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Transiting through Canada by Land, Air and Water

Most international travelers have to halt at multiple locations before reaching their final destination.

Foreign citizens transiting through Canada have to go through different processes based on their mode of transport and their nationality.    

The documents that they need to carry with them to enter Canada also vary based on the duration of their stay, their chosen mode of travel (whether by air, water and land), and their citizenship.    

Transiting by Air  

International airports across the world are generally divided into two areas — arrival and departure.

The airports are designed in such a way that travelers cannot go from the arrival terminals to departure terminals without passing through the immigration and customs checking areas. 

Transit passengers can wait in secure transit areas that will lead to the departure gate.    

International airports in Canada allow a seamless experience to all foreign travelers provided their passports and other documents are in order.

Read on to know the additional documents they need to obtain before entering Canada.   

Transit Visa  

Foreign nationals from visa-required countries need to get a transit visa if their flights layover in a Canadian airport before it lands in the destination country, they are connecting between two international flights or their transit period is less than two days.    

A transit visa is an official document that will be stamped into the passengers’ passport. It validates that they have met all the requirements to transit through a Canadian airport in the next 48 hours.

This can be valid for a maximum of two entries.    

Transit visa application is an easy online process. The applicants need to create an account with the IRCC (Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada) portal.   

After logging in they have to complete an online form and upload all the necessary documents to show their eligibility, identity and travel itinerary.

Be sure to give the correct email address as the Canadian immigration authorities only communicate through an email. The visa details will also be sent to this address. 

Offline application is allowed only for applicants who have medically-proven disability or are traveling with documents issued to refugees or stateless individuals.     

Who does not Need a Transit Visa?   

Citizens of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan need not get a transit visa when they are traveling with certain Canadian airports or airlines registered under the Transit Without Visa Program (TWOV) and China Transit Program (CTP). This is applicable only if they are in route to or from the United States of America.    

Similarly, citizens and legal permanent residents of the US too do not require a visa or eTA to transit through Canadian airports.     

Citizens of visa-free countries can apply for an electronic travel authorization(eTA) to transit through Canada.

This is not applicable if they are entering Canada by car, train, or ship.   

Who Can’t Apply for This Visa   

Travelers from visa-required countries who will need to remain in Canadian airports for more than 48 hours cannot apply for this visa.

They cannot apply for the transit visa for entering Canada by land or water.

In such circumstances, foreign travelers are required to obtain a visitor visa.     

Foreign nationals with criminal or medical inadmissibility and those who have been convicted for human rights violations too cannot transit through Canada with a transit visa. 

They have to apply for a Canadian temporary resident permit, the issuance of which is at the sole discretion of the immigration authorities.     

Note that international travelers transiting through Canada by air should carry their valid passports as they are the only legal identification document accepted across the world.

If they don’t have proper documents, they can be delayed or deported.  

Transiting by Water and Land   

International travelers from visa-required countries need to apply for a visitor visa to be able to cross the Canadian border through air or water.

This is irrespective of the duration of their stay in the country or the purpose of their travel.    

Citizens and legal permanent residents of the US and visa-free countries do need a visa. They will need a Canada ETA to enter or transit through Canada by land or water (US Citizens and permanent residents are exempt from getting an ETA).

However, they have to submit their passports and other documents to the screening officer at their point of entry.  

The officers of the Canadian border services may ask them questions to understand the purpose of their trip or medical status as part of the assessment.  

They sometimes can refer passengers for further medical check-ups by Canada’s public service agency to ascertain that they are medically admissible.    

Entering Via Boat or Cruise Ship 

International travelers can enter Canadian waterways only through an open marine reporting site.

It is to be noted that it is the responsibility of the passengers to report to the Canadian Border Service Agency at the point of entry.  

If they are a group of less than 30 people, they can call the CBSA’s telephone reporting center and ask for clearance.    

If there are more than 30 passengers in the boat, they cannot use this facility. They have to notify the CBSA officials at least 72 hours before their arrival.   

Foreign nationals irrespective of their nationality have to declare the nature of their trip and goods in their possession at the port of entry.    

They also have to provide information such as name, date of birth and nationality and submit proper identification documents like their passports.

Foreigners from visa-required countries have to give their visa details as well.     

It is to be noted that if the travelers are found to be carrying restricted goods including firearms, ammunition or prohibited medicines, they could face criminal charges or hefty fines.

Be sincere in declaring goods in possession and careful while submitting travel and personal information.   

Transiting through Canada to and from Alaska   

Travelers from Alaska while transiting through Canadian airports should remain in the transit area and will not be allowed to collect their baggage.

They are exempt from quarantine or testing for COVID-19 if their outbound flight leaves the airport within 24 hours of their arrival.   

They are also allowed to drive through Canada to and from Alaska if they carry a proof of their residence or employment in Alaska.  

Registering in ArriveCAN   

As part of the preventive measures taken by the Canadian government, only those foreign citizens who are qualified as fully-vaccinated can enter or transit through the country.  

They have to remain in the secure area if they are transiting via a Canadian international airport.  

They are also required to register with the Canada ArriveCAN at least 72 hours before the beginning of their journey. ArriveCAN is an electronic platform introduced by Canada in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.      

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