How the Canadian trusted traveler programs work

Dec 24, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story is continually updated


Although all of us here at TPG are based in the U.S., our audience spans globally.

I for one love Canada (especially Montreal), so when our friends up north began emailing me about Canadian trusted traveler programs, I couldn’t resist looking into CATSA, also known as the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

I should note that while Canadian vernacular spells “traveler” as “traveller,” we will be maintaining American English spelling throughout this column for the sake of consistency.

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Here are this week’s top five questions:

In This Post

1. What is CATSA?

CATSA, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, offers Canadians deemed “low-risk travelers” expedited security throughout participating Canadian airports.

“They carry special photo identification cards with security features that give them direct access to many airport security screening checkpoints across Canada,” says CATSA.

Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. (Photo by Rudy Sulgan via Getty Images)

2. How do CATSA’s trusted traveler programs work?

Once you become a trusted traveler in the eyes of CATSA, you are granted access to both Global Entry and Nexus, the latter of which is jointly run by the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

(Screenshot courtesy of CATSA)

The application process is the same whether you are Canadian or American and starts at this link.

3. How are they different?

Remember that if you are departing from a Canadian airport, there is no TSA PreCheck, although CATSA offers a similar experience to expedite Canada Border Services Agency security.

“This provides a TSA Precheck-like experience, in that travelers can retain their shoes and jackets, though CATSA now requires that laptops be removed from bags. This program differs from Precheck, however, in that trusted travelers do not enter their KTN and receive a boarding card printed with access credentials,” a Canadian TPG reader told me via email. “Rather, trusted travelers must present their trusted traveler card at the entry point. This isn’t an issue for Nexus members, as they must use their Nexus card at the Nexus kiosks, but does present an issue for Global Entry members, as they do not need to carry their card to use the Global Entry kiosks (and thus do not typically carry the cards when traveling).”

As is the case when going through the Transportation Security Administration line, CATSA trusted travelers must still walk through a metal detector and take out their carry-on items for x-ray inspection, notes CATSA.

(Screenshot courtesy of CATSA)

4. Are the programs reciprocal?

While CATSA trusted travelers automatically receive the benefits of a Nexus and Global Entry membership, TSA PreCheck is restricted to U.S. citizens/lawful permanent residents while Sentri is open to all.

(Screenshot from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

5. Can I use Nexus for flight arrivals at a U.S. port of entry?

Although Nexus is marketed as being for travelers arriving into the U.S. by vehicle or foot, “Nexus members can enjoy the benefits of Global Entry at no additional cost through using the Global Entry kiosks for entry at participating airports,” says CBP. Just note that you cannot use your Nexus card at Global Entry points outside of Canadian Preclearance locations.

Travelers arrive at the Air Canada check-in area at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Toronto on Oct. 6. (Photo by Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Have a question for next week? Email me at caroline.tanner@thepointsguy.com or tips@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo of Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) by Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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