Here’s what you need to know about Canada’s travel restrictions
The federal government is changing its travel rules for fully vaccinated travellers entering the country: Effective April 1, fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to get any COVID-19 tests before arriving in Canada, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced on March 17.
For Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have had their shots, it’s essential to have valid proof of vaccination when travelling and to follow the latest guidelines about testing and self-isolation when gathering with family and friends. If you’re unvaccinated, chances are you won’t be allowed to travel on trains, in planes or by sea. Here’s what you need to know.
Canada’s latest travel rules
What does ‘fully vaccinated’ mean, officially?
For the federal government’s purposes, “fully vaccinated” means you’ve had the basic doses for one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada – two shots for Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax or Medicago, one shot for Johnson & Johnson – and it’s been 14 days or more since your last dose. Canada also accepts international travellers who are fully dosed with the Indian-made Bharat Biotech or Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac drugs. Third doses, also called boosters, are not yet part of the official definition of full vaccination, but getting them is a good idea regardless because they improve your protection against COVID-19, according to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Here are the provincial websites where you can book a booster shot, if you haven’t already.
Since Nov. 30, 2021, everyone who boards a plane in Canada, takes an interprovincial train or boards a ship journey longer than 24 hours has had to show proof of full vaccination first. Your province or territory will issue proof-of-vaccination documents that follow a standard design set by the federal government. Depending on where you live, these vaccine passports may be required to access non-essential public services such as dine-in restaurants, movie theatres or gyms.
International arrivals: Who has to be tested
Air travel: Effective April 1, fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take a COVID-19 test prior to arriving in Canada. Previously, travellers could take either a PCR or rapid antigen test approved by the country in which it is purchased, and administered by a laboratory, health-care entity or telehealth service. Take-home rapid antigen tests are not sufficient. Unvaccinated children under 12 travelling with vaccinated adults do not have to isolate from school or daycare for 14 days.
There’s an app called ArriveCAN for providing mandatory travel information (make sure you’ve updated to the latest version), as well as a short questionnaire to address any questions about your eligibility to fly. Once you get to Canada, some fully vaccinated travellers might still be randomly selected for a molecular test at the airport, but they will not be required to quarantine while they wait for the result. Health Canada still requires that anyone arriving from outside the country wear a mask in public for two weeks. Unvaccinated Canadians will need to be tested at the airport and again eight days after arrival, and isolate for 14 days.
Land travel: Similar to air travellers, fully-vaccinated travellers entering Canada from the U.S. will no longer have to take a COVID-19 test, effective April 1. Previously, travellers could either take a PCR test or rapid test that is authorized by the country in which it was purchased and must be administered by a laboratory, health-care entity or telehealth service. Take-home rapid antigen tests are not sufficient. While officials can’t prevent Canadian citizens or permanent residents from entering, they can fine those who don’t show a negative test up to $5,000 per day.
Will rapid antigen tests help me to travel more safely?
A rapid antigen test isn’t the same as the molecular, or PCR (polymerase chain reaction), type of test. PCRs are accurate about 98 per cent of the time, but they’re more time- and labour-intensive: A technician has to give you a nasal swab that’s sent to a lab and analyzed.
Antigen self-testing kits can be used at home within minutes, but they’re anywhere from 50 to 95 per cent accurate. Antigen tests can be a good idea if you’re travelling domestically, or even just gathering locally with family or friends. Some provinces offer tests to the public for free, while in others, you have to buy them from stores, pharmacies or an online retailer.