Non-Residents Driver’s Licence

Spring 2008 CSANews Issue 66  |   Posted date : May 24, 2008.Back to list

Bird talk - Le Jaseur
Dear Bird Talk,

At the Detroit border crossing on Oct. 26, 2007, we were unfortunate to get a very officious U.S. border agent by the name of Sanchez. He wasn't very pleasant while informing us of the 180-day rule (we had our last five years of copies of Form 8840). Then, seemingly out of the blue, he asked if we had Florida driver's licences (was it on his computer?). We replied yes (our licences are "Florida Only"). He shook his head and said, "You are visitors in our country and as such, you are not allowed to hold any official American documents. I can refuse you entry to our country because of your Florida driver's licences." We explained that our Florida licences were issued using our Ontario licences as a database. He nastily replied that his federal rules superseded Florida state rules. We said that our Florida licences were up for renewal on December 8, and that we would not renew them.

After harassing us for more than 15 minutes, he finally said that as a "courtesy," he would let us pass, reminding us that we had been warned.

Have you ever heard of this before? We had obtained our Florida driver's licences to facilitate the purchase of a car and insurance, should we decide to leave a car in Florida.
Yours truly,

John & Debbie Chalmers

Response :
Many Canadian snowbirds lawfully obtain a limited state-only driver's licence for the purpose of purchasing a car. Florida, for example, requires an individual to have a Florida driver's licence number in order to register a motor vehicle in their system. Accordingly, the state issues a limited "Florida-only" driver's licence to non-residents, in addition to the full licence issued to state residents. California also issues a limited "CA-only" licence, in addition to their full licence.

The official Texas state website even goes into detail as to what documentation is required by a Canadian citizen in order to obtain one of these cards from a local Texas motor vehicle office.

In addition to state-only driver's licences, some snowbirds lawfully obtain a state-issued photo ID card for the purpose of cashing cheques with local merchants, as well as obtaining seniors' discounts when they play golf at community courses and shopping discounts at movie theatres, etc. Locally, most merchants do not accept Canadian passports, especially when it comes to seniors' discounts.

Apparently some U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, especially at the Windsor crossing, are outwardly accusing these travellers of (1) unlawfully obtaining these state-issued limited-use licences and ID cards and (2) even suggesting that mere possession of such cards is prima facie evidence of their intent to unlawfully overstay the six-month limit which Canadians are allowed in the U.S.

As of yet, we can find no federal legislation that expressly prohibits Canadians from acquiring state-only driver's licences or state-issued photo identification.

The CSA has written to Mr. Mark Hill, program manager of admissibility and passenger programs in the Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C.

We have asked Mr. Hill to re-clarify this issue with the various CBP checkpoints between Canada and the U.S. - especially Windsor - about the lawful status and rationale for Canadian travellers to have these limited-use driver's licences and ID cards.

Furthermore, he has agreed to investigate this with the directors of the CBP field offices and various points of entry.

We believe this to be nonsense and will keep you posted!

Back to list | More articles