Similar to the situation in the US, Canada's international airports typically do not allow direct airside transit (i.e., facilities for arriving international passengers to transfer to another international flight without being inspected by Canadian immigration authorities). This may make a layover at a Canadian airport time-consuming and expensive for citizens of certain countries. This guide is intended to give workarounds for various trips without touching Canadian (or US) airspace.
- To avoid duplications and because almost all travellers wishing to avoid Canada will also wish to avoid the US, this article does not deal with flights entering US airspace or having layovers there
Similar to the United States, Canada requires most visitors — even those only transiting through an airport — to either have a valid visa or, in the case of citizens of a select few countries and only for certain types of stay, an Electronic Travel Autorisation (eTA). While the eTA is relatively easy to obtain for qualifying citizens (which—unlike the US equivalent ESTA includes all EU member states), it does cost CAD$7.00 and will be denied to people with a criminal record. And as even crimes which may be viewed as lesser infractions elsewhere — such as a drunk driving conviction — are taken quite seriously under Canadian law, this excludes no small number of travelers. U.S. citizens (but not U.S. permanent residents) and travellers coming to Canada with a visa are exempt from the eTA.
Transit without visa
As of 2018, citizens of a few countries who otherwise would require a visa for Canada are allowed visa-free transit via the Vancouver International Airport (YVR IATA), Calgary International Airport (YYC IATA), or Terminal 1 of the Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ IATA) on the way to or from the United States. These individuals must be in possession of a valid US entry visa, have a confirmed onward ticket, and travel on an approved airline. Although the government website also lists Winnipeg International Airport (YWG IATA) as an eligible airport for this scheme, there are no direct flights from Asia to Winnipeg where the travellers can benefit from these programs.
There are 2 different programs:
- The Transit Without Visa program is for citizens of Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan ROC (including those who are not eligible for the normal Canadian visa exemption), and the Philippines.
- The China Transit Program is for citizens of the People's Republic of China. When travelling via Canada to the United States, passengers must be arriving to Canada on a flight from one of 15 specified airports in Asia. Aside from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto (terminal 1), Chinese citizens can also transit via Montreal International Airport (YUL IATA).
To South and Central America
- São Paulo and Buenos Aires are fairly well-served from Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt Airport, London Heathrow, Madrid Barajas, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Rome Fiumicino.
- Lima can be reached with non stop flights from Amsterdam Schiphol, Madrid Barajas and Paris Charles de Gaulle.
- Santiago de Chile can be reached with non stop flights from Frankfurt Airport, Madrid Barajas and Paris CDG.
- Many cities in South America are easily reachable from London (mostly London Heathrow, but some flights from London Gatwick), Madrid Barajas or Paris (CDG for non-French possessions and ex-colonies, Orly Airport for French Guyana).
- Some carriers (Iberia, KLM, for example) fly directly from Europe (e.g. Madrid or Amsterdam) to Panama City or Alajuela (SJO IATA), Costa Rica, from where regional carriers will take you to other parts of Central or northern South America. Note that KLM and Iberia codeshare with regional airlines from other airline alliances on some of these routes and booking them on a single ticket is much cheaper than flying to SJO/PTY and booking onward travel to - say - Managua separately
- Caracas can be reached on non stop flights from Frankfurt Airport, Madrid Barajas, Paris CDG and Rome.
To the Caribbean
- Bermuda and Cayman Islands can be reached directly from London.
- Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Saint Kitts are reachable from London Gatwick on several airlines.
- Havana is a direct flight from several European cities. From there, connecting flights to Latin America, other Caribbean islands and other Cuban cities are available.
- Saint Martin (St. Maarten) is directly reachable from Paris Orly and Amsterdam Schiphol.
- Barbados and St. Lucia are directly reachable from Frankfurt Airport (weekly flights)
- Guadeloupe and Martinique are served by daily flights from Paris Orly.
- Condor offers service from Frankfurt Airport to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic with onward service to San José Costa Rica
- Curacao is served by KLM from Amsterdam Schiphol.
Because of the positions of Canada and Africa on the globe, it's unlikely that you would be transiting through Canada. Direct flights from Africa to Europe and Asia are readily available. Oceania is best accessed from Africa through the Middle East or Asia.
To Latin America and the Caribbean
There are very few direct connections between Latin America and the Far East, so you're in for a lengthy trip no matter which way you travel. While there are direct services, there are hardly any non-stop flights because of the long distances.
One-stop connections from Asia to South and Central America and the Caribbean are possible by transiting via major European hubs. Passengers heading to South America may also consider transiting via Oceania (as described above) or southern Africa (as described below).
Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City is the Latin American airport with the largest number of connections from the Far East; Aeromexico flies there from Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai (stop in Tijuana). Additionally, ANA flies there from Tokyo, Hainan Airlines from Beijing (stop in Tijuana). From there you can fly on to elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. Finally Air China flies from Beijing to Sao Paulo with a stop in Madrid.
From the Middle East the situation is the opposite, you can get directly to South America, but will need to transfer to get to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean. Emirates (from Dubai), Qatar (from Doha) and Turkish (from Istanbul) all have services to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. Emirates also flies to Rio de Janeiro and Santiago de Chile.
- Avoiding travel through the United States, which (as mentioned above) contains information that is not duplicated here.