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At least in Vancouver Airport one has to spend a lot of time to get to the electronic customs declaration kiosks. This got me thinking - is it possible to fill out the paper based customs declaration (form E311) instead (saved up from a previous overland trip) instead of using the electronic version? One could then skip the first queue and directly stand in line for the immigration officers.

If it matters, I'm a Canadian resident who is not a US/Canadian citizen.

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    Are you describing the kiosks that scan your passport and take your picture? I can't see how skipping that step would work. They do have an app, but unfortunately you still have to use it at the kiosks, so it wouldn't let you skip that line. – Zach Lipton Jul 11 '18 at 5:19
  • @ZachLipton I've thought those kiosks are for customs purposes only? – JonathanReez Jul 11 '18 at 5:23
  • What is your citizenship? The answer may differ for Canadian/US/others. – ajd Aug 7 '18 at 1:27
  • @ajd question updated. I'm going to test out the theory next week, but until then the bounty is open. – JonathanReez Aug 7 '18 at 1:39
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+25

It is possible.
Legally to enter Canada you need to give one or the other.
I have got into Canada with only the hand-written form within the last year.

However, it is also perfectly legal for them to deny you entry for any reason at their discretion.

"It is ultimately at the Officer’s discretion, whether or not they allow you to enter."

They will not likely deny you entry (though they're allowed to, if they find you suspicious enough, and keep in mind some of them are not very smart). But if you're at an airport like Vancouver, where everyone else entering has the kiosk-generated form (with the picture of your face on it), you are likely to be sent to the back of the line to get one: Not because you legally need one, but because they feel like it (i.e. they feel like having everyone give the same type of form), or because they don't know what they're doing. I would not recommend arguing with them and informing them that the older hand-written form is legally sufficient. It is usually better to do what they say.

So in conclusion, you can enter with the hand-written form. But you can also be asked (basically forced) to go to the back of the line and get the kiosk-generated form.

Probably the best thing to do would be to have your pre-filled hand-written form in your hand and show it to the staff standing next to the queues and kiosks. Say "I already have this, can I go to the front?" and you can get a positive or negative answer depending on who it is. If they let you go to the front and the immigration officer sends you to the back of the line, you're just back to roughly where you started, since you skipped to the front to get there anyway.

  • Actually, if you're a resident of Canada (as in worker or student, but not a permanent resident), you cannot be denied entry to Canada without a proper reason (mentioned to me by an immigration lawyer, don't have a reference right now). So I will try to argue with the officer, but it is indeed a valid point for tourists :) – JonathanReez Aug 11 '18 at 15:36
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    I had missed the part about you being a resident, but even for tourists I wrote "They will not likely deny you entry". The issue is more about them sending you to the back of the line, not about you being sent back to your point of last departure (which rarely happens for someone with a valid visa). – user1271772 Aug 11 '18 at 15:48
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The answer is yes, this is possible, at least in Vancouver airport. However it's questionable if it speeds up the process significantly as there's a separate queue for people who use the paper form, which at least today was longer than the normal one.

And to refute the other answers - it is perfectly normal to use the paper forms and there are in fact stacks of them at the airport for people who can't use the machines for some reason. I was stamped into the country without a single question from immigration.

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The electronic machines are a lot faster as there's no need for a human to read and check every form.

If you use a paper form, you're going to get at the very least increased scrutiny, and possibly will be sent back to the machines to use those.

That's just how a bureaucracy works.

p.s. on my visit to Montreal and Ottawa a few months ago there were plenty of machines, waiting times were almost non-existent, and using them only took 30 seconds or so. Explaining to a bored customs clerk why you insist on not using them and them then forwarding you for manual screening by some very interested colleagues who have all the time in the world to go through every nook and cranny of your luggage is going to take a lot longer than that.

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    In Vancouver airport waiting to get to the machine could take up to 30 minutes in the non citizen line. – JonathanReez Aug 7 '18 at 7:43

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