A FAQ for the eTA
Last updated: 12 August, 2016
I created this page because the same few questions keep coming up over and over again in discussion forums, and it would be useful to have answers together in one place.
In addition, as a Canadian I feel bad for travellers suffering through what was once one of the easiest border crossings in the world. Sorry, eh!
First, a caveat: I am not a lawyer, and I don’t work for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, or any other government agency responsible for the new Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Nor, for that matter, am I in any way connected to any of the “agencies” which have sprung up online to assist with the eTA application process. However, as an active member of a few online travel forums, and a travel blogger and writer, I find myself being inexorably pulled into – sometimes heated – discussions on Canada’s newest entry requirement.
So this FAQ brings together the best understanding based on personal experience, first-hand accounts, and research from government and other sources.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion, misinformation, and strongly felt but misguided opinion about the eTA, amongst would-be travellers to Canada – and sometimes the well-meaning people who try to help them.
These problems are compounded by some confusing word choices in official government sources, chiefly from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The recently announced leniency period, while it should have resolved these issues at least in the short term, has often just added to the confusion by introducing another level of complexity.
Here, I will attempt to offer as best I can my understanding of the eTA as it develops. Please note that this page is a work in progress: I will do my best to tell you what I know, and where practical will include sources of information. My understanding will change as new information and first-hand accounts become available.
Finally, as your teachers told you in school, don’t believe everything you read – especially online, always check the sources yourself!
Also, a request: please feel free to share your own research and personal experiences in the Comments space, so that others can benefit. However, this is not the place to ask questions related to your eTA application: discussion forums such as Thorn Tree and, in particular, the Canada forum at TripAdvisor are already full of threads on precisely this topic. I will structure this information based on generic questions which address the topics which seem to be coming up most frequently online.
Warning: Avoid online agencies selling assistance with the eTA application process. The government of Canada website, which has .gc.ca in the URL, only charges $7 for the application. (12/08/16)
Discussion forums are full of rip-off stories and hassles. Check out this thread, for example, on TripAdvisor: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g153339-i49-k9522033-Canadian_eta_beware_of_scams-Canada.html.
As I noted, government of Canada websites end with .gc.ca. Anything else, especially .com, and it’s not an official government site but something else – such as a profit-making company. For the record, the cost of an eTA application directly through the government website is $7. ‘Nuff said. I hope… Here’s the URL for the government’s site with a link to the TA application page, amonf other resources on the eTA http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp If you’re wondering, the “cic” in this case means Citizenship and Immigration Canada, a department of the federal government.
Here’s the government’s official position on fee-charging agencies, and whether they’re a scam (spoiler: if they submitted your application as promised, it’s not a scam) http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/answer.asp?qnum=1233&top=16
Do I need to apply for an eTA during the leniency period? (28/07/16)
The official word from CIC is “yes,” but it will be very interesting to hear any first-hand reports from travellers who arrive without having started the application process. Please add your experience in the comments below!
Here’s what the CIC says on the matter, from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/answer.asp?qnum=1235&top=16 (accessed 28/07/16, 10:03 am Tokyo time):
(Note that what they do not explain is whether a flight agent or border officer can and will check to see that an application has been made, if still pending)
Do I really need an eTA to fly to or transit through Canada since there is a leniency period?
Yes, visa-exempt foreign nationals are expected to have an eTA to fly to or transit through Canada.
However, until September 29, 2016, you can board your flight without an eTA, as long as you have appropriate travel documents such as a valid passport. During this leniency period, border services officers can let you enter the country as long as you meet the other requirements to enter Canada.
Before you travel to Canada—even if it is when you check in for your flight—you can apply for an eTA using any device with an internet connection, including a mobile phone. It takes just a few minutes to complete the form. All you need to apply is a passport, a credit card, and an email address.
In most cases, the eTA will be granted within minutes of applying and will be electronically linked to your passport. Once approved, an eTA is valid for five years, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. You can make multiple visits to Canada with a valid eTA. It is best to get an eTA as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, this explanation, like several others connected to the eTA, uses ambiguous language: What does it mean, exactly, to say that travellers are “expected” to have an etA, even during the leniency period? If it is essential to at least start the application process before arriving in Canada, why not simply say so? For example, the same condition could be spelled out more clearly by stating “Yes, visa-exempt foreign nationals must have applied for an eTA to fly to or transit through Canada.” Here, as on some other pages, ambiguous word choice is creating confusion about what is required of travllers during the leniency period.
Note that this page is part of a larger Help Centre which provides the CIC’s official answer to this and a bevy of related questions at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/results-by-topic.asp?st=16.7 (accessed 28 July, 2016 10:08 am Tokyo time)
How long does it take to receive an eTA? (28/07/16)
This is one of the most variable, and therefore frustrating aspects of the experience for travellers. CIC claims a turnaround time of “a confirmation within minutes” in “most cases” (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/answer.asp?qnum=1063&top=16). In other cases, such as when additional documentation is required, you should expect an email with next steps within 72 hours (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/answer.asp?qnum=1084&top=16). However, the actual processing time seems to vary widely: on this discussion thread on TripAdvisor “(eTA Application” https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g153339-i49-k9318890-o110-ETA_Application-Canada.html) some applicants are reporting wait times of a few weeks to as long as a month – though ultimately successful!
