What to Expect When Crossing the Canadian Border by Car

Canada is an amazing destination to visit and the best part is you can drive there from many parts of the United States.  Of course, it is always best to know what to expect when crossing the Canadian border by car, so you are prepared and have everything that you need.  After all, long gone are the days when you could drive into Canada and back home again with nothing but a smile. Nowadays, you must have specific documentation and be prepared to have your car searched at the US Canada border crossing when you travel to Canada by car.  So, if you’re getting ready to drive into Canada and wondering about things like – do you need a passport to drive into Canada, or what else to expect when crossing Canadian border by car – we have answers to your question of what do I need to cross the Canadian border by car and how to cross the Canadian border by car

How to Cross the Canadian Border by Car

One of the ways you will know you have reached the border between the United States and Canada is there will be the booths that seem to appear in the middle of the road.  You will be driving along and then you will need to stop because you have reached the US Canada border crossing.  

Depending on the time you are driving to Canada, you may find that you need to wait in line until it is your turn.  When it is your turn at the booth, a Canadian border patrol officer will begin to ask you quite a few questions. As you are answering those questions, he will check your passports and it shouldn’t be too long before you are entering Canada by car.  

New York Canada Border
Credits: Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr CC BY 2.0

To give you an idea of the questions the Canadian border crossing questions you may be asked, a few of the most common ones include:

  • Why are you traveling to Canada? 
  • Where are you going in Canada?
  • How are you all related?
  • How old are the kids?
  • Do you have anything to declare that you shouldn’t be bringing into the country?  (This often applies to firearms, alcohol, large sums of money, etc.)

Obviously, when you arrive back at the US Canada border crossing to return home, you will face a similar scenario.  Only at that point, you will be met by a US border patrol officer and they will check your passports and ask a few questions.  

Do They Search Your Car Going Into Canada

There are times when the border patrol officers will check your car.  Sometimes this is due to them not believing an answer to the question they asked, but other times, it is due to the fact that they check cars randomly.  So, if you have often wondered if they search your car at the Canadian Border, the answer is most likely yes. Most of the time, it will be a quick glance, but you should always be prepared for them to go through it thoroughly.  So do they search your car at the Canadian Border when you cross? Sometimes when you enter Canada by car, they will. 

How Strict is Canada Border

When you cross the border with car, remember that you are leaving the country and going to another country. It is considered international travel and even though they might not be very strict at the border; they do have to reinforce all rules and regulations as it pertains to international travel. So as long as you’ve got the proper documents and you are not importing any prohibited goods into the country, or exporting outside the country, your crossing into Canada should be relatively straightforward. Just know all you should know about crossing the Canadian border by car requirements, so you save some time at the border. And if you don’t have to spend too much time on the border while traveling to Canada by car, you can do more fun things with time saved.

How Long Does it take to Cross the Canadian Border

This is frankly hard to answer as it depends on which border you’re traveling from and how many people are traveling the same time. If you travel during major holidays, be prepared to have a longer wait as traffic might be more. If you’re traveling on a weekend, you might also experience a longer wait than when you’re traveling on a weekday. For the most part, crossing the border to Canada in a car shouldn’t take more than just a few minutes if you have everything in place and are traveling at a non-peak time. So, plan appropriately when you’re driving across Canadian border as you plan to drive to Canada from US by car.

List of some of the Canada Border Crossings

There are at least twenty-six different US Canada border crossings, so you have quite a few options when it comes to entering Canada by car from the United States.  After all, the US Canada border is more than five thousand miles long, so it is probably a good thing there are so many different options when it comes to crossing the border into Canada.  You might be wondering how far is it to the Canadian border from where you are or the best place to cross the Canadian border or even other questions about crossing the Canadian border. 

Basically, there are entry points at many of the states that are close to Canada.  Therefore, you will find there is a Minnesota Canada Border Crossing, Michigan Canada Border Crossing, an Alaska Canada Border Crossing,  a New York Canada Border Crossing and a few more.  It would be impossible to list all the information for each of the US Canada border crossings, but we will share a few of them below.  

