Canadians generally do not require a visa to visit the United States. In fact, Canada is the only nation whose citizens do not require any type of ESTA or visa to visit the United States (along with Bermuda). Most Canadians can walk up to the border and cross without issue – assuming they have a valid passport and no security concerns on their record.
However, not all Canadian citizens and residents enjoy visa-free travel to the United States. Many Canadians will still need to apply for a visa to visit the United States. Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about applying for a U.S. visa as a resident or citizen of Canada.
Do Canadian Citizens Need a Visa to Enter the United States?
Canadian citizens do not need a visa, an ESTA or any other type of pre-authorization to visit the United States. If you have Canadian citizenship and a valid Canadian passport, then you should have no trouble crossing the border into the United States at any airport or land border crossing.
Even Canadian citizens with a criminal record may be able to cross the border. It depends on the CBP officer processing your crossing. However, having a criminal record can certainly make it more difficult to enter the United States. The CBP officer reserves the right to reject your entry to the United States for any reason.
Canadian Residents May Require an ESTA
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) allows citizens of 38+ countries to enjoy visa-free travel to the United States. If you’re a resident of Canada but a citizen of another country, then you may need to request an ESTA online prior to crossing into the United States.
Let’s say you’re a resident of Canada but you’re a citizen of Ireland with an Irish passport. You will need to complete an ESTA application online prior to crossing into the United States.
If your ESTA is approved, then it grants you admission to the United States for a two year period up to a maximum of 90 days per each trip. However, an ESTA does not guarantee admission into the United States: you may still be turned away at the border.
Your ESTA can be completed online in minutes at a cost of $14 USD. The ESTA application asks basic information about your background, employment, and education. Applications are typically approved in minutes.
Some Canadian Residents May Require a Visa
If you applied for an ESTA online but were rejected, then you may need to request a visa.
Alternatively, if you’re a Canadian resident who is not from one of the 38+ Visa Waiver Program countries, then you may also require a visa. If you’re a resident of Canada but you hold Somalian citizenship, for example, then you will require a visa to visit the United States.
All Canadian residents and citizens will also require a visa if they’re planning to work or live in the United States. If you’re applying for a TN/TD visa under NAFTA/USMCA, for example, then you will need to do paperwork prior to seeking entry to the United States.
Canadian citizens do not require a student visa to study in the United States. However, you are required to complete an I-20 or DS-2019 form and receive a SEVIS number prior to crossing the border.
Canadian citizens and residents ineligible for ESTAs include:
- TN/TD visa seekers under NAFTA/USMCA (these 3-year visas cover certain in-demand professions)
- Treaty traders and investors seeking an E-1 or E-2 visa
- Foreign citizen fiancés or fiancées need a K-1 visa, while the children of the fiancé or fiancée need a K-2 visa
- Foreign citizen spouses require a K-3 visa, while the children of the foreign citizen spouse require a K-4 visa
- Spouses of lawful permanent residents require a V-1 visa, while the spouse’s children who are traveling to reside in the U.S. while awaiting final completion of the application process require a V-2 visa
- Canadian government officials visiting the United States for official purposes will need to request an A visa prior to arrival in the United States, including for temporary or permanent assignment
- Officials and employees of international organizations on official business in the United States are required to obtain a G visa when visiting the United States for temporary or permanent assignment
- NATO officials, representatives, and employees visiting the United States for official business will require a special NATO visa
TN/TD Visa for Canadian Citizens
The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, outlined certain professions in-demand in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. These professions (there are about 60+ professions on the list) enjoy easier movement between the three major North American countries. Accountants and speech therapists, for example, may be able to apply for a TN visa that allows the individual to work in the United States temporarily.
The new USMCA agreement signed into effect in 2018 preserved the TN/TD visa system. Under the TN or TD visa, you are permitted to work in the United States as a Canadian resident or citizen. The visa lasts for three years, after which you can renew it or return to Canada.
Which Documents Do Canadians Require for U.S. Visa Application Interviews?
