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.

Have you ever flagpoled? Did you have a difficult work permit activation? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently based in British Columbia, Canada. Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure.

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    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!
    Maya

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      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.

  2. Avatar

    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!!!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      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.

      • Avatar

        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!!

        • Gemma
          Gemma Reply

          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. Avatar

    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?

    Thanks!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      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. Avatar

    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.

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      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. Avatar

    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

  6. Avatar

    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.

    Best,
    Grace

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      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. Avatar

    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.

    Saludos

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      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.

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