Can I still travel to Canada if approval for my eTA is pending? (29/07/16)
Yes. This question appears to have a blissfully straightforward answer: the leniency period seems to have been created to meet just this case. Hence the wording
Until September 29, 2016, travellers who do not have an eTA can board their flight, as long as they have appropriate travel documents, such as a valid passport. During this leniency period, border services officers can let travellers arriving without an eTA into the country, as long as they meet the other requirements to enter Canada. http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/results-by-topic.asp?st=16.7
Do Canada and the US share visa and travel permit info? (28/07/16)
The answer, somewhat surprisingly, appears to be yes. I quote from a Citizenship and Immigration Backgrounder online at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2012/2012-12-13.asp (accessed 28 July, 2016 9:22 am Tokyo time):
The adoption of the Immigration Information Sharing Treaty enables our two countries to share systematically information from third-country nationals who apply for a visa or permit to travel to either country…
When a third-country national applies to Canada for a visa or a permit, or claims asylum, Canada will send an automated request for data to the United States. The request will contain limited information, such as name and date of birth in the case of biographic sharing, or an anonymous fingerprint in the case of biometric sharing. If the identity matches that on a previous application, immigration information may be shared, such as whether the person has previously been refused a visa or removed from the other country. All information shared as part of the initial request will be automatically purged from U.S. systems regardless of whether a match has been found.
The same process would apply in reverse when a third-country national applies to the U.S. for a visa or claims asylum.
Can I travel to Canada anyway during the leniency period if my eTA has been refused? (28/07/16)
Apparently, no. Here’s the word from the Citizenship and immigration Canada page www.cic.gc.ca/english/helpcentre/answer.asp… (accessed 28 July, 2016 10:08 am Tokyo time) on the status of refused eTA seekers during the leniency period:
“If your application was refused, you should not plan or undertake any travel to Canada, even during the leniency period. If you decide to travel to Canada with a refused eTA during the leniency period, you may experience delays or be prevented from entering the country.
We encourage you to reapply for an eTA only once you have addressed the reason(s) leading to the refusal of your application.”
That “may experience delays” at first sounds encouraging, but I wouldn’t want to arrive just to be turned back at the border. Under the circumstances, I would not travel to Canada during the leniency period if my application were refused unless it were a dire emergency: a serious family crisis or the like. Just my toonie.
Why might my eTA application be refused? (28/07/16)
a brief overview of reasons for inadmissibility: cic.gc.ca/english/…index.asp (accessed 28 July, 2016 10:42 am Tokyo time)
a more detailed description: cic.gc.ca/english/…who.asp (accessed 28 July, 2016 10:42 am Tokyo time)
Does an eTA guarantee entry to Canada? (29/07/16)
This topic, more than any other, seems to exercise some of the regular members of online discussion forums. The problem, the confusion, seems to stem from the variety of terms being used in different places and times by people, with varying degrees of rigour as to their literal vs. connotative meanings. Thus, an eTA is an “authorization to travel,” meaning you have permission to board an airplane to travel to Canada. It is also at times called an “entry requirement”, and while this seems straightforward I believe what is meant is that you require an eTA to board an airplane, which is the first step in the entry process to Canada by air. At this level, the vexed forum discussions seem rather pedantic…
Of more concern is cases where travellers hope that a successful eTA application will over-ride conditions which previously prevented travel to Canada such as a criminal conviction. THIS DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE THE CASE. Think of it this way: an eTA will get you to the stage of an interview with a border services officer at the airport in Canada. However, in that interview you must still satisfy all the conditions previously in place for admission to Canada. If you were barred from entry before because of an issue such as a criminal conviction, you will likely be barred again – that hasn’t changed. What HAS changed is that now you must prove you qualify to be interviewed for possible admission before you even arrive in Canada. Hope that helps…
Media and Other Sources of Ongoing Interest
Travel discussion forums have lit up with the topic of the eTA, especially as frustrated and confused travellers have started to run into problems with the application process. Two discussion forums which I participate in and have threads on the eTA are Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, and TripAdvisor.
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Canada Forum https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-canada/canada has some discussion on specific aspects of the eTA application process, such as on paying fees and juggling passports for dual citizens.
TripAdvisor’s Canada Travel Forum https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g153339-i49-Canada.html has been extremely active on the subject of the eTA, and continues to have several threads with sometimes quite heated exchanges on many aspects of the eTA. There’s some useful information here, from people who have researched the topic as well as from – a hopefully growing number of – people who have shared their first-hand experience.
“Canadian government ‘very concerned’ as fake eTA websites scam hapless travellers for 17 times the cost” Scam Alert: fake eTA websites (National Post; July 17) http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-government-very-concerned-as-fake-eta-websites-scam-hapless-travellers
“Canada’s New Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) Procedure: Obtain an eTA Before You Fly…But No Enforcement Yet” eTA’s “soft deadline” (Lexology.com, legal newsfeed service; from April 11, 2016) http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=a3c76d4b-b7a9-44bf-ac87-ae970045cb82