British travellers that have lived in Canada in the past often experience problems when applying for an eTA Canada. Sometimes, this even prevents them from travelling to Canada altogether.
Consequences of an old emigration flow
After the second World War, which ravaged large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, a large number of people emigrated to prosperous countries that were left relatively untouched by the war. These countries include Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Immigrants that settled in Canada received the status of ‘permanent resident’ by the Canadian government. A hefty chunk of these emigrants moved back to their home countries later on. However, their status of permanent resident was never officially cancelled. This is now causing problems if these people want to travel to Canada.
eTA causing problems
Applying for an eTA has been mandatory for British travellers flying to Canada for a holiday or to visit family and friends since 2016. Inhabitants and citizens of Canada do not meet the requirements of the eTA Canada. This is because they can travel with their "permanent resident card", and as such do not need an eTA or a visa for Canada. However, people that have at some point lived in Canada can still be listed as an inhabitant or citizen of Canada. Often without even knowing so themselves. The reason for this is that these statuses never expire by themselves and can only be cancelled through formal procedures. Citizens are also sometimes called "nationals". Inhabitants are sometimes also called "permanent resident", "landed immigrant" or "immigrant reçu". The same applies to all these different names: if you fall under it, you cannot apply for an eTA.
Did you ever live in Canada in the past? Then you likely still have the status of "permanent resident"
Still being able to travel to Canada: what are the possibilities?
Are you still registered in the Canadian civil registry as a citizen, national, permanent resident, landed immigrant or immigrant reçu? Then there are several possibilities to still travel to Canada. Each possibility has its own benefits and downsides.
Possibility 1: With a Canadian (emergency) passport
Are you still a Canadian citizen? You can apply for a new passport at a Canadian embassy, consulate or High Commission. If you are in a hurry, you can also apply for an emergency passport; emergency passports are issued more quickly.
Possibility 2: With a PR card
Are you still registered as a resident in Canada (resident, permanent resident, landed immigrant, immigrant reçu) and are you currently in Canada? If so, your main concern is probably that you will be able to return after leaving Canada. In this case, you can apply for a new permanent resident card (PR card).
Possibility 3: With a PRTD
Are you still registered as a resident in Canada (resident, permanent resident, landed immigrant, immigrant reçu) and not currently in Canada? If you have been in Canada for a total of at least two years during the past five years, you can apply for a permanent resident travel document (PRTD).
Possibility 4: With an eTA or a visa
If you wish, you can also de-register from the Canadian civil registry. You will then give up your status as a resident or citizen. Please note that by doing so, you may also lose any rights you have accrued in Canada. For example, if you receive or expect to receive a pension or benefit from Canada in the future, you should first make sure that you will not lose this entitlement if you withdraw your status. Once you have cancelled your status, you can go through the normal application process for an eTA or a visa just like other British citizens.
Possibility 5: With a special exception
For some time now, it has been possible to apply for a special exception that allows you to travel to Canada. You can apply for this exception at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Please note that while you can always apply for this exception, it is only granted in exceptional cases.
Possibility 6: With an ESTA via the USA
As a last resort, you can travel via the United States of America. In order to travel to the USA, you will need to apply for an ESTA. After you arrive in the United States, you can travel to Canada without an eTA or visa. For example by car, bus, train or boat. All you need is your British passport.