Say, I am a EU citizen (German in my case) working in Canada (as a postdoc / temporary 2-year contract at a research institute in my case), planning to visit my partner who lives in the US as much as possible. What are the regulations which apply for entering the US on an ESTA, and are there other possibilities to visit the US for non-Canadian citizens living in Canada?

If I naively apply the rules for visiting the US on a (European) ESTA, then visa runs to Canada are excluded, so returning to Canada after a stay in the US would not count as having left the country. For example, if I visit for three weeks in the US and then live in Canada for 3 months then I couldn't visit the US again without having left Canada in between since this would overstay the 90-day rule. Is there an exemption to this rule if I have proof of living and working in Canada?

  • Are you trying to do a visa run? How much time have you spent in the US out of the 2 years?
    – littleadv
    Sep 11, 2022 at 0:03
  • How much time are you spending in Canada vs in the US?
    – Midavalo
    Sep 11, 2022 at 0:13
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    Your "worst case" statement is incorrect if you legally reside in Canada.
    – Midavalo
    Sep 11, 2022 at 0:14
  • @Midavalo Thanks! So if I live and work in Canada, going back there does work as a visa run?
    – Andi Bauer
    Sep 11, 2022 at 1:51
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    @AndiBauer you keep referring to "visa run" - what exactly are you trying to do, as a visa run is quite different to visiting a significant other
    – Midavalo
    Sep 11, 2022 at 2:12

2 Answers 2


if I visit for three weeks in the US and then live in Canada for 3 months then I couldn't visit the US again without having left Canada in between since this would overstay the 90-day rule

No, that’s incorrect. Only if you are still within the 90-day VWP admission period (I.e. the validity of your I-94) can that previous admission be re-used.

So if you arrive on date X, leave on X+60 and come back on X+70, you can only stay until X+89. That’s indeed to prevent actual “visa runs” where you just do a short hop across the border hoping to reset the max duration.

But if you arrive on date X, leave on X+20 and come back on X+100, your original I-94 will have expired, and you’ll get a new one.

Note that this is only one of the rules governing your stays in the US. One of the other rules is that you should not live in the US, so you can’t arrive on X, leave on X+85 and come back on X+95 hoping to stay 80 days. Even though your original I-94 will have expired, you probably won’t be granted a new one at all.

Contrary to Schengen which has a very clear 90/180 rule, there is no explicit rule about this in the US, but the rule of thumb is that you should stay out of the US as long as you stayed in.

So a 3 weeks in, 3 months out pattern should not be a problem.

3 weeks in, 2 months out should not be a problem for the second rule but can be a problem for the first one (they don’t have to readmit you on the original I-94, they can issue a new one if they feel you‘ve been out long enough, but this is really up to the CBP officer and their mood of the day, so I wouldn’t chance it).

Double check your current/last I-94 each time to make sure you’re not planning to stay across its end of validity. Also check that your exits are properly recorded.

Also beware that the word “girlfriend” can trigger additional scrutiny. Do not lie about it, but be aware that this probably requires you to have clear evidence of your intentions.

  • Canadian residency + German nationality will probably attract less scrutiny than most other combos.
    – Hilmar
    Sep 11, 2022 at 15:54
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    @jcaron legal residency in Canada makes a big difference
    – Midavalo
    Sep 11, 2022 at 18:08
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    "if they feel you‘ve been out long enough": or if they otherwise find your visit to be reasonable. For example, someone who spends 80 days in the US, then a week in Canada, then returns to the US for a few days in order to catch their flight back home to another continent 92 days after they entered the US can be granted a new 90-day period of admission. Someone in this position should make it clear to the immigration officer that readmission for the balance of the first 90-day period isn't sufficient. The officer may be skeptical, but if the officer is convinced, the admission is permissible.
    – phoog
    Sep 13, 2022 at 7:29
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    Yes, both rules are soft, and CBP officers have quite a bit of flexibility on that. But the closer to the line you get the riskier it becomes. One should have ample evidence of their intentions, but still, you can’t be guaranteed to be allowed in and that can make planning a bit difficult…
    – jcaron
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:24
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    @FreeMan probably. But having a plane ticket is no guarantee that the person will board the flight. This is more of an issue in the UK, I believe, than in the US, however.
    – phoog
    Sep 14, 2022 at 17:57

I originally thought there was an exception, but on closer investigation it turns out there isn't, but one isn't necessary.

The first point is that if you leave the US and go to Canada and stay there for 90 days plus, that doesn't count as overstaying. That's true whether or not you are resident in Canada. When people say "going to Canada doesn't count as leaving the states" that's only for VWP re-admittance purposes. You can't be overstaying in the US unless you are actually in the US.

Second, showing plans to exit the US by going to Canada are perfectly acceptable if you are resident in Canada. It isn't if you are not. Arriving in the US and only having a ticket to Canada as your exit would not be acceptable normally, but if you are resident in Canada it is.

Third, US Immigration officials are familiar with normal patterns of visitation, and visiting a partner in the US from Canada every so often is normal. For the first 90 days after your first visit they will re-admit you on your original VWP, and after that will probably admit you on a new one (as long as you haven't misused your privileges the first time).

"Visiting my partner" is going to cause them to do a bit of digging on your situation (since a partner in the US is often a reason to try to stay) but if you have stable work, and home, and a permit for Canada you are probably going to be OK. It is probably a good idea to have your partner visit you a few times if they can get that visa.

I was PR in Canada for three years and while I didn't have a US partner I visited the US pretty frequently and never had a problem.

  • "does reset the VWP clock": not necessarily. If you visit the US for a week in September and then return for a week in October after spending three weeks in Canada, you may or may not be admitted on the same I-94, whether you reside in Canada or Japan. It's up to the immigration officer.
    – phoog
    Sep 13, 2022 at 7:20
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this rule mentioned somewhere but I failed to find a reference to back it up. The DoS and CBP sites just point back to each other for “more details” and I couldn’t see anything related in the actual regulation, but I didn’t really search a lot.
    – jcaron
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:04
  • @jcaron the actual exemption is relative to the round-trip ticket requirement, as alluded to in this answer. Fellow user Midavalo has described some experiences of frequent trips to the US as a VWP eligible resident of Mexico. But basically, as this answer and yours both point out, the rule concerning readmission for the balance of the previous admission is discretionary. A new period of admission requires more scrutiny, but a traveler can request one if necessary (because e.g. the first one expires before the traveler plans to leave).
    – phoog
    Sep 14, 2022 at 10:45

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