Screening does not start at the Canadian border
By applying for your eTA travel authorization, you have already undergone electronic pre-screening to determine whether you will be allowed to travel to Canada without a visa.
Now, at the airport where you start your journey to Canada, you will be asked to produce an electronic or printed copy of your eTA travel authorization, which you will have received via email if your eTA application was successful. It is usually sufficient to show the email in question on your phone or tablet at the airline’s check-in counter.
In some cases, representatives of the Canadian border agency might already be present at the international airport where you board your flight to Canada. They might ask you a few questions, including why you are going to Canada and how long you intend to stay there. This is absolutely nothing to worry about, it is a mere formality and these agents might even be able to assist you if you have any questions or difficulty with your paperwork. Of course, we would still advise you not to raise any red flags with these guys! It is best to go prepared and find out in advance if you are eligible to travel to Canada without a visa. For more information about dealing with Canadian immigration officers, please read on.
If your eTA authorization is OK, you have taken the first hurdle and will be allowed to board your flight to Canada.
Apply today and get your eTA by email!
What happens in-flight and upon exiting your aircraft
On your Canada-bound flight, you will receive a customs form or “declaration card”. This form is given to everybody who comes to Canada, regardless of whether they are Canadian residents or visitors.
On the declaration card, you will be asked:
- For your name, date of birth and home address
- How you arrive in Canada (options: air/rail/marine/highway, please enter the details of your flight or vessel)
- For the purpose of your visit to Canada (options: study/personal/business)
- From where you are travelling to Canada
- If you are a visitor: How long you intend to stay in Canada
- And a few additional questions which you can ignore, as they only apply for Canadian residents
You will also have to tick a few boxes (yes/no) where you will be asked:
- If you are bringing firearms or weapons
- If you are bringing commercial goods
- If you are bringing certain foods or natural products
- If you are bringing money or “monetary instruments” which are worth more than 10.000 Canadian dollars in total (this includes foreign currency and cheques)
- If you have visited a farm and will be visiting a farm in Canada
- If you have “unaccompanied goods” (e. g. if you had your luggage shipped or made similar arrangements)
When you exit the aircraft, you will take the declaration card to the immigration counter with your other travel paperwork, such as your passport and return ticket.
The eTA does not automatically grant admission into Canada
You will most likely not have any issues, but please remember that your eTA does not actually guarantee your admission into Canada. It only means that you are allowed to board an aircraft which is bound for Canada. The final decision will be made by an immigration officer at your first Canadian airport.
Check here if you are eligible to apply for Canadian eTA.
Meeting the immigration officer
Upon exiting the aircraft, passengers will be separated into two queues: One for Canadian residents and one for visitors. Take the visitor queue and wait for your turn at the immigration counter.
In some airports, you might have to take a bus from the aircraft or walk a while before you reach your queue and immigration counter, but there are always signposts and the airport staff will also assist you with this. It’s impossible to miss the immigration counter because unless you pass this, there will be nowhere else to go!
Once you get to the front of your queue, the immigration officer at the counter will ask to see your passport, declaration card and probably your eTA number.
They might ask you to provide additional information about any details you entered in the declaration card or your eTA form.
They are also likely to ask:
- Why you are coming to Canada
- If you are visiting Canada for the first time
- If you intend to work in Canada
- How long you are going to stay in Canada
- Where you are going to stay and with whom (you might have to explain this further, e. g. how you met your Canadian friends or what your family members are doing in Canada, if applicable)
- For your job and employer in your country of residence
- How much money you are bringing into the country/how much you will have at your disposal to fund your stay
- If you have insurance
- To see your return ticket
If everything is clear, the officer will put a stamp with your arrival date into your passport. You will have to leave six months from the date on the stamp, at the very latest.
If the immigration officer has any reservations, they might give you a different stamp to indicate how long exactly you will be allowed to stay. We would advise checking your stamp before you leave the immigration counter, as it will be binding.
With the stamp in your passport, you will be allowed to reclaim your baggage and roam the country to your heart’s content (but please do stop by the customs counter on the way out if you have any goods to declare).
If anything is unclear, the immigration officer will send you to a separate interrogation room, where you will have to go after you reclaimed your baggage. In this case, the immigration officer will not stamp your passport. Your passport will be stamped after your final interrogation.
When you arrive with an eTA, please remember that you will have to convince the immigration officers:
- That you have sufficient funds for your stay in Canada
- That you do not intend to work there
- That you have “ties” in your country of residence, meaning: reasons to return home (this could be your job, family or permanent accommodation)
- That you intend to leave Canada by the time your authorized period of stay comes to an end
It is very important to present your return ticket to the immigration officer.
If you anticipate any problems with the above, it will be wise to bring a letter of invitation from a Canadian resident or any documentation that proves your ties to your country of residence. Read on for a testimonial about such a situation!
