Do People in the International Transportation Industry Require Work Permits?

Meurrens LawWork Permits

Many people who work for industries that involve the international transport of cargo and passengers frequently enter Canada.  These include truck drivers, bus drivers, shipping and airline personnel.  We often receive inquiries as to whether these individuals require work permits.

Maritime Travel

The determination of whether crew on a maritime vessel  require a Work Permit to work in Canada depends on whether the vessel meets the definition of “coasting trade” as defined in Canada’s Coasting Trading Act, SC 1992, c 31.  The Coasting Trade Act defines “Coasting Trade” as:

the carriage of goods or passengers by ship… from one place in Canada… to any other place in Canada… either directly or by way of a place outside Canada.

Subject to certain exceptions, when a vessel meets the above definition of “coasting trade”, then the vessel’s foreign crew will require a work permit to work in Canada.  The reason is because the vessel is involved in cabotage (domestic transportation of goods and services) activities within Canada’s domestic labour market.

A helpful indicator of whether a foreign vessel meets the definition of “Coasting Trade” is whether the vessel is required to possess a coasting trade license.  If it does, then it is very likely that the vessel meets the definition of “Coasting Trade.”

The following situations are examples of scenarios where a foreign crew on a vessel would require a Work Permit:

  • Where a cruise ship embarks passengers at a Canadian port and disembarks any of these passengers permanently at another Canadian port.  For example, a cruise ship which embarks in Vancouver, disembarks permanently some people in Victoria, and then disembarks the remainder in Anchorage would likely require a Work Permit.
  • Where a cruise ship embarks passengers at one Canadian port and then ends the cruise and disembarks at another Canadian port, regardless of whether the itinerary included a stop at an international port of call.  For example, if passengers embark in Vancouver, make a stop in Juneau, Alaska, and then end the cruise in Victoria, a Work Permit will likely be required.

However, there are two important examples of where a work permit would likely not be required.  These include:

  • Where a cruise ship’s itinerary includes at least one foreign port of call and ends at the original port of embarkation within Canada. For example, if passengers embark in Vancouver, make a stop in Seattle, and then disembark in Vancouver, a Work Permit is generally not required.
  • Where a cruise ship starts at a Canadian port of call and ends its itinerary at a foreign port of call.  For example, if a cruise starts in Vancouver, and ends in Juneau, a Work Permit will generally not be required, provided that no passengers were permanently disembarked in a Canadian city along the way.

Air Travel

Generally, any foreign crew member arriving on a flight into Canada from an international point of origin or departing Canada on an internationally bound flight will not require a Work Permit.  The Canada Transportation Act, SC 1996, c10 generally prohibits foreign crew members from performing domestic air service in Canada.

However, if a foreign company obtains a Ministerial Exemption to allow the foreign company to operate a publicly available domestic air service, then work permits may be required, depending on the circumstances.  (Eg. if there is an emergency, a Work Permit will not be required.)

As well, foreign charter flights that are authorized to travel within Canada in order to transport people in the sports and entertainment industry will generally not require a work permit.

Foreign nationals wishing to work aboard Canadian flights travelling between points within Canada will generally require work permits.


The North American Free Trade Agreement governs whether foreign crew of a foreign land vessel require a Work Permit.  NAFTA provides that foreign crew members working aboard vehicles operating within Canada may deliver or pick-up goods and passengers across the U.S. / Canada border so long as they do not pick up and deliver from one location to another point within Canada.

It is important to note that if the foreign national works for a Canadian vessel, then the foreign national will require a Work Permit.