Canadians and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated are now able to enter the country without having to quarantine — provided they have proof of inoculation and have submitted a negative COVID-19 test.
This is the first phase of loosening the Canada-U.S. border restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.
But the first phase has been met with some confusion, including the rules around quarantining with children, digital proof of vaccination and whether non-essential travel is now allowed.
Here is everything you need to know before you head on a trip to the Canada-U.S. border.
As of 12:01 a.m. EDT Monday, Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated are permitted to cross the border without having to quarantine or take the day eight COVID-19 test.
Eligible air travellers are also exempt from the requirement that they spend their first three days in Canada in a government-approved hotel.
Fully vaccinated travellers that arrived before 12:01 a.m. Monday are not eligible for testing and quarantine exemptions. This means that travellers who returned to Canada before Monday must complete their 14-day quarantine and day eight test.
How does it work?
In order to skip quarantine, travellers must:
- Be fully vaccinated with one of the approved Health Canada shots: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
- Have received the last COVID-19 dose at least 14 days before coming to the border.
- Submit a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before coming to the border.
- Upload the vaccine certificate and COVID-19 test information on the updated ArriveCAN app.
- Take and pass a COVID-19 test upon arrival (you are allowed to go home and wait for the results).
What hasn't changed?
Although fully vaccinated Canadians can skip quarantine, this is only for essential travel. The Canada Border Services Agency still strongly advises against non-essential travel (like shopping trips in the U.S.).
U.S. citizens heading to Canada by land for non-essential travel are not allowed to enter the country.
The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada’s website lists reasons for essential travel as work, study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care and safety and security.
“The restrictions that have been in place since March of 2020 remain in place,” Denis Vinette, with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), said.
“So it’s important for individuals to know that if you haven’t been able to travel up until now and you weren’t able to travel and enter Canada on July 4th, that doesn’t change. On July 5th, those restrictions remain and you still can’t come into Canada. That’s for a future phase of the border reopening.”
There are no changes for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Canadians. They are still subject to a 14-day quarantine and the mandatory three-night stay in a hotel if arriving by air. All testing requirements are also mandatory.
What about unvaccinated children?
The new border rules only apply for fully vaccinated Canadians. That means children under the age of 12, who aren’t yet eligible to receive a vaccine, still have to quarantine.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children arriving by air with fully vaccinated parents won’t have to go to quarantine hotels — they can stay home for two weeks. However, they must take a second COVID-19 test on their eighth day of isolation. The same rules apply for unvaccinated children crossing the land border.
Parents and siblings who are fully vaccinated are exempt from the quarantine requirement.
Health Canada authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 in May. Moderna’s approval for the same age group is pending, but no COVID-19 vaccine is yet authorized for kids younger than 12.
Why about fully vaccinated American citizens?
Fully vaccinated Americans hoping to come to Canada for non-essential travel are still unable to enter the country. It’s unclear when the federal government will allow U.S. citizens to enter the country.
The decision has drawn criticism from the business community and international trade experts.
Mark Warner, an international trade lawyer based in Toronto, said he does not “understand the basis for distinguishing between fully vaccinated Canadians who won’t have to quarantine and fully vaccinated Americans.”
“I say Americans because they’re using essentially the same vaccines approved by Health Canada. So that shouldn’t be controversial. I can understand perhaps other jurisdictions, maybe China, perhaps India. But I don’t get the case for Americans, particularly when it’s so important that we go back to being the world’s largest undefended border.”
What about paper documents?
The CBSA said travellers must use the ArriveCAN app or the website to log their vaccination details and COVID-19 test results prior to coming to the border.
The border agency said the app is mandatory for all travellers entering by land or air.
However, the CBSA said to bring paper documents just in case.
“We’ve asked individuals to travel with their paper evidence. We also understand in some jurisdictions there is actually an ‘E-version’ of their certificate so that it can be presented to the border services officer in some exceptional circumstances. There are some situations where we will be able to accept paper,” Vinette said.
He added that if a traveller does not have access to a smartphone or the internet, they should ask “family and friends to help you create the account and submit your information.”
If someone refuses to submit their information through the ArriveCAN app, the traveller will not be denied entry into Canada by land or boarding if arriving by air, according to the federal government website.
However, the traveller won’t be eligible for the fully vaccinated exemption, may face additional delays at the border for public health questioning and may be subject to fines or enforcement action, the website stated.
Use the updated ArriveCAN app
The ArriveCAN app was released to the public in April 2020 in order to create a secure and easy way for travellers to upload COVID-19 information.
But as of Monday at 12:01 a.m., there is an updated app to download, which is the version the CBSA requires for travellers.
The updated ArriveCAN app is now available to download on the Google Play Store and the App Store. It can also be accessed online through the federal government’s website at canada.ca.
Will border restrictions further loosen?
The mutual travel restrictions between Canada and the United States — which prohibit all discretionary travel between the two countries while continuing to allow the movement of trade, essential workers and international students — are due to expire July 21.
It’s not known if the feds will implement the restrictions for another month, as the federal government has yet to lay out a plan for a “phase 2 reopening.”
The feds previously stated the first phase is a “cautious first step” and announcements about the gradual border reopening plan will be made in the coming weeks.
“We are doing things gradually, but we are talking about weeks and not months anymore. We certainly hope we will have more good news about reopenings in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa on June 22.
He did not give a specific date but said the announcement depends on vaccination rates, the number of COVID-19 cases and the variants circulating across the country.
For now, the new changes may add to wait times at the border in the days ahead as officials and travellers begin trying out these new measures, Vinette said.
“We might see as our officers begin to apply these new relief measures and as travellers arrive and are trying to comply with them, that there could be some impacts to the time it takes across the border,” he said.
“We invite people to be patient.”
–With files from The Canadian Press