Canada: The ABCs Of ETAs: New Entry Requirement For Visa-Exempt Travellers To Canada

Last Updated: February 3 2016
Article by William R. MacGregor

Most Read Contributor in Canada, October 2018

Canada has introduced an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) regime which will become mandatory on March 15, 2016. It will affect most visa-exempt foreign nationals who want to fly into Canada.

After March 15, 2016 such foreign nationals will not be able to board a flight to Canada unless they have applied for and been granted an ETA.

Companies need to be aware of the new rules and should make sure that their foreign national employees from visa-exempt countries have ETAs in place in case they need to fly into Canada. As well, third party service providers or visitors from affiliates who are from visa-exempt countries will need ETAs to be able to fly into Canada to attend business meetings.

We have set out below an overview of Canada’s ETA system. We have also outlined some potential issues that employers need to be aware of regarding the new system.

What is an ETA?

An ETA is an entry requirement for visa-exempt, non-U.S. foreign nationals travelling to Canada by air. Foreign nationals who require an ETA will need to apply through an online process prior to flying into Canada. In most cases, the ETA will be issued within minutes of applying. The ETA is electronically linked to the foreign national’s passport and is valid for 5 years or until the expiry of the passport, whichever occurs first.

One purpose of the ETA system is to decrease the number of foreign nationals turned back at Canada’s airports due to being found inadmissible upon arrival.

Who Needs an ETA?

Most visa-exempt foreign nationals i.e. citizens of countries who do not need a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) to enter Canada, will need an ETA to fly into Canada.

U.S. citizens are exempt from the ETA requirement.

Visa-exempt foreign nationals granted a Canadian work permit after August 1, 2015 do not need an ETA as the ETA would have automatically been granted and linked electronically to their passport when the work permit was issued.

Citizens of countries that require a TRV do not need an ETA as they will be screened prior to traveling to Canada when they apply for their TRV.

Refer to this link to find out whether or not a foreign national needs a TRV or an ETA, by inputting their citizenship.

The full list of nationalities that require an ETA, and exemptions to the ETA requirement, may be found at this CIC webpage that sets out information on the ETAs.

CIC has indicated that “soon after March 2016, citizens from Brazil, Bulgaria, Mexico and Romania may be eligible to apply for an ETA when travelling to Canada by air.”  To be eligible for an ETA, such travellers would need to show that they have held a Canadian visa in the last 10 years or hold a valid U.S. non-immigration visa. 

Application Process

An ETA is applied for online at this link by clicking on the “Apply for an ETA” button.

Applicants input information and answers to the application questions online. It is imperative that all answers be accurate as the applicant is declaring that all answers are truthful. Failure to answer the questions correctly or truthfully could lead to a finding of misrepresentation, which has serious consequences.

There is a $7.00 application fee which is paid online by credit card as part of the application process.

No physical document or paper confirmation is issued since the ETA is electronically linked to the person’s passport. The foreign national will need to travel to Canada using the passport that was used in the ETA application.

CIC has created ETA application guidelines in a variety of languages, which are  available here.

The ETA process will screen for inadmissibility. If an applicant is inadmissible, no ETA is issued. They would need to seek legal advice and may need to apply for special permission to overcome the inadmissibility, to be able to enter Canada.

The online ETA application includes the following criminal and medical admissibility questions:

  • “Have you ever committed, been arrested for, been charged with or convicted of any criminal offense in any country?”
  • Do you have a health condition for which you are receiving regular and ongoing medical treatment?” Health condition is defined as “ any medical or physical condition”.

An applicant must accurately answer these questions. If the applicant answers “no” and it is later discovered that they should have answered “yes”, a misrepresentation could be found, which could lead to the foreign national being banned from being able to enter Canada.  If the admissibility questions require a “yes” answer, the applicant’s admissibility will be scrutinized; an ETA will not be issued to someone who is inadmissible.

Implications for Employers

There are a number of things that companies need to be aware of or should consider doing to minimize issues or potential travel disruptions arising from the ETA regime.

  • Canadian employers that employ TFWs from visa-exempt countries who obtained their current work permit prior to August 1, 2015 may want to ensure that those TFWs apply for an ETA prior to March 15.
  • If someone with an ETA obtains a new passport, a new ETA application needs to be made to get an ETA linked electronically to the new passport.
  • Companies should consider whether they want to inform foreign third party service providers (such as after sales service providers) or international visitors (whether from inside the company group or outside) of the ETA requirement, to avoid potential travel disruption or delay if such foreign nationals try to fly to Canada before getting an ETA.
  • Foreign nationals who require an ETA should be encouraged to apply for it well prior to their planned flight to Canada, and prior to booking a flight. This would allow for early discovery of any potential admissibility issues, which could provide enough time to deal with such issues prior to the planned trip to Canada.
  • Companies should be aware that obtaining an ETA does not guarantee entry to Canada. Rather, it allows the foreign national to board the flight to Canada. Upon arrival, CBSA officers at the airport may still assess the admissibility of the foreign national.
  • Having an ETA does not displace the need to get a work permit if one is required. Whether or not a foreign national traveling to Canada needs a work permit for the activity they will be undertaking in Canada should be assessed well in advance of entry.
  • An ETA is not required for a visa-exempt foreign national who is entering Canada by land. Consequently, if such a foreign national flew to a U.S. airport near the Canadian border, and entered Canada at a land port of entry, they would not need an ETA.
  • Visa-exempt foreign nationals who will be applying for a work permit upon arrival at a Canadian airport will still need to obtain an ETA (if they do not already have one) to be able to fly into Canada to make the work permit application.
  • If a foreign national obtains an ESTA from the United States, they would still need an ETA from Canada if they plan to fly into Canada from the United States. 
  • If an ETA required visa-exempt foreign national obtains Canadian Permanent Resident status, we understand that the ETA connected to that person’s passport will be cancelled. This may cause travel issues for such foreign nationals. If they no longer have a valid ETA, they will not be able to board a direct flight to Canada until they are issued a PR Card. CIC is currently taking at least several months to issue an initial PR Card. This may require travel back to Canada through a land port of entry until the initial PR Card is issued, unless CIC develops a solution to deal with this issue.
  • If you have internal mobility, travel or immigration policies/procedures or communication pieces for your employees, do these need to be modified or updated to set out information on the ETA requirement?

Conclusion

Canada’s ETA regime, which will be mandatory as of March 15, 2016, adds another step to the process of travelling to Canada for most visa-exempt foreign nationals. Visitors from visa-exempt countries (except for citizens of the United States) will need to ensure that they apply for an ETA prior to travelling to Canada by air.  However, once in place, the ETA will be valid for up to 5 years.

Canadian companies need to be aware of the ETA requirement to ensure that any TFWs or business visitors from visa-exempt countries flying into Canada after March 15, 2016 have taken steps to apply for an ETA. This will minimize unexpected disruption of travel plans.

Further information on the ETA regime is available in the FAQs set out on CIC’s website.

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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