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How to Go Through Canada Customs without Speaking English

Most of my elder relatives in my home country don't speak English. In fact, some of them probably don't understand English at all. Not to mention that they have never traveled abroad by themselves.

As my husband and I are expecting a baby soon in the USA, my parents are eager to come for a visit and meet their little grandchild! To make their wish come true, a big mission landed on me - help them get prepared for the trip and make sure the traveling won't have any hiccups.

We plan to book a direct flight from Taiwan to Canada and transfer from Canada to the USA by ground. Let's take a look at my planning of "shipping" my parents here!

How to Enter Canada Customs without Speaking English

The biggest concern, of course, is the language barrier. With proper preparation ahead of time, I am sure we all can help our non-English speaking relatives travel around the world without any issue and fear! There are a few things to think about:

Airline Special Assistance

Will they know where to go after they get off the airplane? Many airlines nowadays offer special assistance which includes directing elder/younger travelers to the connection flight or customs. As far as I know, EVA Air and China Airline offer this service. I am going to call the airline to request special assistance ahead of time so they will direct my parents to the customs after they land in Canada.

Fill Out the Declaration Card

How do they know how to fill out the declaration card? I found a sample declaration card online and filled out their information in English. They will bring this sheet with them to board the airplane. By the time they are given the declaration card, they just need to copy what I have on that sample sheet to the real card. That way, there won't be any confusion.

Canada Declaration Card Questions

For Canada visitors, the declaration card contains A, B, C parts. If you are traveling together with someone else that lives at the same address, you can have up to 4 same-address travelers on the same single card. Click here to see more details.

Write a Quick Note for the Customs

How are they going to answer the customs agent's questions if they can't even understand it? I decided to help them communicate with the agent through a note. I wrote down a quick note to answer some basic questions the agents might ask:
  • What's your purpose for this visit?
  • Where are you going?
  • How long are you staying?
  • Where are you staying?
At the bottom of the note, I left my contact information in case they need to clarify further. I also included my VISA status and occupation just in case they question about it. Click here to see the template I created.

As a matter of fact, based on other people's experience, if there is a language barrier, the customs agent will ask other people on site who speak your language to help translate. But it's still good to be prepared so my parents can be at ease.

Other Things to Look Out for:

Aside from the language barrier, I also prepared the following for my parents in case they need them:
  • Airport Map: Download this from the airport website
  • Cell Phone Service: Get a prepaid phone from your home country. I got it through T-Mobile. 
  • WiFi Service: Check to see if the airport offers a free or paid WiFi service.
  • Cash: Exchange some US or Canadian dollars just for emergency. Credit cards are generally accepted in most places in the USA.
  • Meeting location: Decide a clear and easy-to-find meeting location for the pick-up and circle it on the map.
Have you ever helped elder/young non-English speakers travel abroad? What's your experience? Is there anything else that I am missing? Share with us!

Disclaimer: This article is for sharing personal experience only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.


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