Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Canada

Your Guide to a Hassle-Free Travel Experience
Gerry Cariou
By Gerry Cariou

Gerry Cariou is the Executive Director of Ontario's Sunset Country.

Last Updated: October 29, 2018

Visiting Canada 101

Your Playbook for a Hassle-Free Travel Experience to Ontario’s Sunset Country

You’re Going to Have Fun!

Let’s get to the most important point that we want to make in this article first. Canada is an incredibly beautiful country with endless lakes, forests and fantastic fishing. Your visit to Ontario's Sunset Country will be one of the most memorable vacations you’ve ever taken and you’re going to have a lot of fun! We have written this article as a comprehensive yet easy to read backgrounder for anyone who is visiting Canada from the USA but it will also be useful if you plan to visit us from another country.

You Need a Passport to Get Into Canada

Getting into Canada

Like any other country, Canada has laws to protect its borders and security but entering Canada as a tourist is relatively easy to do. Here are the basic rules around this subject:

  • If you are a citizen of the United States of America, you require a passport to enter Canada. Funny thing here is your US Passport is required because you need it to return to the United States after your vacation is done, so it is an American law, not a Canadian one.
  • As an American citizen, you also have the option to get a passport card or an enhanced driver's license (land travel only). See here for more info.
  • Children under 16 years of age who are US citizens do not require a passport, but you must have their birth certificate and it is recommended you have additional identification with their picture, for example, their school ID card. This helps Customs and Immigration officials verify the child’s identity.
  • Visitors from all other countries outside the USA are required to have a passport, children included, and depending on what country you are visiting from, you may also need to apply for an eTA (electronic travel authorization) and/or a visitor visa. Check here to see what is required for your country of origin.
  • If you are coming from the United States with minor children who are not your own or, if you have your own children with you and the children’s other parent is not accompanying you, then it is recommended you have a letter from the other parent granting permission for you to take the child into Canada without them. Ensure you have contact info for the child’s other parent should Immigration Officials want to verify the letter.

Here is the Visit Canada website with more information for visitors.

Visiting Canada as a Person with a Criminal Record

If you plan to visit Canada on a vacation and you have a criminal record (including a conviction for DUI/DWI) this is an issue! Your admissibility to Canada is first and foremost, at the discretion of the CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) Immigration Official who you encounter. If you have one misdemeanour or minor criminal conviction that you were not aware made you inadmissible, the Immigration Officer may, at their discretion, grant you a TRP (Temporary Resident Permit) allowing you to enter Canada on a one-time basis for the duration of your vacation. Important to remember here is the following:

  • There is no guarantee or obligation that the Immigration Official will grant you a TRP as it is discretionary. Our best advice here is in you find yourself in this situation it really helps to be polite with Immigration Officials at the Border despite the stress.
  • A TRP will only be considered (in most cases) if you have a minor conviction and if only one conviction exists on your record with no jail time involved. If you have more than one conviction, it is highly unlikely you will be offered a TRP.
  • There may be a fee attached to the TRP if you decide to accept it after being offered the option by the Immigration Officer.   

Here is a useful resource explain more about what the Temporary Resident Permit is all about.

What Can I Do if I am Inadmissible to Canada Due to a Past Criminal Conviction?

If, because of past criminal convictions, you are determined to be inadmissible to Canada, there is a process you can follow to request “rehabilitation” which would allow you to enter Canada if approved.

Granted Rehabilitation (Individuals): This involves a formal application to the Canadian Government requesting they review your background and consider approving your entry under what is known as “granted rehabilitation”. Generally, you need to gather and send in information from the Court you dealt with regarding your conviction, fill out the accompanying application, send it to the Canadian Consulate in Los Angelas and wait for a decision. There is a fee involved and processing of your application can take up to 12 months, maybe longer. If approved, you can enter Canada without any issues. A minimum of five (5) years must have passed since the end of your court sentence for you to be eligible to apply for granted rehabilitation.

Here is where to go to download the application to apply for criminal rehabilitation.

Deemed Rehabilitation: In certain instances, after 10 years has passed since the end of your court sentence, you may be “deemed rehabilitated” and allowed to enter Canada. Again, this is at the discretion of the Immigration Officer but in most cases, if they consider it is likely not to commit an offense, they may allow you to enter Canada under this guideline. If you find yourself in this situation and the required time has passed since your conviction, request entry as a person who is deemed rehabilitated.

