Business

Canada's new travel rules explained

Canada is easing several travel measures for people entering the country. But some rules remain, including the pre-arrival COVID-19 test requirement, which means returning home from abroad can still be complicated and costly. 

Ottawa continues to face pressure to drop its pre-arrival test requirement

Starting Monday, fully vaccinated travellers can take a rapid antigen test, instead of a PCR test, to enter Canada. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Canada is easing several travel measures on Monday for people entering the country.

But some rules remain, including the pre-arrival COVID-19 test requirement, which means returning home from abroad can still be complicated and costly. 

Here's what you need to know if you have upcoming travel plans.

You can now take a rapid antigen test

For the past year, the federal government has required that travellers entering Canada show proof of a negative molecular test, such as a PCR, taken within 72 hours of their departing flight or planned arrival at the land border. 

Starting Monday, people can opt to instead take a rapid antigen test, which is typically cheaper (generally under $100) and more convenient, as results are available within minutes.

Rapid antigen tests are generally cheaper (often priced under $100) and more convenient, as results are available within minutes. But take-home tests won't cut it: Canada will only accept pre-entry tests authorized by the country where it was purchased and it must be administered by a lab, health-care entity or telehealth service. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed on Friday that the antigen test must be taken no more than one day before a traveller's departing flight or planned arrival at the land border. 

People must take the test outside Canada and can only use one authorized for travellers.

"It can't be the take-home tests that we've seen here in our communities," said Denis Vinette, vice-president of the CBSA's Travellers Branch. "It has to be done through a lab that will give you then the [written] confirmation that you are either negative or positive."

Calls to drop pre-arrival test

Despite offering a potentially cheaper option, the government still faces pressure to drop all pre-arrival testing. 

"It's so ridiculous," said Dave Swidler, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who's set to fly home from the Hawaiian island of Kauai on March 14.

"Somebody who has had three vaccines and wears a mask and doesn't take chances, making me take a test to come home and making me stress about it — why are they doing that?"

Dave Swidler and his wife, Marina Chase, of Mont-Tremblant, Que. are set to fly home from Hawaii on March 14. (submitted by David Swidler)

On Friday, several border-town mayors on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border held a news conference, calling for an end to all pre-arrival testing at the land border for fully vaccinated travellers. 

Even when getting an antigen test, "you still have to go through the hassle of clicking the box, making the appointment, finding a pharmacy that is available," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said at the news conference.

"The need for testing at the land border is long over."

Several medical experts also say Ottawa should drop pre-arrival testing, arguing it's pointless now that Omicron has spread across Canada. 

But the government says further easing of border measures will only come when pandemic conditions improve. 

"We must continue to exercise prudence," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said last week. "Our fight against the virus is not over."

What happens if I test positive?

The government has not eased rules for travellers who test positive while abroad.

Those travellers must wait at least 10 full days after they took their test before entering Canada. Infected Canadians won't be turned away at a land border, but may face fines of up to $5,000 for defying the rules. 

"There is still the risk — the real risk — of becoming sick while abroad and having to extend your trip, should you test positive for COVID-19," Duclos said, speaking in French. 

WATCH | Calls to drop testing requirement

Calls to drop all COVID-19 testing requirements for travel

4 months ago
Duration 1:49
To enter the country, Canada now requires travellers to provide a rapid antigen COVID-19 test instead of a PCR test, but many travellers and experts say it might be time to drop testing requirements entirely.

People who recently recovered from COVID-19 don't have to take a pre-arrival test — if they provide proof of a positive molecular test taken at least 10 days and no more than 180 days before entering Canada.

"The PCR molecular test remains the gold standard," said Vinette. "In order to be able to re-enter [and] demonstrate the positive outcome of your test, you'll need the molecular test."

That means travellers abroad who test positive with an antigen test could face complications. They must get a second test to return home and if they opt for another antigen test, the results must be negative.

Norm Chew, of Toronto, says he’ll likely cancel his family's spring break ski trip to Vermont, due to fears of testing positive while in the U.S. (CBC News)

Norm Chew, of Toronto, had hoped Canada would drop its pre-arrival test requirement. Because that didn't happen, he says he'll likely cancel his family's spring break ski trip to Vermont, due to fears of testing positive.

"If we're positive, we have to stay out for 10 days, otherwise we could face the fine," said Chew, who had planned to drive to Vermont. "Ten days in a hotel with four of us sick, no thanks."

Other rules

Also starting Monday, unvaccinated children under the age of 12 entering Canada with fully vaccinated parents will no longer have to avoid schools, daycare or other crowded settings for 14 days.

And fully vaccinated travellers randomly selected to be tested upon arrival won't have to quarantine while awaiting their test results.

Finally, Canada has lifted its advisory against non-essential international travel. Although the advisory was in place for most of the pandemic, millions of Canadians still chose to travel abroad. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won at Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now