The US-Canada Border is Open…Kind of.

They’ve done it! The border is open again!

So, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the US-Canada border has finally reopened to non-essential foreign travelers. This easing of restrictions began on November 8, 2021.

Like many of you, I haven’t been down to the states in a long time. In fact, the last time I crossed was in August…of 2019!

So also, like many of you, I’ve been eager to travel back down (and maybe fill up on some of that wonderfully cheap gas).

Fantastic! But is there a catch?

Ha-ha, of course there is! Nothing’s easy when the government is involved! So, for those of you planning on making that trip to the US, here are the essential things you need to know before you go.

1. You’ll need to get fully vaccinated.

If you’re not a US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident, you’ll need to be fully vaccinated if you want to cross the US-Canada border. If you got your shots in Canada, the U.S. will recognize your vaccine. However, if you got vaccinated somewhere else or want to be safe, here is the list of accepted COVID-19 vaccines.

2. For air travelers, you’ll also need proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Even us fancy American citizens won’t be able to escape this requirement. But do note that this ONLY applies to air travelers.

3. Make sure you have ACCEPTABLE proof of vaccination.

Not all proofs of vaccination are created equal. According to the website cdc.gov, the U.S. government only accepts the following forms of proof:

  • Verifiable records – Basically, a vaccine certificate or digital pass with a QR code.
  • Non-verifiable paper records – A printout of a COVID-19 vaccine record issued by an authorized vaccine provider (such as a CDC vaccination card).
  • Non-verifiable digital records – This includes:
    • digital photos of vaccination cards or records
    • downloaded vaccination records or certificates from an official source
    • a mobile phone application without a QR code.

4. The hardest part might be getting back into Canada.

If you want to avoid the dreaded quarantine upon your return, you’re going to need to qualify as a “fully vaccinated traveler.” Sounds simple, but it’s not. According to the travel.gc.ca website, these are the requirements to qualify:

  • You need to have received two doses of a Canada-accepted COVID-19 vaccine (mixed doses are o.k.) or:
    • at least one dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • Make sure you got your second dose at least 14 full days before entering Canada.
  • Upload your proof of vaccination in ArriveCAN.
  • You can’t show any signs or symptoms of COVID-19
  • You must meet all the other entry requirements (see below)

Here are the “other entry requirements” they’re talking about:

  • You need to get an accepted pre-entry test
  • You’ll have to submit a quarantine plan just in case you don’t qualify as a fully vaccinated traveler.
  • You might be subjected to a randomized COVID-19 screening test.

Simple, right? The government makes sure to point out that you can use ArriveCAN for free. However, they are conspicuously silent on how much that pre-entry test costs. This brings me to my final point.

5. Pre-entry tests are NOT cheap.

If you choose to get tested before you leave, you’ll pay at least $150 to $200 dollars. Why? Unfortunately, the Canadian government does not accept rapid antigen tests. Instead, they need the more expensive molecular test. Also, since testing for travel falls outside of B.C. public health recommendations, you pay the cost yourself. The BC Centre for Disease Control has a list of private clinics who will give you a molecular test.

I have to admit, nothing says ‘Murica like making someone spend their own money on issues related to healthcare.

On a personal note: While I’m a U.S. citizen and have always been allowed to travel down, the requirements for returning to Canada have made that impractical. After reading these guidelines, very little has changed.

Update (November 29, 2021):

So after a lot of blowback, the government of Canada has changed some of the requirements for coming back across the US-Canada border.

Beginning November 30, 2021:

  • If your trip is less than 72 hours, you don’t need to get a molecular pre-entry test. But you will need to prove how long you’ve been away.
  • The government of Canada will accept the following vaccines:
    • Bharat Biotech (Covaxin, BBV152 A, B, C)
    • Sinopharm (Beijing) BBIBP-CorV (Vero Cells)
    • Sinovac (CoronaVac, PiCoVacc)

Also, the requirements have changed if you’ve been to the Southern Africa region within the past 14 days:

  • You must follow new pre-entry testing before coming into Canada and follow post arrival requirements
  • If you’re a foreign national whose been to that region, you cannot enter Canada.

Some of this is good news, and some of it isn’t. If you need more information, please go the travel.gc.ca website for more detailed information. I’ll try to keep this post updated as new information arrives.

Update (December 22, 2021):

With the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the 72-hour exemption has been removed. You once again must get a molecular pre-entry test. Not only that, you have to get that test outside of Canada.

The Canadian Public Health Agency is also now advising Canadians to avoid international travel. This applies to anyone regardless of their vaccination status.

But the good news is that temporary enhanced requirements are ending for travelers who have been to the Southern Africa region.

Update (March 26, 2022):

Beginning April 1, 2022:

Finally! You will no longer have to get a pre-entry test when coming back into Canada. This applies to anyone crossing the border by land, sea, or air.

Of course, you may still be subjected to a random test upon your arrival. If you’ve had COVID-19 recently, you might want to be careful as you can still test positive on a PCR test up to 90 days after your infection.

However, you can get an exemption from the random test if you provide proof of a positive test:

  • at least 10 days before entering Canada OR
  • no more than 180 days before entering

Note: Counting starts the day after you take the test.

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