Canada has a new entry requirement that applies to visa-exempt foreign nationals flying to the country on a temporary basis. The program is called the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) and was implemented on March 15, 2016. This new requirement is a result of the 2011 “Beyond the Border” action plan, announced in 2011 by President Obama and then Prime Minister Harper. The stated goal of the eTA program is to improve screening of all visa-exempt foreign nationals flying to Canada. This initiative mirrors the U.S.’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that was put in place in 2008, and requires all eligible international travelers who wish to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program to apply for the authorization. However, the ESTA is not needed if you have a Canadian passport. Likewise, if you are a U.S. citizen, you do not need to apply for an eTA. In addition, you will not need to register for an eTA if you are traveling to Canada by road or sea.
The eTA is electronically linked to a traveler’s passport and is valid for 5 years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. The online application is $7 and all applicants are required to have a credit card and passport to apply. Currently, there is a leniency period, and as long as travelers have appropriate travel documents and a valid passport they are okay, but starting September 30, 2016 foreign travelers will need to register online for the eTA. This program works as a pre-screen for travelers and the idea is to act as a first line of defense in securing the border. If there’s a red flag with a traveler’s eTA application, they will be asked to provide additional information and may be asked for an interview. This is a big change from previous requirements and will apply to foreign nationals who wouldn’t normally require a visa to travel to Canada – such as British, Australian and French citizens, as well as U.S. green card holders or work permit holders.