Specific visa requirements vary between visa applications. However, certain documents are relatively standard across most visa applications, including all of the following:
- Confirmation page certifying that you have completed the DS-160 or DS-260 online application form for a non-immigrant or immigrant visa
- Appointment confirmation page (verifying that you have scheduled an appointment at a nearby U.S. embassy or consulate)
- Valid passport
- Two identical photos (5cm x 5cm in size) taken within the last 6 months; if you already uploaded a photo during the DS-160 online application form, then you are not required to bring an additional photo
- Previous U.S. visas (if applicable), including any old passports containing U.S. visas or date of entry information
- Certification of No Criminal Record from the RCMP (available online through the RCMP website)
- Letter from an approved physician (if visiting the United States for medical treatment); this letter should explain the reason for obtaining the medical treatment and the reason the procedure cannot be performed in Canada
- Letter of invitation (if you’re applying for a visa that is sponsored by an employer or family member within the United States)
- Information about any previous rejections or deportations from the United States, including the reason for those deportations
How to Complete a U.S. Visa Application in Canada
Certain Canadian residents are required to apply for a U.S. visa. In addition, certain Canadian citizens are required to apply for a U.S. visa if they are planning to live or work in the United States.
The specific steps vary from visa to visa. However, these are generally the steps you will take to complete a U.S. visa application as a Canadian citizen or resident:
Step 1) Determine which visa applies to your situation
Step 2) Complete the applicable online form, including the DS-160 or DS-260 form
Step 3) Pay your visa fee
Step 4) Schedule an interview with the most convenient U.S. embassy or consulate
Step 5) Attend your visa interview
Step 6) Wait for your visa to be approved or denied (typically within 3-5 working days)
Determine Which Visa is Right for You
Canadian citizens generally do not require a visa. However, if you are planning to live, work, or study in the United States, then you may require a unique visa. Determine which visa is right for your unique situation.
Complete the Online Form
All visa and immigration forms can be found online at the official website of the U.S. embassy in Canada.
The DS-160 and DS-260 forms are straightforward. You will be required to provide personal information about yourself and your background, your employer, and your education.
You will also be asked additional questions about your criminal background (if any), including any drug-related offenses.
Pay Your Visa Fee
A typical U.S. visa fee will be between $160 and $205. However, you may need to pay more for certain specialty visas.
Immigrant visas also tend to be more expensive. Additionally, the person sponsoring your trip to the United States (like an employer or spouse) may be required to pay additional fees.
Make a Visa Appointment with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
The United States has one embassy and seven consulates across Canada. Every major city in Canada has a U.S. consulate or embassy (sorry Edmonton):
Schedule a visa interview with one of the embassies or consulates listed above. Then, prepare for your interview by collecting all required documentation.
Attend the U.S. Visa Interview
Arrive early for your U.S. visa interview. Many U.S. embassies have strict security requirements that prevent you from bringing bags, purses, smartphones, and other items into the building. You may need to store any such items at a nearby storage locker or similar facility.
Upon arrival at the U.S. embassy or consulate, you will be told to wait for your appointment. Your appointment with a consular officer will begin. You may have your fingerprints taken before or after your interview. The visa application interview can last anywhere from 60 seconds to 60 minutes.
Do Canadian Citizens Need a Visa to Study in the United States?
Canadian citizens do not need a visa to study in the United States, nor do they need a visa to participate in an exchange program in the U.S. However, Canadian citizens who wish to study in the United States do need to obtain an I-20 (or DS-2019) Certificate of Eligibility from the university, school, or exchange program they wish to attend.
Once the student has submitted the I-20 or DS-2019 form, the student will be registered with the U.S. student tracking program called SEVIS. The student will receive a SEVIS number. When the student crosses the border to begin his or her study in the United States, the student will need to bring all of the following:
- A Canadian passport
- The original I-20 or DS-2019 certificate
- Proof of payment for the SEVIS application fee
- Proof of financial means to cover the cost of studying and living in the United States
- Proof of ties to Canada (i.e. proof that you intend to return home after completing your studies)
Canadian First Nations Peoples Traveling to the United States
In 1974, the United States and Canada signed the Jay Treaty that gave First Nations peoples and Native Indians the right to more freely travel between the two countries. Today, First Nations individuals born in Canada can freely move from Canada to the United States without the need for a visa. However, the individual must show strong evidence that he or she has at least 50% First Nations ancestry.
To prove at least 50% First Nations ancestry, the individual can use evidence like:
- An identification card from the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs (recently renamed Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)
- A written statement from an official of the tribe from which your ancestors originate; that letter must explicitly state your percentage of First Nations blood or the percentage of blood for your parents, based on official records
- A passport or driver’s license
Most Canadian citizens do not need a visa. In fact, Canadian and Bermudian citizens are the only two citizens that do not require any type of visa or ESTA prior to visiting the United States. Nevertheless, many Canadian residents will require an ESTA prior to visiting the United States. In addition, certain Canadian citizens – like those intending to work or live in the United States – will be required to complete a formal visa application process.