    • Hi Germana,

      I’m not quite sure I understand your question. Flagpoling is a term that refers to the process of leaving Canada and then getting administrative refusal for entering the USA and then returning to Canada to activate a work permit or permanent residency. If you go to the USA for one day/one night, this is NOT flagpoling. And this is when the 90 day ‘clock’ would start. And yes, you would potentially need to show proof that you will leave the North America within that 90 days – you can do this with a flight reservation.

      • Thank you for your answer Gemma,

        Ok I understand, I was wondering, how did you manage this situation? If i’ve understood correctly you did a short trip in US, so did you have a proof that showed you will leave the North America within that 90 days?

        Moreover I was reading that is recommended to stay at least one night… I’m trying to understand how can I manage the situation without any problems.

        Thank you again!!

        • Hi Germana,

          Once you have activated your IEC work permit, then there is no issue visiting the USA since you are considered a Canadian resident. So the experience I shared in this post was AFTER I activated my IEC 🙂 If I had visited the USA BEFORE activating my IEC yes, I would have intentionally had some kind of proof showing I was leaving North America after 90 days. As noted, most people never have any problem but a minority do have issues.

  3. Hi Gemma,

    Your post was very informative and helpful.

    I am a student in Ontario and I just completed my course and obtained my course completion certificate. Since a company is ready to offer me a job if I had valid proof of work permit, I am planning to flagpole to avoid delays. I have a few clarifications.

    I don’t have a US visa.
    I am planning to flagpole at Lansdowne thousand islands bridge.

    1. When I first reach the Canada border, what exactly should I tell/ask the officials for?

    2. Which way is preferred to flagpole? by vehicle or on foot? (I don’t think this location has a pedestrian / by foot option & I have a vehicle with valid Ontario registration and G license)

    3. If by vehicle, what are the documents I would be needing aditionally? And would US officials ask for any other documents if flagpolling by vehicle?


    • Hi Praveen!

      1) Advise them you wish to flagpole to activate a work permit. Flagpoling is a recognised term.
      2) Your choice. The vast majority of people flagpoling by foot will be travelling to the border via public transit.
      3) None and no.

  4. Hi Gemma,

    I went through your post and it was very informative.
    I have few questions if you can clarrify it.

    I am a student in Ontario and finishing my studies in August. I have to visit my home country in mid September for my brother wedding. The glitch is by the time i return back to canada my student visa will be on a verge to expire. After finishing my course if i apply online for work permit it will take almost 2 months, so I’m planning to flagpole before going to my home country and get my work permit and be on safer side while i return back to Canada.
    My question was that if i flagpole at thousand island bridge:

    1) What are the chances of rejection even after me carrying all the needed documents?

    2) Is it recommendable to do flagpole at night time? If not can you recommend preferable time to visit.

    3) Can i take my car and go for flagpolling?

    4) Do you recommend flagpolling or applying online for work permit and leave canada. The fact is I don’t think at POE they will allow me with 1 month of study visa left.

    Awaiting for your reply.

    Thanks for your time.

    • 1) If you have all of the documentation and are eligible for the work permit, your chance of rejection should be lower.
      2) There are no restrictions on flagpoling that I am aware of at that border location so both daytime and nighttime should be OK. Personally, I’d go during the day.
      3) Yes.
      4) I’m afraid I do not know enough about work permits following study permits to answer this comphrensively for you. For visitor status however, it is preferable to apply inland rather than go to the border. Visiting the border, in general, is riskier.

  5. Hi,

    I went to Point Roberts to flagpole.

    I have an IEC work permit for 2 years. I flew home to Scotand for a wedding, got a medical exam which they said they would send the results electronically to Canada. I drove to the border, told the USA officer I was flagpoling, he was fine and stamped my passport accordingly with flagpoling on it. I was then instructed to go into the Canadian immigration office. I told him I was here to lift restrictions off my visa (to work with a health authority). He was rude and just shouted at me and told me it is all done online and they don’t do it here. I told him I had been advised to go this off an immigration officer at the airport. He told me I was given the wrong information. I can’t seem to apply online and applying through paper is also difficult and confusing. Also has a waiting time of at least 3 months. Can I try at a different port of entry or do I need to fly out Canada and then get reprocessed that way?

    Any help with this would be greatly appreciated. Regards, Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      I’m in a similar position as you. I’m currently on an IEC work permit and am looking to remove my restrictions. I completed my upfront medical exam last week and am looking to flagpoll at point roberts. My question is what did you do in order to change your restrictions after you had been refused by the officer at point roberts?

  6. Hi Gemma,

    I have applied for a pgwp along with my husband\’s owp online last week of April. However, I checked the processing time and it has increased to 99 days and cic is still working on applications received by Feb. 8. I have a job offer waiting and I don\’t think my pgwp will be processed before my start date.

    Is it okay to flagpole with pending online application? We live in Victoria, and which border would you suggest we should go?

    Your advice is appreciated.


