The Seattle skyline at dusk

Vancouver to Seattle Travel Guide + US Border Tips

There are currently 5 different ways to get from Vancouver to Seattle.

Unfortunately all of them require travellers to make the somewhat arduous journey across the US/Canadian Border.

Luckily, we’re here to ensure that with a few travel hacks, the proper documentation and the right transportation method you can be on your way to Seattle in no time.

And remember, if you have any questions about your trip to Seattle, no matter how big or small, leave them in the comments below and we’ll get to them as soon as possible.

Index

  1. Overview
  2. US Border Crossing Guide
  3. Driving
  4. Train
  5. Bus
  6. Flights
  7. Floatplanes
  8. FAQs

Vancouver to Seattle

The view of Seattle from Puget Sound

Located 192 kilometres, or 119 miles South of Vancouver, the Emerald City can be reached in about 2.5 hours, depending on traffic at the border.

Seattle’s close proximity makes day trips and short vacations to Washington State a frequent occurrence for many Vancouverites.

But as a tourist it places the opportunity to visit another world-class destination right at your fingertips.

For this reason, visitors to the Pacific Northwest region often pair the two cities together on the same itinerary, a choice which we highly recommend.

Let’s take a quick look at what Seattle has to offer.

Seattle

The Pike Place Market at night

Popularly known as the Emerald City, Seattle currently has 744,955 residents and a metropolitan area of 3.94 million people. This makes it the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region and the 15th largest in the United States.

Buoyed by a burgeoning tech sector, a vibrant arts and culture scene and stunning natural beauty, this flourishing Puget Sound municipality is the fastest growing city in America and a popular tourist attraction.

Attractions
  • Pike Place Market
  • The Space Needle
  • Pioneer Square
  • The Seattle Great Wheel
  • The Museum of Popular Culture

Seattle CityPASS

If you plan on visiting we highly recommend purchasing the Seattle CityPASS, which provides you with prepaid access to 5 of the city’s best attractions and up to 50% off admission to several others.

For more info on this tremendous deal click on the button below.

Grab My Passes Now

Now lets get back to business. Before we evaluate the 5 transportation options between Vancouver and Seattle, it’s critical that we outline the American border crossing procedures.

US Border Crossing Guide

Cars wait at the US-Canada border

Let’s start with the obvious. While crossing any international border can be a stressful process, the United States in particular are known for their stringent entry requirements.

But you don’t need to worry!

We’re here to provide you with all the information you need to make the process as painless as possible.

The first and most important step is to ensure that you have all of the necessary documentation required for entry into the United States of America.

Make sure to check with consular officials to verify the entry requirements for travellers from your country before you embark on your journey.

Pre-Arrival Documentation

An American Visa
Canadian Citizens

Canadians are permitted 6 months of visa-free entry into the United States for the purposes of tourism, business or transit. Thus, Canadian’s require no documentation other than a valid passport.

Visa-free entry can be revoked for individuals with a criminal record.

Consult the US embassy for more information.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Citizens of countries that are signatories of the VWP are entitled to 90 days of visa-free entry for the purposes of tourism, business or transit.

The list of eligible countries includes:

  • The United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Most EU Countries

To check the entire list of eligible Countries visit the US Customs and Border Control website.

The 90 day entry period is strictly enforced and cannot be reset by travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

As with Canadians, a criminal record or charge may render you ineligible for visa-free entry. Consult your country’s American embassy for further advice.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

All citizens of VWP nations arriving by air, water or rail are required to purchase an ESTA online, preferably at least 72 hours before travel.

The ESTA costs $14, credit cards are accepted. To purchase your ESTA click here.

While the ESTA is not required for land entry, customs officials have stated that it may expedite your entry process.

All Other Nationalities

Citizens of all non visa-exempt nations will require a visa for entry into the United States. The most common types of Visas required will be:

  • B1- Business visa
  • B2- Tourist visa

There is a $160 non-refundable fee required to begin your application. Please contact your local American Consular officials for more information.

Arrival Documentation

A couple of passports sit on top of a map

We may have visa situation sorted out, but unfortunately you’re still not quite done with the paperwork.

To state the obvious, you will need a valid travel document for admittance into the United States. This can include:

  • A valid passport
  • Enhanced drivers license (Canadian/American citizens)
  • US passport card (American citizens)
  • Certificate of Indian Status (Canadian citizens)

Non Canadian or Bermudan citizens will be required to fill out one additional form to secure entry upon arrival at a land crossing.

