If you have fewer than 15 persons on board and meet a few other requirements, you can enter and depart Canada by calling into a phone number and you may end up not having to see any customs officials at all. There are two methods:
Using the TRC is certainly easy. They maintain a good database and you may find it suits everything you need to do. If, on the other hand, you are a frequent visitor, go to unusual airports, or keep odd hours, CANPASS might be for you.
What follows comes from the references shown below. Where I think it helpful, I've added my own comments in blue.
When general aviation aircraft enter Canada, they report to the CBSA by telephone. Travellers on private, company-owned, or charter aircraft carrying no more than 15 people (including the crew), must call the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) to get authorization from the CBSA to enter or return to Canada. General aviation aircraft must land at an approved airport of entry (AOE) during the CBSA's hours of business.
If the aircraft is carrying more than 15 people, the pilot has to contact the CBSA office at the proposed AOE in advance to arrange for customs clearance on arrival.
The pilot has to report the estimated time of arrival (ETA) by calling 1-888-226-7277 at least two hours, but no more than 48 hours, before flying into Canada. If the 1-888 service is not available, the pilot can use the normal business numbers for the TRC. However, long-distance charges may apply.
TRC for All of Canada
The pilot has to provide the TRC with the following information:
aircraft license or registration number;
destination in Canada;
the full name, date of birth, and citizenship of all persons on board;
purpose of the trip and length of stay in Canada for non-residents;
length of absence from Canada for Canadian residents;
a declaration for each person aboard; and
any updates concerning the original ETA, passengers, or destination.
All travellers aboard must declare any personal goods they are importing, including firearms and weapons, and report all currency and/or monetary instruments totaling CAN$10,000 or more. For more information, see Cross Border Currency Reporting. If duties or taxes are payable, the CBSA officer will ask for the traveller's mailing address and VISA or MasterCard number and expiry date.
General aviation aircraft have to land at an approved AOE during normal hours of business for the CBSA unless they have made other arrangements directly with the local CBSA office. In this case, cost recovery charges will apply.
Immediately on landing in Canada, the pilot must make a final phone call to the TRC at 1-888-226-7277 to report the plane's arrival. The pilot and all travellers aboard cannot leave the aircraft until authorized to do so.
If the aircraft has to land at a place not designated for customs reporting due to weather conditions or other circumstances, the pilot must call either 1-888-226-7277 or the nearest CBSA office or Royal Canadian Mounted Police office. Depending on the circumstances, the flight may be cleared over the phone, the pilot may be requested to await the arrival of a CBSA officer at that site, or the pilot may be requested to fly to the nearest AOE at the first opportunity.
To be eligible for CANPASS – Private Aircraft, you must meet these criteria:
Private aircraft that meet the requirements of the CANPASS – Private Aircraft program can land at any airport of entry any time the site is open, regardless of the hours of operation of the local CBSA office. The aircraft can also land at a designated CANPASS-only airport.
The pilot is in charge of the aircraft and he or she must report all passengers and their goods on behalf of the aircraft. Pilots are responsible for reporting themselves, their crew and passengers to a telephone reporting centre (TRC) by calling 1-888-CANPASS (1-888-226-7277) at least 2 hours before but no more than 48 hours prior to the aircraft's estimated time of arrival in Canada.
The TRC allows individuals who enter Canada by private aircraft, corporate aircraft or private boat to report their arrival and make their declarations to the CBSA by telephone.
The 1-888-CANPASS (1-888-226-7277) toll-free line is only available in Canada and the United States. If a flight originates outside Canada or the United States, the 1-888 number is not available and the pilot must call the TRC directly (long-distance charges may apply).
TRC for All of Canada:
To have CANPASS – Private Aircraft privileges, the aircraft may not carry more than 15 people (including the crew). The pilot also cannot charge passengers a fee for passage when using CANPASS privileges.
The pilot must ensure that all passengers have the appropriate travel documents for entering Canada. He or she must also call the TRC at least 2 hours before but no more than 48 hours prior to the aircraft's estimated time of arrival in Canada.
During that first telephone call to the TRC, the pilot must provide the following information to the CBSA:
Note: If the ETA changes by more than 30 minutes or if there are any changes to the point of arrival, the list of passengers or their declarations, the pilot must advise the TRC prior to arrival in Canada.
The pilot must remain at the point of arrival until the ETA reported to the TRC has elapsed. No second call to the TRC is required. If there is no officer waiting to meet the aircraft when it arrives at the reported ETA or actual time of arrival, whichever is later, the aircraft may proceed to the final destination and passengers may disembark.
In addition to the above, the person in charge of the conveyance is responsible for the following:
Note: Any contraventions of the legislation may result in detention, seizure or forfeiture of the conveyance and/or lead to criminal prosecution, monetary penalties and/or imprisonment.
All persons aboard the aircraft must be CANPASS members. If there is a traveller aboard who is not a member, the pilot has to follow the procedures for Telephone Reporting - General Aviation Aircraft:
A person's CANPASS membership does not extend to members of his or her immediate family or to friends travelling with him or her. Each person on the aircraft has to be enrolled in the CANPASS – Private Aircraft program.
All travellers aboard must declare any personal goods they are importing, including firearms and weapons, and report currency and/or monetary instruments totaling CAN$10,000 or more. For more information, see Cross Border Currency Reporting. If duties or taxes are payable, the border services officer at the TRC will ask for the traveller's mailing address and Visa or MasterCard number and expiry date.
Although the pilot is solely required to call the CBSA with the information on each person on board the aircraft, which includes the declarations of goods, each individual is ultimately responsible for complying with customs and immigration legislation.
Once an applicant has completed and signed the CANPASS application form, the CBSA is authorized to collect personal information such as name, date of birth, address, citizenship, proof of citizenship and residency information.
The information will be used for background security checks and is not shared with a third party. All information is stored in a secure central database, which in turn is protected by various methods, including fire walls. Access to client information by employees is also controlled and monitored.
All personal information provided is protected under the federal Privacy Act.
Participation in the CANPASS – Private Aircraft program is restricted to pre-approved travellers. Applicants undergo a detailed security clearance check before being enrolled. Every time CANPASS – Private Aircraft members enter Canada, their membership information is verified against customs and immigration databases to ensure their compliance with the program's regulations. Each member's eligibility is re-assessed annually.
CANPASS is voluntary but will save you a lot of hassle. It costs $40 and membership is valid for five years. Details at: CANPASS Website.
Portions of this page can be found in the book International Flight Operations, Part VIII, Chapter 12.