Permit vs visa in Canada | work, study, travel, or stay

The concepts of permit and visa in Canada are confusing. I have noticed that even some immigration students have trouble understanding them. Therefore, this article compares permit vs visa in Canada.

What is a visa?

A visa is permission to travel to Canada. Unless you are exempt, you must have a visa to board an airplane destined to Canada. Of course, a visa is also a document that assists a border services officer in deciding whether to allow you to enter or not. Nonetheless, a visa does not guarantee entry.

Sometimes you receive a Single Journey Travel document to travel to Canada. However, most of the time, a visa is a counterfoil or sticker in your passport. The following picture shows a redacted sample.

Canada Visa Sample - a visa counterfoil is not a permit

What does a visa counterfoil include?

Before comparing visa and permit, let’s quickly review a visa counterfoil. Of course, personal information is a staple of a counterfoil. However, you may find more such as the UCI of the holder and the category. The latter is helpful to identify the purpose of the visit. For example, V-1 means a visitor, but W-1 refers to a foreign worker and S-1 to an international student.

How is a permit different from a visa?

A permit is a permission to remain in Canada. Unlike a visa, you may not use a permit to enter Canada. The only exception is when you are flagpoling via the United States.  The following picture shows a sample redacted permit.

Canada permit sample: a permit is not a visa

What does a permit include?

A typical permit includes the personal information of the holder and the expiry date. It also consists of the terms or conditions attached to the permit. Of course, the most common permits include a Visitor Record, a Work Permit, a Study Permit and a TRP.

Permit vs visa recap

Here is a brief comparison of permits and visas in Canada.

  • A visa is a counterfoil attached to a passport, but a permit is a standalone document.
  • You use permits to remain in Canada and enjoy the authorizations they offer. However, a visa is for the ability to travel and enter Canada.
  • Do not use a permit for re-entry unless flagpoling from the United States. On the other hand, holding a visa is no guarantee for remaining in Canada.
  • When you apply for a work permit or study permit, you also need a visa to travel to Canada. Nevertheless, an immigration officer issues the visa for you if they approve your work permit or study permit application.
  • The officers do not issue a permit for typical stays in Canada that lasts less than six months. However, if there are significant deviations, they usually give a Visitor Record which is a permit.

People who are exempt from a visa may travel to Canada without a visa counterfoil in their passport. However, when they reach Canada, they may need a permit to stay. Regardless, consider the last bullet point above.

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    Al Parsai, MA, DTM, RCIC
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    This article provides information of a general nature only. Considering the fluid nature of the immigration world, it may no longer be current. Of course, the item does not give legal advice. Therefore, do not rely on it as legal advice or immigration advice. Consequently, no one could hold us accountable for the content of these articles. Of course, if you have specific legal questions, you must consult a lawyer. Alternatively, if you are looking for immigration advice, book an appointment.

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    All the characters and locations in the articles are fictional, unless otherwise clearly stated. Therefore, any resemblance in names, dates, and places is coincidental.

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    Al Parsai

    Al Parsai is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (class L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) in Toronto, Canada. He is an adjunct professor at Queen's University Law School and Ashton College. Al, who holds a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University, is a member of CICC and CAPIC organizations. Al, the CEO of Parsai Immigration Services, has represented thousands of applicants from more than 50 countries to the immigration authorities since January 2011.

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