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Do You Need a Passport to Go to Canada?

Canada and the US have a long tradition of being good neighbors to each other.  At one time, US citizens could cross the border with nothing more than a driver’s license. However, in recent years the laws have changed, leaving many confused.

Do you need a passport to go to Canada? In all likelihood, yes.  Since June 1, 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) has required that Americans traveling to Canada by land or by sea carry one of the following documents as proof of citizenship:

  • A US passport book
  • A US passport card
  • A NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST card
  • An enhanced driver’s license (only available in certain states)

The only exceptions are for children and people on “closed-loop” cruises. Children under the age of 16 can use their birth certificates, naturalization certificates or certificates of citizenship instead of a passport if they are traveling by land or by sea.

Children under the age of 19 can use birth certificates, too, provided they are traveling with an organized group such as a school group, church group, sports team, volunteer group or cultural organization.  The group must be supervised by an adult and carry a letter on organization letterhead that contains the name of the group, the names of the supervising adult and the children, and a signed statement certifying that parental permission has been obtained for all children on the trip.

Americans traveling to Canada on a closed-loop cruise (one that begins and ends in the same US port) can travel with their driver’s licenses or state -issued ID cards and their birth certificates or naturalization certificates.

Now, if you traveling to Canada by plane, the rules are different. You need a passport book (the passport card won’t cut it), and there are no exceptions, even for children.  Even if you are traveling by land or by sea, it’s a good idea to use a passport book in case you have to fly home unexpectedly.

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91 Responses to “Do You Need a Passport to Go to Canada?”

  1. Duy Nguyen


    Can I travel to Canada by driving with an expired passport and green card.


  2. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Duy,

    Possibly. All you need is your green card to cross back into the US by car. Please contact the Canadian Embassy to make sure that your expired passport won’t cause you any problems getting into the country, though:

  3. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Sarah,

    It totally depends on whether you’re driving in or flying in, which may be the cause for confusion. If you’re driving in, the kids can all have birth certificates since they’re under 16. If you’re flying, everyone needs a passport, even your five-month-old. Hope this helps!

  4. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Chris,

    Everyone over the age of 16 at the time of the trip needs a passport or a passport card.

    Have fun!

  5. Vickie

    A very small group from my church is going to Canada in July and one of the boys that has recently decided to go is 14 and does not have a passport.
    Here’s what I know he’ll/we’ll need.
    His birth certificate,
    A letter on our church’s letterhead listing all supervising adults and a list of all who is going with us, and where we are going and when we plan on returning.
    And a sign letter from his parent saying that she knows who he is with and that she has given her permission for us to take him with us.
    Is there any other documentation will we need for him to cross the Canadian border, then back through USA border by car?
    Thank you (in advance)for taking the time to answer our questions

  6. Wii

    Hi Alison,
    I want to travel to Canada this summer. I’m a U.S permanent resident. I have a green card and a passport from my country. Base on what I have, what can I travel with? air? car?

  7. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Wii,

    As long as you have your green card and a passport from your home country, you can travel any way you’d like. 🙂 Just check with the Canadian embassy to see if you need a visa.

    Have a great trip!

  8. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Vickie,

    That list looks good, but you might want to double-check with the Canadian Embassy:

  9. cherie

    My daughter is 15 and going from Washington state to Victoria Canada via family yacht. She has a CA ID, certified birth certificate, and my husband and I have made copies of our passports and consent letters (notorized) as she is not traveling with us and friends of the family. She will return to Washington before her 16th birthday. Do you think she will be ok entering and leaving Canada??

  10. Lynn

    My 12 year old son, my 65 year old mother and myself (43) will be traveling to Niagara falls Canada side this summer. I keep reading conflicting answers about whether we will need passports. Some say no, just drivers license and birth certificates. Other answers say yes we all need passports. Also passport requirements say that both parents must appear in person to apply for a minor passport. My ex has left the state and we have not had contact with him in several years so there is no way that he will or can appear in person to give permission for my son to obtain a passport. What is the correct answer for passport requirements? Thanx.

  11. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Lynn,

    I’m assuming you’re traveling by land into Canada? If so, as far as your son goes, since he’s under 15 he can just travel with his birth certificate. Actually, all of you can technically get into Canada with just ID and birth certificates, BUT you and your mom need either a passport, a passport card, or an enhanced driver’s license (the kind with an RFID chip, not offered in all states) to get back into the US without any hassles.

    As far as getting as passport for your son goes, your ex doesn’t have to appear in person with you but you would need a signed, notarized consent form from him unless you have sole legal custody of your son. If you have sole custody, just bring the court order in when you apply with your son and you should be fine.

    Hope this helps!

  12. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Cherie,

    As long as she’s under 16 she should be fine.

  13. Daniel

    Hey Alison,

    I was wondering if you can be the age 16 and enter Canada with a Birth Certificate,Thanks.

