After months of preparation and immigration paperwork, finally landing in Canada can feel like you’ve made it! But this is just the beginning of your new life in Canada, and some of your settling-in processes start right at the airport.
If you’re landing in Vancouver, your flight will likely arrive at the Vancouver International Airport, also called YVR airport. Many newcomers are unsure about what to expect when they arrive at Vancouver airport. This article covers a step-wise overview of everything you need to do upon arriving at Vancouver International Airport as a newcomer.
In this article:
- Submit your customs declaration
- Immigration and landing interview at Vancouver Airport
- Collect your luggage at YVR airport
- Going through customs at Vancouver airport
- Purchase a Canadian SIM card at the airport
- Getting home from Vancouver International Airport
Submit your customs declaration
When you arrive at Vancouver Airport, your first step will be to confirm your identity and submit your customs declaration at a Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK). Customs declaration is a standard procedure for international travellers, and Vancouver International Airport (along with several other international airports in Canada) has automated the process to make it more efficient.
Up to five people travelling together from the same country can use a single kiosk together. If you have questions about submitting your declaration, there are Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers on-site to help.
The process is straightforward, and you’ll get instructions for each step on the screen for guidance:
- Select your language preference: You can choose to receive instructions in English or French, so select the language you’re more comfortable with and proceed to the next step.
- Scan your passport: The kiosks have scanners where you can scan your travel document or foreign passport.
- Take a photo: You’ll need to confirm your identity by taking a picture of yourself through the kiosk camera.
- Verify your fingerprints, if needed: Only select foreign nationals are required to provide their fingerprints through the kiosk. If you’ve already submitted your biometrics, the kiosk will usually skip this step.
- Submit your customs declaration: Next, you must declare if you’re carrying any prohibited items or currency over the $10,000 CAD limit. (You’re allowed to bring currency over that limit, but must declare if it is in excess of $10,000 CAD.) You’ll also have to answer some questions, such as if you have any past criminal record, whether you’ve ever been denied boarding on a flight or entry into a country, and more.
- Take your CBSA receipt: After you’ve submitted your declaration, the kiosk will generate a receipt, which you must keep and hand over to a border services officer at the time of immigration.
To save time at the airport, you can also prepare your customs declaration through the optional Advance CBSA Declaration feature on the ArriveCAN app up to 72 hours before arrival. If you’ve done this, you just need to scan your passport at the kiosk, certify your declaration, and take your receipt. Note that you are no longer required to submit your travel and vaccination information through ArriveCAN.
Immigration and landing interview at Vancouver Airport
After submitting your customs declaration, follow the signs to the Immigration office in the Customs hall. You’ll need to present your CBSA receipt to the officer at the Pre-Inspection Line (PIL). Whether you’re a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (CoPR) holder, a new international student, or have been approved for a work permit, you’ll need to report to an immigration officer for a landing interview and to sign paperwork. Make sure you join the line for non-Canadian citizens. The immigration process and landing interview will differ depending on your status in Canada.
Immigration process at Vancouver Airport for new permanent residents (PR)
If you are landing in Canada for the first time with your CoPR, you must appear for a landing interview and sign paperwork for your Permanent Resident (PR) card processing.
The immigration officer will look at your essential documents, including Confirmation of Permanent Residence (CoPR), passport or travel document, visa, proof of funds, and CBSA declaration card. They will also ask questions to confirm your identity, verify your customs declaration and some specifics of your PR application. The officer will fill in the landing date and other details on your COPR, ask you to counter-sign it, and make a copy for their records. Double-check all the information on this document to ensure there are no spelling mistakes, typos, or other errors. If you spot an error, get it corrected immediately as it can be very hard to get changes made to your landing papers and PR application once you’ve left the airport.
While processing your PR card application, the immigration officer will ask for a Canadian address to mail your PR card to you. Newcomers typically don’t have a permanent address in Canada when they first arrive, but you can provide your temporary address or a friend or family member’s address instead. If you move or change your address before receiving your PR card, update your address using the online address notification form on the Government of Canada website.
Keep your signed CoPR safely with you. You’ll need this document for several post-arrival tasks until your PR card arrives, including opening your Canadian bank account, getting a driver’s license, and more. Read our article on how to navigate your first 100 days in Canada for more information.
