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.
Nov 2021 update. Please note that flagpoling has become a little trickier during the pandemic. Some people have been asked to complete ArriveCan. Others have been asked for Covid tests and/or quarantine after activating a work permit at the Canadian border. This post has not been updated to reflect current arrival restrictions in Canada.
How flagpoling works:
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.
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!
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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