Can I Bring My Pet with Me?

Dogs and cats are allowed to enter Canada with you as long as they appear to be in good health and you have a valid rabies vaccination certificate issued within the previous 3 years with you for each animal. Remember that not all lodges, campgrounds and hotels allow pets so make sure you clear that the place you’ll be staying at is one of our pet-friendly accommodations

Rules for bringing a pet into Canada

What are the Rules Around Firearms?

Handguns are banned in Canada so leave yours at home. You may bring in a long rifle or shotgun for hunting purposes only so you must have a hunt booked if you bring one of these firearms with you. You are not allowed to bring in firearms for animal control purposes.  You are also allowed to bring in 200 rounds of ammunition duty-free. No automatic or modified weapons are allowed in Canada. Ensure you have a trigger lock or have temporarily disabled the firing mechanism on your rifle or shotgun and you encase them properly when it is being transported. Ammunition must be stored separately from your firearm unless they are both in a locked case.

Visit the Canadian Firearms Centre for more information on bringing a gun into Canada

Bringing Alcohol or Tobacco into Canada

You’re allowed to bring in the following amounts of alcohol (beer, wine or liquor) duty-free:

  • 1.5 litres (53 imperial ounces) of wine; or
  • 1.14 litres (40 ounces) of liquor; or
  • a total of 1.14 litres (40 ounces) of wine and liquor; or
  • 24 x 355 millilitre (12 ounces) cans or bottles (maximum of 8.5 litres) of beer.

Any amounts over this limit are subject to duty.

You’re allowed to bring in the following amounts of tobacco duty-free:

  • 200 cigarettes; and
  • 50 cigars or cigarillos; and
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco; and
  • 200 tobacco sticks.

Any amounts over this limit are subject to duty. Here is a useful page explaining the rules around bringing in alcohol or tobacco to Canada

Operating a Boat in Canada

If you’re visiting as a tourist and not staying longer than 45 consecutive days, you do not require a Pleasure Craft Operator Certificate to drive a boat. In terms of equipment, your boat must comply with the regulations of your home state in most aspects and it must have enough flotation devices for everyone on board.  

Go here for more information on operating a boat in Canada 

Rules for boating in Canada

Driving in Canada

If you have a valid driver’s license from your state it is valid in Canada. Your vehicle insurance and registration/license plate are also valid. The key thing to remember is speed limits posted in Canada are in kilometres per hour, not MPH. Here are a couple of quick conversions to help you out:

32 MPH= 50 KMH             55 MPH = 90 KMH           62 MPH = 100 KMH

*Radar (speed) detectors are not allowed in Canada.

Using US Currency While in Canada

While US currency is accepted by almost all retailers and service businesses, if you are vacationing here we suggest you visit your bank and exchange your US dollars into Canadian dollars prior to visiting and use Canadian currency while on your vacation. The current exchange rate is highly in favour of the US dollar (approximately 33% at the time of writing in January 2017) so you will get the best exchange rate by going to a bank as not all businesses offer the bank exchange rate. The other option is to use your credit card for most purchases you make and it automatically gives you the exchange rate close to the official rate.

Exchanging money in Canada

Getting an Ontario Fishing or Hunting License

Non-residents of Canada who want to fish or hunt while in Ontario are required to have a valid outdoors card and a valid fishing or hunting license (2 pieces). You can get your license before you come (recommended) by going on-line at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website

Remember that for hunters, you must bring a copy of an expired or current hunting license in your home State or any other State to obtain an Ontario hunting license. Also, remember for certain big game species you need to buy a tag yourself (e.g. for white-tailed deer) or obtain a tag from an outfitter (bear and moose) in addition to having a valid outdoors card and hunting license. You may also require a valid export permit. For wolves, you need a game seal and a small game license. Make sure you carefully read and follow all the fishing and hunting regulations to avoid disappointment.

Fishing in Ontario Using Live Bait

Residents of the USA are not allowed to import live baitfish into Canada and this includes crayfish, minnows, leeches or salamanders. You’re allowed to import night crawlers but they must be in a tissue bedding with no visible traces of soil. For more information visit the Fishing Ontario website.

