Posted on - Feb 25, 2016

By Victor Ing

Victor Ing

Beginning on March 15, 2016, foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries who are entering Canada by air will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to travel to Canada.

Before the introduction of this new travel requirement, foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries such as Italy, Germany, Korea and Japan (to name only a few) could travel to Canada by air without having to apply for authorization in advance. This new travel requirement allows the Canadian government to pre-screen travellers to Canada for security purposes. The new eTA system essentially mirrors the American Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system that became mandatory in the US in 2009.

In order to apply for an eTA, applicants will be asked to make an online application with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) prior to their travels. The application can be approved within minutes of submission and credit card payment of the application fee of $7 Canadian dollars. Once an eTA application has been approved, it will be valid for five years or until the expiry of the passport of the eTA holder.
In addition to basic background information, the eTA application will require applicants to declare their current residential address and whether they have previously applied to enter or remain in Canada, which would include all previous applications for any visitor visas, work permits or study permits.

The new eTA requirement does not apply to all foreign nationals entering Canada, however. A foreign national entering Canada will not need to obtain an eTA if they are travelling to Canada by land or sea. Foreign nationals who have obtained a visa in advance to travel to Canada will also not be required to separately apply for an eTA. Finally, American citizens are exempt from the requirement, but permanent residents (Green Card holders) of the United States will need to apply for eTAs.

Due to these new changes there is now also confusion about whether the new eTA system can be used by Canadian permanent residents living or travelling abroad. Under Canada’s immigration laws, “foreign nationals” are all persons who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. According to IRCC, this means that the new system is not intended to be used by Canadian permanent residents, although there do not seem to be any requirements that prevent a Canadian permanent resident from successfully obtaining an eTA.

In the past, many Canadian permanent residents without valid PR Cards could return to Canada by air if they come from a visa-exempt country. Now, if a Canadian permanent resident is outside Canada with an expired PR Card they might have trouble boarding a flight to return to Canada if they cannot successfully use the eTA system. This means that Canadian permanent residents who are outside Canada without valid PR Cards may need to apply for a Travel Document before they can return to Canada by air.

Based on this new change, foreign nationals and Canadian permanent residents alike should plan in advance and determine whether and how the new eTA requirement will affect their upcoming travel to Canada. It is best for Canadian permanent residents to ensure they can return to Canada from their trips abroad before their current PR Cards expire.


Victor Ing is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada, and provides a full range of immigration services.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Victor Ing or call him at 1-604-689-5444.

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