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Speed Through a Customs Checkpoint – How the CANPASS Air Program Works

There are programs made available by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to facilitate air and marine travel for residents. This post looks at CANPASS Air, which is one of the CBSA programs designed to fast track the formalities typically witnessed at customs and immigration checkpoints.

Please note that these privileges are only offered to low-risk, pre-screened travelers. The primary distinction between CANPASS Air and NEXUS lies in the fact that CANPASS Air is a CBSA program, whereas NEXUS is a joint effort between CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is worth noting that all CANPASS program benefits are already included/available in the NEXUS membership.

Eligibility

The CANPASS Air program is geared toward people flying frequently by commercial airlines. Travelers landing at Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg international airports can use this program. To be eligible for this program, a person must:

  • Be a Canadian or US citizen;
  • Be admissible into Canada under applicable immigration laws;
  • Provide genuine information on the application;
  • Not have been convicted of a serious criminal offense for which pardon has not been granted;
  • Not be in violation of any customs/immigration legislation; and,
  • Not had a customs seizure within the past 5 years.

Process

Passengers who are members of CANPASS Air can use the self-serve kiosk located in the Canadian inspection services area of the international airports mentioned above. The kiosk houses an iris recognition camera that verifies the authenticity of the traveler/member. The kiosk does not allow more than one successful entry within the hour and the member should carry their CANPASS Air membership card with them, although it is not needed for using the kiosk.

Once the traveler completes the CBSA declaration questions shown on screen, a receipt is printed that should be given to the border services officer along with a completed CBSA declaration card when exiting the inspection area.

Declaring Goods

All air travelers including CANPASS members are required to fill the CBSA Declaration Card (Form E311). Many air travelers, frequent or not, may recall this card as the one that flight attendants distribute on the plane. The Traveler Declaration Card (TDC) is an optional form for all Canadian-resident CBSA traveler program members (such as CANPASS Air members) that can be used to declare goods exceeding personal exemptions.

US residents with excess amount of goods to declare may use the kiosk but payment of duties will have to be made to the cashier in the area (Canadian residents get the option to have the duties charged to their credit card on file). It is important to note that a traveler, CBSA program member or not, importing commercial or controlled goods will have to report to an officer and cannot use the kiosk.

Application

Interested and eligible travelers can complete the application form using instructions found here. There is a $50 non-refundable fee (for processing the application) that should be sent along with the application form and a photocopy of proof of citizenship or permanent resident status to one of the two addresses given below:

All provinces and territories West of the Manitoba-Ontario border
28, 176th Street
Surrey V3S 9R9
British Columbia
Phone: 1-866-496-3987 (toll-free)

Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada
400 Place d’Youville
Montréal H2Y 2C2
Quebec
Phone: 1-866-399-5887 (toll-free)

The application is processed in 4 to 6 weeks and requires attending an interview with a CBSA officer. If accepted, the membership is valid for one year. Renewals can be done by submitting a renewal application and the $50 fee. However, every five years, members are required to visit an enrollment center for an interview and a new membership card.

Are you a CANPASS Air member? If so, do you find the program useful? Were there any hassles or technical glitches when using the self-serve kiosks?

About the Author: Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.
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About the author: Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • James February 20, 2014, 12:50 pm

    Don’t waste your money on this. Just sign up for nexus. Same price, same benefits plus access at US and Canadian airports and land crossings.

    • FrugalTrader FrugalTrader February 20, 2014, 4:07 pm

      @James, is the application process for Nexus similar to the CANPASS program?

  • Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet February 20, 2014, 9:22 pm

    From what I understand a nexus also requires an interview, application and background check. Sounds like it may provide more value than a CANPASS. The CANPASS sounds like it’s geared more towards fliers who fly out of major Canadian airports. The Nexus can also be used at ground border crossings as well as airports. Very handy for the Vancouver/Bellingham (Washington) crossing that can have huge lineups at times

  • James February 20, 2014, 9:31 pm

    The nexus program requires an interview with canada and US officers while canpass is simply a Canadian officer. The interview for both is done at the same place and the background check is the same also. Nexus also gets you entry to the US global entry system. A similar program to canpass that operates at all the US airports and provides expedited TSA screening at certain US airports. All in all much more value for no extra money. Not even sure why canpass air still exists?

  • Syrah February 20, 2014, 10:38 pm

    I’m a CANPASS member for a while now. I always miss the big lineup when I come back to Canada at Trudeau airport. I applied for Nexus a while back but was turned down. I can’t remember the specific reason. Something about not having enough business transactions in the US. As a frequent traveler to the US for personal reasons, CANPASS works for me.

  • North Island February 21, 2014, 12:56 pm

    @James

    Agreed. Canpass is a needless duplication.

    Nexus allows expedited security clearance across Canada and the US. In Canada with domestic air travel, it allows access to the Flythru lines… essentially placing you at the front of the regular security lines at the airport. This is great during holidays or other high volume travel periods. Within the US on domestic flights, Nexus allows access to the TSA Pre-check lines. You don’t have to remove your shoes at the metal detectors and you can keep your laptop in your carry-on.

    Also, if you are an American citizen through dual Canadian/US citizenship, you can use your Nexus card to expedite entry to the US through the SENTRI program at the Mexican border.

    Overall, this program have saved me literally hundreds of hours that would have been spent waiting in line at the border. It’s a perk for having no criminal record and no customs violations.

  • Brandon February 27, 2014, 11:29 am

    The Toronto and Vancouver airports are using kiosks for all Canadian international arrivals. Super fast. Toronto installed theirs 6 months ago. I came back from Mexico last week and it took 20 minutes from exiting the plane to hailing a taxi.

    http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/release-communique/2013/2013-02-08-eng.html

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