Canada reopens to Americans — my experience crossing the border

Aug 9, 2021

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Today, Aug. 9, 2021, Canada reopened to vaccinated Americans after a 17-month border closure. Americans who are fully vaccinated can finally enter Canada for tourism or other nonessential purposes by air and land so long as they pack a negative PCR test.

This is arguably the most important border reopening for Americans. The U.S. and Canada share the world’s longest land border, and many families are split between the two countries. Further, the economies of many border towns rely heavily on cross-border tourism and commerce. The U.S./Canada border reopening signals some normalcy for people on both sides of the line.

In an effort to help American travelers know what to expect, I flew from Chicago to Toronto this afternoon to report on the entry process at the Canadian border. In this article, I’ll run through the Canada entry requirements and discuss everything you need to know before you plan a trip to revisit America’s neighbors to the north. (And watch for TPG’s guide to crossing into Canada via car, which will be available soon.)

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Canada entry requirements

Canadian and American flags fly near the base of the Ambassador Bridge connecting Canada to the U.S. in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Nearly half of respondents in an Angus Reid Institute poll released Wednesday said the world's longest undefended frontier should remain closed until at least September and more than three quarters said they would support a vaccine passport. Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Americans can visit Canada again so long as they meet certain entry requirements. (Photo by Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As discussed above, Canada reopened to vaccinated Americans on Aug 9, 2021. Currently, only American citizens and permanent residents are allowed to visit Canada from abroad. Nationals from other countries will be tentatively allowed to enter starting Sept. 7, 2021.

That said, you must fulfill a handful of entry requirements in order to enter Canada without mandatory quarantine. You qualify for the quarantine exemption if you can prove the following:

  • You’re fully vaccinated and received your last dose at least 14 days prior to entry.
  • You bring a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of your flight’s scheduled departure to Canada.
  • You show no signs of COVID-19.
  • Have a quarantine plan in place if you do not qualify for the quarantine exemption.

Currently, the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are accepted by the Canadian government. It’s worth noting that antigen rapid tests are not accepted as proof of entry, so make sure you get a PCR, LAMP or other accepted test within 72 hours of departure. Check out TPG’s full guide to getting a fast COVID-19 test for more information.

You will need to submit entry documentation through the Canadian government’s new ArriveCAN app within 72 hours of arrival in Canada. This is a smartphone application that speeds up the Canadian arrival process. Don’t worry. We’ll take a closer look at the application next.

Of course, you’ll also need a negative COVID-19 test to return to the U.S. You can get these are most major Canadian airports, and antigen rapid tests are accepted at the U.S. border. Stay tuned to TPG for more information as I will publish an article on getting a COVID-19 test in Canada later this week.

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

Submitting information through the ArriveCAN app

Using the ArriveCAN app was surprisingly straightforward. You can download the app for iPhone or Android on their respective app stores or submit the form online. Once installed, you can start the process from the ArriveCAN home screen by tapping the blue Start button.

ArriveCAN start screen
(Screenshot courtesy of ArriveCAN)

The app will ask how you’re entering Canada. For this example, I selected Air as I was flying to the country. The next screen will ask you for your flight details.

Flight info in ArriveCAN app
(Screenshot courtesy of ArriveCAN)

As you continue through the screens, you’ll be asked for your purpose of travel and to register your passport or NEXUS card. To my understanding, this is used to pair your vaccine status with your passport at the Canadian border.

Registering in ArriveCAN app
(Screenshot courtesy of ArriveCAN)

Then, the app will ask for your vaccine information. It’s important that you accurately input all required information so you can successfully exempt yourself from mandatory hotel quarantine in Canada. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this screen and take a photo of your vaccine card. The CDC-issued card is accepted by the app.

Vaccine info in ArriveCAN app
(Screenshot courtesy of ArriveCAN)

Once you’ve filled out all necessary information, you will be given a pass that shows that you’re vaccinated. You may need to use this pass at the Canadian border in order to enter the country and skip quarantine. I recommend taking a screenshot on your phone in case the app has any issues.

ArriveCAN receipt
(Screenshot courtesy of ArriveCAN)

I filled out the ArriveCAN app the night before I left for Canada. That said, my pass seemingly deleted itself after my flight was delayed. I had to resubmit information right after I landed in Toronto, which was a stressful experience. Thankfully, it was easy enough to resubmit all the required information.

