I am Canadian and my wife doesn't have an actual passport but a Document of Identity from Hong Kong. We both currently live in San Francisco and have a TN and TD visa. We would like to visit my family in Montreal for Christmas and tried to apply for a visa for my wife but was rejected because she apparently "doesn't need one" (that was the reason given).

However, we are worried that the Immigration Officer who processed the request mistook my wife's Document of Identity for an actual Hong Kong passport and made a mistake by claiming she doesn't need a visa. I tried calling the Canadian Consulate and they seem really confused about the question and haven't given us a clear answer.

Anyways, we would still like to attempt to travel to Montreal for Christmas and would like to travel to New York instead if my wife is denied entry to Canada at the airport.

If she is denied entry, can she chose to hop on a plane to New York instead of San Francisco?

If she is forced to take a plane to San Francisco, does she have to pay for the ticket?

  • 3
    I can't tell for sure. I suggest bringing the letter you received from the embassy and preparing to spend an hour or two at immigration. I suspect you will either sail right through, or after some confusion on the part of CBSA, be issued a temporary resident permit at the border. Nov 30, 2016 at 1:39
  • 2
    Won't you need either a visa or an eTA before you even start the journey? Nov 30, 2016 at 2:51
  • 2
    If your wife is not a Chinese national, it should be fairly easy to explain to the consulate their error because in that case she is explicitly and unambiguously unable to apply for eTA.
    – phoog
    Nov 30, 2016 at 6:11
  • 11
    The question assumes that the main hurdle will be that she is "denied entry to Canada at the [Montreal] airport." However, there's a good chance that the airline check-in agent in San Francisco won't let her get on the plane, so you may want to have a backup plan for that scenario. Nov 30, 2016 at 10:42
  • 1
    If it were Toronto you were travelling to I would suggest flying to Buffalo, renting a car and driving across the border. Not only is likely to be cheaper, but your also less likely to run into problems with the CBSA. However I don't know if there's equivalent option for Montreal.
    – Ross Ridge
    Dec 1, 2016 at 7:59

4 Answers 4


San Francisco


New York

I would swap the order:

San Francisco

New York


Take a cross continental flight to New York and fly up to Montreal from there. If you are refused, you are returned to New York and you are done.

  • 7
    +1, shrewd. Adjust the itinerary to account for the possibility of a removal. Great idea that might even be cheaper anyway.
    – Gayot Fow
    Nov 30, 2016 at 9:47
  • 12
    I have been telling Hungarian people with ... interesting ... US immigration history for a very long time to fly to the USA through Dublin because it's way cheaper for them if they are thrown out at Dublin preclearance than JFK even though there's no single connection flight via Dublin so it's not a route people would consider normally. So this line of reasoning is not new for me.
    – user4188
    Nov 30, 2016 at 12:23
  • I disagree: you are more likely to be denied boarding than denied entry, so you are better off with the original schedule. If you are denied boarding in SFO, you just go home from the airport.
    – Hilmar
    Nov 30, 2016 at 12:53
  • 14
    @Hilmar but they don't want to go home in that case. They want to go to New York. Nov 30, 2016 at 13:45
  • 3
    @T.Verron Bucharest is in Romania, but yes. Ireland is the only EU country with US preclearance. Flying from Budapest, the airline will check your passport and entry documents, but US authorities don't see them until after you fly to the US. From Dublin, there are US CBP officers checking you (and your luggage) before you get on the plane.
    – phoog
    Nov 30, 2016 at 15:14

If she is refused entry, then the airline is supposed to put her on the next available flight back from whence she came. She doesn't have the luxury to choose as she pleases. Perhaps if there is a New York flight departing sooner than the next next SFO flight, you might get permission to take that (since both are in the country of embarkation).

If you return to SFO, then the airline will likely apply the return portion of your airfare to that trip and call it even. If you manage to get permission to reroute to New York the airline may try to charge you full fare for the "new" route.

  • 2
    +1, v nice; your answer assumes that the Canadian authorities determine that she is admissible to the US, which is part of their procedure. But yeah, a forced removal gives the person few options if any.
    – Gayot Fow
    Nov 30, 2016 at 9:45

Based on @Ari Brodsky's comment: If you get problems they are more likely to occur during departure and not at arrival. Airlines are heavily fined if they carry passengers that are are refused entry, so they go out of their way to check your papers BEFORE you board. It's way more common to be denied boarding than being denied entry.

  • The airline agent will compare your paperwork to what Timatic tells them to do. If an immigration officer at the consulate mistook the document for another, it's not unreasonable to suspect an airline agent who is not specialized in this would do the same. And yet, the border guard whose only focus is this, might not make the same mistake. As for the more general problem, airlines have no access to your immigration history which might affect you being allowed or not. So while you are right in general, it's not always so.
    – user4188
    Nov 30, 2016 at 23:30

Normally when you are denied entry due to inadmissibility, you are sent back to your port of embarkation (if you are still eligible) or to your country of citizenship.

For the costs of the return ticket, there are a few areas that govern this. The oldest rule is the Warsaw Convention which stated that the carrier is responsible to transport the passenger back; but it didn't specify if it could charge for this.

It is known that governments often fine airlines that carry passengers that are inadmissible; and each airline has their own policy on how they deal with this.

Normally, what happens is:

  1. Return portion of the fare is applied in full and the passenger doesn't pay anything (part of the reason why two way tickets are sometimes required for short term temporary visits).

  2. The passenger is removed via the first available flight to their port of embarkation (if admissible) or the country of their citizenship. You are usually detained until your flight, then escorted to the airplane where the border officials hand over your passport to the flight attendants.

  3. You usually do not have a choice as to which flight to depart back on (see point #1 for return tickets) and it is entirely up to the airline to charge you extra, or to have to pay the "full fare" for a return to another destination. As your departure record is now part of the removal procedures/paperwork - you may not even have the chance to pick the airline or timing / route. Depends entirely on how serious / friendly is the nature of your deportation.

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