Canada: New Electronic Travel Authorization For Visa Exempt Travelers Entering Canada

Last Updated: February 26 2015
Article by Sven Walker

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is expected to implement the Electronic Travel Authorization ("eTA") Program in April 2015. Mirroring the Electronic System for Travel Authorization ("ESTA") already present in the US, the eTA program will require Canadian-bound travelers from visa-exempt countries who are flying into Canada to apply online for an eTA before they enter.

Applications will be made online, will cost CAD $7 and will require submission of basic bio-data information, a passport copy and background information that would normally be collected by officers at the airport. Most applications will be processed online within minutes; however, non-routine cases will be deferred to an office inside Canada for further processing before a decision is made. Generally, eTAs will be issued for 5 years at a time (unless an applicant's passport or travel document expires sooner or an issue of inadmissibility arises).

Visa-Exempt Travelers

Citizens of certain countries need a visa in their passport before they are allowed to travel to or enter Canada. These visas are generally applied for at Canadian visa offices outside of Canada, and can sometimes be extended from inside Canada. Citizens of countries that do not need a visa before they travel to or enter Canada are called visa-exempt foreign nationals. These individuals can apply for entry to Canada when they arrive in Canada and generally will not have to apply at a visa office outside of Canada before they travel.

Find out if you or your employee(s) require a visa to travel to Canada

Before the implementation of the eTA Program, most visa-exempt nationals can continue to travel to Canada without applying for anything in advance; however, visa-exempt travelers (except for the exceptions listed below) will be subject to the new eTA Program.

Who Will Require an eTA? 

  • all visa-exempt foreign nationals traveling to Canada by air (except for those listed below); and
  • all visa-exempt foreign nationals presently in Canada on work or study permits if they plan to exit and re-enter Canada by air, unless they are solely traveling to the US, St. Pierre or Miquelon and returning directly to Canada.

Who Will Not Require an eTA?

The main exemptions include:

  • US nationals;
  • Residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon;
  • Foreign nationals who hold a Temporary Resident Visa ("TRV") or Temporary Resident Permit ("TRP");
  • Foreign nationals applying for a work permit or study permit at a visa office outside of Canada;
  • Visa-exempt foreign nationals presently in Canada on valid temporary status that are solely traveling to the US, St. Pierre or Miquelon and returning directly to Canada;
  • Accredited diplomats;
  • Travelers covered under the International Civil Aviation Organization considerations;
  • Visiting forces covered under the Visiting Forces Act; and
  • Passengers on flights stopping in Canada solely to refuel.

The eTA will be an electronic document and, as such, there is no way for airlines to know if someone possesses the required eTA before boarding. This too will change when the Canada Border Services Agency ("CBSA") implements another new program – the Interactive Advance Passenger Information System ("IAPI") – to ensure that travelers do not board planes to Canada without first getting an eTA, if required.

Requirements for Employers and Foreign Workers

It is recommended that you distribute this alert to any of your employees presently in Canada on temporary status, and to consider the requirements in respect to any foreign nationals you are planning on hiring in Canada in the near future. Once the Program is launched, we will provide you with exact details of when and how you or your employee(s) can apply for any required eTAs.

If you or your employees are in Canada on temporary status, or intend to enter Canada after the implementation of the eTA Program, please refer to the below chart to determine if an eTA will be required. 

If you, your employee(s) or any accompanying family members are...

You,  your employee(s) and  any accompanying family members will...

A national of the US or residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon and traveling to Canada

Not require an eTA

A foreign national who is applying for a Temporary Resident Visa or already possesses a Temporary Resident Visa

Not require an eTA

A foreign national who possess a Temporary Resident Permit (as it applies to inadmissibility)

Not require an eTA

A foreign national who is applying for a work or study permit at a visa office outside of Canada who will enter Canada after the implementation of the eTA programThis will apply, but is not limited, to all Intra Company Transferees, LMIA-based work permit holders and International Experience Class participants

Not require an eTA

A foreign national from a visa-exempt country, other than nationals of the US or residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon, outside of Canada and travelling to Canada by air after the implementation of the eTA programThis will apply, but is not limited, to business visitors traveling to Canada even for a short-term duration

Be required to obtain an eTA before you travel to Canada

A foreign national who has a valid work or study permit, who is present in Canada and wishes to exit and re-enter Canada after the implementation of the eTA program:

(a) travelling only to the US or St. Pierre and Miquelon and returning directly to Canada

(b) travelling to a country, or countries, other than the US before returning to Canada

(a) Not require an eTA

(b) Be required to obtain an eTA before you exit and re-enter Canada

Dale & Lessmann LLP will provide further information on the eTA Program once it becomes available and once the Program is launched by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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