Trip around the flagpole-Canada

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A trip around the flagpole, as the term is used on the BE forum, means driving from a starting point in Canada to the Canada-USA border, turning around, and re-entering Canada so that you can have a visa issued and/or activated. This may be a permanent residence (PR) visa, a temporary work permit (TWP), any other kind of visa, or switching to or from visitor status.

It's the procedure you would go through if you flew to Canada, landed at an airport, and went through the immigration procedure there. However, if you're already in Canada as a visitor when you receive approval for a PR visa or TWP, or if you need to change status, you have to create an artificial situation in which you enter Canada in order to get the necessary stamps, etc.

Entry to the United States

  • The simplest procedure is to leave Canada, visit the United States, and then return to Canada.
  • This only applies if you have a U.S. tourist visa or are admissible to the United States under the Visa Waiver program (or if you are a U.S. citizen or otherwise don't need a visa).
  • U.S. border officials may not like the idea of someone arriving in the United States and immediately leaving. So it is important to have a plan for what you intend to do in the United States (shopping, sightseeing etc). Make sure you know where you intend to visit, town, national park etc.
  • Also make sure that your plan to visit the U.S. is consistent with how far you have come to the border. If you live in a border town then U.S. border officials will be used to people making very short trips across the border. But if you have driven for a few hours then it is probably better to have a more substantial plan, preferably involving an overnight stay.
  • There is nothing illegal about visiting the U.S. with an intention to switch to a different status in Canada on return.
    • You do not have to volunteer this information to U.S. border officials, but of course if asked about it you should tell the truth.
    • There is no fundamental difference between crossing the land frontier and flying into the U.S. for a vacation (with the intent of returning to Canada). Non-Canadians living in Canada do this all the time.
    • From the American point of view, it really does not matter if Canada does not let you return because they can always send you back to the country of your nationality.
  • When you return to Canada, make sure you remember to give the Canadian officials your American I-94 or I-94W forms. They are supposed to return them to the Americans to show that you have left the United States.
  • There is an alternative of being "refused entry" to the U.S. and obtaining a refusal document which you can then present to the Canadian border officers.
  • A refusal of entry does not "officially" prejudice future entry to the United States, but this is of course at your own risk. Policy could change in the future and it may cause issues for you either in the U.S. or another country.

Refusal of Entry to the United States

  • Prior to around 2004, Canadian border officers generally allowed people to "flagpole" by returning to Canada before arriving at the U.S. border post.
  • In 2004, policy began to change and it became necessary to either be formally admitted to the United States (as evidenced by an I-94 or I-94W form issued by the Americans) or a formal refusal of admission from the Americans.
  • There is a procedure worked out with between the Canadian and US Border Services whereby they issue a document to someone seeking to "out and back" at the American border for landing. The document shows that they actually left Canada and so may be "landed." Thus, you technically do not have to enter the USA before returning to Canada (although you do go onto U.S. territory).
  • In all other respects, the same thing happens at the land border as would happen if you landed at an airport.
  • A thread posted on July 12th, 2008: Changes in the American government's regulations have made the trip around the flagpole longer and more difficult. Please see the forum discussion thread entitled Flag-polling - no longer permitted. Note that, while the discussion thread indicates that flagpoling has become quite a bit more difficult than it was before, the thread title is a bit over the top. Flagpoling in fact is still permitted, albeit you may find it more time consuming and less pleasant than it used to be. In fact, there has been no change in rules and what is discussed in the thread is the "official" policy since 2004, as mandated by the Canadian border authorities.

Risks of flagpoling

  • As with any cross-border trip, you may be questioned and searched by customs and immigration officials.
  • If you are using the Visa Waiver Program then you must make sure every family member has their own passport. Children cannot travel on parents passports. Additionally, all passports must be machine readable and if issued after 26 October 2005, there are additional requirements (either digital photo laminate and/or biometric chip).
  • Make sure your passports are not expired, and will not expire during your intended stay in the U.S.
  • There is no obligation on U.S. border officials to admit you to the United States so you may be refused entry even if you intend to spend time in the United States (unless you are an American citizen). That said, it is unusual for genuine visitors to be refused entry.
  • There is always the risk there will be a problem getting re-admitted to Canada in your new status. If that is the case:
    • You may be re-admissible in your existing status. For example, if you are on a TWP and have problems landing as a PR, you may still be readmissible on your TWP+passport. Of course, it depends on the reasons.
    • If all else fails, you may still be readmitted to Canada as a tourist using just your passport.
    • There is a risk, that you may be refused entry into Canada. In that case, you would likely be returned to the United States and you would probably have to make an immediate trip home. Although this is very unlikely, be sure to have funds available. Note that this risk exists any time a temporary Canadian resident enters the United States.

Restriction for processing landings at some border crossings

Note that in the last 198 months, some of the busy USA to Canada land border crossings will refuse to process landings at certain 'peak' hours. Currently these are the Lewiston and Rainbow Bridge crossings at Niagara and the Peace Bridge in BC. The hours and 'official word' on this can be found on the CIC website here: Border crossing restricted hours

Alternatives to flagpoling

  • You could also fly into the United States for a vacation and then return to Canada. Bear in mind that unless you have a U.S. tourist visa (or you are an American citizen) you cannot fly into the U.S. and then plan to drive back over the frontier. This kind of travel is not permitted under the visa waiver program.
  • Or you could fly somewhere else, including home country
  • Those in Newfoundland could visit St Pierre et Miquelon.
  • It is often possible to renew a TWP by mail and this is the preferred option.
  • CIC now allow many PR applicants to "land" at their office, however there is often a waiting list for appointments.