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

Sep 1, 2021

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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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In This Post

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.

Bar in Montreal
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.

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)
(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.

UP Express train
(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.

Montreal metro
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.

Line at Canadian border
(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

Montreal in the fall
(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. 

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