Oct. 28, 2019

Flying to our neighbor to the north may seem simple to seasoned travelers, but there are specific rules that must be followed when crossing the border.

Flying into Canada is among the most common international trips for U.S. business aircraft operators, and a relatively brief flight from most spots in the Continental U.S. However, operators should keep in mind the process for fly-ing to their northern neighbor is a bit more complicated than simply taking a short hop.

One of the most valuable resources for operators to utilize when traveling into Canada is the Canadian Passenger Accelerated Service System (CANPASS), which is administered by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). CANPASS encompasses several CBSA policies to streamline the entry process into the country.

Enlistment in the program also allows operators to access more airports and gain expedited clearances for low-risk, pre-screened travelers with a call to 1-888-CANPASS between two and 48 hours prior to their expected arrival into Canada. CANPASS aircraft also receive expedited clearance into the country, and in some cases may proceed to their destination if there is no CBSA officer wait-ing for the aircraft by the reported time of arrival, without the pilot having to make a second call to the CBSA after landing.

“I recommend that folks make the call as soon as they have what they believe to be a firmed-up travel manifest,” said Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) President and CEO Anthony Norejko. “Present who you are, your aircraft and passenger details, and ask for the CBSA agent’s badge number before the conclusion of the call. After arriving, make the second call and record the clearance number and that CBSA agent’s badge, as well.”

“Without question, CANPASS is ultimately the best method for customs clearance,” said Scott Harrold, CBAA treasurer. “Other tips generally fall in line with other worldwide customs requirements, in that passengers must be fully documented and need to carry a passport.”

Harrold also cautioned operators to be cognizant of other factors, particularly weather. “It can get quite chilly up here, especially in the eastern provinces,” he said. “You can’t just pop up into Canada during the months of November through April without considering such elements as icing, aircraft performance – and even empty-ing lavatory water.”

CANPASS Requirements

The CANPASS Corporate Aircraft program is a valuable resource for companies that frequently have passengers who travel to Canada aboard business aircraft, allowing members to access more airports and providing expedited clearances for low-risk, pre-screened travelers.

Pilots may call 1-888-CANPASS (1-888-226-7277) to report themselves, their crew and passengers at least two hours before, but no more than 48 hours prior, to the aircraft’s estimated time of arrival in Canada.

With CANPASS validation, aircraft carrying up to 15 pre-screened travelers (including the flight crew) may land at any “airport of entry” in Canada any time the airport is open for landing, and regardless of the hours of business of the local Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) office, as well as at smaller airports that lack CBSA facilities but accept CANPASS travelers.

Requirements for travelers under CANPASS include:

  • They are citizens or permanent residents of Canada or the United States, and have lived in Canada and/or the United States continuously for the last three years.
  • They have not been convicted of a criminal offense, or have received a pardon or rehabilitation.
  • They have not had a customs seizure within the past six years.
  • They are not in violation of any customs or immigration regulations.

A five-year CANPASS registration costs CAN$40.
Review CANPASS resources at

Operators are encouraged to arrange hangar parking for their aircraft to keep it out of the elements. The cost of doing so is far exceeded by how much you’ll spend on deicing, “especially as that is a cost charter management companies don’t always budget for,” Harrold continued.

“Also, operators must keep in mind they aren’t in the U.S., with a variety of viable alternate airports available,” he said. “Canada is a big country, and your alternate may be several hundred miles away, especially as you travel farther north. Many above the 500-mile swath across the country won’t have on-site customs, either.”


Be careful to avoid cabotage issues. Generally, CBSA allows foreign operators to convey traffic between points in Canada if the majority of passengers originate from a common point of origin, remain on the aircraft while flying across Canada, and return to that point upon completion of their trip.

“In short, you’re free to pass throughout the country if you enplane no other Canadian passengers,” Norejko explained. “If you are transporting Canadian citizens between points within the country, you must be able to demonstrate those passengers are onboard in support of the U.S. principal passenger and their mission.”

“I still get calls 4-5 times a year [from aircraft operators] with questions before they fly, which is a good thing,” Harrold added. “Our industry has gotten much better about addressing this issue.”
Despite some unique challenges, Norejko emphasized the overall ease in traveling to Canada, and that his organization is fully engaged with Canadian officials on methods to further streamline customs requirements.

“We work continually with CBSA to simplify and modernize the process,” he concluded. “We also welcome any feedback or concerns that operators may have from interacting with these officials, as that will help inform our interactions with them.”

Cannabis and Alcohol Considerations When Flying to Canada

One of the more interesting developments for operators flying to Canada is the October 2018 legalization of recreational cannabis throughout the country.

“Cannabis is now legal in Canada, and some operators may be flying from a point of origin in the U.S. where it has also been legalized,” said Norejko. “However, it absolutely cannot be trans-ported across the border!”

“There are several nuances involved,” Harrold added. “The two largest [commercial airlines] in Canada have blanket bans in place, and I’d expect most business aircraft operators have similar policies as well. That said, the new legislation is the proverbial new kid on the block, and no one knows quite how to deal with it. Eventually the industry will need to define a regulatory minimum.”

Even after such regulations are ultimately defined, Harrold cautioned operators to be wary of any amount of cannabis transported onboard their aircraft.

“Passengers may be carrying a tiny amount they believe is acceptable,” said Harrold, “but that likely will come down to a matter of interpretation. Why take the chance?”

Business aircraft operators flying into Canada should also be aware of the country’s strict immigration policy regarding U.S. citizens entering the country who have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, which is a felony in Canada.

“You may have done your time in the U.S. and had it cleared, but it’s different in Canada,” Harrold noted. “Those traveling into Canada often need to get a Canadian pardon, which takes some time, and customs has been known to turn crews back at times and refuse entry.”