    • Hi Grace,

      I’m sorry, I don’t know enough about PGWP’s to be able to give you an accurate answer!

      For the border question, none are particularly easy from Victoria but Point Roberts is one of the the easiest/quickest/cheapest options. It is a very quiet border. Take the ferry as a foot passenger to Tsawwassen and then you can get a combination of buses to the border.

  7. Hola Gemma

    Mi esposo tiene permiso de trabajo por 2 años y quisiera saber si puedo hacer el flagpoling para poder obtener permiso de trabajo abierto y permiso de estudio para mis hijos, tenemos visa multiple y tambien tenemos visa para USA.

    Quisiera saber antes de que se me venza el tiempo que puedo estar como visitante.

    Quedo atenta.


    • Hi Rosy,

      I do not speak Spanish or know many specifics about your situation, but you can flagpole to activate a spousal work permit if you are eligible for one.

  8. Hi Gemma,

    Your post was very helpful. Thank you.
    I have three questions and would be grateful if you can help me with them:

    1- My wife has an open work permit. She wants to start studying at a University. Can she do flagpoling to change her work permit to study permit?
    2- Her canadian visa has been expired, but she has a valid open work permit. Does she need a valid Canadian Visa for flagpoling?
    3- for flagpoling, do we need to submit the application online or we should give the paper applications to the officer?

    Thank you

  9. Hi Emma.
    I applied for Work permit extension and it was refused. Now I have to restore my status. Do you know if it possible to restore status by flag-poling? I don\’t need visa to enter to the country. I live in BC
    Your advice is appreciated.

  10. Hi Emma,

    I’m wondering if you can help with a couple questions:
    1. I’m wondering if I need a US visa to flagpole? Since technically, we’re not entering USA and just re-entering Canada.
    2. Do you know if this can be done at an airport from an international flight?

    Thank you!

    • 1. No, as you’re not entering the USA.
      2. I’m not sure what you mean. You can activate a work permit on arrival in Canada at an international airport.

  11. Hi Gemma,

    I’m planning to Flagpole within the next week at Point Roberts. I’ve read a couple of cases where someone travelled to Flagpole and then had issues visiting the states in the future. Have you heard anything like this?

    I am a UK citizen currently on a tourist visa and my IEC letter should arrive in the next week.



    • No, I’ve only heard of people having issues when visiting the USA before activating their IEC. Nothing to do with flagpoling 🙂

  12. Hi my name is mercy
    I am currently on a visitor visa single entry which expired in April, I have since apply for a renewal,recently I was asked to go for medicals. Sure my visa will be extended .
    My question now is that can I do the flagpole with my visitor status?
    1.by getting a job ?
    2.without a job?
    Because I got am getting job offer all they ask me if I have a work permit.

  13. Hello Gemma,

    Fora new work permit activation at the airport on arrival, what if the person is from a country that requires a visa? Because some people say that you need to be from a visa exempt country to apply for a work permit at the port of entry.

    • To my knowledge, that is correct.

      For example, IEC Working Holiday participants from non-visa waiver countries are issued their work permits prior to arriving in Canada.

  14. Hello Gemma,
    I am a IEC partecipant of the Italian program (6 months work permit + 6 of visitor\’s visa), I\’ll move to Toronto next spring 2020, I have some question in case I\’ll do not got a job before arrival….like:
    Will I have to show my work permit letter to the border officer telling him/her, that I first want to enter with a visitor\’s visa?
    How can I \”flagpole\” once I\’ll enter in Canada from Italy?
    What I got to do practically? Is it Tricky?

    Thank you for any suggestion

  15. Hi, I am currently holding closed work permit and it is expires on aug 2020. My wife holding an open work permit and visitor visa for my son. I got the new employer and my new workpermit has been approved and my lawyer is saying, i may need to a flagpoling.

    – During the flag poling. is my old workpermit will be cancelled ? If that is the case, my wife and son status also gone ?

    Please share your thoughts. It will be helpful for me.

    • Hi Senthil,

      Yes, your old work permit would be invalid after you activate the new one. And yes, I believe your wife and son would need to apply for new work permits / visitor visa. But I would check with your lawyer.

  16. Hi,

    May i know the working hours for flag poling at point roberts and blaine boaders. Further, are they open to flag poling on Saturday?

  17. 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!

    • 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.

  18. 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,

  19. 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.

      • Hi Gemma,

        Your post is very informative. Just like the poster above, I am Irish on IEC with NOC code B job. My baby has a dependant stamp until 2021 like mine. My husband just arrived like 3 days ago, can I flagpole to get his spousal open work permit now or do we have to wait for his 90 days since he is also visa-exempt for 90 days.

        • Hi Kemi,

          Have you had three payslips from your skilled job yet? When you do, you can flagpole. You don’t need to wait 90 days.

  20. 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:
    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!

    • 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).

  21. Hey,

    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?

    • 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 https://offtracktravel.ca/visiting-usa-iec-program-canada/


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