Visiting Canada or Mexico after arriving in the US under the VWP
If you’re crossing the Atlantic and going all the way to the USA from Britain, it’s often quite tempting to make the most of the journey and explore the neighbouring countries. So how do you go about taking a trip to Canada or Mexico from the USA?
As a UK passport holder you can apply to visit the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme, using the ‘Electronic System for Travel Authorisation’, or ‘ESTA’ as it’s more commonly known. Of course, this Visa Waiver Programme is specifically valid for the USA, including its overseas territories. Once you cross the border, north or south, you will need to adhere to the travel laws in place in that country.
So, to make sure you have everything organised before you set off and to avoid any surprises, here we will be discussing what you need to do in order to visit Canada or Mexico from the USA.
Despite the fact that its population is about 10% of that of the USA, Canada is the larger of the two countries, and naturally offers a whole other world of exploration for tourists. With borders stretching right across the breadth of the USA from east to west, Canada shares land crossings with 11 US states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and, of course, Alaska. There are also other water crossings, which share the same travel rules as the land crossings.
First of all, let’s look at travel from the USA into Canada via land or water. As a UK citizen, you do not need to have a visa prior to arriving at the Canadian border, or any other kind of travel authorisation. All you need is your passport. You will also not be required to pay for travel authorisation once you arrive.
In terms of your US ESTA, this has no relevance at all in Canada. However, it is important to bear in mind that your time in Canada does technically contribute to your ‘trip clock’. As you probably know, when you travel to the USA with ESTA you are allowed to be in the country for up to 90 days during any one trip. Once you return to the UK this 90-day clock resets, and so the next time you are in the USA this 90-day period restarts. This is generally the case whenever you leave the USA, however it does not apply to land borders. So, if you are visiting Canada from the USA, any time you spend there will contribute to the 90-day limit of the ESTA.
To sum up, all you require to enter Canada from the USA by land or water is your passport. However, there is a different system if you start your trip in Canada and then cross over into the USA. Just like the USA, Canada also operates a Visa Waiver Programme…
If you are flying into Canada, you will need to have travel authorisation in advance. The equivalent of the ESTA in Canada is known as the eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation). Just like with the US ESTA, you will just need your passport and a credit or debit card to apply, and the entire process is carried out online. The application is equally simple, and most are approved within minutes. The cost of the eTA is $7 CAD (about £4.25 at the time of writing).
Unlike the ESTA, the eTA allows you to stay in Canada as a tourist for up to six months at a time, and remains valid for five years (or until your passport expires, whichever comes first). With the ESTA, these time frames are 90 days and two years, respectively.
If you then travel to the USA from Canada by land or water, you do not
need to have applied for a US ESTA in advance. The ESTA is designed for those flying into the country or travelling on a cruise, and so if you fly into Canada and then drive into the US, for example, the process is different. Instead, when you reach the US border, you will need to fill in the ‘I-94W’ form.
The I-94W form is also a visa waiver, and the application is essentially the same as the ESTA. It costs US$6, and takes around ten minutes to fill in. That said, waiting times at land crossings can be unpredictable; you could be through the border within 15 minutes or you could be waiting a couple of hours, it all depends on how many people are crossing and how many border patrol officers are available. Having an ESTA does not mean that you will not have to fill in the I-94W.
It is also important to return this I-94W form when you leave the country. Not doing so could cause problems on future visits to the USA, as it might look as if you have outstayed your 90-day limit on a previous trip.
Finally, if you are flying from the USA to Canada, or the other way around, then you will need to have both forms of online travel authorisation in advance; both the ESTA and the eTA.
The USA’s southern neighbour is another hugely popular travel option for British visitors. With land crossings in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, many curious travellers take a few days of their American trip to explore a northern dose of Latin America. One of the most popular trips is a short trip to Tijuana from San Diego, as the two cities border each other and the short drive means it can even be just a day trip.
Travelling to Mexico as a British citizen is perfectly easy, but there are a couple of confusing elements. Mexico has an area known as the ‘Free Zone’ or the ‘Border Zone’, which covers a distance of around 20-35km into the country from the US border. This area is essentially in place to encourage border tourism and make it easier to travel there. When you drive into Mexico from the USA, you will be directed by a lights system; if the light is green, you can simply drive through, and if it is red you will be asked to come into a secondary inspection area. There are no passport scans or anything similar until you go through the US border on your return.
If you want to go outside of this ‘Free Zone’, you will need to fill in the ‘FMM’ (Forma Migratoria Múltiple
– or Multiple Migration Form). Essentially this is a tourist card, and costs $500 pesos (about £21 at the time of writing). Unlike the ESTA or the eTA, this can be acquired in advance online, or upon arrival in Mexico at an immigration office (which are generally close to the border). The system is the same whether flying into Mexico or arriving by land. Mexico does have an ‘Electronic Authorisation System’, but this is very different to that of the USA or Canada, and does not
apply to UK citizens.
Just like with travel in and out of Canada, any time you spend in Mexico as part of your trip to the USA will contribute to the 90-day validity of your ESTA. Again, if you start your trip in Mexico before going to the USA, you will not
need to apply for ESTA online in advance. Instead, just like travelling from Canada, you will need to fill in an I-94W form upon arrival. Remember, you need to return this I-94W form when you leave the country. Whilst entry into Mexico is generally easy and takes little time, driving back into the USA can take considerably longer at times. This is due to the more thorough passport and customs checks that take place when arriving in the USA from Mexico.
As we have seen, it is perfectly possible to travel to Canada or Mexico when travelling to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme. However, it is important to remember that you are still adhering to the conditions of the Visa Waiver Programme when you do this. This means that you cannot travel to either of these countries in order to ‘reset the ESTA clock’, as we discussed. Even if this were possible, doing so would be seen as ‘violating the spirit of migratory law’, and you would be unlikely to be granted re-entry into the USA. More importantly, you need to keep an eye on this 90-day ‘ESTA clock’ when you are travelling in Canada or Mexico, as you will have problems getting back into the USA if you exceed these 90 days.
With all this in mind, taking a few days out of your US trip to explore another of these vast and vibrant countries is a fantastic way to make the most of a trip across the pond, and is perfectly possible with your ESTA. Apply for your ESTA online now and begin your North-American adventure!
*Note: This article was published August of 2017 and the information contained within is subject to change. Contact us
if you have any questions or concerns about the Visa Waiver Program and travel to Canada or Mexico during your visit to the United States.