Do I need to apply for an ESTA if crossing the Canada border?

Published: Nov 20, 2014, Updated: Oct 14, 2022


Most Visa Waver Program (VWP) eligible travelers visit the United States via commercial air or sea carriers or via land. Those arriving by land usually do so by crossing into the United States through the Canadian border, or although less frequent, the Mexican border. This article will examine the requirements of these travelers when entering or exiting the U.S. by land, and look at some of the complications that may arise when mixing land travel with air or sea travel.

What if I cross the Canadian border with the U.S. without an ESTA?

Travelers holding passports from Visa Waver Program countries that enter the United States from the Canadian border will need an ESTA starting October 1st 2022. There will no longer be paper-based I-94W form at the land border. The list of land, ferry and rail crossing points from Canada to the USA can be found here.

What if I have an ESTA yet am entering the United States by land via Canada?

Travelers with an ESTA will experience a more streamlined entry into the United States as they will not be required to complete an I-94W form at the land border. Completing an online ESTA application will take less time than filling out a paper form, although it can take up to 72 hours to get an approval, thus travelers are advised to apply before they drive to the U.S. border.

What is an I-94 form?

There were two types of I-94 forms and their use is only to process the arrivals of non-U.S. citizens into the United States by land. One type of form is specifically for travelers of VWP eligible countries, this form was called the Form I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record. The other form is for non-VWP and non-U.S. citizen travelers and is called the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.

VWP eligible travelers entering the U.S. by land, air or sea will need to obtain an approved ESTA or a U.S. visa. Non-VWP travelers will be required to complete their I-94s electronically, which will keep track of their arrivals and departures by land.

What information was requested on an I-94W form?

An I-94W form captured the same information and had the same questions as an ESTA application. Thus, CBP decided to remove the I-94W requirement in favor of ESTA as the system was more efficient versus the I-94W system.

What if I depart the U.S. by land?

Travelers departing the U.S. by land now have their ‘Departure Record’ digitally recorded, there is no longer a paper stub. The electronic Departure Records contains the Port, Date, Carrier and Flight Number / Ship Name of the traveler’s departing journey.

What if I depart the U.S. by air or sea?

If departing the U.S. by sea or air after arriving by land, your electronic Departure Record will record the key information regarding your departure.

What type of evidence shows I did not overstay the date on my I-94 or old I-94W?

Applicants are advised to check their digital I-94 records online by visiting the following link to ensure the dates are accurate: However, applicants should retain evidence of the following to dispute the digital I-94 record should conflicts arise:

  • The original boarding pass you used to depart the United States, Canada, Mexico or other territory you drove to after visiting the U.S.
  • Photocopies of your entire passport, showing your passport information along with the arrival and departure stamps of your visits to the United States and nearby territories.
  • Payslips showing you earned an income during the time you returned from the United States within your permitted duration of stay.
  • Bank or credit card records showing you made transactions outside the U.S. after your visit.
  • School transcripts or attendance proving you had left the United States at the time you claimed.

What if I am entering the United States from Mexico?

The same rules and procedures specified above apply to VWP travelers that are arriving by land from Mexico.


VWP eligible travelers entering or exiting the United States via the Canadian or Mexican border are required to apply for an ESTA. This expedites the processing of their arrival by CBP at land borders. Paper based I-94W forms are no longer used as they give rise to complications. Travelers should be aware of time saving activities, such as applying for an ESTA in advance rather than right at the border, and plan accordingly with their travel itinerary in the United States or North America.

If you hold a passport from a visa waiver eligible country and wish to obtain an ESTA for tourist, business, medical or transit purposes, get started on your application, otherwise, visit the FAQ to learn more about the ESTA

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ESTA is a mandatory travel authorization for eligible travelers entering the United States by land, air, or sea for visits less than 90 days.

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