Timeline: Travel documents at the Canada-U.S. border

Changes in what documents are needed at the Canada-U.S. border

On June 1, 2009, the rules change for Canadians crossing the U.S. border by land or water. A regular driver's licence and birth certificate will no longer be accepted. Canadian citizens will have to present one of the following pieces of identification:

  • A passport.
  • A Nexus card.
  • A FAST (Free and Secure Trade) card.
  • An enhanced driver's licence or enhanced identification card (Only in B.C., Man., Ont. and Que.)

You can find more information on the government's website on the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Here is how the U.S. government's new rules on border crossings came into effect.

Dec. 17, 2004

U.S. Congress passes the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which includes mandates that the U.S. develop and implement a plan requiring all foreign nationals entering the U.S. to have a passport. The act is based on recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission set up to examine the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

April 5, 2005

The U.S. State Dept. announces all citizens of Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Bermuda will need passports by Jan. 1, 2007, to enter the U.S. by air, and by Jan. 1, 2008, to enter by land and sea.

April 5, 2005

Groups on both sides of the border express concern the plan could hurt industries such as manufacturing and tourism. Roughly $1.5-billion worth of goods cross the Canada-U.S. border daily.

April 15, 2005

U.S. President George W. Bush orders a review of the proposed plan, telling an audience of newspaper editors that he heard about the plan in the news. "When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly the day-crossings that take place ... I said, 'What's going on here?'" Bush told the gathering.

June 21, 2005

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins suggests the 2008 land/sea passport deadline is not set in stone. "That's still a long time from now and that's being looked at and talked about," Wilkins said.

Oct. 12, 2005

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven issue a joint news release asking for a delay in the passport rule, saying it will hurt both their economies.

March 31, 2006

Bush acknowledges passport concerns raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a Mexico summit, but says he is committed to implementing the plan.

April 2006

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff dismisses suggestions that the 2008 land/sea requirement would be delayed, saying "we have ample precedent and ample ability to meet the deadline."

May 16, 2006

U.S. Senate unanimously passes legislation delaying implementation of the land/sea border plan until June 1, 2009.

July 6, 2006

During a meeting at the White House, Harper asks Bush to extend the land/sea passport deadline. Bush says he is bound by what Congress decides.

Sept. 18, 2006

Washington extends passport deadline for air entry from Jan. 1, 2007, to Jan. 8, 2007, to accommodate travellers throughout the Christmas holiday season.

Nov. 31, 2006

Ottawa receives 355,474 passport applications in the month of November, an increase of 90,000 requests from the previous November.

Nov. 26, 2006

Washington extends passport deadline for air entry from Jan. 8, 2007, to Jan. 23, 2007. Department officials say they missed an internal deadline.

Jan. 23, 2007

Canadians flying into the U.S. require a passport.

April 4, 2007

Passport Canada warns on its website that Canadians could wait up to 10 weeks to receive a passport. It usually takes 10 to 20 business days. Officials say the department spent an extra $5 million to pay for extra staffing to cope with the high demand.

June 8, 2007

Washington temporarily suspends law requiring Americans to carry passports when re-entering the U.S., placating angry summer travellers who didn't receive passports because of a massive backlog of applications. The suspension lasts four months.

June 15, 2007

U.S. House of Representatives votes to delay land/sea passport requirement.

June 20, 2007

Chertoff announces a postponement of the land/sea passport requirement from Jan. 1, 2008, at least until the summer 2008. He blames a backlog of passport applications.

June 26, 2007

Eastern Canadian premiers and New England governors pass a motion urging Congress to delay the land/sea passport deadline.

Aug. 29, 2007

Ottawa asks for passport deadline extension for Canadian seniors, status Indians, people with a Canadian seafarer's identity document and emergency workers.

Nov. 15, 2007

Chertoff confirms Canadians can use enhanced drivers' licences when entering the U.S. by land. Such licences don't yet exist, but several provinces have expressed interest in developing them.

Dec. 20, 2007

U.S. Congress passes a year-end budget bill that includes a Democrat-sponsored measure delaying the land/sea passport requirement until June 1, 2009, at the earliest. The delay will buy "breathing room to try to find better and more sensible answers for border security, especially on the Northern Border," said Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who sponsored the budget measure.

Dec. 26, 2007

Bush approves the bill on Air Force One while travelling to his Texas ranch to mark the New Year.

Dec. 26, 2007

Canada's Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day issues a statement saying he was pleased by the delay, but remained concerned about the future impact of the plan. "I remain concerned about the impact the United States' [Western Hemispheres Travel Initiative] will have on the economy and border communities of both countries," he said.

Jan. 21, 2008

British Columbia launches an enhanced driver's licence program with 521 voluntary applicants.

Jan. 31, 2008

The Western Hemispheres Travel Initiative takes effect, meaning that, legally, Canadians are required to provide proof of citizenship when crossing the U.S. border by land or sea. However, American customs officials say the rule won't be enforced until June 1, 2009. The delay comes after 19 U.S. senators wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking to continue the system of allowing Canadians and Americans to cross land and sea borders by presenting any government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's licence, and making an oral declaration of citizenship.

Jan. 19, 2009

Manitoba begins accepting applications for its enhanced identification card program.

March 16, 2009

Quebec launches its enhanced driver's licence program.

May 5, 2009

Applications begin for Ontario's enhanced driver's licence program.