Canada, the sprawling neighbor to the north, has it all: breathtaking national parks (like Banff and Jasper), vibrant cities, culture, and Indigenous stories. As an American contemplating a visit across the northern border, you might be wondering about the travel requirements involved, particularly whether a passport is necessary.
Do you need a passport to enter Canada?
Yes, Americans need a passport to go to Canada, or an appropriate alternative document. And that’s whether you’re flying, driving, sailing, biking, taking the train, or walking into the country from the United States.
The policy that requires Americans to have a passport or equivalent document for transiting between the United States and Canada was passed by Congress in 2009 as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) “to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States.”
Under this initiative, a passport is considered the standard document for international travel. It replaced previous forms of identification, such as a standard driver’s license or birth certificate, which were previously accepted for crossing the U.S.–Canada border.
Acceptable alternative documents for crossing the U.S.–Canada border
If you don’t have a passport, you can use a few other documents to enter Canada as an American citizen.
One such option is a passport card. Like a passport book, the card includes information about the carrier, including full name, nationality, place of birth, gender, issue date and expiration date, a unique identification number, and a photo, though it looks more like a driver’s license. However, it’s important to note that passport cards can only be used for land or sea travel between the United States and Canada—they will not be accepted as an appropriate form of identification for international flights.
Another option is a NEXUS card. The NEXUS program, jointly administered by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), offers expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers. To acquire a NEXUS card, there is an application process (made through CBP), which includes an in-person interview. The NEXUS card can be used for air, land, or sea transportation.
Enhanced Driver’s Licenses
Some U.S. states offer Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, which contain additional security features and can be used in place of a passport for travel to Canada by car. Enhanced Driver’s Licenses are available in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.
Boat, train, and foot crossings
For those traveling by boat into Canada (most Alaska cruises, for instance, stop in Canada), a passport or passport card are necessary. Same goes for trains.
If you’re traveling by foot and go through a border control area, you’ll need a passport, passport card, or NEXUS card. You could skirt that by crossing in a remote area, but we would highly recommend against that.