If you plan to travel by road from the United States to Canada, you will need to cross the border, and if you have not already done so, you may be wondering if you can travel to Canada and what you need to cross.

You may enter Canada from the United States if you are authorized at the border, have a valid passport, NEXUS card or other relevant documents, and have a visa if required. Follow Canadian law to avoid being rejected at the border.

To find out exactly what you need to know to travel to Canada and what to check in advance, read our guide below.

How to travel from the United States to Canada

There are currently 119 official land border crossings and 9 ferry terminals where it is possible to enter Canada from the United States. A number of other ferry services only accept passengers or rail cars, so you cannot make the outward and return journeys.

A thousand-year-old island bridge across the St. Lawrence River connecting northern New York City with Ontario, Canada.
Crossing the Thousand Islands Bridge is one of the most picturesque ways to get to Canada.

Felix Lipov/Shutterstock.com

Keep in mind that some movements during rush hours are subject to heavy traffic, especially near major cities such as the west coast between Seattle and Vancouver, or near busy tourist and freight routes (such as near the Niagara Falls).

The Detroit Ambassador Bridge is the most popular border crossing into Canada, where more than a quarter or all of the goods are expected to pass between the two countries. On weekends the waiting time can be up to half an hour, so if you have a choice, you can choose one of the alternatives.

To get to Canada, simply select an intersection and drive there (check this out, as some intersections have certain restrictions). They may be exempted, stopped for further inspection or be subject to a full inspection of the vehicle. Don’t worry, many checks are carried out at random or according to specific types of vehicles or passengers targeted by border guards.

You may have to leave your car behind and have it searched yourself – you are crossing the international border, so be polite and do what you are advised. You help the cops and save a lot of time.

Documents required for entry into Canada from the United States.

From 2009, all visitors to Canada must ensure that they have the correct travel documents to enter Canada, including citizens of the United States. In most cases this means that you need a passport to enter Canada.

Sign at U.S./Canada border crossing Welcome to Canada.
When travelling to Canada, make sure your documents are in order.


U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Canada – if you have a valid passport, that’s all you need to enter Canada. Remember that a temporary residence permit is valid up to 180 days – if you plan to emigrate, you should contact the competent authorities and seek legal advice if necessary.

Children under the age of 15 may travel with a certified copy of their birth certificate, but this only applies to journeys by land or sea. If you’re traveling to Canada, you still need a passport.

Some states issue alternative documents that may technically replace the passport, such as the NEXUS table, the extended driver’s license or the FAST table. See if you’re not sure, and if you’re still confused, just get a passport – it works every time.

If you have a passport from another country, you should check with that country beforehand. Many countries, including many in Europe, allow visa-free travel to Canada. Most of them have to fill in the online travel authorization form before your trip. It is similar to the US ESTA programme and is in most cases only a formality.

Don’t forget that Canada is a different country and that different rules apply. If you have a criminal record, and especially if you have a serious criminal record, you will probably be sent back at the border. You may consider mitigating circumstances or cases where the offence has been committed over a long period of time, but you can seek legal advice on how to obtain a visa to ensure that you are accepted.

Important information about driving in Canada

There are a few important points to remember when you go to Canada to avoid problems or when you go to the border just to be sent away. Here are some of the most important:

  • Some U.S. states issue licenses to many younger drivers who are older than the legal age in Canada. Even if you have a valid U.S. driver’s license, you must abide by local laws. The absolute minimum age for driving in Canada is 16 years for students and in many cases 17 or 18 years for a full driver’s license. This varies from province to province, so check before you leave.
  • Firearms laws in Canada are very different from those in the United States. If you can avoid it, don’t bring a firearm when you’re on the move. Many types of registered firearms are prohibited or restricted in Canada and the United States. Even those who are allowed to do so need a huge amount of paperwork to get them temporarily, and actually there is no reason for all these headaches. If you do not turn your gun in, you risk a fine and heavy jail time.
  • Like guns, drug laws are different north of the border. Although some U.S. states have relaxed the rules and enforcement somewhat, you shouldn’t take anything with you, even though few people cross the border with you. If you do this and get caught (these sniffer dogs are good at finding things), you could get into serious trouble.
  • Please note that the traffic rules are different in Canada. Therefore, be aware of the speed limits and the differences in terminology before your trip. There are some important differences, such as not being able to turn right at red lights, and when driving in Quebec, don’t forget that the road signs will be in French.

Alberta's Highway 93, which connects Banff National Park to Jasper through forests and mountains.
You can travel to Canada to discover breathtaking roads such as Highway 93 in Alberta.

i Viewfinder/Shutterstock.com

Can you drive a rental car in Canada?

Most car rental companies allow you to rent a car across the border in Canada, and most of them don’t charge an extra fee for this.

However, it is important that you let them know if you intend to do so, as they will need to note your planned itinerary and provide you with additional insurance documents valid for Canada. Otherwise, you may not be able to enter Canada and if you do, you are driving illegally because you are uninsured.

Please note that car rentals often have a minimum age of 21 years and restrictions up to 25 years. So if you’re young, maybe you can’t rent a car and drive to Canada.

When planning a trip, it is important to remember that you really don’t want to rent a car for a one-way trip from the United States to Canada. The extra cost will be high and you will still have to make an effort to cross the border to return your car to a car rental company in the United States.

Even if you plan to spend enough time in Canada, a one-way car rental that starts and ends in the United States is much easier to book and much cheaper than returning a car in Canada.

Don’t forget that afteryou have to go back to the United States.

If you drive your own car, remember that if you are going to Canada, you will have to take it across the border back to the United States.

Entering the country with your own car is a relatively simple process. If you’re considering importing your car permanently, it’s a long and complicated process.

This means that even if you are going on a long trip, you really need to plan to pick up your car in Canada to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.

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