Do Canadians Receive Special Treatment When Traveling to the United States?

The answer is-it depends. We have had the pleasure of processing visas, and waivers for our Canadian clients for over 25 years. The founder of our law firm was born and raised in Canada. While the laws surrounding Canadian temporary non-immigrant visas have certain exceptions, a Canadian foreign national who visits the United States must always demonstrate lawful entry and maintain legal status.  

Confusion, however, often arises over the following issues surrounding Canadian entry and immigration into the United States: 1) Do Canadians require a visa to enter the United States & how to prove entry; 2) Whether to process TN, L, O and P visas through the Consulate or at a Port of Entry (“POE”); 3) Can Canadians change or extend their status in the United States if they entered without a visa. 

Visas for Visitors 

Canadians who entered through land borders up until passports were required in 2008, were ‘waived’ into to the United States. The U.S. Customs Border & Patrol Officer would look in the car, verify the purpose of the trip and waive a Canadian Citizen into the United States after checking birth certificate(s). Proof of entry was often difficult during this era unless travel was by airplane. However, our lawyers frequently work, especially with our Generation X and Baby boomer clients, to overcome this hurdle where a Canadian has overstayed, and then seeks to marry a U.S. Citizen. 

Fortunately, since 2008 Canadians have been required to enter the United States with a passport, and the actual passport is scanned, even though a visa is not required for a casual visit to the United States. When proof of entry is needed, Canadians can look up their U.S. CBP records for proof of entry. 

Except for casual visits to the United States not to exceed 6 months, if a Canadian seeks to enter the United States to work or study (F-1) a non-immigrant visa is mandatory. Some non-immigrant visas may be obtained at a port-of-entry as discussed below. 

Work Visas & Studying in the United States 

Work visas such as the TN Visa, L-1A or L-1B visa may be applied for at a U.S. Pre- Inspection unit or a Port of Entry (POE) to the United States.  This is a unique option provided for Canadian Citizens. However, there are times when it is still more advantageous to process the L visa through the U.S. Consulate. Our lawyers determine whether to process through the U.S. POE or the U.S. consulate depending on the employer’s needs, timeline, and goals.  Canadian students who obtain their I-20 from a U.S. school to study in the United States are also processed through a POE. 

Other work visas such as O and P visas for artists and athletes, are able to be processed at the U.S. border, but only after an approval has been received from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). The I-797 is the best evidence to provide when ready to travel, and the visa may be processed simultaneously at a set appointment time with a Pre-Inspection Unit or POE. 

Change and Extension of Status While in the United States 

Finally, Canadians who seek to remain in the United States, despite entry without a visa, may extend or change their visa status through USCIS, and do not have to return to a Port of Entry. It is important to note, that ESTA rules do not apply to Canadians, as they are not under this 90-day program where no change or extension is permitted. Once Canadians can demonstrate proof of lawful entry without a visa, the I-539 change of status and/or I-129 form allows for application of same once filed timely prior to expiration of permitted time in the United States. It is important to consult with legal counsel when pursuing this option.

We have successfully processed these U.S. immigration matters for over 25 years. To schedule a consultation, you may email us at or call / text (703)966-0907. B&E Capital – Vassell Law Group,PC | | | Members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association for over 20 years.