Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Quebec City, Canada, and Flying International

You got here because you have decided to fly to Canada from the US (and back) on a GA aircraft. You are confused as to what paperwork is required, and what to expect on crossing the border. You cannot decide if the trip is worth all the hassles of customs.

But you want to learn French, complete your ridiculously long commercial cross country, or marvel at how cheap the flying is in the US compared to Canada, then ponder no more. Get on with paperwork, and expect two weeks to get everything ready.

I just completed my first cross border flight from KBVY to CYQB, and here is a list of documents that I needed. These requirements are for private operations / for pleasure trips.


Passports sit in your closet and expire right around the time you are ready to use them for the second time. Even if you have your passport, check its expiry date. This is the most important document, and the only one that was checked at the border on my trip.
Expect two to four weeks door to door.

Pilot Certifications
Make sure you have your pilot license in possession 

Medical Certificate
Make sure you have your current medical certificate 

You always have had faith in your flying club on these documents being current and available in the aircraft. Make sure that you find and identify them before leaving the base.
Airworthiness, Registration, Radio Station License (discussed later), pilot operation manual, and weight and balance.

ELT, Mode C
Your aircraft must be equipped with this equipment.

Customs Decal
Decal sticker are issue per aircraft every year and cost $25. You will need to create an account at, then order a decal for your aircraft tail number. Time to receive is about one week. Decals expire on December 31 of each year.

Notarized Letter
If you do not own the aircraft, obtain a letter from the owner of the aircraft that you are allowed to take the aircraft across the border.

You must purchase and carry aviation charts for Canada for your route of flight.

Radio Licenses
A few friends who have flown to Canada told me that radio licenses are not checked. But they are listed as required. Two radio licenses are required.
1. Radio operator license (restricted)
    This license is issued for you (the pilot) for life, and costs $60.
2. Radio station license
    This license is issued for your aircraft till owned, and costs $60.
Both these licenses can be applied for at the website. You will need to create an account and fill a few forms on line. Typical time to receive them is one week.

Make sure your aircraft insurance has an endorsement for coverage in Canada. The endorsement must meet or exceed minimum required liability in Canada.

Several days before departing, register with eAPIS system at, and create two manifests. A departure manifest, and an arrival manifest. You must have your passport available to complete the manifests.

You will be asked about your route of flight, so you should have a general idea of where and when you will be crossing the border.

Make sure you arrange for customs inspection on your airport of arrival (in the US) a few days before your arrival date.  You may not land without prior customs arrangement.

From your arrival manifest, select your airport of entry, and call the customs office at that airport. Talk to someone, give that person you manifest number obtained from eAPIS, and agree on an arrival time. Record that person's off hours / cell number in case you have a change of plan due to weather, you can call and inform even outside regular business hours.

Call this number to inform the Canada Border Services Agency of your arrival in Canada. Give a day or two advance notice. Expect to be asked simple questions about the passengers. Provide your intended airport of entry, and expected time of arrival. CBSA allows only certain airports to be designated as airport of entry. The list is available at

Departure to Canada Flight Plan
You must file an IFR/VFR flight plan, and obtain a squawk code. You must file an ICAO flight plan. I filed mine at No need to elaborate on this, but make sure that all airports of departure and arrival match the airports listed on the eAPIS manifest. Depart so you arrive close to the time provided to CANPASS.

Arriving in Canada
As soon as you land at your airport of entry in Canada, call 1-888-CAN-PASS again, and inform them of your arrival. They will provide an arrival record number. You will be able to leave the airport after that. In some cases, they may send someone to inspect your papers. This will be your last communication with CANPASS on that trip. Do not call them when you are leaving for the US.

Departure to US Flight Plan
You must file an IFR/VFR flight plan, and obtain a squawk code. Make sure your arrival time in the US matches with the arrival time coordinated with the customs office at your arrival airport. If you are off by more than half an hour, call the customs office, and inform them. Do not make them wait, especially on a Sunday evening. On landing, call the customs office. Stay in the aircraft till the customs officer shows up. The fine for leaving the aircraft without permission is $5000.

My Experience

I obtained all the above documents with help from NSAC (my flying club),  and followed the exact procedures descried above. I had a worry free travel, and the only document checked was my passport, when I arrived back in the US. The only question I had to answer was, "What is the capital of Canada?". My reply ... "Ummm Toronto?".

Here are some pictures of the trip. Quebec City is probably the most elegant city in North America.

Skimming the top of clouds at 9000 feet. Cessna 182.

Clouds over large area

A Lays packet swells to become a balloon in low pressure at 9000 feet. A bottle of water squirts on your face when opened without care.

Bridge at St. Lawrence

Old City Quebec