Arrival/Departure Record (I-94/I94W)
  • I-94 (White form)-For travellers who require a visa for entry.
  • I-94W (Green form)- For travellers entering on a visa-waiver.

Both forms will require you to enter your personal information, passport number and the name and address of where you’ll be staying while in the United States.

You will then be required to answer a few questions regarding:

  • Criminal history
  • History of mental illness/drug addiction/communicable disease
  • Involvement in espionage, terrorism or genocide
  • American visa history

Assuming your answers are satisfactory, you’ll be asked to pay the $6 processing fee ($USD and credit card are accepted) and you’ll be on your way!

Arrivals at air, sea or rail crossings will not be required to fill out an I-94 as your information will be submitted electronically by your chosen carrier.

As experienced veterans of the American border, we’ll leave you with a few tips before we move on.

Border Tips

A border agent scans a passport

The key point to remember is that you’re never entitled to entry to a foreign country. You are requesting entry as a guest to the United States of America.

Under American law all persons requesting entry to the USA are considered immigrants, i.e. seeking permanent entry.

To avoid this presumption you must demonstrate permanent ties to your homeland, such as:

  • Position of employment
  • Enrolment in an eduction program
  • Family
  • Return travel information
  • Sufficient proof that your visit is temporary
Interview

You will then undergo a brief interview where border control officers will determine if the purpose of your trip is legitimate.

You can expect to be asked questions relating to:

  • Where you are staying
  • How long you will be in the country
  • Criminal/work history
  • Relationship to your travel companion

This is not the time to practice material for your stand up comedy routine. American border officials are not known for their sense of humour.

Treat the process like a job interview. Be respectful and courteous regardless of the tone of the CBP officer.

If you’re honest, have the proper documentation and can demonstrate the temporary nature of your visit then you shouldn’t have any problems securing entry.

Hopefully we’ve provided you with all the information that you need to avoid the rubber glove treatment and get you on your way to Seattle as quickly as possible!

But if you have any additional questions, advice for other travellers or horror stories please leave them in the comments below.

Driving from Vancouver to Seattle

A woman takes a picture from a moving vehicle

With a driving distance of only 225 kilometres (140 miles), the simplest method to get between Vancouver and Seattle is simply to take your own vehicle.

Depending on traffic and the wait at the border, the trip should only take you about 3-3.5 hours.

Driving provides the highest degree of flexibility, comfort and convenience. You can leave whenever you want and are free to stop anywhere you want during the trip.

Furthermore, the cost of car rental compares favourably with a return trip on the train or bus, particularly for groups and families.

Vancouver to Seattle Car Rental

A man receives his rental vehicle

From a logistics standpoint renting a vehicle from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) makes the most sense.

For starters, all of the major car rental companies are located on the ground floor of the YVR parkade. This provides for a high degree of competition and the best rates.

Couple that with the accessibility offered by YVR’s transportation infrastructure and close proximity to HWY-99, and it’s a no brainer.

Points to Remember

While most car rental companies allow their customers to cross the border, be sure to ask your provider the following questions before beginning your trip:

  1. Can I cross the border in one of your vehicles? If you unintentionally violate your rental agreement it can be a very expensive mistake
  2. Are there any additional fees for cross-border travel? Most companies don’t charge a fee, so if they do, simply try a different company!
  3. Am I insured in both countries? This shouldn’t be a problem if the agreement allows for cross-border travel, but make sure to ask.

To compare the rates of the main competitors at YVR visit Rentalcars.com.

How to Drive from Vancouver to Seattle


Once you’ve finally got your vehicle, the drive from Vancouver to Seattle is a very simple process.

For custom directions simply insert you departure and destination points into Google Maps.

Downtown Exits

The following I-5 exits serve Downtown Seattle (North-South):

  • 167– Mercer Street/Seattle Centre
  • 166– Stewart Street/Denny Way
  • 165B– Union Street
  • 165A– James Street
  • 163B– Forest Street/6th Avenue West

If you have any additional questions regarding directions to a specific lodging location don’t be afraid to ask in the comments below.

Vancouver to Washington State Border Crossings

The Peace Arch monument at the US Canada Border

You have the option of choosing between two main border crossings on your way between Vancouver and Seattle.

Shortly before you reach the border you’ll encounter a digital sign listing the estimated waiting times at the two crossings. All you have to do is pick the option with the shortest waiting time!

Peace Arch Border Crossing (Highway 99-Interstate 5)

If you simply remain on Highway 99 you’ll eventually end up at the Peace Arch Border Crossing.