Allowable Fishing Equipment

Here are the basics on allowable equipment you can use while fishing in Ontario:

  • You’re allowed to use 4 hooks per line in Ontario.
  • You are only allowed to use 1 line at a time per licensed angler
  • For ice fishing, you’re allowed to use 2 lines per licensed angler but both lines must be in your view (within 60 meters or 175 feet)
  • Lead jigs or sinkers are not allowed in any Canadian National Parks in Ontario but they are allowed in waters outside these National Parks (but they are not recommended)
  • Check the Ontario Fishing Regulations for the lake you’ll be fishing as some exceptions apply – for example in some lakes you can only use barbless hooks.

Walleye Fishing in Canada

What are the Rules Around Bringing in Food to Canada?

The restrictions on what food items that you’re allowed to bring into Canada vary, depending on the product. Some restrictions also vary based on the province. Because pest and disease situations are constantly changing, these requirements may be adjusted at any time.

You are required to declare all the food products you bring in to Canada even the ones which are allowed to enter. Depending on the quantities you bring, you may be required to pay duty although that is unlikely if you are only bringing enough for the time you’re here on vacation. Generally, do not bring wild game products such as venison since all meat requires product identification labeling and must be USDA approved. Country of origin information may also be required for some meat products.

Here are the per person limits for some common food products:

Meat Products: Up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds)

Fruit & Vegetable Products (frozen, dried, or canned): Up to 15 packages but not to exceed 250 kilograms

Fruit and Vegetables (fresh): Potatoes - One bag up to 4 kilograms (10 pounds) and they must be commercially labelled. All other fresh fruits/vegetables up to 15 packages not to exceed 250 kg

Note: There are some restrictions on certain fruit/vegetable products from the States of Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho. See the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) for a current list of these products. 

Dairy Products: 20 kilograms (44 pounds) – Note: Dairy products with a value exceeding $20.00 may be subject to high rates of duty.

Fish and Seafood: All species allowed except pufferfish and Chinese mitten crabs with per person quantities of each allowable species as follows:

  • 10 dead finfish that are not eviscerated
  • 4 crustaceans with head on shell on
  • 3 kilograms of molluscs

Healthcare for Visitors from the USA

While healthcare and emergency services are available in the cities and towns within Ontario’s Sunset Country, if you are visiting from the United States you should check with your existing health insurer to determine if your healthcare policy covers unexpected medical services you may require while visiting Canada. You will never be refused health care services when you need them, but if your US policy does not cover you in Canada, you will be billed for any services provided. You can also buy temporary travel health insurance policies to cover unexpected health costs you may incur while visiting Canada. 

In case of accident or emergency illness:

  • Keep the telephone number of your insurer and your policy number handy in case of an emergency. Your insurer will guide you through the process of making a claim and assist you in navigating the Canadian health care system.
  • Keep a list of medications you take and allergies you may have
  • Ask for and bring back home detailed reports of all treatment received while in Canada.
  • Keep all receipts of tests, prescriptions, etc. as these will be crucial when you make a claim.
  • When you return to the USA, it’s recommended that you file your claim to your insurance company within 90 days of the accident or incident.

Cellphone and Internet Service

While in one of the local towns or cities, you should have access to cell towers. In more remote regions of Sunset Country, this may not be the case as the wild nature of our landscapes prevents viable cell phone or Internet service in most remote regions. Some lodges provide Wi-Fi service to their customers but if this is a necessity, check with the lodge you are staying at to see if they offer this service as some do but many do not. If you are staying at a remote outpost cabin (a fly-in) in almost all cases you will be out of cell phone range and there will be no Internet service so be prepared to “disconnect” for the time you’re at that location. We recommend the following:

  • Buy a Canadian data/roaming plan to reduce or eliminate high roaming fees. Your current cell service provider will have several options for you to choose from.
  • If you are going to a drive-in facility relatively close to a town or city, a “data hub” may work off the cell towers and provide you with your own Internet service by creating a small Internet “bubble” in your location. These hubs may or may not be available from your cell service provider and they may or may not work at your location – there is no guarantee.
  • Be prepared for spotty or no cell service at times – it’s just the way it is in these remote regions.

Additional Information Not Listed Here

If you have questions or are looking for additional information not listed here we can try to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-665-7567 or email us at info@visitsunsetcountry.com If you have not booked your accommodations yet then check out our places to stay in Ontario’s Sunset Country.

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Free Travel Guide & Map of Ontario's Sunset Country