A working holiday in Canada also provides an excellent opportunity to visit the neighboring USA. This article details everything you need to know about visiting the USA while on a working holiday in Canada.

For citizens of participating Visa Waiver Program countries, it is a pretty easy process overall.

There are, however, a few things you definitely should know if planning to visit the USA before heading to Canada to activate your IEC work permit. Read on for all the details and start planning your trip to the States now!

Visitors traveling to the USA by plane or boat must have prior authorization to do so with a valid ESTA.

  • An ESTA is simply an electronic authorization to board a plane or a boat to the USA, no more and no less
  • Make sure you use the official government website to purchase your ESTA
  • The ESTA application cost is $14 but there are plenty of third-party agency websites out there that will be happy to charge double or triple that (or more!)
  • It only takes around 15-20 minutes to fill out the application
  • Don’t leave to the last minute – you should apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before travel
  • Most people will get a response within 72 hours after submitting their application
  • Your approved ESTA is valid for flights into the USA for two years
  • On arrival in the USA, you will be assessed for entry with the Visa Waiver Program (more info below)
  • When travelling to the USA by land, you do not need an ESTA

Being admitted into the USA: the Visa Waiver Program

On arrival at the US border, you need to be approved for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

  • The VWP allows citizens of 38 countries to visit the USA for stays up to 90 days without a visa
  • Eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program is determined when crossing the US border
  • Fingerprints and a photograph will be taken
  • Visitors arriving at a land border need to complete a green I94 form with details of their intended visit (more details below)

Visa Waiver Program eligibility

To be eligible for the VWP, visitors to the USA must:

  • Intend to enter the USA for 90 days or less for business, pleasure or transit
  • Have a valid passport (issued by a Visa Waiver Program country)
  • Be a citizen of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries
  • Have a return or onward ticket. (Onward) travel does not terminate in contiguous territory or adjacent islands unless the traveler is a resident of one of those areas

Contiguous territory or adjacent islands to the USA is considered Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean Islands and Bermuda.

Arriving into the USA By land

Here is the process of crossing a land border into the USA from Canada.

After reaching the US border booths (sorry, there is no way to skip the queue!), you will be directed to a secondary building.

Here, you will fill out the green I94W card with your personal info and travel plans. This card will then be stapled into your passport.

  • Have the address ready for the first place you intend to stay as this is required when filling out the I94W card
  • A photo and fingerprints will be taken after you have completed the card
  • Payment for the I94W is $6USD and can only be paid with a credit card or US cash
  • An ESTA is not required for crossing land/sea borders but does help speed the process up if you have one
  • If you visit the USA with a valid I94W already in your passport, it is unlikely you will need to enter the secondary inspection building so entry will be faster

Important! After leaving the USA for the last time, be sure to hand in your I94W (the green card) to Canadian officials. They are supposed to pass it to the US border guards who will record the date of your departure.

If you leave the I94W in your passport and visit the USA again after its expiry, it is likely that you will be questioned (and not in a good way) about your prior leaving date.

The problem of visiting the USA before a working holiday in Canada

To travel in or through the USA you must comply with the Visa Waiver Program requirements noted above.

IEC participants who have not yet activated their work permit in Canada need proof of onward travel out of North America (USA, Mexico, Canada, Caribbean Islands and Bermuda) within 90 days of arrival in the USA.

Not having onward travel plans outside of this area means that you may encounter issues when trying to enter the USA.

After activating a IEC work permit, you are considered a resident of Canada and as such, do not need to prove onward travel beyond North America within 90 days of their arrival in the USA.

While there are undoubtedly many IEC participants who travel through the USA on their way to Canada without any problems, a few people have contacted my IEC Facebook group and let us know that they were stopped and asked to purchase a flight out of North America within the 90 day period. There is a risk, albeit a relatively small one.