The Different Types of Border Crossing Documentation
- Passport Card
- Enhanced Driver License / Enhanced Identification Cardt
- Global Entry
American and Canadian Passport
A passport is a small booklet issued by all countries for international travel. It is the most universally accepted type of documentation proving your identity and country of residence. It is frequently the only piece of documentation you require for short term travel to another country. Both American and Canadian passports are typically blue in color and are valid for 10 years.
In the U.S., you can apply for a passport in person at your local post office or another type of passport acceptance facility. If you already own a passport you can renew by mail, although there are a few exceptions so make sure you read the instructions carefully. You can call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778.
It generally takes 3 – 6 weeks for a U.S. passport application to be approved. Make sure you apply early enough to receive it before you want to leave. Go to a passport agency only if you need your passport in less than two weeks for travel, or less than four weeks in order to obtain a foreign visa.
Normal turn-around time for a Canadian passport is 4 weeks. For and additional fee you can use an expedited process which will complete in around 2 weeks. For more information visit the Passport Canada website.
In 2012 Canada began issuing electronic passports called ePassports. They look like the older passports but have an electronic chip inserted into it. The chip holds your family name, sex, birth date, as well as birth location and a digital image of the passport holder’s face. The new passports are issued for 10 year terms although there is a cheaper version available for only 5 years. The older non-chip passports will remain valid until their expiry date.
Canadian Passports for children under 16 are good for five years.
The passport card looks similar to a driver’s license. Like passports, they are issued by the U.S. Department of State and are valid for 10 years. This card lets you travel between by land or sea between the US, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, but it is not valid for travel by air or to any other international location. The card is less expensive and more portable than a full passport.
If you already have a valid passport you may apply by mail. Otherwise, you must apply in person at your local post office. Make sure you apply at least six weeks before travel – especially just before heavy travel periods such as summer.
See the United States Department of State website or call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 for more information.
These three types of enhanced identification cards look just like a regular license but contain a magnetic strip and a microchip that will give the border patrol access to your file on their computer systems automatically. It is a form of “trusted traveler” documentation that will speed up your border crossing because you are “pre-qualified”.
These ID’s will speed up your travel by land or water into Canada, the United States, Mexico or the Caribbean. Like a passport card, they are NOT valid for travel by air, or to anywhere else in the world. Be aware of this if you are travelling across the border by car but then returning by air – or if you are going through another country along the way!
Like NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST cards, the Enhanced ID cards contain a radio frequency Identification (RFID) chip that transmits a number as much as 30 feet away. The RFID chip is read as the vehicle queues for inspection at the border and pulls up your biographic information, a photo, and the results of terrorist/criminal checks. The border patrol officer can look at the results quickly instead of entering information which enables faster processing.
To obtain an enhanced identification card you will undergo a background check by the issuing authority. Typically, you will need to pay a fee and submit items such as your Social Security card, proof of date of birth, proof of U.S. or Canadian citizenship and proof residence in the issuing jurisdiction. Not all states or Canadian provinces will issue an enhanced ID.
You can obtain an EDL / EIC for:
- Washington State
- New York State
- British Columbia
NEXUS is another “trusted traveler” program that is designed to speed your drive across either the U.S. or Canadian border. It can also be used for flying into certain airports and for marine travel. This card is typically used by commuters who cross the border on a frequent basis.
NEXUS members avoid wait times at border crossings by using dedicated lanes which are open at various hours of the day. We have seen reports claiming NEXUS members saved an average of 30 minutes at land crossings.
NEXUS applicants pay a fee and voluntarily undergo a background check, in-person interview and fingerprinting. A criminal check done by NEXUS will turn up any criminal activity regardless of whether you were found guilty. If you have been fingerprinted for a criminal charge your NEXUS application will most likely be rejected although there is an appeal process.
To get a Nexus pass you can submit an online application at the Global Online Enrollment System (GEOS). You may also go to the nearest enrollment center and fill out an application form. For more information on the application process call 1-866-NEXUS26 (1-866-639-8726) from both the U.S. and Canada.
- Border officers conduct random inspection of NEXUS users to catch those who try to smuggle goods across the border. You will have your NEXUS card revoked if you violate any border crossing rule. In addition, the revocation will be permanently a part of your record and may complicate all future border crossings.
- Many card holders lose their rights because they bring prohibited goods across the border. Given that the U.S. and Canada have different rules on what is permissible, it is not uncommon for users to face revocation because of honest mistakes such as bringing groceries or garden plants home with them. Make sure you understand what is permitted and what is not!
- Going through a NEXUS lane with passengers who do not have NEXUS cards can cost you your card. Remember that all children must also have a card to use the lane.
- NEXUS users must not have any commercial goods in their possession or in their baggage when entering the US.
- We have seen some advice from travelers that Nexus holders should still carry a passport to avoid unexpected issues.
- The card is an accepted form of identification for crossing the U.S. / Canadian border in either direction at non-NEXUS locations.
- The card is for use only between the U.S. and Canada. Travelers still need a passport to travel to other international destinations such as Mexico.
- This is an accepted form of ID for Ready Lanes.
- Children 17 and under may apply for their NEXUS Card at no cost so you may want to get them one while you apply for your own.
Like NEXUS, Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved travelers when you arrive in the United States. This program differs from NEXUS in two ways: it applies to travelers from countries other than Canada, and it allows expedited entry into the U.S. only – it cannot be used for entry into Canada or any other country. NEXUS is therefore a better bet for U.S. / Canadian commuters or others making frequent trips between the two countries. Global Entry is good at many airports, and land and sea borders.
As with all trusted traveler programs, you must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and interview before enrollment. You can get more information at the Global Entry website. To apply for Global Entry, go to the Global Online Enrollment System (GEOS).
The FAST card is another “trusted traveler” card similar to NEXUS. FAST is designed for carriers of commercial goods and provides dedicated border crossing lanes and expedited clearance to truckers at the U.S. border with Canada and Mexico.
FAST members reported saving an average of 27 minutes when entering the United States and 18 minutes when entering Canada. The card may be used in either a FAST lane or other land border crossings. However, the card cannot be used to enter the US in a Sentri or NEXUS lane. To use a FAST lane all persons in a vehicle must possess a valid FAST Commercial Driver card and the vehicle must be transporting eligible goods.
Government officials are envisioning that within 10 to 15 years the border will be completely electronic for carriers and that all carriers, drivers, and manufacturers will need to be a trusted partner” of CBP. If this comes about all data about all parties will be available online, so there will be no need for drivers to stop and identify themselves or explain their loads.
Visas are not required for American or Canadian tourists visiting either country for stays of up to 180 days. Visitors from other countries should review our links for Canadian Visa information or United States Visa information.
A Canpass card is issued by the Canadian Border Services Agency to facilitate border clearance for individuals wishing to cross the border into Canada in the following remote areas:
- from Pigeon River through to and including Lake of the Woods
- the Canadian shore of Lake Superior
- Cockburn Island
- Sault Ste. Marie (upper lock system)
It is not a substitute for a passport or other necessary documentation.
SENTRI is a land-border crossing program that expedites CBP processing for pre-approved, low-risk travelers along the U.S.-Mexico border. SENTRI members can use the NEXUS lane when entering the United States from Canada, but cannot use the SENTRI card to enter Canada via the NEXUS lane.