Quick Flight Briefing – Flying to Canada

Proof of Citizenship | Aircraft Documentation/Equipment | Pilot Credentials | Pre-Clearance Items | Entry into Canada | Flight Operations Canada | Returning to the U.S. | Charts | AOPA/COPA Checklist for Cross-Border Flight Operations


This briefing is designed to be advisory in nature for a private pilot conducting a recreational flight and is not intended to be a substitute for thorough and adequate preparation.


Flying to Canada in a private aircraft can be one of a pilot's most enjoyable adventures. From the mountains of British Columbia to the lakes and plains of the interior, Canada provides spectacular views and interesting locations that can often be reached only by aircraft.


Here is a brief set of operating tips to help you get started.


Proof of Citizenship

Each person on board must have a current passport or birth certificate. The birth certificate must be the original or a certified copy. Certified copies have a raised or embossed seal on them. Birth certificates require accompanying photo identification.


Any minor children on the flight accompanied by only one parent must have a notarized letter from the absent parent authorizing the trip. Specific dates, places, and names should be included. For single-parent households, contact AOPA's Pilot Information Center for further information 1-800-USA-AOPA.


Aircraft Documentation/Equipment

A standard airworthiness certificate, permanent registration certificate (no temporaries or pink slips), radio station license (even though no longer required for domestic operations, it is still needed for international operations), operating limitations, and weight and balance are required. If the aircraft is registered in another person's or corporation's name, we recommend that you have a notarized letter authorizing use of the aircraft for flight in Canada.


Bring an original, completed Form 337 if fuel tanks have been installed in the baggage or passenger compartment. You should also verify insurance coverage with your agent to be sure that your coverage extends into Canada.


Private aircraft must be covered with liability insurance, the amount being determined by the aircraft's gross takeoff weight. Proof of coverage should be carried on board the aircraft.


Up to 2,300 lb:

$100,000 public liability only

2,301 to 5,000 lb:

$500,000 public liability only

5,001 to 12,500 lb:

$1,000,000 public liability and $300,000 passenger liability per passenger on board



U.S. Customs has a $25 annual user fee decal mail-in form that will be required. We recommend that you obtain it in advance of your departure, or contact the airport of entry you will be using for your return to see if they have a supply of decals on hand.


Pilot Credentials

You will need your pilot certificate, medical certificate, and restricted radiotelephone operators permit (not required for U.S. domestic VHF radio operations but is required whenever crossing the U.S. border or when using an HF radio). Canadian regulations also require the permit within its airspace. All certificates must be original and current.


Pre-clearance Items

Normally, private flights do not pre-clear with U.S. Customs; however, if the pilot and/or passengers are taking expensive items abroad, it is a good idea to declare those items with U.S. Customs before you leave. U.S. Customs is serious about declaring items purchased abroad, and by declaring expensive items before you leave the United States, it is less likely that you will face a duty or a tax issue on your own belongings when you return.


Monetary amounts over $10,000 must be declared with customs before you leave and when you return to the United States. Non-U.S. citizens may have pre-clearance requirements, and the pilot should confirm those prior to departing the United States.


Entry into Canada

You are required to provide advance notification to Canadian customs by calling 1-888/CAN-PASS (226-7277). You must provide notification no less than two (2) hours but no more than 48 hours prior to your arrival. A filed and activated IFR or VFR flight plan is required for border crossing, and your first landing in Canada must be at an airport of entry. You will be required to provide the customs office with information about yourself, passengers, your flight, and airport of entry. After arrival at your airport of entry, immediately contact the Canadian CANPASS office again at the same number and receive an arrival report number or be advised to await a customs inspection.


Thanks to an agreement between the FAA and Transport Canada, flying an experimental aircraft into Canada is now easier than ever. All that is needed is the document Standardised Validation of a Special Airworthiness Certificate—Experimental, for the Purpose of Operating a United States-Registered Amateur-Built Aircraft in Canadian Airspace, which details the restrictions (minor in nature) applicable in Canadian airspace. Download the form and carry it with the aircraft at all times in Canada.


Flight Operations in Canada

To access weather information and file flight plans while flying in Canada, contact Canadian Flight Service by calling 866/WX-BRIEF (992-7433). This telephone number can only be used within the borders of Canada. More specific flight services and local weather advisories can be obtained by contacting the individual Flight Information Centers within each Canadian province you will be flying to.


For remote areas, take tiedown equipment with you and have your ADF in good working order to take advantage of the lower minimum enroute altitudes, which they usually provide. Slot reservations are required for Toronto Pearson International Airport for VFR and IFR aircraft. A Mode C transponder is required when flying into any terminal control area and Class C airspace in Canada. Mode C transponders are also required in some Class D and E airspace, normally associated with some terminal areas and some control zones. The terminal charts (VTAs) and the Canada Flight Supplement provide the details.


Certain rifles and shotguns for sport, competition, or survival and ammunition are permitted in Canada, but be sure you declare them when going through customs. An advance permit is required from Canadian authorities for certain restricted firearms.


Overflights that originate and end in the United States require that the pilot must file a flight plan, and Canadian regulations must be observed when flying in Canadian airspace. Write "Canadian over flight" in the remarks section of the flight plan.


Note: The Canadian government now charges U.S.-registered aircraft for ATC services based on the aircraft certified gross weight. The current fee as of May 2005 is $17.75 CAN per quarter for aircraft under 3 metric tons (6,614 lb gross). See the Web site for details for aircraft in higher weight classes. Also, weight-based fees for use of the airport terminal may apply at some airports.


Returning to the United States

U.S. Customs requires advanced notice of arrival. These requirements may vary. Be sure to check the requirements for the specific airport used. This information can be found in the U.S. Customs Guide for Private Flyers. The telephone numbers for U.S. Customs offices are listed in the front pages of AOPA's Airport Directory Online. Most airports of entry will require no less than one (1) hour but no more than 23 hours advanced notification.


You must be on a VFR or IFR flight plan with ADCUS (Advise Customs) listed in the remarks section. We strongly suggest that you use a telephone and not rely on the Advise Customs Message (ADCUS). AOPA recommends a telephone call to Customs due to violations reported to us by pilots when Customs has not received the ADCUS message in a timely fashion. Typically these violations will start at $5,000 for the first offense. When calling customs, we suggest that you get a badge number of the customs official who took your information, and if you have a telephone credit card, use it so that you will have a statement that shows the date and time you made the call.


Keep in mind that it is important to be on time. It's always better to be a little late than too early. Pilots should update their estimated time of arrival by contacting U.S. air traffic control and requesting them to advise Customs of the new arrival time in the United States.


Aliens who are permanent residents of the United States must have their registration cards with them in order to reenter the United States. The pilot must report on the Form CF178, Private Aircraft Enforcement System Arrival Report the nationalities of all persons on board to Customs and Immigrations. Pilot and passengers must remain inside the aircraft until the Customs officer motions you to come out.



AOPA members may purchase our International Operations Portfolio for Canada that provides an overview of operating procedures and information for a printing fee of $8. Canadian charts (VFR and IFR) and Canadian World Aeronautical Charts are available from Sporty's Pilot Shop at 800/SPORTYS (776-7897) or from the Canadian Mapping Office at 800/465-MAPS (6277).


Technical specialists at AOPA's Pilot Information Center are available to answer your questions during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday, telephone 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).


AOPA/COPA Checklist for Cross-Border Flight Operations




Personal Documentation



Aircraft Documentation