I'm planning a trip of under a month from Europe to North America, with flights reserved to and from Vancouver. I'm planning to spend a little time in Vancouver, then cross from Canada to USA by land, probably by train. (I will obtain an ESTA beforehand.) Then, I'm going to drive southwards on the coast, and ultimately fly back to Vancouver, and then back home.

As I want to retain some flexibility about my travel plans, I'm not planning to buy a flight back to Vancouver until I'm in the USA and know which city I'll be departing from.

As I understand, US border officials generally want to make sure that tourists plan to return home. So the question is: might this plan of not buying a return flight from the USA before seeking entry (while having a reserved return flight from Vancouver) present a problem?

Bonus points: Is it OK to have just a credit card, no travellers' cheques or cash when entering the USA? Given that one can get cash from ATMs with a credit card.

Added on edit: this question differs a bit from Entering the USA by land border in that I'm asking about whether my return flight from Vancouver would be sufficient to demonstrate to the US border officials that I don't intend to misuse my tourist status.

  • 3
    Your question looks to be largely covered by the existing Entering the USA by land border. You may also have issues with entering Canada as a tourist without any onward transport
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 8:50
  • The policy may have changed (ESTA may prevent the need for it?)- but many years ago when I entered the USA by land, it was necessary to pay for some kind of Visa Waiver form/stamp that wasn't required for air landings. This payment had to be in the form US Dollars, cash.
    – CMaster
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 10:54
  • 1
    @CMaster ESTA is not available for land entry.
    – Calchas
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 10:55
  • 2
    @Calchas it is IF you recently entered the US by air (previous 90 days), exited and re-entered. I've done this several times. If outside the 90 days, then you need to get a land border visa.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 10:57
  • @Mayo This is slightly different. In this case you are simply resuming your previous visa-waiver entry period. The ESTA system is designed to allow the US CBP to know of your entry in advance, and tell the airline/ship company whether to deny you boarding.
    – Calchas
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


The ESTA program is for entry by sea or air (by an approved carrier) only. It is not available for entry by land (or by private charter).

Instead you will need to fill out one of the old paper I-94 forms at the US Border, and ensure that you return the form when you leave. (If you have recently been in the United States, you will resume your previous period of entry instead of starting a new one, and so in that case you will not need to fill out the form.)

As far as I can see, if you enter on a paper I-94 form, you do not technically need to have onward confirmed reservations. The issue is clouded because, if you enter on an ESTA, you certainly do.

However, you will still need to satisfy the US CBP Officer that you have a definite intention to leave within ninety days. Since you have confirmed tickets from Vancouver, this should be sufficient.

There's no need to carry cash, I usually arrive in the United States with only a credit card.

  • In my first version of this answer I did not see that the questioner had confirmed tickets out of Vancouver. With a confirmed ticket from Vancouver, there should be no problems. I have amended my answer appropriately.
    – Calchas
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 13:41
  • Thanks for the answer, which I'll mark as the accepted one. I'll not bother to get an ESTA, then, in order not to cloud the issue. Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 17:45
  • 2
    You will need $6 for the I-94. I don't know if CBP takes cards for that Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 15:13
  • Credit cards were accepted at the border crossing. I crossed by bus, I think at the Pacific Highway crossing, second from the west on the US-Canadian border. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 8:41
  • This answer is now out of date - ESTA includes entry by land.
    – nekomatic
    Commented Apr 8 at 10:17

As long as you have a return flight booked from Vancouver to home you should be fine. The border authorities, both US and Canadian, are concerned principally to know that you have arrangements in place to leave their country. If you've got to go to Vancouver to return home, then clearly you'll have to leave the USA, so they should be satisfied by that.

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