General Regulations for U.S. Citizens
U.S. citizens don't need visas to travel to Canada for tourist visits of less than 180 days, although visas are required for those who want to work or study in Canada or to emigrate to that country. To enter Canada, U.S. citizens age 16 and up must present proof of identify as well as proof of citizenship. The U.S. Department of State notes that these requirements can be satisfied by showing either a passport book, passport card or membership card for NEXUS, a pre-approved plan for low-risk travelers between the U.S. and Canada. Alternatively, U.S. citizens who are residents of states issuing enhanced driver's licenses (EDLs) can use these licenses for travel by land or sea, but not by air, notes TripAdvisor. As of November 2017, only five U.S. states offer EDLs.
Looser Rules for Kids and Cruises
U.S. citizens age 16 and younger who are traveling to Canada must show proof of citizenship but not proof of identity. Acceptable documents include a birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certificate of Naturalization. The same rules hold true for U.S. citizens between the ages of 16 and 17 who are traveling to Canada with adult-supervised school groups, sports teams, religious groups or social or cultural organizations, the State Department says. Regardless of age, U.S. citizens are not required to show passports if they are passengers on cruise ships. Instead, they can present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, along with proof of identity like a state-issued non-enhanced driver's license, says TripAdvisor. Owners and operators of private boats carrying 29 or fewer passengers are bound by different rules. They must report to the Canadian Border Services Agency upon arrival in Canada and present IDs of all passengers, notes the State Department.
Tight Restrictions on Return by Air
Restrictions are more stringent for entering the U.S. than Canada by air. All U.S. citizens entering the U.S. from Canada, including children, must present either a passport book or NEXUS card. Awareness of this rule in advance can prevent a family vacation from going awry by assuring that everyone brings the right documentation to fly back home. One workaround here is to board a domestic flight to a Canadian airport closer to home and then drive back across the U.S. border, suggests TripAdvisor. The same documents that worked for traveling into Canada by air are also good for crossing the U.S. border by land.
Rules for People with Criminal Backgrounds
U.S. citizens with criminal histories, even for alcohol offenses or other misdemeanors, should get pre-approval to enter Canada well in advance by submitting proof of rehabilitation to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, recommends the State Department.
Regulations for Non-U.S. Citizens
U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents can use their "green cards" rather than passports for traveling between the U.S. and Canada, whether by air, land or sea. Visitors from some countries might need a temporary resident visa from their own countries and, in some instances, a letter of invitation from a Canadian resident. Visa-exempt citizens of countries other than the U.S. require a pre-approved electronic document called an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) from the Canadian government. U.S. green card holders need an ETA as well, TripAdvisor notes.