Can I enter Canada without a passport?

Most people need to carry a passport to enter Canada. However, if you want to know if you can enter Canada without a passport, keep reading. There are exceptional situations where a person may enter Canada without a passport.

Travelling vs entering

If you are travelling to Canada by air, it is almost impossible to travel without a passport, unless you hold a Single Journey Travel Document. Of course, the final decision-maker is the airline.  However, they consult with the immigration authorities as well. I cannot comment on the airlines’ policies or other vehicles. Therefore, the subject of this article covers those who successfully show up at a port of entry. In other words, we are exploring entering Canada at a port of entry rather than travelling to Canada. Read this article first if you do not hold a passport and intend to travel to Canada. If you believe you qualify to enter Canada, consult with the airline. Of course, if you want to enter through a US-Canada land-crossing, then this article is for you.

Canadian citizens entering Canada without a passport

Canadian citizens have the right to enter Canada. Since they have the right to enter, they may do so without a passport. However, they must convince the Border Services Officer (BSO) that they are Canadian citizens. Some alternatives to a passport for Canadian citizens include the following:

  • Certificate of Canadian Citizenship,
  • Canadian Emergency Passport,
  • Certificate of Naturalization issued before January 1, 1947,
  • Certificate of Registration of Birth Abroad issued between January 1, 1947, and February 14, 1977; and
  • Certificate of Retention of Canadian Citizenship issued between January 1, 1947, and February 14, 1977. (source: ENF04)

A birth certificate is proof of citizenship. However, it does not include a photo. Therefore, officers have to use other evidence to ensure you are the rightful holder of the birth certificate. Also, if you do not hold any of the previous documents, officers may use other reliable sources to ensure you are a Canadian citizen and who you say you are.

Sometimes a visa office outside Canada issues a laissez-passer for a Canadian citizen. This document has the seal of approval of the visa office and supports the person who intends to enter Canada. Consequently, the BSO respects the paper and allows the person to enter Canada. However, they collect the document and forward it to the issuing visa office.

Indigenous people who intend to enter Canada

The indigenous people of Canada may enter the country with or without a passport if they meet one of the following conditions:

  • They are Canadian citizens.
  • The Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has registered them. In other words, they are Registered Indians under the Indian Act.

BSOs could use any of the following documents to allow this group in Canada:

  • An original Temporary Confirmation of Registration Document (TCRD) issued by ISC
  • The Certificate of Indian Status (CIS)
  • The Secure Certificate of Indian status cards (SCIS)
  • A valid Canadian passport

Of course, if none of these documents are available, the BSO may refer to other trustworthy sources.

Permanent residents of Canada

Permanent residents have the right to enter Canada. However, they are subject to examination. They also must convince an officer they meet the residency obligations and are not inadmissible to Canada. Of course, permanent residents may use the following documents to establish their status at the port of entry.

  • the PR card (PRC);
  • the original Record of Landing (IMM 1000);
  • a true certified copy of a Record of Landing document issued by IRCC National Headquarters (NHQ);
  • a letter issued by IRCC NHQ verifying permanent residence;
  • a passport duly stamped showing the date on which they became a PR for cases before 1973;
  • a Confirmation of Permanent Residence form (IMM 5292B); and
  • a permanent resident travel document. (source: ENF04)

A PR who doesn’t hold a passport may still enter Canada. However, they must establish their identity and PR status with convincing documents.

Foreign nationals who intend to enter Canada

As a foreign national, you must first make sure CBSA will allow you to enter Canada. I have another article that explains this matter in detail. My focus here is on passports only. Of course, the primary document to travel and enter Canada is a passport. However, BSOs may also consider the following documents:

  • A travel document issued by the country of citizenship that does not prohibit the holder from travelling to Canada
  • An identity or travel document issued by the country of residence that allows the holder to return to the same country and also does not prohibit travel to Canada
  • A UN laissez-passer
  • A passport or travel document by the Palestinian Authority
  • The Official Travel Document by the Organization of American States [source: IRPR-s.52(1)]

Foreign nationals who may enter Canada without a passport

As I showed in the previous section, most foreign nationals must hold a passport to enter Canada. However, the following groups may enter Canada without a passport:

  • US citizens
  • Permanent residents of the US if they are travelling from the United States or St. Pierre and Miquelon
  • Residents of Greenland seeking to enter Canada from Greenland
  • Persons seeking to enter Canada from St. Pierre and Miquelon who are citizens of France and residents of St. Pierre and Miquelon
  • Certain members of the armed forces that fall under the Visiting Forces Act (conditions apply)
  • Specific airline and ship crew members [source: IRPR-s.52(2)]

Of course, just like Canadian citizens, these people must establish their identity, citizenship, and status. Therefore, their best bet is holding a valid passport. Also, inadmissibility prevents people from entering Canada: with or without a passport!

No passports at the time of entry? Expect scrutiny

A passport is an official and easy-to-verify document. Therefore, it is the best document for entering Canada. Even if you qualify to enter without a passport, officers must make extra efforts to verify your nationality and identity. Consequently, you may face scrutiny and delays at the port of entry. Also, take into account adverse events at a port of entry. Regardless, consider carrying the following documents:

  • Documents that establish your nationality (e.g., birth certificate, family registration certification, national ID card, etc.)
  • Government-issued IDs (e.g., driver’s licence)
  • Proof of address (e.g., bank statements, cell phone bills, electricity or hydro bills)
  • Any documents that show your previous interactions with the Canadian government

Of course, this list is neither inclusive nor exclusive. Regardless, translate documents into either English or French (if they are in other languages).

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    Al Parsai, LLM, MA, DTM, RCIC
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Adjunct Professor – Queen’s University – Faculty of Law
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.