As the third busiest border crossing in North America, Peace Arch is the preferred crossing for passenger vehicles as it links the areas’ two main highways (HWY-99 and I-5).

The crossing is open 24/7 and contains 10 primary lanes of traffic in each direction.

Wait Times

Wait times can vary drastically depending on season, day of the week and time.

Average wait times are as low as 15 minutes in January and as high as 45 minutes in the Summer.

However, if you attempt to cross on a weekend or holiday you may encounter waiting times as long as 2-3 hours.

Tips

Avoid weekends and holidays, as wait times will be significantly longer. If this is unavoidable, try your best to get an early start, as traffic flow is heaviest from noon to 7pm, usually peaking around 3-4pm.

Once you arrive, there is a set of traffic lights about 100 meters before the border crossing. You are expected to shut off your vehicle when the light is red to reduce idling. 

You can advance together with other vehicles when the lights turn green.

Don’t forget to follow the border tips discussed above.

Pacific Border Crossing (BC Highway 15-Washington Highway 543)

Also known as the Truck Crossing, the Pacific Crossing is the primary port of entry used by commercial vehicles that aren’t allowed to use Peace Arch.

If you take a coach to Seattle this’ll be the crossing that you use.

However, it also offers 24/7 service to cars, with 6 Southbound and 5 Northbound lanes available to passenger vehicles.

Due to it’s smaller size and perceived position as the “second crossing” the Pacific Crossing often has shorter waiting times than Peace Arch. However, you will be required to take a short 5-10 minute detour from Highway 99.

How to get to the Pacific Crossing

The journey to the Truck Crossing isn’t quite a straight ahead, but it’s nothing to worry about. For custom directions head over to Google Maps.

  1. After 32 km on Highway 99 you will come to exit 2A/2B for 8th Avenue.
  2. Take exit 2A and merge onto 8th Avenue after the roundabout. Then head East for 750 meters.
  3. Follow the signs and take a right on BC-15 S towards the US Border.
  4. BC-15 S will become WA-543 S once you are in America.
  5. Follow WA-543 S South for around a Kilometre and follow the signs to return to I-5.
  6. Continue on until reaching Seattle.
Wait Times

Wait times generally follow a similar seasonal pattern to Peace Arch, though commercial traffic tends to peak slightly later, from 6-10 pm.

Tips

Watch for the illuminated signs that display border wait times on Highway 99. If there is a minimal difference between crossings, or the Peace Arch has a reasonable wait time there is no need to make the detour to the Pacific Crossing.

As with Peace Arch, waiting times can be significantly longer on Weekends and Holidays, so plan accordingly. Traffic increases after noon, peaking in the late afternoon/early evening. Try your best to get an early start.

Other Options

While many of you may have already found your your transport option of choice, others may tremble at the thought of driving in a strange country.

When combined with the potential of long border lineups and the cost of car rental, many travellers would prefer to choose another option.

Luckily there are 5 additional alternatives available to get you to Seattle that come without the responsibility, anxiety and cost associated with car rental.

So lets take a quick look and see which option best suits your needs.

Vancouver to Seattle Train

The Amtrak Cascades travels alongside the coast
Instagram: @amtrak

Avoid the lengthy border delays and the notorious traffic of Seattle’s I-5 as you enjoy spectacular coastal views aboard the Amtrak Cascades.

Convenient, affordable and efficient, the train operates twice daily connecting Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station with King Street Station in Downtown Seattle.

One trip daily continues on all the way to Portland, Oregon.

You can expect to arrive in Seattle in 4.5 hours, with an extra 3 hours required to go on to Portland.

Vancouver to Seattle Train Price

Fares fluctuate according to demand, but generally the earlier you book, the more you’ll save. Adult rates can vary widely, but for a one way fare from Pacific Central you can expect to pay:

  1. Seattle (King Station)- $45-$75 CAD
  2. Portland (Union Station)- $65-$120 CAD

*Children 2-12 travel for half price while infants travel free

**Seniors 65+ receive a 10% discount

***Discounts of 25% are offered for booking 14 days in advance

Vancouver to Seattle Train Schedule

Service to Seattle is offered twice daily, with departures in the morning and the evening.

Only the morning trip continues onto Portland.

There are an additional 5 stops between Vancouver and Seattle with 6 more falling between Seattle and Portland.

For a complete schedule and list of stops visit the Amtrak Cascade website.