Immigration process at Vancouver Airport for international students
If you’re arriving in Vancouver as an international student with a port of entry letter of introduction, you’ll need to appear for an interview with a border officer to get your study permit.
The border officer will look at your documents, including letter of introduction, letter of acceptance from your university or college, passport or travel document, statement of purpose, visa, proof of funds, and CBSA declaration card. They will also ask questions to confirm your identity, verify your customs declaration and purpose of visit. If they are satisfied with your documents and responses, they will give you your study permit. Check your study permit to confirm there are no errors or spelling mistakes on it. If you spot an error, be sure to get it rectified immediately, before leaving the airport. If your study program includes a co-op or internship term, make sure your study permit allows you to work in Canada.
The border officers at the airport will only issue your study permit if they are convinced that your reason for coming to Canada is genuinely to study. Be sure to bring all your supporting documents with you, and read our article on reasons for Canada student visa rejection and how to avoid them to improve your chances of securing a study permit.
Immigration process at Vancouver Airport for work permit holders
If you’re arriving in Vancouver to work and have a letter of introduction, you must appear for an interview with a border officer at the airport to get your work permit.
The border officer will look at your documents, including letter of introduction, job offer, employment reference letters, passport or travel document, visa, proof of funds, and CBSA declaration card. They will also ask questions to confirm your identity, verify your customs declaration, and purpose of visit. If they are satisfied with your documents and responses, they will issue your work permit. Check this document thoroughly to confirm there are no errors or spelling mistakes on it. If you spot an error, be sure to get it rectified immediately before leaving the airport.
Collect your luggage at YVR airport
Next, head to the baggage claim area to collect your luggage. Make note of which conveyor belt to pick up your checked-in luggage from. On most flights, the conveyor belt number is announced shortly after the flight lands. Alternatively, there are screens displaying where luggage from each flight will arrive and announcements are made if the carousel number for your flight changes. Since the immigration processes can take a while, you’ll likely find your belongings waiting for you on or around the baggage carousel.
Going through customs at Vancouver airport
Once you have your luggage, proceed to the customs area. As a newcomer, you can bring your belongings to Canada without paying any duties. To do this, you must fill out the BSF186 and BSF186A Personal Effects Accounting Documents (also known as B4 and B4A forms or settler’s effects) and give them to a customs officer.
It’s best to fill these forms before your trip to save time at the airport and provide a more accurate list of items you’re bringing to Canada the day you arrive, or later. If you’re bringing jewellery or precious ornaments, use wording from your jeweller’s appraisal or insurance policy on the forms and include photographs signed by a jeweller or gemologist.
The customs officer will keep a copy of your forms, including photographs, for their records and return the stamped originals to you. They may also ask how much currency you’re carrying and the source of those funds, so carry purchase receipts for the Canadian currency you’re bringing to avoid delays.
International travellers arriving at Vancouver International Airport are sometimes selected for random customs checks. If you are pulled aside for a random check, customs officials will check your luggage to ensure you’ve declared all your belongings and currency and are not carrying any prohibited items.
Keep your original BS186A Goods to Follow list and attached photographs safely. If you plan to bring goods into Canada later, either by cargo or during future trips, you’ll need to show this form to claim your shipment or bring items with you duty-free.
Purchase a Canadian SIM card at the airport
If you have time, it’s a good idea to purchase a Canadian SIM card before leaving the airport. You can buy a prepaid SIM at the 7-Eleven store in the domestic terminal (Level 1). The two terminals are connected, so you can walk to the store through the international terminal.
Canadian phone providers typically offer postpaid and prepaid (pay-as-you-go) plans but, as a newcomer, you won’t qualify for a postpaid plan until you have an established credit history in Canada. Most newcomers start with a prepaid SIM card and upgrade later if needed.
While it’s not essential to buy a SIM card at the airport, it’s something you can check off your to-do list quickly. A Canadian number with a data plan may also be useful if you want to let your family or friends back home (or in Vancouver) know you’ve arrived. Vancouver Airport also has free wi-fi if you prefer to shop around for phone provider deals later.
