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I understand that if you're not a US citizen, you cannot enter the USA without permission and need a visa to enter the country. Similar rules apply to non-Canadian citizens wanting to enter Canada.

Now, suppose I (as a Belgian) want to hike the length of the US-Canadian border with a group of people (from around the world) for charity each year, visiting each Canadian provincial capital and Each US state capital along the way (including Alaska), from the West coast to the East coast. This would mean leaving and entering both countries multiple times over a period of many years. Is there a document that would allow this? Or is the idea itself of a borderlength hike for charity not allowed?

For simplicity, assume that all the people are not on any federal no-entry lists on either country.

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@NateKerhofs An ESTA is valid for two years, visas can be valid longer (although I am not sure exactly what's currently being issued), 90 days is the time you are allowed to stay in the US, which is entirely separate from the visa under US law. People do not typically get 90-day visas and even if you got a multi-year non-immigrant visa, you would still not be allowed to stay in the US for several years. Are you asking about living between the US and Canada for the entire time or coming back every year for a section of the hike? –  Relaxed May 26 at 13:06
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You are saying you will do the whole hike, many times over, once per year? How long do you believe this hike will take you, each time you do it? Less than ninety days? –  DJClayworth May 26 at 13:23
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You understand that Toronto and Vancouver are TWO THOUSAND MILES apart? At 15 miles a day (typical for experienced long distance hikers apparently) that would take 133 days, but given that you want to divert north and south to get to capitals, you should probably double it. Not to mention the Rocky Mountains, and the whole existence of winter. You would be very lucky to get one such trip in per year. –  Kate Gregory May 26 at 13:34
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Not forgetting that there is about another 1500km of US/Canada border EAST of Toronto. –  DJClayworth May 26 at 16:16
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The only such document that I am aware of is a US Passport or a Green Card. /pithy and unhelpful. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 26 at 19:17
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is a document that allows you to enter the US whenever you want (contingent on inspection and admission by a US border agent each time)… and it's the US visa. Some can be valid for as long as 10 years and allow you to enter the country many times.

Under US law, length of stay is an entirely separate issue. Unlike what you seem to believe, you would not typically get a “90-day visa”. The visa can have much shorter or much longer validity than the time you will be allowed to stay in the US.

However, you cannot easily get a document that would allow you to stay “however long you want”. That determination will be made at the border but if you do more than one or two long trips in a row, you are going to raise suspicion that you are actually living in the US. For repetitive multi-month stays, I think you would need to seek an immigrant visa and resident status. Same thing if you cross the border many times and end up staying in North America for a long time.

For those of you that don't need a visa for short visits (e.g. citizens from visa-waiver countries), renewing the ESTA every two years is the least of your problem. It's relatively cheap and easy. It's not being denied entry if you are spending so much time in the US without proper resident status you should be concerned about. Note that you would be granted 90 days of stay in the US on the first entry and going to Canada would not usually “reset the clock” so you would need to come back to Europe after three months.

Once again, the length of stay is the most pressing issue, not renewing the visa or authorization nor leaving and entering the country repeatedly.

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Ah, that's what I needed to know. The reasoning was that we might be on US soil for a few days, then on Canadian soil for a few days, then the US again. We wouldn't spend that long on either side in one sitting, but we would have multiple of these small visits in a a few months. We wanted to know if this wouldn't violate some term of the visa agreement. –  Nate Kerkhofs May 26 at 13:42
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Under the Visa Waiver Program, short visits to Canada in the middle of your US trip don't count as an exit and re-entry. You should be able to exit and re-enter freely. BUT your time in Canada counts against the 90 days you are permitted in the US. –  DJClayworth May 26 at 16:12
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@NateKerhofs It doesn't violate the conditions of your visa (which isn't an agreement, really) per se but a visa does not solve your problem, which is the duration of the stay. –  Relaxed May 26 at 16:43
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