Canada is starting to slowly reopen — but Americans still can’t visit for tourism

Jul 6, 2021

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Travel is picking up around the world. But even as far-flung countries begin to welcome back tourists with open arms, one country had kept its door firmly shut: Canada.

Leaders in Canada and the United States have extended the nonessential travel ban on a near-monthly basis since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But on July 5, the two countries eased restrictions for the first time — a move before eventually reopening the border entirely over the next few weeks.

Canada now allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to skip a mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival in the country. Those entering by air no longer need to spend their first three days in the country at a government-approved hotel. However, unlike some countries allowing entry to vaccinated foreigners, most Americans still aren’t allowed to enter.

Here’s what you need to know.

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Canada is starting to reopen slowly

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

There are various reasons why Canada tightened restrictions on travel.

Canada had a very public delayed vaccination program, and while those delays seem to be improving, just 37% of Canadians are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. According to Johns Hopkins University data, the country has recorded over 1.4 million positive cases and over 26,000 deaths.

Canada’s policy throughout the pandemic has been one of exercising caution, even if other nations clamor to reopen. However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently moved to make travel easier for Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

“We’re very hopeful that we’re going to see new steps on reopening announced in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said during a news conference. “We’re going to make sure that we’re not seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases because nobody wants to go back to further restrictions after having done so much and sacrificed so much to get to this point.”

Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are now permitted to enter the country from the U.S. must have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days to be eligible for quarantine-free entry. Travelers must present proof of their vaccination records through the ArriveCan app.

But if you don’t fall into one of those categories, that means tourism is still pretty much off-limits — at least for now. The new guidelines still don’t allow for U.S. citizens to travel to Canada. Despite the restrictions set to remain in place until at least July 21,  there are some indications the border could finally reopen in just a few weeks.

But with vaccinations in the country on the rise and positive cases down, and with several large countries opening for tourism, some think it’s time for Canada to relax its policy further.

The travel industry has clamored for travel corridors they believe would help the sector rebound from pandemic-related losses. There is no indication right now that there’s a U.S.-Canada travel corridor in the works like there is in some other locations, like the European Union, for instance.

The EU added the United States to its so-called travel “white list,” which would will allow vaccinated visitors to skip quarantine requirements and move freely between the 27 EU nations. However, it’s not a proper travel corridor yet, since the EU is still looking for the U.S. to relax its travel restrictions on visitors from the EU.

And countries significantly dependent on tourism, like Mexico — which made $25 billion on tourism in 2019 — never shut their doors at all.

Implications of Canada’s travel ban

Air Canada 777 at Frankfurt Airport
(Photo by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock)

It’s evident that Canadian travel is on the upswing, and a loosening of some restrictions is a positive sign for more rules to be relaxed later.

There were just 150,000 trips to Canada by non-Canadians in April, the last month data was available, down 6% from March. But even though people aren’t coming into Canada in waves, Canadians are traveling abroad — even if they had to quarantine upon return. Trips abroad by Canadian residents were up nearly 19% in April.

Still, the travel ban ostensibly affected Canada’s travel industry, putting pressure on the Canadian and U.S. governments.

To put into context how vital U.S. travel is to Canada, one can look at travel to the Rainbow Bridge Port of Entry or the U.S. side of the Niagara Falls border. Just 1.7 million people crossed the Buffalo-Niagara Falls border in 2020 in a personal vehicle, a sharp decline from the 10.5 million in 2019. And even with some travel restarting, just 92,000 people have crossed that border by a personal vehicle this year, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.

Tourism generated $105 billion and supported one in 10 Canadian jobs, according to one report. And the U.S. Travel Association said the U.S. loses $1.5 billion every month that the border remains closed between the two countries.

People on the other side of that border are feeling the effects and will likely continue until the ban is over. The mayor of Niagra Falls, Ontario, home to the eponymous group of waterfalls, said last month that U.S. tourism was “right up there with oxygen,” while Canada’s Chamber of Commerce head noted that it had “no idea” what the government would do after the current travel ban expires. And in May, Air Canada, Canada’s national airline, said the government needed to “act faster.”

These are strong words from some of the most powerful players in Canada. And judging by what Canada’s leaders have said publicly, perhaps pressure from industry leaders has finally pushed the government to act.
But is it enough, given the ban still means tourism isn’t allowed? After all, Americans are still barred from traveling to Canada for tourism purposes. Trudeau said on July 5 that “things aren’t normal yet,” but in many parts of the world, it’s back to business as usual.

“Nobody wants us to move too fast and have to reimpose restrictions as case numbers rise like we’re seeing elsewhere in the world,″ Trudeau said on July 5, according to the Associated Press. “We need to do this right.”

Trudeau’s measured tone is consistent with how Canada and the U.S. appear to have handled the border issue for the past year, but it might not be enough for travelers on both sides hoping for a swift end to the ban.

Featured photo by Brady Baker/Getty Images

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