Border Process

You must arrive at Pacific Central Station at least 40 minutes prior to departure. This is strictly enforced, as you won’t be allowed on the train if you do not arrive on time. Even if you have a ticket.

Border service agents need this time to process all customers at the station prior to departure, thus assuring a timely departure.

Passengers returning to Vancouver will be processed upon arrival in Vancouver.

Follow the border tips above and ensure you have the necessary documentation to enter the United States of America

Tips

Seating is assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis even if you’ve booked online. As a result, you’ll want to grab a seat on the water side of the train. While facing the front, try and sit on:

  • The right side going South (To Seattle)
  • The left side going North (To Vancouver)

This’ll ensure that you can enjoy the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean during your journey.

Amenities
  • Free Wifi 
  • Wide reclining seats
  • Personal power outlets at your feet
  • Bistro car (Car 2/3) offering regional cuisine, craft beer, wine and Seattle’s Best Coffee
  • 2 bag allowance for a total of 50 lbs

Pros & Cons

The train is without a shadow of a doubt the most comfortable and relaxing way to get to Seattle from Vancouver.

Compared to the relatively mundane trip down I-5 by car or bus, travellers are provided with stunning ocean views and a wide array of amenities while averting traffic and lengthy border delays.

The Amtrak Cascades also takes you right to the major transit hub of King Street Station, located just outside Seattle’s downtown core. From there you’ll have access to the Link light rail, Sounder commuter and Seattle Streetcar Lines.

However, despite all of it’s comfort and efficiency, the train isn’t particularly fast. And inconvenient departure times coupled with a relatively high cost may force some travellers to seek other options.

Consequently, we recommend the train for travellers who prioritize comfort and convenience and are thus willing to pay a slight premium to receive an ocean view and amenity rich experience.

If this sounds like the right option for you then head on over to Amtrak.

But before you bite the bullet, i’d recommend checking the other options to make sure you select what works best for you.

Vancouver to Seattle Bus

A Boltbus drives down the highway
Instagram: @boltbusofficial

There are a variety of companies who provide coach service to Seattle from Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station and select downtown hotels.

While the price does vary considerably by carrier and time, the coach is generally the cheapest way to get from Vancouver to Seattle. Furthermore, in most cases it is even faster than taking the Amtrak Cascades.

The breadth of competition provided by the 4 different providers means that there is a wide array of departure times available, making it the most flexible transport option available, short of renting a vehicle.

Before booking, travellers should be aware that, unlike Vancouver, Seattle doesn’t possess a central bus terminal. As a result, each company will leave you at a slightly different drop off point.

Aside from Quick Shuttle, who offer drop-off at the Best Western near Seattle Centre, all carriers will drop you in or near the King Street Station transportation hub in Downtown Seattle.

The list of providers is provided in the comparison table below:

vancouver to seattle bus comparison table

  • *Boltbus and Amtrak Thruway provide express service.
  • **Greyhound has one additional stop in Bellingham, Washington.
  • ***Quickshuttle has as many as 6 extra stops depending on season

Which one should I pick?

All companies provide a comparable level of service, with free wifi, device chargers and air conditioning.

Since there is little differentiation based upon service, our recommendation is that most travellers should go with the cheapest and fastest option, which is usually Boltbus.

However, Quickshuttle can be a better choice for certain travellers, particularly:

  • Cruise ship passengers
  • Those in staying downtown hotels who’re willing to pay a premium for the convenience of a complimentary shuttle to the Holiday Inn departure point.

Regardless of which choice you make you’ll need to pass through US Customs on your way to Seattle, so let’s take a quick look at the border process for coach passengers.

Border Procedures

All buses are required to stop at the Pacific Highway Border Crossing, which has its own lane dedicated to bus traffic.

This is where passengers will be processed through customs.

Once the bus reaches the processing area all passengers are required to disembark from the coach, grab their luggage and join the queue for passport control.

The driver will have provided I-94 forms to passengers who require them beforehand, so make sure you bring a pen.

Your luggage will be passed through an x-ray machine in the same manner as would be expected in an airport. You will then have a brief interview with a border control officer.

Processing Time

Those who require I-94 forms may take slightly longer to process than Canadians and Americans, but don’t worry the bus will wait for you!

Provided that you have the necessary documents for entry into the United States and you follow the border tips as discussed above, you will be allowed to re-board the bus and quickly be on your way.

The processing time for the bus generally lasts around 30-60 minutes depending on the number of passengers. This time is built into the schedule, so it should not have a significant impact on your travel time, provided there are no unusual delays.

