When planning a trip to the United States, you might be tempted to fly through Los Angeles. After all, there are many direct flights from Australia – and from LAX, you can connect onwards to just about anywhere, including great cities like Seattle. But you can also transit through Vancouver, which isn’t the detour it might seem.

Yes, you’re flying via Canada to get to the USA. But through the magic of US Preclearance, you’ll complete US passport control on Canadian soil. In fact, you don’t even need to collect and re-check your bag in transit, as happens in LA.

When you touch down in the US, you’re treated the same as somebody stepping off a domestic flight. You can literally collect your bag and walk straight out of the airport, free as a bird. It really is that easy.

Why transit Vancouver from Australia to the USA?

As you might have picked up, flying to the USA via Canada is oddly easier than flying to most US cities through the USA itself. That’s because, on US soil, you always need to collect your bags, wander through Customs, drop them back off and then make your way through regular security to your connecting flight.

But in Vancouver, you don’t touch your bag at all in transit. Yes, you still have to clear security – but there’s a separate checkpoint just for those transiting to the US. This often makes for a quick queue… if there’s even a queue at all.

Once you’re through security, you’ll take a quick seat. This allows time for your bag to be taken off your international flight and pass through a US Customs baggage x-ray. If there’s no issue with Customs, your name appears on a screen nearby, and you’re clear to move on.

(And if Customs needs to check something, that can take place promptly, too).

From there, it’s straight around the corner through US passport control. This might feel odd the first time, especially given you’re standing in Canada. But it quickly becomes a favourite way to travel. With a dedicated channel for transit travellers as well, completing that final step doesn’t usually take long.

Over the years, I’ve done the typical ‘LAX transit’ more times than I care to count. And none of those transits was ever as swift as the experiences I’ve had here at Vancouver Airport.

Of course, if you can fly non-stop from Australia to your US destination city, that’s still a good way to go. But if your final destination requires a connection – such as when travelling to New York – a transit through Vancouver can be a real timesaver.

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What happens when you land in the USA after a Vancouver transit?

Because all the US formalities take place before your connecting flight, there’s nothing left to do once you actually land in the United States. US security screening, passport control and Customs checks are all completed during your transit in Vancouver.

When you touch down at your US destination, you walk straight off the plane and into the terminal itself. Not the segregated ‘international arrivals’ corridors below deck but the departures lounge.

If you must take an onward connection, you’re already in the right place – and there’s no need to clear security again. And if you’re where you need to be, just walk straight to baggage claim, grab your suitcase and wander out.

In this respect, it’s no different to arriving from any other US domestic flight. After all, you’re technically a ‘domestic’ passenger from when you clear US passport control in Canada.

Welcome to the United States – the easy way!

The only downside to flying to the USA via Canada

Visiting the United States always requires either an ESTA (visa-waiver) or a pre-arranged visa. These arrangements don’t change just because your Stateside journey commences in Canada. That’s not a bad thing at all – it’s just a reminder to be prepared the same way you always would.

But as you’re transiting through Vancouver, you’ll also need to meet Canadian requirements.

Fortunately, most Australian travellers can simply obtain a Canadian ‘eTA’ online. That Electronic Travel Authorisation costs only CA$7 (~AU$8) and is valid for up to five years. It’s a small price to pay to skip the passport queues at LAX!

Just make sure you apply for your eTA through the official Canadian Government website. A quick search of Google reveals just how many fake websites are out there, masquerading as the real thing. And while you’re at it, if you need a US ESTA, be sure to use the official US Government website – for the same reason.

Summing up

As travel between Australia and the US swings back into action, many non-stop flights are returning to the skies. They’re perfect if they take you to your destination… but if you need to take a connecting flight, don’t overlook Vancouver.

You can fly to Vancouver non-stop from both Sydney and Brisbane aboard Air Canada. Thanks to the airline’s partnership with Virgin Australia, you can even book these flights using Velocity Points.

Qantas also flies non-stop from Sydney to Vancouver. From there, Qantas’ partners Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and WestJet can take you to the United States. Book these connections on the same ticket as your Qantas flight, and your transit experience can also resemble the one above.

So while it can make sense to travel directly between Australia and the USA, don’t forget about Canada. A transit through Vancouver could save you both time and hassle – and isn’t that what a holiday is all about?

Feature image of Seattle courtesy of Luca Micheli/Unsplash.


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Travel hack: transit Vancouver when travelling to the USA was last modified: July 28th, 2022 by Chris Chamberlin