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Does your child need a visa to enter the U.S.?


Douglas R. Chalke
Executive Director, Sunrise Adoption, North Vancouver, B.C.
June 1, 2009

With all the new rules which Canada and the US Homeland Security have been creating about crossing the border it is getting confusing for adopting parents (including as of June 1, 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative). In an attempt to clarify these rules we have written the following. Please keep in mind that each experience may differ since border guards can apply the rules differently. There are three main groups of adopted children whom these rules affect:

  1. Child born in Canada;
  2. Child born in USA; and
  3. Child born overseas;
    (i) in countries requiring a visa to visit the USA;
    (ii)countries for which no visa is required for the USA

Applicable rules will also depend on whether you want to travel before or after your child acquires Canadian Citizenship and a Canadian passport. Let's look at each category and identify the rules and the problems.

1. Child born in Canada

New rules for entering the USA by driving across the border (June 1/09) require a passport or other similar I.D. (for details see There is an exemption however for children under 16 who can travel with only a birth certificate. The USBorder Protection website states,

"U.S. and Canadian citizen children under age 16 arriving by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean need only present proof of citizenship, such as an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card." Press Release

The problem however is obtaining a birth certificate when there is an adoption placement at birth. The Vital Statistics Departments of most Canadian Provincial Governments do not want to issue two different birth certificates for the same individual. (one in the birth name, and the later one in the adopted name). As a result you cannot now usually obtain a birth certificate in an adoption until the Adoption Order has been received by the Vital Stats Branch (or other Provincial agents.)

To solve this problem the Canadian Passport Office has allowed adopting parents to obtain a limited term passport in the child's adopted name. The passport is usually good for a year, and by that time the child's Adoption Order has been granted. To facilitate this, the Birth Parents should sign permission for the adopting parents to obtain a passport and to travel across the border (preferably at the same time the Adoption Consents are signed.)

Adopting parents usually obtain this limited passport in the event that they are going to attend a family wedding or vacation in the USA (or Europe) before the Final Adoption Order and new birth certificates in the adopted name have been issued. In other words a Canadian Passport can be issued in these situations even when the birth certificate is not available to the adopting parent.

The process of obtaining such a limited passport is becoming increasingly complex. It may be that in some provinces that it simply will no longer be possible.

If the adopting parents do have a birth certificate for the child however then the new USA rules (as of June 1, 2009) will allow a Canadian child under 16 years old to enter the USA without a Canadian passport.

2. Child Born in USA

A child under the age of 16 years old born in the USA (an American Citizen) who is adopted by a Canadian family can enter Canada with valid I.D. Most of the time that means a birth certificate, however occasionally other identifying information will suffice. Ideally the child should have a U.S. passport and most airlines will not fly a child directly into Canada without the child holding a valid U.S. passport.

In the event that an American child is in Canada and needs to return to the USA to obtain a US passport (required for the Canadian Permanent Resident Visa process) the child can return to the United States on a birth certificate if under the age of 16 year old.

3. Child born overseas

A child born overseas who is in Canada to be adopted (i.e. Korea, Philippines) or who has already been adopted overseas (almost every other country) will already have a passport from their country of origin. In addition they will eventually obtain a Canadian passport. What happens during the time from when the child arrives in Canada and when the child obtains a Canadian passport?

(i) Visa required for USA

Citizens of many countries require a visa to enter the USA (and the fact that the child is being adopted by a Canadian family does not change this) you should apply at the US Embassy in Ottawa or a local US Consulate. Remember to do this; adopting parents have reported receiving a heavy fine from US border authorities in addition to the child being refused entry.

(ii) Visa not required for USA

If you are traveling to the USA before your child has obtained a Canadian passport and are traveling solely on the child's overseas passport then you should probably take all the paperwork you can to try and explain the situation to the US border guard. If you are adopting through a licensed adoption agency a letter from the agency director may be of help.


The information given above will assist in crossing in to the USA with your adopted child, however border guards have individual discretion to interpret the rules.

Whether traveling into Canada or into the USA, adopting parents report different experiences with different border patrol officers. You may have all the same documents with you that permitted some other child to enter the USA and yet your child is refused entry (or you are given a hard time at the border before being permitted entry). One of our families had adopted twins from China and the children were traveling on their Canadian passports and were taken into a secondary questioning room at the US border for 90 minutes of questioning before they were allowed to enter the USA. Fortunately they had their adoption papers with them.

If you have had an experience crossing the US border with your adopted child which could benefit other parents please let us know and we will update this article.

Douglas R. Chalke is executive director of Sunrise Adoption agency in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

©2009 Sunrise Family Services Society

Published at Family Helper,, on Oct. 23, 2009.
Previously published online at Sunrise Adoption as "Crossing the US Border With Your Adopted Child".


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