Business Travel to Canada: What You Need to Know

Last Updated on March 2, 2023

Business travel to Canada is commonplace for U.S. companies with clients to the north. Sometimes these trips require a business visa, sometimes a work permit, sometimes an explanation letter or a copy of client contract.

The trouble is, employers don’t always know when and who will require a business visa, work permit or may travel without either but still need to present documentation in order to be allowed entry to Canada when traveling on business.

To get to the bottom of it, we spoke with Marina Falkina, our resident global mobility specialist, and Licensed Canadian Immigration Consultant/Practitioner with Envoy. She answered some of your top questions about business travel to Canada and what to watch out for when sending employees to Canada:

When do employees need a visa for business travel to Canada?

When do employees need a visa for business travel to Canada?

Foreign nationals from visa-required countries (i.e. India, China, Brazil, etc.) will require a visa even to attend a client meeting or conference in Canada. However, nationals from visa-exempt countries, such as UK, Australia, Germany, Japan and many others do not require visa to travel to Canada, but will be required to apply for an eTA (Electronic Travel Authorization), and may still need to bring documentation and answer questions about their intended activities in Canada.

When it comes to U.S. travelers, they are both visa and eTA exempt. However, they may also be required to provide supporting documentation even on a business visit.

In any traveler’s case, the Canadian border agent must determine that the activities the employee will be performing in Canada do not constitute “entry into the Canadian labour market.”

The Canadian Immigration website states: “As a business visitor, you must show that…you do not plan to enter the Canadian labour market…” The wording of this explanation is technically accurate, but it is rather easy to misinterpret its meaning.

What does it mean to enter the Canadian labor market?

Entering the Canadian labor market largely depends on who benefits from the activity being performed in Canada. If a Canadian company is going to benefit from the foreign employee’s business visit, it’s typically considered an entry into the labor market and in this case, a Canada work permit will most likely be required.

business travel to Canada - What does it mean to enter the Canadian labor market?

A business visitor would typically be paid by the foreign employer, but this fact alone doesn’t mean that they would automatically qualify for entry as a business visitor. There could be questions surrounding the country of the entity that initiated the trip and triggered the need for the foreign national employee’s presence in Canada.

Overall, the idea of benefiting companies is also complicated and nuanced. If there is ever any question, it is best handled by experienced immigration practitioners.

Many employers assume their employees are safe to enter Canada without a work permit because they don’t think their employee is entering the Canadian labor market simply because they are paid by an American company. This thinking, however, leads to employees getting turned away at the border all too often.

Does an employee need a Canadian visa for a meeting?

business travel to Canada - Does an employee need a Canadian visa for a meeting?

Maybe. Remember, not all meetings are created equal. Depending on the employee’s nationality, a visa or an eTA may be required in order to travel to Canada to attend a business meeting. Passive meetings for employees to discuss possible business with potential clients in Canada may not require a visa or any additional documentation for a visa-exempt employee. However, if the nature of the meeting or business trip is to provide specific services to an existing client in Canada who has already signed a contract, that could require a more detailed explanation and additional documentation and, potentially, a Canada work permit.

So even if it’s “just a meeting,” the activities an employee intends to do in Canada and the location of the benefitting company matters.

What if it’s a short trip to Canada?

Many employers assume a short trip to Canada doesn’t require any documentation, even if the employee is from a visa-exempt country. However, although duration of their stay does play a role in determining the eligibility for entry, the question is almost entirely about what exactly the foreign employee is expected to do while in Canada.

How do I determine my employee’s intended activities?

business travel to Canada - How do I determine my employee’s intended activities?

Sit down with a blank piece of paper and imagine you’re the employee traveling to Canada for business. You’re standing in front of a Canadian border services officer, who is asking you, “What exactly are you going to do while you’re in Canada?” Use the paper to record any and all activities (even the most mundane) that the employee will be doing.

Ask yourself: Will they be sitting at a table listening to a presentation? Will they be consulting anyone on any subject? Will they be presenting something that has been or hasn’t been sold to a client in Canada? Whatever the activities may be, they should be recorded accurately and fully here. Or better, yet, ask the traveling employee to complete this short but very useful exercise. This will help you and your employee avoid the common mistake of listing the employee’s current duties or responsibilities rather than the anticipated activities in Canada.

The list of activities helps you begin to understand what kind of entry documentation may be required so you can bring the case to your licensed immigration practitioner, who can then help you determine if it is likely that the employee may need a work permit while in Canada or not.

When should I contact my licensed Canadian immigration practitioner?

As soon as the question about business travel to Canada pops into your head, you should contact your immigration practitioner or global immigration services provider.

Even a seemingly simple business visit to Canada can be tricky, so you’ll want proper legal guidance. When your employee gets to the airport and the CBSA officer inquires about the visit, the last thing you’d want is for that employee to be turned away because of ambiguity or a misrepresentation of the visit.

Is Canadian immigration strict?

Over the last couple of years, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has increased scrutiny of business visitors. Before, it might have been enough to say you’re just going to a “client meeting,” but today that often doesn’t cut it. It’s crucial to be clear about the purpose of the trip and have the matching documentation. If you’re confused, it’s likely that the border agent will be too.

Want more information on business travel to Canada or Canadian immigration in general? Download our Canadian Immigration & Visa Overview or contact the Envoy team to learn more.