What is pre-clearance, and how does it work?

If you have ever stood in a long lineup at Pearson or another Canadian airport waiting to reach the American guy or gal in the blue uniform who will examine your passport and question you on your reasons for entering the country, congratulations! You have already experienced pre-clearance. Border preclearance facilities are staffed and operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and are maintained to inspect travelers before they can board their aircraft (or other mode of transportation, in the case of sea port or train station preclearance). The goal is to clear passengers to make sure they are entering or passing through the United States on legitimate business before they cross the border, rather than adding to the congestion at destination ports afterwards.

Here are some frequently asked questions that people have about pre-clearance.

Q: How does pre-clearance make things more streamlined for Canadians travelling to the United States?

A: The intended purpose is to make things faster so that once passengers disembark at the port of entry, they can simply get their luggage and be on their way rather than having to wait in line at their destination. Of course, that simply shifts the waiting to the beginning of the journey.

Q: Once you have gone through pre-clearance, are you totally in the clear?

A: Generally speaking, yes, but you are still subject to inspection on US soil at the discretion of Customs if they have reason to suspect you warrant it.

Q: Do US citizens have to go through pre-clearance if they are traveling to the US?

A: Yes. Even US passport holders who are entering the US via Canada must go through pre-clearance.

Q: If the US is not your final destination, do you still have to go through pre-clearance?

A: Yes. Even if you are still in transit to another country but will stop over to board a connecting flight in the US, you must pass through pre-clearance.

Q: Does pre-clearance benefit me if I will be checking luggage?

A: Yes. If your final destination is a country other than the US, your baggage is checked straight through to your final destination from Canada, while you yourself simply pass through customs inspection with any carry-on luggage and proceed to your next flight. This is faster than having to collect and re-check your luggage before the connecting flight.

Q: Once I have passed through US pre-clearance and am waiting for my flight, whose soil am I technically on?

A: Technically, you are a guest of the US and subject to US laws after pre-clearance. CBP agents do not have powers of arrest (only local law enforcement does) so they cannot arrest you on outstanding warrants, but they can deny you entry to the US, and if you break a US law there, you can be arrested by local police.

Q: What happens if pre-clearance delays cause me to miss my flight?

A: It is recommended that passengers plan to arrive at the airport a minimum of two hours before international flights to allow for variances in staffing levels and airport traffic that might extend preclearance wait times.

Note: these questions address border preclearance procedures for the 8 Canadian ports that currently have such facilities, and for Canadians travelling to or through the United States. If you are a Canadian with a criminal record and are concerned about the impact it might have on your travel plans, contact us to discuss how you can obtain guaranteed entry into the United States.

Call TOLL FREE 1-888-890-1321

or fill out the online inquiry below and have a qualified agent help you see if you are eligible to clear your criminal record with a Pardon, or gain access to the United States with an Entry Waiver.

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