US Homeland Security's plan is to implement the passport requirement to enter the United States by land next June. If you do have a passport and are planning a trip to Canada, please use it. The customs and immigration people on both sides like passports and there is a definite tendency to allow people with passports to go through the border very quickly.
Some States and Provinces are beginning to issue enhanced drivers licenses that are secure documents that provide both identification and citizenship information. These should be just as useful and acceptable for Border officials as passports, and a lot more convenient to carry than passports since the huge downside of passports is they do not fit into a wallet.
You do need a passport to fly into Canada or the US. US citizens can still travel by land to Canada this year without a passport, but if you are planning a vacation to Canada after June of next year, you should start your US passport application now.
If you are going back to the United States by land next year, although adults will need a passport, children under 16 will not need a passport. Children not traveling with their parents will still require documentation and letters of permission. This requirement has been imposed at the Canada-US border for a very long time since both Canadian and US Border officials are a major force in the effort to find and help missing and exploited children.
The one significant complication in traveling to Canada over the past number of years are DUI's (Driving under the Influence). Over 10 years ago Drinking and Driving was changed to a serious federal offence in Canada. At first everyone with DUI's was being stopped at the border along with other people with minor and major criminal records. Over the last number of years it has become a lot more practical.
Under certain circumstances, persons with criminal records can enter Canada.
- Deemed Rehabilitation - For all but the most serious offences, a person with a single conviction, who has completed their sentence more than 10 years ago, is deemed rehabilitated. There is no formal process for deemed rehabilitation, you simply go to the border, disclose your previous conviction, and the Canadian border official has the discretionary authority to admit you based on deemed rehabilitation.
- Granted Rehabilitation - This is for people with more serious offences, more than one offence, or offences less than 10 years old. Canada has a formal process for granted rehabilitation where certain criteria is met. Generally 5 years must have passed from the completion of the most recent sentence, and evidence of rehabilitation may be required such as court documents, probation reports, and letters of reference. A personal interview may also be required. There is a fee, which is usually $200 but fees may be $1000 or more for very serious or complicated cases. The usual procedure to apply for granted rehabilitation is to apply through the nearest Canadian Consulate in your home country. This process can be lengthy and waits of 12 to 18 months for a determination are common in the more complicated cases. Granted Rehabilitation will remain in place for crossing the border into Canada as long as no new offences are incurred. New offences invalidate you Granted rehabilitation and the process must be started all over again.
- Temporary Residence Permit - If you come to the border and have a DUI or other minor criminal convictions that are less than 10 years old, the Canadian Border officials can issue a temporary residence permit if they feel you would probably qualify for the Granted Rehabilitation above. This permit costs $200 and can be used to cross into Canada only once on the day it is issued. If you are issued a Temporary Residence Permit, you should apply for Granted Rehabilitation when you return home.
NOTO, Nature & Outdoor Tourism Ontario, the outdoor tourism organization for Ontario Canada, has been working with the Canadian and US Government as well as other organizations on Border issues. NOTO has a very informative bulletin board on Border Issues on their website at www.noto.net/bulletins/thread.cfm?threadid=4039. You can also email questions to the NOTO office at info@NOTO.net or phone Doug, Todd or Laurie at 705-472-5552.