Travelling to or within Canada? The rules have changed. Here's what you need to know

·6 min read
Travelling abroad? Coming home might be more complicated than you think.   (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters - image credit)
Travelling abroad? Coming home might be more complicated than you think. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters - image credit)

Passport? Check. Plane ticket? Check. What about your vaccination documents and COVID-19 test results? Thanks to the pandemic, entering Canada now requires a lengthy checklist.

"You definitely have to be prepared and it's not going to be the usual experience," said Senka Dukovich of Toronto, who flew home from Croatia earlier this month.

Even domestic travellers may face challenges when entering certain provinces.

Here's what you need to know about travelling to or within Canada, with the help of some Canadians who've already hit the road.

Travelling to Canada

Anyone currently allowed to enter Canada can skip the 14-day quarantine if they meet the country's requirements for being fully vaccinated. That means two doses of either the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson product, at least 14 days before arriving.

Most foreigners are still barred from entering Canada but, as of Aug. 9, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in that country will be able to visit, and they won't have to quarantine.

The federal government said it plans to allow fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries to enter Canada and skip quarantine on Sept. 7.

However, all fully vaccinated travellers allowed to enter still face other requirements.

Dukovich, her husband Ted Read, and their five-year-old granddaughter Ksenija Callaghan, travelled to Croatia in June to visit family.

They had a two-day stopover in Paris before their final flight back to Canada on July 7, which meant the trio had to take COVID-19 tests during their stopover.

Submitted by Senka Dukovich
Submitted by Senka Dukovich

Travellers to Canada — even those who are fully vaccinated — must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Air passengers need to take the test within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of their final direct flight to Canada.

Dukovich was pleased to discover that — at the time — France provided free PCR tests.

"We got three COVID tests [for free] that would have cost at least $400," she said. "No hassles, no waits, no appointment."

However, Canadians departing France now won't be so lucky; on July 7, the country stopped providing free tests to tourists outside the EU.

Travellers to Canada must submit their travel information to the federal government using the ArriveCAN app or by registering online within 72 hours before their arrival.

"You had to upload documentation for both your first and second dose," said Dukovich who submitted the family's application from a hotel room in Paris. "We just had our phone, so you can imagine, trying to do this on the little phone."

On arrival

When travellers finish inputting their information, they're emailed a receipt to show a Canadian border officer upon arrival, along with their COVID-19 test results and any vaccination documents.

On July 9, Shawn Plancke, a Canadian who lives in Barcelona, flew to Halifax with his wife, Samantha McGuinness, and three children. He advises travellers to pack hard copies of their documents before departing for Canada.

"I know this is going against society these days, but print it out," he said. "I would not have wanted to be flipping through my phone [for documents]."

Currently, both land and air travellers will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival in Canada, or be given a home test kit. The federal government provides the tests for free and travellers can pre-register online to save time.

However, starting Aug. 9., fully vaccinated travellers will not need a post-arrival test unless they have been randomly selected to take one.

Dukovich and her family landed in Montreal. She said they received home test kits instead of an on-site test, because they had a connecting flight to Toronto.

"On the way out, they just handed us kits like they were giving you a lunch box," said Dukovich.

At home, she had to go online and be guided by a nurse via video conference who provided instructions including "counting down the seconds you have to have the swab in your nose," said Dukovich.

That same day, Purolator picked up the tests.

Travelling with children

Fully vaccinated travellers don't have to quarantine while waiting for their test results. But Dukovich thought that she and her husband were required to, because their five-year-old granddaughter — who's staying with them — isn't vaccinated.

Children under 12 are currently not allowed to get vaccinated in Canada.

It was only on day three of their quarantine that Dukovich learned from a quarantine officer that only her granddaughter had to quarantine.

"That was a relief," said Dukovich. "My husband and I are free to go out."

Unvaccinated travellers — or those who got a vaccine currently not recognized by the Canadian government — must quarantine for 14 days. Those entering by air must also spend up to three of those days in a quarantine hotel — a rule that will end on Aug. 9.

However, unvaccinated children under 18 can head home with their vaccinated parents. Currently, they must quarantine — even though their parents can leave the house. But that rule will also change on Aug. 9, when the government will begin to allow unvaccinated children under 12 to skip quarantine. However, they will be expected to avoid group settings such as school, camps and daycares.

Travelling within Canada

The rules can also be complex for domestic travellers.

Air passengers travelling within Canada don't have to take a pre-arrival COVID-19 test.

However, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and the territories still require some inter-provincial travellers to quarantine.

The rules can vary depending on your vaccination status and/or where you're travelling from. For example, most of the Atlantic provinces now allow travellers from within Atlantic Canada to enter, regardless of their vaccination status.

The rest of Canada can skip quarantine in the Atlantic provinces if fully vaccinated or, in the case of New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, have at least one dose.

Fully vaccinated travellers can also skip quarantine in Manitoba and the territories.

Manitoba, Yukon and the Atlantic provinces also exempt from quarantine unvaccinated children under 12 — if all their vaccinated guardians meet the exemption requirement. In Nova Scotia, the rule applies to unvaccinated children ages 18 and younger.

However, because traveller Plancke and his family flew from Barcelona to Halifax, his three children must follow the current federal rules and quarantine for 14 days — despite that fact that both parents are fully vaccinated.

"It's quite confusing when you have strict stricter rules, federally, and then you have other rules provincially," said Plancke.

The provinces and territories listed here may have further requirements for tourists, so travellers to those regions should check the rules online before packing their bags.

For example, the Atlantic provinces require certain visitors to pre-register, and travellers to Nunavut must first get authorization. Also, the Northwest Territories still bars most leisure travellers.

Submitted by Shawn Plancke
Submitted by Shawn Plancke
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