In the interrogation room
Let’s hope it won’t be necessary, but you will be sent to the interrogation room if the immigration officer has any doubts about
- Your ability to financially sustain yourself during your visit in Canada
- Your intention to return home when the authorized period for your stay ends
- Your intention to abide by all laws and regulations during your stay (this includes refraining from working or seeking employment while you are in Canada if you don’t have a work visa)
- Any goods that you might be bringing into the country
If this happens, remember to collect your luggage from the baggage reclaim area before proceeding to the interrogation room. The interrogation room is usually located in the customs area and the airport staff will assist you if you have trouble finding it. You will not be allowed to leave the airport before your passport has been stamped.
In the interrogation room, the final decision about your stay in Canada will be made. Keep calm and collected, be polite and do not get upset. The better you cooperate with the immigration officers, the quicker you will be admitted into the country. Chances are that only a minor issue needs to be resolved, but the officers at the main immigration counter have to deal with hundreds of visitors and do not have the time to look into your specific case themselves.
The officer in the interrogation room will likely ask you the same questions as the officer at the main immigration counter, and will then ask you to expand on certain points. If you have a letter of invitation or any other documentation to support your entry into Canada, such as proof of funds, proof of insurance, return tickets etc., it will likely be checked thoroughly at this stage. The immigration officers might also search your bags or ask to read your emails and messages on your phone or laptop.
Important: We strongly advise you not to bring your birth certificate or copies of your professional credentials, such as university degrees. If you have such documentation, it will look as if you were going to seek employment.
Taking all their findings into consideration, the immigration officers will decide how long you are allowed to stay in Canada. On very rare occasions, they might send a visitor home immediately if the visitor is expected to engage in illegal activities or to just “disappear” in Canada. Rest assured that these occasions are extremely uncommon and nobody is ever sent home without a valid reason. Tourism is economically important in Canada, after all!
Testimonial of our client’s experience at the Canadian border control
Mary, 33, freelance tutor (UK):
I met my Canadian partner in 2014 when we were both working in the UK. Unfortunately, his temporary UK visa expired in 2016 and he had to return to Canada.
I then decided to spend some time in Canada with him. I had found out that UK citizens could visit Canada without a visa for up to six months, and since I am self-employed, I was not afraid of losing my job. I got my eTA travel permit, sublet my UK apartment, boxed up my belongings and had them shipped to Canada.
I boarded my flight from London Heathrow to Edmonton without an issue.
Aboard the plane to Edmonton, I filled in my declaration card and truthfully ticked “yes” for the question “Do you have unaccompanied goods?”.
I had already anticipated that my whole situation might raise a red flag with the immigration officer and was therefore extremely nervous when I disembarked from the plane.
As my turn came at the immigration counter, I was visibly shaking. The immigration officer wanted to know what I was doing in Canada, whether this was my first visit, how I had met my partner, how long we had been dating, when we had last seen each other, and how long I wanted to stay. I answered her questions truthfully and she asked me if my employer would just let me take six months’ leave. I then had to tell her that I was self-employed and could therefore do as I pleased. My “unaccompanied goods” were probably just the straw to break the camel’s back. The officer did not stamp my passport but told me to collect my luggage (I did have two checked bags in addition to my shipped boxes) and pointed me to an area where I should await further interrogation.
I had to wait for about 20 minutes until a different officer came to talk to me. I perceived this officer to be extremely rude at first. He brusquely asked me to show him my hands, then asked why I was shaking, and he did not always let me finish my sentences when I tried to explain my situation to him.
He went through all my personal belongings and also read my partner’s text messages on my phone.
Thankfully, my partner and I had anticipated this situation.
My partner had sent me a notarized letter of invitation with a copy of his passport and the details of his workplace.
In the letter of invitation, he had outlined our situation, how long we had known each other, that he would cover the cost of my food and accommodation in Canada, that I had family in Europe and that he was convinced that I would be law-abiding and not overstay my welcome in the country.
I had also taken out a travel health insurance plan for the entire six months and had 3,000 Canadian dollars in cash in my handbag, as well as credit and debit cards, the consignment note for the boxes I had shipped, and – most importantly – my return ticket.
After I had presented my money and documents to the immigration officer, and after he had scrutinized my baggage and phone, he did say that it was very bold of me to assume that I could just arrive in Canada for the first time and expect to be granted a stay of six months, but he would actually allow me to stay because I had done everything “by the book” and I had been honest about my situation, including the boxes. However, he would strongly advise me to leave the country on time and not to break the law. With that, he stamped my passport and I was “free”.
I did indeed leave the country on time and already returned to Canada several times since my departure. I did let eight months pass between my first and second visit. At my second and all subsequent visits, my passport was always stamped at the main immigration counter without further interrogation. I never had any luggage shipped again, but (probably more importantly) I was also never shaking.