Canada has introduced a number of new travel, testing and quarantine requirements and restrictions effective February 15, 2021 and February 22, 2021.

These measures will continue to evolve, as will details relating to their implementation. Anyone traveling to Canada, including Canadian citizens or permanent residents ("PRs") of Canada, whether by air or by land, should ensure that they check the most recent information before traveling.

We have broken down the new COVID-19 measures between entry by land and by air. There is also a section on exemptions.

Entry by Land

As of February 15, most travelers entering by land who are 5 years of age or older must provide proof of a valid negative COVID-19 molecular test taken in the United States within 72 hours of the entry to Canada. The test sample must have been provided within the 72 hour window before entry to Canada, so it is the time that the test is taken, not when the results are received, which is crucial.

The list of acceptable COVID molecular tests is available here: COVID-19 testing for travelers coming into Canada.

Foreign nationals who do not have proof of a required COVID-19 molecular test will be denied entry, unless they fall into one of the limited exemptions to the pre-arrival test requirement.

Canadians or PRs who do not have a valid COVID-19 molecular test will be allowed to enter, but may be subject to a fine of up to $3,000, and may be directed to a designated quarantine facility if they do not have a suitable quarantine plan.

As of February 22, most travelers entering by land are also required to do the following:

  • Use the ArriveCAN App before arriving at the port of entry.
  • Take another COVID-19 molecular test upon arrival if entering at one of 16 land ports of entry that will be conducting onsite tests. This onsite test is in addition to the pre-arrival negative COVID-19 molecular test outlined above. The ports of entry conducting onsite tests are listed here: COVID-19 testing for travelers coming into Canada.

As of February 22, these 5 ports of entry will have onsite testing:

  • Douglas, British Columbia
  • Coutts, Alberta
  • Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, Ontario
  • St. Bernard de Lacolle (Highway 15), Quebec
  • St. Stephen 3rd Bridge, New Brunswick

On March 4, a further 11 ports of entry will be added:

  • Ambassador Bridge, Windsor, Ontario
  • Blue Water Bridge, Sarnia, Ontario
  • Emerson, Manitoba
  • Fort Erie (Peace Bridge), Ontario
  • Huntingdon, British Columbia
  • Lansdowne (Thousand Islands Bridge), Ontario
  • Pacific Highway, British Columbia
  • Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, Ontario
  • St-Armand, Quebec
  • Stanstead (Route 55), Quebec
  • Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, Ontario
  • Take another post-arrival COVID-19 molecular test "toward the end of" the 14-day quarantine. The test kit is supposed to be provided upon entry.

For those entering by land, there is no requirement to book a stay in a government-authorized hotel. Travelers who are required to quarantine will have to provide a quarantine plan through the ArriveCan App and to CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) at the port of entry.

The Canadian government has created a "Driving to Canada" checklist for travelers entering by land: Canadian Government's Driving to Canada Checklist. This checklist, in conjunction with the IRCC website, is a useful tool regarding requirements.

Entry by Air

Since early January, most air travelers who are 5 years of age or older have had to provide a valid negative COVID-19 molecular test taken within 72 hours of their "scheduled departure time" for their flight to Canada. They also must download and use the ArriveCAN App before boarding the flight to Canada.

Airlines will not allow boarding unless the traveler produces proof of a valid negative COVID-19 molecular test result, unless the traveler has an exemption. The list of acceptable COVID molecular tests is available here: COVID-19 testing for travelers coming into Canada.

As of February 22, most travelers flying to Canada are also required to do the following:

  • Reserve a government-authorized hotel for 3 nights, prior to flying to Canada. Travelers must present proof of having reserved and pre-paid for this through the ArriveCAN App. Booking information and the list of hotels is here: Booking Government-Authorized Hotels. Travelers have reported long wait times trying to get through to book a hotel.
  • Take a COVID-19 molecular test at the airport, upon arrival in Canada. This onsite test is in addition to the pre-arrival negative COVID-19 molecular test.
  • After landing in Canada, non-essential travelers must stay in the government-designated hotel to await the results of the onsite COVID-19 molecular test, and most follow all requirements set out here: COVID-19 mandatory hotel stopover: Traveller expectations during hotel stay.

If the test is negative, the 14-day quarantine can be completed at another location pursuant to a quarantine plan. If the test is positive, the traveler will be contacted by Public Health with instructions, and will be required to isolate in either a federal quarantine facility or other suitable location.

  • Take another COVID-19 molecular test near the end of the 14-day quarantine. The test kit will be provided upon entry.

The Canadian government has created a "Flying to Canada" checklist for air travelers: Canadian Government's Flying to Canada Checklist. This checklist, in conjunction with IRCC, Transport Canada and airline websites, is a useful tool regarding travel restrictions and quarantine and test requirements.

Exemptions

There are some exemptions to the pre-arrival COVID test requirement, the post-arrival COVID test requirement, and the 14-day quarantine/hotel stay requirement.

The exemption regime is extremely complex and is set out in the applicable Order-In-Council (as of the date of writing, the current OIC is valid to April 21, 2021: Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Quarantine, Isolation and Other Obligations).

Both the "Driving to Canada" and the "Flying to Canada" checklists noted above also have links to testing and quarantine exemptions.

We will not set out all of the exemptions as that is beyond the scope of this article.

There are exemptions for some types of essential work and some "essential service" providers. A traveler who is exempt from the 14-day quarantine is also exempt from the 3 day hotel stay requirement, and the post-arrival testing requirement. For example, foreign technicians or specialists who are eligible for the quarantine exemption under the Chief Public Health Officer's (CPHO) group exemption should not have to stay in a hotel for up to 3 days upon entry, or undergo post-arrival testing.

Pre-arrival testing exemptions appear to be narrower than the quarantine/post-arrival test exemptions.

The Exemptions to Pre-Arrival Testing for Land Travelers include essential service providers as determined by the CPHO, persons in the trade and transportation sector such as truck drivers and persons who must cross the border regularly to go to their normal place of work.

There are fewer Air Traveler Exemptions to Pre-Arrival Testing. The exemptions include essential service providers as determined by the CPHO. It is not clear (as of February 22) what the CPHO pre-arrival testing exemption includes. Will it include some of the group quarantine exemptions that the CPHO has provided, or will it be very limited? Or will it only be available if the traveler obtains a PHAC opinion that they are exempt from the pre-arrival testing? We expect further clarification of this over the coming weeks.

In our view, there is significant risk for essential service providers to try to rely on a pre-arrival test exemption. There is the risk that airline personnel will prevent boarding by an essential services provider who claims to be exempt from the pre-arrival test requirement. There has been inconsistent application and implementation of the exemptions for some time and that is likely to continue. Therefore, it is prudent to obtain the pre-arrival COVID test even if the traveler may qualify for an exemption, to lower the risk of having travel disrupted.

Finally, please note that having a COVID vaccine does not provide an exemption. Therefore, proof of having the vaccine will not excuse someone from the COVID testing or the quarantine requirements.

Conclusion

We anticipate that the travel, testing and quarantine rules will continue to change.

Anyone seeking to travel or return to Canada should ensure that they consult the most up to date information. This government webpage is a starting point: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Travel restrictions, exemptions and advice. Airline, Transport Canada and provincial health sources should also be consulted.

It is extremely important to follow all rules and requirements. A breach of the rules can lead to penalties, imprisonment and fines. Canadian authorities have also increased follow up compliance checks on travelers arriving in Canada, to ensure that quarantine requirements are followed.