A new requirement was introduced in November 2016 for visa-exempt visitors flying to Canada – the eTA.
This stands for Electronic Travel Authorisation and is a type of screening to individually approve visitors to Canada. If you are planning to visit Canada, you must have a valid eTa to board your flight.
eTA basics – what is an Canadian eTA?
Put simply, an eTA is an authorisation for visa waiver citizens to fly to Canada.
An Electronic Travel Authorisation is required for anyone visiting Canada who is not:
- A Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident
- Citizen of the USA
- A valid visa holder
- The Queen or other Royal Family member…and a few other exceptions
Anyone requiring an eTA should apply well before they travel to Canada as the CIC website sometimes goes down due to maintenance and server issues.
An approved eTA is electronically linked to a specific passport. Each eTA lasts five years and is valid for multiple visits to Canada. Even though eTAs are valid for five years, visitors are still assessed on arrival in Canada and approved for a specific length of stay (typically six months).
Applying for an eTA online costs $7 and in most cases, will be approved within a few minutes. For some people, the decision may take a few days.
eTAs for IEC participants
Since the IEC program offers a work permit (not a visa), all IEC participants need an ETA to travel to Canada. Luckily, all POEs issued after August 2015 automatically come issued with an ETA. Bring a printed copy of the second page of your POE to show airline staff at check-in if needed.
eTAs are electronically linked to your passport, so if you have changed your passport since receiving your POE, you will need to apply for a new ETA.
Teething problems of the eTA system
The eTA system was in the works for many years before it was implemented at the end of last year. Despite a long leniency period to help with the transition, there are still issues with the eTA program now (2019).
The most common issue is the online checker not recognising holders of valid eTAs. There is also an issue with the eTA system acknowledging people who already have (or do not require) an eTA to travel to Canada. This happened to me, read on for my story below.
My eTA experience flying from Singapore to Canada
“We can’t check you in” is not something you want to hear at the airport. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I was told recently when trying to fly from Singapore to Vancouver via Manila.
A Permanent Resident (since 2014), I do not require an eTA to fly into Canada. Indeed, if I wasn’t so involved with helping people with IEC applications, I probably wouldn’t even know anything about the eTA system at all.
The Changi airport check-in staff didn’t explain much either. They simply stated over and over again that there was a problem with having both a British passport and PR card.
Four different staff members tried to check me in, one even tried calling the Canadian Embassy for help. It took almost an hour before they collectively gave up and created an entirely new booking for me.
It sounded like a good plan until I was advised that this would still only allow them to check me in for the Singapore to Manila flight.
I’d have to work out the rest from Manila, they said. Great. Waiting at the gate for our flight, my name was called over the tannoy. They wanted to check my PR card again.
One twelve hour flight later and I nervously approached the transfer desk at Manila airport, wondering if I was going to be stuck in the Phillippines. It took three staff and another twenty minutes to finally figure it out and hand me the hallowed boarding pass for Manila to Vancouver.