The remainder of the journey to Seattle should take about 2 hours.

Pros and Cons

If you are simply looking for the quickest and cheapest way to get to Seattle then Boltbus should be the choice for you.

The coach certainly lacks the comfort and many of the amenities provided by the Amtrak Cascades. And the un-remarkable trip down I-5 fails to offer passengers any post-card perfect views.

But most budget passengers will be just fine with that.

With four daily departures, low rates and a travel time of just 3 hours and 45 minutes Boltbus is a quick, efficient and cost effective way to get to Seattle.

This makes it our recommendation for budget travellers.

Vancouver to Seattle Flights

Planes sit on the tarmac at YVR

Due to the relatively close proximity between the two cities, many people are surprised to learn about the wide availability of flights between Vancouver and Seattle.

There are numerous carriers offering service between Vancouver International (YVR) and Seatac (SEA), including:

  • Air Canada
  • WestJet
  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • ANA
  • Korean Air
  • Air New Zealand

But are they viable options for tourists travelling between the two cities? Consider the following:

The main reason for the wide range of flight options is the shear number of Pacific Northwest residents who are connecting to other destinations in the United States, Canada and Asia.

Flights Between Vancouver and Seattle are often bundled onto flights to other destinations at a minimal cost and are rarely purchased as a stand alone option.

Consequently, the overwhelming majority of passengers travelling between YVR and SEA are business travellers or local residents connecting to more distant locations.

Price

You can expect to pay upwards of $200 for a one-way flight to Seattle from YVR. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to pay this much for a 50 minute flight that fails to reach reach cruising altitude.

To take a closer look at the flight options on offer visit Skyscanner.net.

Tips

If you do decide to book a flight to Seattle, be cognizant of the following:

  1. It’ll likely take 30 minutes to get from Downtown Vancouver to YVR.
  2. You’re expected to arrive 2 hours prior to departure in order to clear US customs.
  3. It’ll take an additional 40 minutes to get from SeaTac Airport to Downtown Seattle via the Linkrail.

Due to these factors all of your time savings will have gone up in smoke.

Couple this with the stark realization that you’re likely to pay up to four times the cost of other transportation options and we can’t confidently recommend this option for anyone other than business travellers.

But before you completely discount flying as an option, let’s take a look at a newly launched service that has a prototypically Pacific North-West feel.

Vancouver to Seattle Floatplane

A Harbour Air floatplane sits in Vancouver Harbour

Daily floatplane service has recently been launched between Vancouver and Seattle in a joint effort between British Columbia’s Harbour Air and Washington State’s Kenmore Air.

Affectionately know as the “nerd-bird”, the service was launched to link Vancouver’s burgeoning tech-sector with the massive technology hub located in Seattle.

The carriers offer twice daily service Monday to Friday between Vancouver’s Coal Harbour and Lake Union near Downtown Seattle.

The flight takes just 55 minutes.

At around $250 for one-way service, the nerd-bird does not quite present the value of the Vancouver-Vancouver Island Floatplane routes.

However, it will provide you with breathtaking views of the North shore Mountains, Vancouver’s skyline, The Salish Sea and the Space Needle on your way into Seattle.

While most travellers will likely be scared away by the cost, the trip between Vancouver and Seattle is a niche item that we highly recommend for travellers with a sense of adventure who don’t mind paying a bit of a premium.

For more information visit Harbour Air or Kenmore Air

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FAQs

How far is Seattle from Vancouver?

Seattle is located 192 kilometres or 119 miles South of Vancouver.

How do you travel from Vancouver to Seattle?

Other than driving, you can get to Seattle by train, bus, plane, and floatplane.

How do you cross from Vancouver into Washington State?

There are two border crossings connecting Vancouver and Washington State, the Peace Arch Crossing on HWY-99/I-5 and the Truck Crossing on BC HWY-15/SR 543.

Can you take a train from Vancouver to Seattle?

The Amtrak Cascade offers twice daily service from Pacific Central Station in Downtown Vancouver to King Street Station in Downtown Seattle.

Can you take a bus from Vancouver to Seattle?

There are 4 carriers that provide service from Pacific Central Station in Downtown Vancouver to the King Street Transportation hub in Downtown Seattle.

We’re bordering on the end of this article!

But your journey isn’t quite finished yet.

I’d just like to remind you to leave any additional questions or comments on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

I’ll do my best to get back to you ASAP.

But until then,

Enjoy Sea town

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