How much time does it take to exit Vancouver International Airport after you land?
Depending on your arrival time and the length of the immigration queue, it can take between one to four hours to complete airport formalities and exit Vancouver Airport. According to data released by the airport, the international terminal is busiest between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Getting home from Vancouver International Airport
Once you’ve completed your landing formalities and collected your luggage, it’s time to go to your new home. Here are some convenient options to get to your temporary accommodation from Vancouver Airport:
Get a friend to pick you up
If you have friends or family in or around Vancouver, ask if they can pick you up from the airport and drop you at your temporary accommodation. It’s a good idea to let them know how much luggage you’ll have so they can confirm whether it’ll fit in their vehicle. Ideally, you want them to arrive at the airport two or three hours after your flight lands, so they don’t have to wait while you complete your landing formalities.
Get a taxi from the airport
You can reserve a taxi online before your flight to Vancouver or at one of the many taxi stands located at Level 2 of the international terminal. These taxis have a fixed fare based on which part of the city (sector) you go to and it’s normal for drivers to not turn on the meter unless you’re going beyond their specified zones. The queue for taxis is usually short.
You can pay your fare by credit card or cash (in Canadian dollars) at the time of booking. In addition to the fare, be sure to account for a 10 to 20 per cent tip. Tipping for services is part of Canadian culture, and not leaving a tip is considered rude.
Book a ride app service
Several ride app services, including Uber, Lyft, and KABU, operate in Vancouver. You can download one of these apps on your phone and book a trip just before exiting the airport. Ride app pickups happen at Arrivals Level 2 at the international terminal. Vancouver Airport has free wi-fi, so even if you don’t have a data plan yet, you can still coordinate with the driver before your trip.
Rent a car from the airport
If you prefer to rent a vehicle and drive to your new home, several car rental companies, including Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty have booths just outside the international terminal. You may even be able to choose a drop location for the vehicle closer to your home. You can use your foreign driver’s license to drive in British Columbia (B.C.) for up to 90 days, but it may be best to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road in the province first (particularly if you come from a country where they drive on the left side of the road).
Use public transit
Vancouver Airport is well-connected to Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Area by public transport. Canada Line, which is part of Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain network connects the airport to Vancouver City Centre and Richmond. The Canada Line YVR Airport Station is conveniently located between the international and domestic terminals, allowing travellers from both terminals to walk to the station. SkyTrain fares range from $3.10 to $6.05, depending on your destination, but passengers travelling from YVR Airport Station must pay an extra $5 AddFare over and above the regular fare. YVR Skylynx also operates long-distance buses from the airport to Whistler and Victoria, with several stops in between.
How far is Vancouver International Airport from the city?
Vancouver City Centre is approximately 15 kilometres from Vancouver International Airport, and the journey takes around 30 minutes by car. If you take the SkyTrain Canada Line, you can reach the downtown station in 25 minutes.
How far is Surrey from Vancouver Airport?
Surrey is located to the east of Vancouver Airport, around 33 kilometres away. By car, the trip will take between 35 and 45 minutes, depending on traffic conditions and the route you take. From Vancouver Airport, it takes about one hour 10 minutes to reach Surrey by SkyTrain. You can board the Canada Line towards Waterfront and switch over to the Expo Line to get to Gateway Station in Surrey.
How far is Richmond, B.C. from Vancouver Airport?
Richmond is approximately 7.5 kilometres from Vancouver Airport, and the journey takes less than 20 minutes by car. If you plan to take the SkyTrain to Richmond, you can expect the trip to take around 25 minutes.
How far is Burnaby from YVR Airport?
The distance between Burnaby and YVR Airport is approximately 21 kilometres, and the trip takes around 35 minutes by car, depending on traffic conditions and the route you take. From Vancouver Airport, it takes about 55 minutes to reach Burnaby by SkyTrain.
As a newcomer, landing at Vancouver International Airport for the first time can be thrilling. The immigration, landing, and customs process can take a little time, but as long as you know the process and have your essential documentation handy, it should be fairly straightforward. And once you exit the airport, it’s time to finally put all your immigration paperwork behind you and start your new life in Canada.