My experience getting a COVID-19 test at the airport in Canada
Earlier this week, I traveled to Canada to cover the country's reopening to fully vaccinated American tourists. The entry process was easy — all you need is proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 PCR test and the ArriveCAN app on your smartphone. You can read my full entry story right here on TPG.
I returned from Canada two days later and had to get a COVID-19 test to reenter the U.S. As a refresher: The U.S. government requires a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before your flight to the U.S. departs. This can be a rapid test, PCR test or approved at-home tests.
This time, I traveled to Canada without an at-home test in hand — largely because of ongoing issues with getting an appointment. So, I looked for an appointment in Montreal and found a testing center at Montreal Trudeau International Airport (YUL). I'll walk you through the process of booking an appointment and getting tested prior to my return to U.S. soil.
Let's take a look at how it went.
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How to find and book a COVID-19 test in Canada
Since I was returning to the U.S. from Quebec, I looked on the Quebec government's website to find a local testing center. This proved to be less than helpful. In short, it showed me local testing centers that are generally not for travel purposes. So, I then looked specifically for travel COVID-19 tests with a quick Google search.
Finding a COVID-19 test for travel in Canada
Here, I found a couple of different options. One was with Sante Medic — a local immediate care clinic. This company offers both PCR and antigen testing. You can purchase a PCR test for $199 CAD or a rapid antigen test for $150 CAD, equal to roughly $159 USD and $120 USD, respectively.
The other option was Biron, a Canadian healthcare company that runs a COVID-19 testing clinic at Montreal airport. You have three different options with Biron. The first is what most travelers to the U.S. will choose: a $149 CAD ($119 USD) rapid test with 15-minute results. You can also opt to get a PCR test with one-hour results for $299 CAD ($239 USD) or 48-hour results for $250 CAD ($199 USD). Of course, I opted for the rapid test.
Booking a COVID-19 rapid antigen test with Biron
I booked an antigen test online two days before my flight back to the U.S. I booked my test on Biron's website and selected the "Rapid antigenic" test, which promised 15-minute results. The sign-up process is pretty straightforward — start by picking the date you'd like to be tested and you'll move to a sign-up screen.
Here, enter your airline, destination country and the time you'd like to take your test. Biron recommends you pick a time that's at least 3.5 hours prior to departure. This should give you more than enough time to take the test, get results and head through security. In reality, it was more than enough time.
After this, follow the on-screen prompts to complete the booking process. You have to prepay for your test online and all tests are charged in Canadian dollars. Make sure you pay with a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card that earns 2x miles on all purchases.
Also remember that you'll need a PCR test to enter Canada, even if you're fully vaccinated. Check out TPG's full guide to getting a COVID-19 test for travel for more information on where to get one.
Related: Forget free breakfast: The hottest hotel amenity is a nasal swab
Getting a test at Montreal Airport
Actually getting the test was remarkably easy. Montreal airport has a single terminal, and the testing center is located near door 4 in the departures area. This is in-between the domestic and U.S. trans-border gates. If you're taking a taxi or Uber, ask the driver to drop you off near the door so you don't need to walk through the terminal.
There's a sign right near door 4 that directs you to the COVID-19 testing location. Follow the signs to the back of the terminal to find the testing center. The walk took less than a minute from the door.
Once there, I approached the check-in counter 10 minutes before my test was scheduled. The check-in representative directed me to sanitize my hands and proceed to another check-in desk. Here, another representative asked to see my passport and order confirmation email. The email states that the confirmation should be printed, but the agent didn't have a problem reading it off of my iPhone.
I then made my way to the testing booth and was immediately tested. The swab wasn't as deep as I've experienced with other tests and was completely painless. The person who tested me directed me to sit in a waiting area across from the testing booth until my results were available.
Roughly 20 minutes later, my name was called and I walked to another table where a Biron representative scanned my passport. She then handed me my test results (thankfully negative) and I was on my way.
Oddly enough, my test was never checked during the check-in, U.S. preclearance or boarding process. I wouldn't count on this being the case for all travelers, though. I like to think that this was an early reopening mishap.
Related: Going on vacation soon? Make sure you have the right COVID-19 test
All in all, it was easy to get a COVID-19 test in Canada, albeit expensive. But if you're traveling back to the U.S., there's no easier way to get tested than at the airport. For reference, you'll also find on-site COVID-19 testing at other major Canadian airports like Toronto (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR). Just make sure to secure an appointment ahead of time so your preferred time doesn't get booked up.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy.