How Long Can You Visit the US From Canada? Our 2021 Guide to Visiting America

Posted on March 5, 2021

Out of all the countries in the world, the United States of America makes the most money from tourism by far. Every year, they welcome millions of visitors.

However, anyone who's been to the USA will tell you that the laws surrounding visitation can be a little complex. A lot of people in the neighbouring country have found themselves asking, "How long can you visit the US from Canada?" 

There are certain rules about how many times you can visit, how long these visits can be, and when you can return.

If you're looking to spend a lot of time in the USA during 2021, you might want to make sure you're well within the laws. Otherwise, there can be consequences you don't want to face!

How Long Can You Visit the US From Canada?

If you're a Canadian, you might be wondering just how long you can be in the US without drawing negative attention from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The border is right there, after all, and it might even be a day trip away for you! 

Every day, thousands of Canadians cross by road and some fly in by plane. Since it's a neighbour of the US and considered a country with low fraud by immigration officials, it has some of the most relaxed visitation rules. 

That doesn't mean you can spend a long time there without suspicion though, and even Canadians have been turned away when visiting the US or gotten into trouble for not understanding the rules and regulations surrounding their trip. 

How long you can stay mainly depends on your purpose. 

COVID-19

It's firstly important to note that 2021 isn't starting off a normal year. Due to the ongoing pandemic that hasn't yet been solved, there are strict rules surrounding entry to the US that wouldn't be in place any other year — and will hopefully not be necessary going into the second half of this year.

The land borders are currently closed to all but non-essential travel. 

Essential travel is subjective but might include:

  • Important business
  • A family emergency
  • Life or death situation

A common misconception is that Canadians can't fly into the United States either unless it's for essential travel but it's been reported that this is not the case. 

The only restriction in relation to COVID-19 for Canadians flying into the US is that they haven't been in one of the banned countries in the past 14 days. If you've travelled in the past two weeks, it's important to keep an eye on that list, as it's ever-changing in relation to which countries are considered high-risk during the pandemic.

If you have visited one of them, don't panic! You'll simply have to wait until 14 days have passed before you can cross the border. 

Visiting for Tourism

One question people often have when they want to visit the US for leisure is: do you need a visa to visit the US?

If you're a Canadian citizen, the answer is no!

If you're simply visiting for tourism purposes (including visiting someone), then in most circumstances, you will not need a visa. There are exceptions, however, and these include:

  • Foreign citizens who intend to get married and stay in the US (as this would require a K-1 visa)
  • Spouses who intend to adjust status and stay in the US (as this would require a CR-1 or IR-1 visa, depending on the length of time married)
  • Anyone who will undertake work in the US, even if it's not their primary purpose there

If you do not intend to stay there permanently and do not intend to do any work while there, then you do not need a visa.

As far as the maximum Canadian length of stay in the USA, in most circumstances, your passport will be stamped for six months from entry. If you leave and re-enter during the six months, you might not receive a new stamp.

This stamp is the last date you must leave the US by. If you don't leave by that point, the US will consider it an illegal overstay. 

For the most part, don't worry! If your trip is short and genuine, you should be fine. Time to start planning where to visit in the US and focusing on the fun side of things. 

Visiting for Business

Can Canadians visit the US for business under the same circumstances? It depends on what the business activities are.

The following business activities are permitted without a US visa:

  • Attending meetings or conferences in relation to your career
  • Short-term training that isn't paid from a US source
  • Meeting with potential clients for your business
  • Soliciting sales for your business
  • Networking
  • Speaking at an event
  • Making or discussing purchases for your business

The definitions can be somewhat vague, but if you're going to be attending the US for one of these and you wouldn't consider it working in the US, you might be in the clear to visit without a visa. It's best to check your specific circumstances CBP though. You can call them.

However, if your business is being paid in the US and you're going to be actively working there and receiving money from a company in the country, it's likely that your work will not be permitted without a visa.

In this case, you should make sure to apply for one. How long you can come to the US on business will depend on the specific visa you're granted. 

Mitigating Circumstances

Although for permissible business activities and leisure purposes you're usually granted six months as a Canadian, this isn't always the case. Every entry to the US is at the discretion of CBP, and they aren't obligated to give you that stamp. 