  14. Barbara N David

    i want to go to canada, but i do not know how to start the process

  15. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Barbara and David,

    I’m not sure what you mean? If you’re not sure how to apply for a passport, read this:

    And here’s information from the Canadian government aimed at visitors to Canada:

    Keep in mind that you don’t need a visa for a short term tourist visit if you’re a US citizen.

    Hope this helps!

  16. Alison Kroulek


    Once you hit 16, you can only use a birth certificate if you’re traveling by land or sea with an organized, chaperoned group like a church or school group. You need a passport, a passport card, an EDL or one of the following trusted traveler cards: NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI.

  17. John

    We are supposed to go to canada in 3 days and we cannot find my 7 year old’s birth certificate! We are going to try to expedite it. are there any options for us if we can’t get it in time??

  18. Alison Kroulek

    Hi John,

    Probably not, I’m afraid. But you could contact Canadian Border Services and ask:

  19. Amanuel

    Can I go to Canada with green card & drivers license?

  20. Amanuel

    How secure/safe is to drive from Albany NY to Montreal Qc & how is the traffic?

  21. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Amanuel,

    Yes, you can use your green card and driver’s license. Have a great trip!

  22. Carina

    Hello, we are planning on either driving or taking the train to Canada. It will be me and my four children. I know I need a passport and my children can travel without a passport, using their birth certificate. My question is, would I have to have their dads signature or written permission to get into Canada or can we just go as long as I have their birth certificate?

  23. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Carina,

    If you’re divorced, you need a copy of the custody agreement and signed permission from him. If you’re still married, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry written permission any way, just in case there are any questions. Have a great trip!

  24. Kim


    We are planning a trip from US to Ontario Canada by car. We have a 8 and 11 year old, do they need passports or is their birth certificate sufficient ?? Is there a cheaper piece of identification for my husband and I other then a passport ?? Thanks for your help.

  25. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Kim,

    As long as you’re traveling by car, your kids can use birth certificates. You and your husband could get passport cards or possibly enhanced driver’s licenses with RFID chips, assuming your state offers them.

  26. Teresa

    My daughter and I are planning a trip from Michigan to Rochester, NY by car. We would like to go through Cananda. She has a 4 and 7 year old, and I understand that birth certificates are sufficient for them. I have a passport, but my daughter does not. Is an enhanced driver’s license sufficient for her?

  27. Alison Kroulek

    Yes, an enhanced driver’s license is fine as long as you’re traveling by car. But for the kids, be aware that she may also need to bring notarized permission for the trip from the children’s father (assuming his name is on the birth certificates), or proof that she has sole custody. See here for more details:

    Have a great trip!

  28. Habiba

    My family and I are planning to go to Toronto this year, and my two daughters who are 7 and 13 have expired passports.Could they go to canada with their brith certificates?

  29. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Habiba,

    Yes, as long as you are traveling by land (or by sea). If you plan to fly in, the girls will need new passports.

    Have a great trip!

  30. Stephanie

    Hi. My son is traveling to Sydney, B.C. by ferry from Anacortes, Wa with his grandparents on April 1st. He turns 16 on March 21st. He will not have a drivers license yet and doesn’t have a passport. Will a birth certificate be enough?

  31. Jen

    Hi , my boyfriend and I will be driving to Canada in a rental car in my boyfriends name I will be driving will this be a problem, we both have passports will we both need drivers licences? thank you

  32. Jackie

    What kind of birth certificates are accepted, the official one or is the hospital one ok?

  33. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Jackie – you must have an original or certified copy of your birth certificate. Hospital certificates are not accepted.

  34. Jenny

    Hi, my son is 16. Does he need a passport? Above says under 16, so I was wondering if that included 16.

  35. Alison Kroulek

    Yes, he needs a passport or a passport card (if traveling by land or sea.)

  36. TAN DANG

    Hi, my son’ s US passport is going expired on Jun 24, but we are leaving Canada on the 14 of Jun .is it ok for him to comme back USA by air?

  37. Alison Kroulek

    Sure, as long as it’s still valid when he returns you should be fine.

  38. Alecia L.

    I have two children under 16 we will be travel to Canada by car with. I have their expired Passports, can I bring that instead of there birth certificates??

  39. Alison Kroulek

    Hi Alecia,

    You can try. They may or may not let you cross, and you may be delayed crossing back into Canada while they verify your documents are legit. But it would be MUCH better to get a new copy of their birth certificates. If you don’t have time to go collect them yourself you can order from They’re usually very quick.

    Good luck!

  40. Johnson vante

    Hi my name is Johnson I’m Haitian my passport is expired I have green card I wanna drive to come to Canada is OK?

  41. Alison Kroulek

    Contact the Canadian Embassy. Thank you!

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