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Visa Exemptions for Citizens of Canada

Written by Henry J. Chang
Updated April 8, 2012

General

A nonimmigrant alien must normally be in possession of a valid nonimmigrant visa or border crossing identification card. However, certain nationals are exempt from visa requirements and may simply request admission at a port of entry. These exemptions appear in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR") at §212.1; the visa waiver for citizens of Canada appears at 8 CFR §212.1(a)(1).

Visa Requirements for Canadians

On April 3, 2008, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued its Final Rule on the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative ("WHTI") at land and sea ports-of-entry, which became effective on June 1, 2009. The current text of 8 CFR §212.1(1)(a) is as follows:

Section 212.1 Documentary requirements for nonimmigrants.

(a) Citizens of Canada or Bermuda, Bahamian nationals or British subjects resident in certain islands. (1) Canadian citizens. A visa is generally not required for Canadian citizens, except those Canadians that fall under nonimmigrant visa categories E, K, S, or V as provided in paragraphs (h), (l), and (m) of this section and 22 CFR 41.2. A valid unexpired passport is required for Canadian citizens arriving in the United States, except when meeting one of the following requirements:

  1. NEXUS Program. A Canadian citizen who is traveling as a participant in the NEXUS program, and who is not otherwise required to present a passport and visa as provided in paragraphs (h), (l), and (m) of this section and 22 CFR 41.2, may present a valid unexpired NEXUS program card when using a NEXUS Air kiosk or when entering the United States from contiguous territory or adjacent islands at a land or sea port-of-entry. A Canadian citizen who enters the United States by pleasure vessel from Canada under the remote inspection system may present a valid unexpired NEXUS program card.
  2. FAST Program. A Canadian citizen who is traveling as a participant in the FAST program, and who is not otherwise required to present a passport and visa as provided in paragraphs (h), (l), and (m) of this section and 22 CFR 41.2, may present a valid unexpired FAST card at a land or sea port-of-entry prior to entering the United States from contiguous territory or adjacent islands.
  3. SENTRI Program. A Canadian citizen who is traveling as a participant in the SENTRI program, and who is not otherwise required to present a passport and visa as provided in paragraphs (h), (l), and (m) of this section and 22 CFR 41.2, may present a valid unexpired SENTRI card at a land or sea port-of-entry prior to entering the United States from contiguous territory or adjacent islands.
  4. Canadian Indians. If designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security, a Canadian citizen holder of a Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card issued by the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs and North Development, Director of Land and Trust Services in conformance with security standards agreed upon by the Governments of Canada and the United States, and containing a machine readable zone and who is arriving from Canada may present the card prior to entering the United States at a land port-of-entry.
  5. Children. A child who is a Canadian citizen arriving from contiguous territory may present for admission to the United States at sea or land ports-of-entry certain other documents if the arrival meets the requirements described below.

    1. Children Under Age 16. A Canadian citizen who is under the age of 16 is permitted to present an original or a copy of his or her birth certificate, a Canadian Citizenship Card, or a Canadian Naturalization Certificate when arriving in the United States from contiguous territory at land or sea ports-of-entry.
    2. Groups of Children Under Age 19. A Canadian citizen, under age 19 who is traveling with a public or private school group, religious group, social or cultural organization, or team associated with a youth sport organization is permitted to present an original or a copy of his or her birth certificate, a Canadian Citizenship Card, or a Canadian Naturalization Certificate when arriving in the United States from contiguous territory at land or sea ports-of-entry, when the group, organization or team is under the supervision of an adult affiliated with the organization and when the child has parental or legal guardian consent to travel. For purposes of this paragraph, an adult is considered to be a person who is age 19 or older. The following requirements will apply:

      1. The group, organization, or team must provide to CBP upon crossing the border, on organizational letterhead:

        1. The name of the group, organization or team, and the name of the supervising adult;
        2. A trip itinerary, including the stated purpose of the trip, the location of the destination, and the length of stay;
        3. A list of the children on the trip;
        4. For each child, the primary address, primary phone number, date of birth, place of birth, and name of a parent or legal guardian.
      2. The adult leading the group, organization, or team must demonstrate parental or legal guardian consent by certifying in the writing submitted in paragraph (a)(1)(v)(B)(1) of this section that he or she has obtained for each child the consent of at least one parent or legal guardian.
      3. The inspection procedure described in this paragraph is limited to members of the group, organization, or team who are under age 19. Other members of the group, organization, or team must comply with other applicable document and/or inspection requirements found in this part or parts 211 or 235 of this subchapter.

Visa Exemption No Longer Available to Canadian Permanent Residents Holding Commonwealth Citizenship

Previously, aliens having common nationality (i.e. Commonwealth countries and Ireland) with Canadian nationals or with British subjects in Bermuda, and who have their residence in Canada or Bermuda, were also visa exempt. This included citizens from the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, The Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom (including colonies, territories, and dependencies), Vanuatu, Western Samoa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Since March 17, 2003, Canadian permanent residents (formerly known as "landed immigrants") from having Commonwealth citizenship have required passports and visas to enter the United States. However, citizens of countries participating in the visa waiver program are still able to enter the United States without a visa under B-1 or B-2 status for up to 90 days.

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