Canada will keep its border closed to the US through at least Feb. 21 — here’s what you need to know

Jan 16, 2021

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information, and as the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether you’re traveling next month or next year.

For U.S. travelers eyeing close-to-home vacations, a quick hop across the northern border to Canada remains out of the question for at least another month.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently extended the ban on nonessential travel between the United States and Canada through Feb. 21, 2021, according to Forbes. Government leaders in both countries first announced the border closure on March 21, 2020, and have extended the order on a near-monthly basis since.

“We’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to keep Canadians safe,” Trudeau stated in the Jan. 12 announcement released over Twitter. Earlier this month, Canada also tightened its requirements for travelers arriving by air: As of Jan. 7, all travelers ages 5 or older must present a negative COVID-19 test result prior to boarding any flight entering Canada from another country.

In a similar tweet on Jan. 12, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also announced an extension of U.S. land border closures with Canada as well as Mexico. U.S. land borders will remain closed to non-essential travel through Feb. 21, with the possibility of extension again. Essential workers such as healthcare professionals, delivery trucks and airline crew members are still permitted to travel between countries.

how the closures impact nonessential travelers

At this time, only Canadian citizens, permanent residents, people registered under Canada’s Indian Act, protected persons, select foreign nationals traveling for essential reasons and immediate family members of Canadian citizens or residents are allowed to enter Canada. Of course, there are exceptions.

Related: Where can I go right now? A country-by-country guide to reopening

As announced on Oct. 2, 2020, there are new processes in place that allow certain extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada, in addition to individuals wishing to enter Canada for compassionate reasons, to petition for access to enter Canada.

But travelers who were hoping to book a leisurely train ride or plan a road trip for a long weekend in Canada, you’ll need to hold off on those plans for now.

Despite pressure from some members of the travel industry, certain Canadian provinces continue to restrict or discourage travel around Canada.

When Canada does reopen its borders, many existing safety measures will almost certainly remain in place. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told CNN last spring that the mandatory two-week quarantine “remains a cornerstone as we go forward.”

So, when will Canada reopen, and what will travel there look like when it does? Here’s everything we know so far.

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Mandatory quarantine period

Even travelers who have no symptoms of COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days — the type of travel restriction that, even if the border were open, would likely discourage travelers from visiting Canada for leisure. After all, there’s nothing that can siphon the fun out of a vacation quite like a government-mandated, 14-day period of isolation.

At this time, consequences for violating the quarantine period can be severe, with penalties including a fine of up to $750,000, six months of imprisonment and being removed from Canada and refused entry for a year. At least one U.S. visitor is already facing a $569,000 fine for flouting Canadian quarantine requirements.

If someone causes “a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening this act or the regulations,” the fine could go up to $1,000,000 with jail time increased to three years, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Banned cruises

In March 2020 when the pandemic first spread throughout North America, Trudeau announced a ban on cruise ships which has since been extended, making it one of the longest cruise ship bans from any major cruise destination. The ban forbids cruise ships from stopping at Canadian ports until at least March 1, exempting smaller vessels that carry fewer than 100 people including passengers and crew.

Related: When will cruise ships resume sailing? A line-by-line guide

The move not only affects cruises to Canada but also most Alaska cruises, which rely heavily on Canadian ports to be lawful. And given that cruise ships generally don’t operate in Canadian waters during the winter, the ban effectively means there will be no more cruising to Canadian ports until April 2021 — at least by all but the smallest vessels.

There are some reports that the popular port in Victoria, British Columbia, might not reopen until 2022.

Travel documents

In addition to a valid passport and, if necessary, a valid visitor visa, all Canada-bound travelers must affirm they are exempt from travel restrictions and traveling for an essential reason at this time. That could mean proof of residency; proof of relationship to an immediate family member who is a Canadian citizen; or written authorization from the Canadian government. Without these documents and permissions, you will not be allowed to board your flight.

You must also provide contact information upon arrival in Canada. This form can be accessed in paper or digital form, as well as with the ArriveCAN mobile app, which could speed up your arrival process.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Temperature checks

The Government of Canada requires temperature screenings for all passengers traveling to Canada or travelers leaving Canada for international or domestic destinations.

“For international flights to Canada, air operators must conduct temperature screenings at the point of departure, unless the local authority has an equivalent measure in place, in addition to the existing required health check questions for symptoms prior to boarding,” the Government of Canada announced in June 2020.

Furthermore, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will conduct temperature screening of passengers as part of departure procedures. This measure was added in addition to mandated face coverings and health screening questions for all passengers.

The nation’s flag carrier, Air Canada, launched a spate of new health and sanitation measures, including a temperature check, ahead of the government. Called CleanCare+, the program established mandatory infrared temperature checks for all passengers. It was the first airline in North America to introduce this type of screening. Travelers who present with a temperature will be rebooked on a later flight at no cost but will be required to get medical clearance before flying.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is launching a pilot program with WestJet that would test passengers on domestic flights for coronavirus with instant tests. If the pilot program, and others like it elsewhere, is successful, it might become standard at airports around the world.

Masks are required

At this time, masks are required by law in Canada. Masks are mandatory for travelers flying from, to or within Canada both on planes and in airports.

For Air Canada and other carriers, masks are also required at check-in, during boarding and for the duration of the flight.

Travelers should pack their own face masks, though Air Canada began providing “care kits” stocked with a face mask, gloves, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, among other amenities.

With additional reporting by Katherine Fan, Chris Dong, Mimi Wright and Clint Henderson. 

Featured photo by Francis Yap M/Getty Images.

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