Can I travel before I receive my Canadian PR Card?

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: December 11, 2023

Once an individual has applied for permanent residence (PR) and received a confirmation of permanent residence (COPR), they are still required to do a landing and receive a PR card to fully complete the process of becoming a confirmed permanent resident of Canada.

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Landings can be done in two ways. They can be part of a complete immigration to Canada—where a new PR and their dependents arrive in Canada ready to move to the country—or as “soft landings”, where new PRs simply land in Canada to complete the process of attaining their status and receive their first PR card.

In both cases (especially the latter), there may be instances where new PRs need to travel before they are able to attain their PR card. New permanent residents can travel before receiving their PR card, but the process is more complicated than simply returning to Canada. This article will cover what newcomers can do in such situations.

Note: the below information is also relevant to those who have an expired PR card. The Canadian government recommends renewing a PR card up to nine months before it expires.

What is a PR Card?

Before discussing best practices, it will be beneficial to clarify what a PR card is and how it functions.

A PR card is an identification document that is issued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). It is used as a confirmation of status document in Canada and was instituted in 2002 as an alternative to printed identity documents.

Once a new permanent resident is approved for PR, they will receive a PR visa which allows them to travel to the country. PR visas allow permanent residents to travel to Canada, PR cards allow permanent residents to enter and reside freely in Canada, as confirmation of their PR status.

Note that the first time a new permanent resident arrives in Canada, they will not need their PR card; but instead their PR visa (if their passport is from a country that requires a visa to travel to Canada), valid passport, confirmation of permanent residence (COPR/e-COPR), and valid medical test result.

New permanent residents will not need to apply for their first PR card, it will arrive by mail to the address they provide the border officer with at the port of entry, or within the 180 days required to report an address in Canada.

What to do if you need to travel before receiving your PR card

Importantly, it should be noted that the Canadian government will not ship PR cards to addresses outside of Canada. In addition, third parties are not allowed to accept a PR card on a new PRs behalf. For these reasons, a new permanent resident outside of Canada without a valid PR card must apply for a Permanent Residence Travel Document (PRTD).

A PRTD is a travel document (usually only valid for a single use) that permanent residents can use to re-enter Canada. Newcomers can use this document if:

  • They are a permanent resident;
  • They do not have a valid PR card showing their status;
  • They are outside of Canada; and
  • They will return to Canada by air, boat, bus, or train.

Notably, if a new permanent resident is returning to Canada via private vehicle, there are other acceptable documents that they can use to prove their identity and status.

How to apply for a PRTD

PRTDs can only be applied for outside of Canada. To apply for a PRTD, new permanent residents must collect the application package and fill out and gather all applicable forms and supporting documentation. There are associated fees to applying, which must be paid online.

Depending on where permanent residents are applying from, they may not be able to submit a paper application. In such cases, and if applicants choose to apply online, they must submit their application and all supporting documentation through the permanent residence portal. If applied for on paper, permanent residents must submit their application to the closest visa application centre (VAC) to them. Both the method of applying, and location applying from can influence how quickly one receives their PRTD.

After applying, permanent residents may also be required to attend an interview with a VAC agent before they receive a decision on their application. To learn more about steps after submitting your PRTD application, click here.

Other options

If new permanent residents are aware they need to travel urgently, but have some time in Canada before their departure, they may apply for urgent processing of their PR card.

Valid conditions for applying for this processing include the need to travel in the next three months due to:

  • a job opportunity;
  • your own serious illness;
  • the death of a family member;
  • work related to your current job; and/or
  • the serious illness of a family member.

Importantly, even if a permanent resident is eligible for urgent processing of their PR card, they are still not guaranteed to receive their PR card in time. PR card applications cannot be processed in less than three weeks.

To check personalised waiting times, IRCC has created a tool which can be accessed here.

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