Reasons You Might Be Rejected

There are many people who have been turned away at the US border and told that they can't visit. They may be banned or allowed to withdraw their application for entry, depending on the reason they're banned.

These might include:

  • The CBP officer thinks they might be intending to work in the US
  • They were found to have been working previously
  • They committed a crime in the US before
  • The CBP officer looked at their phone and found evidence of illegal activity
  • They were found to have lied to a CBP officer, which is a serious offence

For the most part, Canadians are admitted to the US without trouble and have a low rejection rate compared to other countries. However, nothing is guaranteed, and rejections have been rising even for Canadian citizens as the border grows tougher over the years.

Reasons Your Visit May Be Cut Short

Sometimes people are admitted to the US but the visit is cut short. The CBP officer doesn't have to stamp your passport for six months, although that's the usual practice. They might choose to cut the visit short and give you a date you have to leave by that's sooner than the usual allotted six months. 

Reasons might include:

  • A lot of previous visits
  • They suspect you're living in the US
  • They don't think you'll leave on time and want to test it for a future visit

If your passport is ever stamped with a date sooner than you expected, make sure you abide by it. Visiting the US is considered a privilege, and they don't have to let you in, so play by the rules even if they don't feel fair!

Usually, a CBP officer would make it very clear if they were stamping your passport for a shorter time — especially as only a secondary officer can do this. However, always check the stamp when you walk or drive away from the booth, just in case.

Better to be safe than sorry!

Do Previous Visit Lengths Affect Future Visit Lengths?

Although a Canadian length of stay in the USA is usually six months at a time, there's no set rule for how long someone has to be out of the country before they can come back. This often mistakenly leads people to believe that they can wait in the US for six months, go home to Canada, and return after one day.

Don't do that! The US has a rule that Canadians can only spend 180 days a year in the country. 

This is in a rolling period — not a calendar year.

If you do stay for 180 days in the US and try to return within the same year, you will be rejected.

If you visit multiple times a year and stay later on the last visit, pushing you over 180 days, you can't blame the officer for not telling you to leave sooner on the stamp. It's on you to keep track of how long you're spending there and make adjustments accordingly so you're abiding by the law. 

What You Need to Keep in Mind

There are some other things you need to bear in mind when visiting the US that aren't to do with visiting time. Make sure you consider these things. 

Insurance

When you're in the US, healthcare isn't free. They do not have publicly funded healthcare and everyone in the US must have private health care plans either out of pocket or through an employer to have coverage.  Short of those two (or both) scenarios, basic medical care or emergencies, can have a devastating financial impact.  You do not want to be caught in that situation.

You should make sure you're covered when you visit, especially if staying for a long period of time. Travel insurance will cover you for a lot of things, including cancellations and missing luggage, but health insurance is the most important of all.

The last thing you want is to be caught up in something unexpected and be hit with huge medical bills. People from other countries are often shocked at the medical bills that the USA can hand over.

Tax Laws

If you spend more than 183 days in the USA in any given three years, you are usually considered a tax resident for that year.

There is some math required to calculate this, so consult a guide to make sure you aren't obligated to pay the IRS taxes. If you spend a lot of time in the US, it might be good to plan ahead. 

What Happens if You Overstay?

If you overstay you, unfortunately, don't get a pardon just because you're a neighbour of the US. You're likely to face a three-year or ten-year ban and although there are no hard rules as to which it will be, the longer you overstay, the longer the ban is likely to be.

You might think you haven't been caught if you overstay and leave quietly after you've spent more than six months in the US, but it will be flagged when you try to return and you will be rejected at the border.

If you're in the US and need to stay longer, the best thing you can do is apply for an extension.

If CBP gives you any kind of ban, you can hire a lawyer to try and get a waiver, but it's very rare for them to be approved — especially without good reason. The most likely path is for you to wait out your ban. 

Always Err On the Side of Caution!

So now you know the answer to the question people always ask: how long can you visit the US from Canada?

Usually, it's six months, but it depends on your circumstances. You may have restrictions that mean you can't stay that long or have a visa that allows you to stay longer.

If there's anything unusual about your situation, the best thing you can do is ask for advice from an expert. 

Need travel insurance for your trip? Contact Insurdinary today for the best quotes!

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