Pricey COVID-19 tests a deterrent for some Quebec travellers ahead of U.S. land border reopening

·4 min read
Barry Goodman is yearning to visit his second home in Vermont once the U.S. land border reopens to fully vaccinated Canadian travellers on Monday, but he says the cost of a mandatory COVID-19 test when returning to Canada could deter him from crossing over.  (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC News - image credit)
Barry Goodman is yearning to visit his second home in Vermont once the U.S. land border reopens to fully vaccinated Canadian travellers on Monday, but he says the cost of a mandatory COVID-19 test when returning to Canada could deter him from crossing over. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC News - image credit)

For nearly two years, Faye Chamberlain has been looking forward to once again being able to cross into the United States by land. An hour away from the Vermont border from her home in Stanstead, Quebec, she used to cross over frequently.

But Chamberlain is one of several Quebecers who say an expensive, mandatory COVID-19 test required to reenter Canada might outweigh the benefit of a short stay across the border when it reopens on Nov. 8.

"Maybe for a vacation in the winter if things seem stable, but I'm definitely not going to cross for the day. Not with having to get a test done and it's probably going to cost around $200 dollars for a PCR test," she said.

On Monday, the U.S. will reopen its shared land border with Canada to non-essential, fully-vaccinated travellers for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March, 2020.

The U.S. doesn't require a negative test at the border, but the federal government is standing firm on proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours for recreational travellers upon their return to Canada.

Canada will only accept a molecular test — such as a PCR test — which can cost upwards of $200 dollars.

"They still need to have a valid PCR or molecular test, they still need to be tested 72 hours before they re-enter Canada and they still need to upload and update their Arrive Can application," said Érik Paradis, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

'It's just too expensive'

Barry Goodman says the pricey test also puts a damper on his travel plans. For forty years, Goodman and his wife have owned a mobile home in Vermont. He says "a big chunk of our life was missing" by not being able to visit during the pandemic.

But he, too, says he's reluctant to cross into the U.S. by car come Monday due to the cost.

"Having to take an expensive PCR test to return to Canada is costly and quite frankly if we're going to do that every weekend, that could be a $2,000 bill just for testing, which is really not in the cards," he said.

Kamran Jebreili/The Associated Press
Kamran Jebreili/The Associated Press

While Goodman and his wife are only two, he notes the testing requirement might not be viable for a family of four or larger.

"Its just too expensive, even if you're going for a weekend," he said.

Goodman says people who are fully vaccinated and who have been "doing everything right" throughout the pandemic should be cut some slack.

"Now that people are double-vaxxed and the pandemic seems to be subsiding at least a bit, I think that we should be able to go without having to be tested," he said.

Feds maintaining requirement — for now

Outside Quebec, Canada has been facing pressure from tourism groups, senior advocacy organizations and some U.S. politicians to drop its expensive COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers.

Ricky Hoy owns Pinaccle Parcels, a parcel shop in Vermont that caters to Quebecers. He says piles of boxes have been stacked up to the ceiling since the border closed 19 months ago, and he has no idea when they will ever be picked up.

"Because I hear a lot of customers saying that they have to take a COVID test to come down and they have to pay out of pocket. I've heard a bunch of price ranges for the cost of the test and stuff like that," he said.

Toby Talbot/The Associated Press
Toby Talbot/The Associated Press

The federal government says it's reviewing the requirement but that it's staying in place for now as a precaution.

"Canada is still in many areas battling the fourth wave," said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam at a news conference last week. "While vaccines reduce the risk [and protect] people against infections, it's not 100 per cent and that protection could wane or be reduced over time."

Travellers entering the U.S. by land should be prepared to verbally attest to their vaccination status, and present their vaccination documentation upon request.

The CBSA says people who want to do a day trip to the U.S. can get a PCR test in Canada, wait for their results and then travel. But they have to make sure they're back home within those 72 hours.

Canadians who enter the U.S. without taking the test could be fined up to $5,000.

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