My experience entering Canada as a vaccinated American

On Aug. 9, I flew from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Toronto (YYZ) the morning of the reopening and had no major hurdles entering the country — here’s my experience, step-by-step.

Flying Air Canada from the US to Canada during the pandemic

My journey started at Chicago O’Hare. I took a Lyft to the airport and was dropped off at ORD Terminal 2, where all of Air Canada’s flights depart. I was ticketed on a flight that departed at 8:20 a.m., but it was delayed until roughly 12:30 p.m. the same day due to weather.

Air Canada sign at ORD
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

I attempted to check into my flight online but couldn’t get a boarding pass, so I made my way to the Air Canada check-in counter. The check-in area was absolutely packed with passengers, but I was able to skip most of the line since I’m a Star Alliance Gold member, thanks to my United Premier Gold elite status.

I approached the counter and was greeted by a friendly Air Canada representative who promptly asked for my passport, negative COVID-19 test and proof of vaccination. I gave her all three, with my proof of vaccination being my CDC-issued vaccine card. It’s worth noting that my ArriveCAN pass was not checked by the representative.

The representative looked over my documents, swiped my passport and handed me a boarding pass. It was all seamless and it took three minutes at most for her to verify all of my documents. I then made my way to an extremely packed security lane, where I was grateful to have TSA PreCheck access due to my Global Entry membership.

Line for ORD T2 security
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

Since my flight was delayed, I hung out in the United Club until it was time to board. When boarding was called, the gate agent asked that anyone who had not verified their documents so far go to the counter to have their passport, vaccine card and PCR test checked. There was some confusion here, but it turns out those who had documents checked at the baggage counter were fine to board the 737 MAX 8 that would eventually bring us to Toronto.

Once on board, we were promptly delayed because of the weather. Throughout the delay, Air Canada provided many updates and handed out PPE kits, snacks and water. The PPE kit included a medical mask, hand sanitizer and two sanitizing wipes. We were in the sky roughly four hours after our scheduled departure.

Air Canada PPE kit
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

Service on Air Canada was normal. Beverage service was offered on the short flight and I have no complaints beyond the delay (which was outside of Air Canada’s control). I have no qualms about recommending Air Canada for a short hop from the U.S. to Canada.

Air Canada wing
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

Related: Fly to a reopening Canada with wide-open award space on many airlines

Arriving at the Canadian border

We landed in YYZ, quickly deplaned and walked into the arrivals corridor. At this point, I was a bit nervous — my COVID test was now over 72 hours old, thanks to numerous delays that morning. Thankfully, I re-read the rule that states your test must be taken within 72 hours of boarding. PHEW!

Walking to arrivals hall at YYZ
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

I made my way to the arrivals hall and waited in a long line to get to a border control kiosk. Thankfully, it only took around five minutes to get through the line. At the kiosk, you need to scan your passport and answer a few quick questions. This includes things like the length of your stay, if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and if you have anything to declare. The machine will print out a receipt for you to bring to a border control agent.

After this, I walked to the border control desk and waited for an available border control agent. When it was my turn, a friendly agent asked me about the purpose of my trip. He then scanned my passport and asked for a copy of my COVID-19 test. He said he was already able to see my vaccine card in the system — likely due to the ArriveCAN app.

Canadian border booths
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

After this, he put a sticker on my passport and gave me a COVID-19 information card. I was then free to go to baggage claim and exit the security area. Another agent collected my landing card from the kiosk on my way out of baggage claim, and another asked to see the sticker on my passport. Both waived me on, and I was free to explore Canada.

Related: 5 small Canadian cities you can use points and miles to visit in 2021

Bottom line

Visiting a country right after it reopens for tourism can be stressful. As I experienced in Iceland, you’ll sometimes deal with uninformed border agents and general confusion at the airport and at the border. Thankfully, Canada wasn’t like this — aside from my flight delay, everything was seamless, from the Air Canada check-in counter to the brief interaction with a border agent. In fact, it was almost as easy as a pre-pandemic trip to Canada.

So if you’re considering a Canadian vacation this year, don’t hesitate to book it if you meet the entry requirements. Make sure to pack your vaccine card, PCR test and ArriveCAN app, and you will enter the country with ease. Just prepare for a long line at check-in.

Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy

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