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Traveling to Canada during the pandemic — what’s it like?

Sept. 01, 2021
7 min read
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I traveled to Canada in August to cover its reopening to vaccinated Americans. The reopening was uneventful — I was let in without issue, and the border crossing almost seemed too normal after being closed for over a year.

But what was Canada like on the ground? I visited Canada's two largest cities — Toronto and Montreal — to find out for myself.

I spent limited time in each city but made an effort to see what was open and closed. This will vary by province and city, but you can use my experience as a guide for Ontario and Quebec. Let's take a closer look.

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What it's like in Toronto and Montreal

The good news is that there are very few restrictions in Ontario and Quebec, at least at the time of writing this article. Most things are open as usual, and it felt very similar to when I visited both cities in late 2019.

Restaurants are open — but get a reservation

Indoor and outdoor dining is fully open in both Ontario and Quebec. In my experience, this includes everything from coffee shops to bars to fast food to fine dining. I ate at a handful of restaurants and drank a beer at a brewery, and I found the experience to be nearly the same as when I was in Canada last.

Having a nightcap at a Montreal brewery. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

That said, you'll want to get a reservation if you have your heart set on a particular restaurant.

Even on a Monday night, restaurants in Toronto were busy. Montreal wasn't much different with crowds in both the tourist center of Old Montreal and the hipster mecca of Mile End. Thankfully, most restaurants in both cities use OpenTable for reservations, so it's relatively easy to secure a spot.

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Coffee shops weren't quite as crowded, but like pre-pandemic times, you'll find remote workers seated with their laptops for hours on end.

As you'd expect, many restaurants are taking social distancing precautions seriously by limiting tables and adding plexiglass dividers between tables — but not all. A poutine shop I visited in Montreal was open with seemingly zero restrictions, but all the staff members were masked up.

Lastly, some restaurants and bars require proof of vaccination for entry. Keep a digital copy of your vaccine card or the card itself with you at all times, just in case you need it. I didn't have to provide my vaccine card or a negative test at hotels.

You may also be asked to fill out a contact tracing form at dining establishments.

Oh, and yes, the poutine in Montreal is still delicious.

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

Related: A beginner’s guide to visiting Montreal

Museums and other cultural sights

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

Many museums and other cultural sights — such as zoos, botanical gardens and planetariums — are open for business in Toronto and Montreal. Many of these opened for the first time since the start of the pandemic in July, so give yourself some extra time in case they're still working out the kinks.

Related: TPG’s guide to Canada’s provinces and territories: Where to visit, how to get there and where to stay

Public transit is business as usual

Public transit is running as normal in Montreal and Toronto. In Toronto, I rode the UP Express train from Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) to downtown without issue. The only major change was that the train was running every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes.

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

In Montreal, I took the Metro a handful of times to get around the city. It was just like I remembered from when I visited in 2019. The trains were fast, and there was very little wait time for the next train. Just know that trains get busy during rush hour, so plan accordingly if you want to avoid the crowds.

The Montreal Metro. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

Getting an Uber in both cities was easy enough, but like here in the U.S., there's an ongoing driver shortage. This means more expensive rides no matter where you're going. If you can, book your rides in advance to lock in a better price and ensure you actually get a ride.

Related: Unsung Heroes: An Uber driver talks how to get the VIP treatment and be a better traveler in 2021

Airports are busy

As I mentioned in the reopening guide, the customs line in Toronto was no joke. The customs area was filled with Americans traveling to Canada, and Canadian travelers returning home from other trips. The line took a while, but I eventually made my way out to the equally crowded airport.

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)

I also flew from Toronto (YYZ) to Montreal (YUL) later in the trip and was surprised at how busy both airports were. Like Americans, many Canadians seem to be mostly taking domestic trips right now. As a result, my flight from YYZ to YUL was almost completely full.

The moral of the story is to give yourself extra time when traveling. Arrive early for your flights, especially if they're domestic. And if you have dinner plans the night you arrive, take the earlier flight just in case the line takes longer to clear.

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

This could change with the delta variant

(Photo by Kay Liesenfeld/EyeEm/Getty Images)

As you're probably well aware, what's open and closed in Canada could change as the delta COVID-19 variant continues to spread. Despite having a high vaccination rate, Canada is experiencing a surge in positive coronavirus cases right now.

As a result of this spread, the U.S. Embassy has upgraded Canada to a Level 3 travel advisory which urges U.S. citizens to "reconsider travel" due to the coronavirus pandemic. Take this into consideration as you plan your trip to the Great White North — if you're uncomfortable visiting now, a trip later down the road might make more sense.

While I hope things stay open in Canada, there's a chance that we may see Canadian provinces change their existing regulations in response. Keep a close eye on the news for the province and city you plan on visiting to get up-to-date information on restrictions.

Related: Long delays, but surprisingly anticlimactic: What it was like to enter Canada by car

Bottom line

If you're vaccinated and comfortable with traveling abroad, I highly recommend a trip to Canada. Many of its largest cities are reopening for tourism, so we can once again visit their delicious restaurants, amazing cultural sights and everything else the country has to offer.

Planning a trip? Make sure to check out our full points guide to Canada — here, you'll find tips for booking flights and hotels with your points.

Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy.

Featured image by (Photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
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75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023