Documents needed for Border Crossing

USA and Canada Flags

Entering a country, whether it’s your own or not, is fairly straightforward. You just have to present your documents and things ought to go smoothly. Unfortunately, complications can arise if you’re not prepared. The right documents will obviously get you through the border but what are the right ones? It all depends on three factors.


1 First, countries have different documentation requirements. The types of documents that Canada requires upon entry will differ from what the US government asks for. Typically, Canada is less strict about documentation than the US. So if you’re thinking of crossing the border twice, complying with the much stricter US entry requirements will ensure you’re able to travel more smoothly into Canada.

2 Second, the type of documentation required will differ based on how you cross an international border – air, land, or water. We’ll talk more on that later.

3 The third factor is age. Customs officials are more lenient when it comes to the required documents for children under the age of 16.

All these various requirements can be taxing for travelers. But one thing is certain. It pays to be prepared. It’s definitely awkward and annoying (not to mention costly) to be turned away at an international border. But while you will never be prevented from entering your own country, you may be required to undergo a secondary screening which is never pleasant for anyone.

Traveling with children

Canadian citizen children traveling to the US by air are required to have a passport or a NEXUS card (if leaving from a designated Canadian airport).

Canadian citizen children under the age of 16 traveling to the US by land or water only need to present their birth certificate or other proof of citizenship. Those between the ages of 16 to 19 are required to present a valid passport unless they are traveling with an organized group such as a school, sports, religious, or other youth groups. In case of the latter, they need only present a birth certificate, a Canadian Citizenship Card, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad.

An adult traveling with children may be asked to provide evidence of parental, custodial, or access rights OR proof that he or she has the consent of the parents, legal guardian, or the court to travel with the children.

Document requirements for minors visiting the US or Canada may differ depending on certain factors. For more detailed information, please visit our Traveling with Minors page.

For people with criminal records

Check Criminal Record

Prior criminal offenses, even seemingly minor ones, can make you ineligible to enter Canada or the US. The list of offenses that can bar you from entering the US differs from Canada’s list. For example, a DUI will not prevent you from entering the US provided you have the basic requirements for border crossing. Canada, on the other hand, is much stricter regarding DUIs which means you will be denied entry.

There are options for travelers that are deemed “criminally inadmissible” by the US or Canada. Generally, in the US, you will need to apply for a US waiver of criminal inadmissibility. In Canada, overcoming your criminal convictions will depend on the nature of your crime, how long ago it was committed, and your behavior since then. You may be required to apply for rehabilitation, a record suspension (for convictions in Canada), or a temporary resident permit depending on certain factors.