ID not necessary in some cases, but still the safest bet
Under certain conditions, permanent residents of Canada who do not have a permanent resident card can still travel abroad without it.
The implementation of the "PR" card on Dec. 31, 2003 did not affect, in any way, the right of a permanent resident to leave or enter Canada. However, it did affect how a permanent resident who seeks to board a Canada-bound commercial carrier can prove that he/she is a permanent resident.
Our immigration legislation states that an officer "shall" allow a permanent resident to enter Canada if satisfied that the traveller has such status. Documentation is not essential.
For example, when a person appears by any means at a Canadian port-of-entry without any documentation whatsoever claiming that they are a permanent resident the officer can simply check the immigration database for verification. In fact, officers don’t even need to do that provided that they believe the traveller. However, this approach can cause the traveller to be delayed, and even detained, while verification is pending.
Permanent residents who can only reach a Canadian port-of-entry upon a commercial carrier will not have this opportunity since they will normally not be allowed to board the airplane, boat, train or bus unless they produce a valid PR card. The transportation company’s failure to request this can expose it to significant economic sanctions under our immigration laws.
Canadian permanent residents holding a passport of a "visa-exempt" country are likely to be allowed to board commercial vessels even though they don’t have a PR card because their passport alone may be sufficient documentation to travel to Canada. If they are not from a visa-exempt country but have a visa to the U.S. they may be able to travel to the U.S. and then approach the Canadian border by non-commercial means.
Those who are abroad without a PR card and who can’t get back to Canada can submit a "Travel Document-Permanent Resident Abroad" application at a Canadian visa post abroad. These applications can be tricky and time-consuming.
There is no requirement for permanent residents to have a PR card at all times. A permanent resident who doesn’t have a PR card remains a permanent resident, as does a person whose PR card has expired.
It is currently taking about 59 days to process applications for PR cards from within Canada. In emergencies, this process can be expedited.
All permanent residents should obtain a PR card as it is an excellent source of identification and may be essential when a person has to travel suddenly. However, travel without it is still possible under certain circumstances.
Guidy Mamann is the senior lawyer at Mamann & Associates and is certified by the Law Society as an immigration specialist. Reach him at 416-862-0000. Direct confidential questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.