The state of Maine has four different US Canada border crossings, but the main ones are St. Stephen, Edmundston, and Woodstock Road.  There are two US Canada border crossings in Vermont, and they are Stanstead and St. Armand.  

The state of New York has seven different border crossings, but the most popular ones are the Thousand Islands Bridge and the Rainbow Bridge.  Washington has five different US Canada border crossings, but the Pacific Highway one is utilized the most.  

The border wait times to Canada vary according to the US Canada border crossing and the time of day you are traveling.  The times are also dependent on the weather and the time of the year.  

What Documents Do I Need to Drive into Canada?

One of the most searched questions when it comes to driving into Canada is, “Do you need a passport to travel to Canada by car?” or “Do I need a passport to drive to Canada?” While the answer to that question used to be no, times have changed and nowadays, you will need a passport to drive into Canada. There is one exception though, so you may be in luck if you do not have a passport.  

First, though, everyone in the car that is driving into Canada must have a passport.  Therefore, if you have children, they must have their own passport, or you will not be allowed to enter the country. So if you’re wondering what your child needs to cross the Canadian border, it would be the passport for sure.  Of course, a Canadian border patrol officer might decide to let you cross the border into Canada without passports and only a birth certificate for your children.  However, there is a chance that the US border patrol officer will not let you back into the United States if they only have their birth certificate and not a passport.  Therefore, you are never guaranteed that you can get back into the US from Canada with a birth certificate for one of your children.  


The only way you will not need a passport to enter Canada is if you have an Enhanced Driver’s License.  This is not the Real ID that everyone is required to obtain in order to fly by October 2020. Instead, it is a license that will allow you to drive into Canada and Mexico without obtaining a passport first.  

There is a downside to entering Canada by car with an Enhanced Driver’s License.  That downside would be if you happen to get injured or sick and need to be transported back to the United States via plane, you will not have the proper identification.  

It is important to note that you cannot enter Canada by car with a regular license or a Real ID.  Those two types of identification do not replace the Enhanced Driver’s License or a passport.  

You should also be aware that if anyone in your car does not have an Enhanced Driver’s License like you, they will need to have their passport with them.  

For now, just know that the answer to your questions – do you need a passport to drive into Canada or do you need a passport to go to Canada by car- is yes. This is one of the Canada border crossing rules that you should take seriously while going into Canada.

Can I Drive in Canada with a US Driver’s License?

Once you have finished crossing the Canadian border by car, you can drive throughout the country using your US Driver’s License.  There is no need for you to go get any special type of license when you are visiting the country.  So, “yes” is the answer to if you can drive in Canada with US license. Of course, there are subtle differences between driving in Canada vs USA so you need to know these minor differences like the fact that some road signs might be a little different and prepare yourself to be able to drive across Canada. But for the most part, you should be able to comfortably drive in Canada if you’re a good driver in the US. 

Can You Cross the Border with a Rental Car?

Car rental

Not every rental car company will allow you to go crossing the Canadian border when you are driving one of their cars, so you must do your research before renting a vehicle to drive into Canada.  Once you find a rental car company that will allow you to drive to Canada, you must make sure you are aware of any restrictions that may be in place when you are driving that vehicle.  

What Can’t You Bring into Canada?

While there is not a major list of things that you cannot bring into Canada, there are still a few items that you must be aware of.  The main things you can’t bring into Canada include:

  • Firearms
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Dog or car food that contains any lamb or beef byproducts
  • Mace
  • Pepper spray
  • Live bait
  • Firewood
  • Illegal Drugs – this includes marijuana and even CBD oil

As you can see, it is fairly simple to travel to Canada by car, as long as you have the proper documentation and a little patience.  All you need to do is follow the guidelines above, and have everything you need with you, and you can easily cross the Canadian border by car. Even with a little more research, you can find out the best times to cross the border. Knowing what you need to cross the Canadian border ahead of time and a few tips for crossing the Canadian border will make life much easier for you and your family. Driving from the US to Canada can be a bonding experience for a family if you’re well-prepared and know what to expect when crossing the Canadian border by car. 

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