Do you need a passport to go to Canada?

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A vacation to Canada is like no other. It’s a place where you can become swept away with the natural beauty and exciting thrills of such famous landmarks like Niagara Falls, The CN Tower, the Notre-Dame Basilica, Banff Gondola, and Prince Edward Island When it comes time to plan your next vacation, our neighbor to the north offers an appealing and affordable way to travel outside the U.S. Even better, new Canadian security measures require none of the fuss that other international locations can create, simplified travel with no shortage of thrills. All you need is a valid U.S. passport, and you can be on your way.

But are there any other ways?

(Photo by AP Group of Photographers/Shutterstock)

Is there any way to get into Canada without a passport?

Canadian law stipulates that all individuals entering the country possess a valid passport (some travel scenarios actually require two valid U.S. passports!). This means you need to be prepared to provide a U.S. passport as an American entering Canada. If you have children under the age of 16 accompanying you, they only need to provide proof of citizenship.  A passport isn’t the only way to gain entry into Canada. Officials will also accept a passport card or NEXUS card in lieu of an official U.S. passport. Passport cards are similar to a passport, but they are more limited in their allowances. They only permit entry via land or sea border into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean (in other words, not airports). A NEXUS card, on the other hand, is similar to TSA PreCheck, earning your expedited processing and entry into Canada. It can be used interchangeably for both American and Canadian citizens who travel between the two countries. When traveling by land or sea, you have access to special express lanes that help to get you over the border much faster. If you prefer to fly, there are NEXUS kiosks to greet you in airports for quick self-processing.  Before your next trip to Canada, consider a passport card or NEXUS card to improve your travel. But understand that neither is a true substitute for a passport, because you will not be permitted via air travel.

Comparison: U.S. Passport vs. Passport Card vs. NEXUS Card

Credit CardBest forBonus
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Rotating cash back categories & grocery purchases the first year$200 (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening

5% cash back (5x Ultimate Rewards) on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year
Chase Freedom UnlimitedEveryday purchases & grocery purchases the first year$200 (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening

5% cash back (5x Ultimate Rewards) on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (see rates & fees)Ongoing grocery purchases at U.S. supermarkets$150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit CardFoodies$150 cash bonus when you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account
Citi® Double Cash CardSimplest credit cardNo welcome bonus
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit CardHotel stays30,000 Marriott points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ CardAmerican Airlines miles10,000 American Airlines miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® cardCell phone insurance20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months
Citi Rewards+℠ CardCiti ThankYou points collectors15,000 Citi ThankYou points when you open the Citi Rewards+ Card and spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account
Ink Business Cash Credit Card
Small businesses$500 cash back (50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
The information for the Wells Fargo Propel has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

How quickly can you get a passport?

If you have ever applied for or lost a passport, you know that one of the biggest deterrents is the time that it takes. If you are planning your trip months in advance, you can easily complete the requirements. It’s not a process designed to provide a quick turnover.  The normal processing time for a U.S. passport is six to eight weeks. There is usually an expedited processing service that is available, but it is currently suspended in light of COVID-19. Instead, passports are being processed and issued based on your upcoming trip dates or any special extenuating circumstances, such as an emergency involving illness or death. In these cases, you can receive your passport in as little as 72 hours, but you will be required to apply in-person at a passport agency, center or acceptance facility.  For trips more than eight weeks away, the State Department warns of excessive processing delays, so it’s important that you get started as soon as possible. There is an optional 1-2 day delivery option, but this only pertains to the delivery itself and does not in any way impact the actual approval timeline. The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs plans to resume its expedited processing program when it undergoes phase three of its reopening plan. 

Are passport cards accepted to drive into Canada?

Given the substantial delays and expense associated with a U.S. passport book, many travelers look to passport cards as another solution for entry. Passport cards were created as a convenient shortcut for travelers visiting not only Canada but also Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Passport cards are especially useful for the drive from Detroit to Windsor or from Seattle to Vancouver. At a fraction of the cost of a U.S. passport, you can save precious money and time when you need to get on your way. When you need to renew, it only costs $30 to reapply using the convenient mail application. It is a much cheaper renewal than the $110 renewal fee associated with U.S. passports. It is especially convenient if you are a frequent traveler to Canada who needs a form of international identification without all of the added extras and expenses that accompany a full passport. However, passport cards are not going to be the right choice for you if you plan to do most of your traveling via airport. Again, only land and sea travelers are able to benefit from this program, which does not make it the right fit for everyone.

Bottom line

Skip the fuss of pricey fees and passport photos, and consider a passport card or NEXUS card for your next trip to Canada. The kind of identification you will need ultimately depends on the method of travel because a passport card will not work if you are planning on flying. Many travelers opt for a combination of the three to expedite their travel because the use of two valid U.S. passports only helps to ensure safer and more efficient trips in the future. Subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tips like this delivered to your inbox!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Gabriel Cherry
2 months ago

Perhaps this article should mention that Americans can’t travel to Canada at all right now because of COVID?

All non-essential travel from the US to Canada is banned until at least August 21.