Canada has very strict regulations for visitors to the country and violating those regulations can result in severe penalties or even jail time. The “essential travel” requirements that the United States and Canada have adopted are still in place. You must be traveling for an essential travel if you are trying to enter Canada by land or water. To see the current status of this requirement and for a complete discussion of what constitutes essential travel see our post on “Coronavirus Travel Issues”. The Travel Issues post covers a wide range of additional issues that are applicable to both the U.S. and Canada so be sure to read it after finishing this post. We have a separate post on U.S. Covid-19 travel restrictions.
We have links to numerous resources at the end of this post to help you get more information on the topics we discuss below.
Penalties for Violating Canadian Covid-19 Regulations
You should think long and hard before trying to deceive a Canadian border official about why you are entering Canada, what you intend to do, or what your quarantine plans are. We say this because a fair number of U.S. travelers have entered Canada under false premises in order to simply vacation. This has angered Canadians, and citizens are reporting suspected violators. People driving cars with U.S. plates say they’ve endured vandalism and harassment from Canadians. Boaters who appear to have entered Canadian waters from the U.S are also being turned in.
If you are caught violating Canadian Covid rules here are your possible penalties:
- Canadian law enforcement is handing out fines of $1,000 per person. A family of 4 will face $4,000 in fines.
- If you violate the quarantine orders we describe below, you can be hit with up to a $750,000 fine and/or six months jail time.
- If your actions are considered to have endangered a Canadian’s life, penalties can increase to a $1 million fine and three years in prison.
- In addition, your deception is likely to go into your border crossing record and you may have a hard time ever entering Canada again.
These penalties are not idle threats. The Canadian Government uses spot checks to confirm you are complying with the quarantine order. For example, if they find you sightseeing when you are supposed to be heading to Alaska, or into quarantine, they will definitely slap you with a fine.
Canadian COVID-19 Quarantine Rules
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has mandated that if you are allowed to enter Canada you are required to quarantine for 14 days. This isn’t a hint or suggestion; it’s a public health order. Upon entering Canada, travelers are required to provide their contact information and place of isolation to help monitor and enforce compliance with the 14-day isolation requirement. This applies whether you are arriving by any method – air, land or water. You must provide your air or by land must provide name, date of birth, quarantine or isolation address and telephone number information to a border services officer when entering the country. This information is collected for the PHAC so they can enforce the 14-day quarantine or isolation requirement.
ALL travellers entering Canada must wear a non-medical mask or face covering when crossing the border. This includes truck drivers. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), will attempt to provide drivers with a mask if they do not have one. Any face mask that demonstrates a reasonable “good-faith” effort to adhere to the requirement will be accepted. Acceptable masks could include the use of scarfs, bandanas or other materials.
Arriving in Canada by Plane
All international flights are being sent to a limited list of airports, and all passengers will be subject to a temperature check and a health assessment.
A non-citizen flying into Canada from the United States, or anywhere else, must be travelling for an essential purpose. Even if you are permitted to board the aircraft, you may be prohibited from entering Canada. Discretionary or optional travel for recreation, or tourism is not allowed. You must apply for a visitor Visa and / or an Electronic Travel Authorization – eTA. All travelers must wear a face mask of some type at all times during your travel.
Both air and rail operators for both countries will prevent anyone who is showing symptoms of the virus from getting on a plane – including Canadian citizens. Carriers are required to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger. If you are denied entry to the country because of covid, you will not be able to board a plane for 14 days, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms that your symptoms are not related to COVID-19.
All air passengers are now required to wear face masks at screening checkpoints or when physical distancing cannot be properly practiced. Air travelers returning from abroad will be required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering before they can proceed to their final destination. They will be provided with a mask if they do not have one. Passengers who defy the order will not be allowed to complete their trip. All passengers will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and placed into isolation if symptoms are shown.
Canadian Province Travel Restrictions
You should also be aware all Canadian provinces have enacted their own Covid rules and border restrictions. Several have mandated quarantine requirements. You may find province staffed checkpoints at province borders, and provinces may block travel from other provinces. Canadian provinces can assess their own fines and penalties for violating their rules so don’t ignore this step. The rules are changing constantly so make sure you have current information. We have links to Canadian Province Coronavirus websites at the end of this post.
Travelling to Alaska During Covid-19
Anyone who is not a Canadian citizen who wants to travel to Alaska will only be allowed to enter the Canada through the following five border crossings:
- Abbotsford-Huntingdon (British Columbia)
- Coutts (Alberta)
- Kingsgate (British Columbia)
- North Portal (Saskatchewan)
- Osoyoos (British Columbia)
You will be allowed a “reasonable period of stay” to make the journey, but you will be limited to following “the most direct route” to Alaska. You must avoid all national parks, leisure sites, and tourism activities along the way, and must report to Canadian border officers when you leave Canada.
You will be given a tag to hang from their rear-view mirror of your vehicle. That tag will include the date by which you must leave Canada. You will also be given a handout explaining that while travelling through Canada, you must:
- Avoid contact with others.
- Remain in their vehicle whenever possible.
- Not stop except when necessary.
- Practice physical distancing.
- Pay at the pump for gas.
- Use a drive-thru to order food.
- Wear a mask or face covering.
- Use good hygiene at rest areas.
Failure to comply with the rules could lead to fines of up to $750,000 and six months in jail. If you are deemed to have caused risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm by violating these rules, the penalties can be raised to $1 million in fines and three years in prison.
Canadian Family Member Exception
Immediate family members of Canadian citizens, or permanent residents who are foreign nationals, can enter Canada to be reunited. To be allowed in, you must be fall into one of the following categories:
- Common-law partners
- Dependent children and their children
- Parent or Step Parent
- Legal Guardian or Tutor
- Siblings ARE NOT part of the exception
You must have a plan to stay in Canada for at least 15 days, and you will have to self-quarantine for 14 days as soon as you enter the country.
The family member in Canada who you will be reuniting with will have to confirm they have a suitable place for you to self-isolate for the first 14 days of the stay, and specify where how you will be able to access food and medication. The place of quarantine cannot be where you would have contact with a vulnerable person such as a senior or someone with pre-existing medical conditions, unless that person consents. It will be possible for foreign nationals with immediate family in Canada to come for 14 days or less, but they need to prove that their reason to come is not discretionary and that they can comply with the quarantine. This measure does not to allow people to come and go into Canada whenever they like, but rather to help Canadian families reunite.
This exception does not eliminate the other elements of the travel restrictions – you must still be symptom free, and you must comply with all of the normal requirements to be allowed into Canada. In addition, you must review the covid-19 websites of the province or territory you are entering as you must also follow their quarantine and public health requirements. We list those websites at the end of this post.
- International students with a valid study permit, or
- International students approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020, or
- International students coming from the United States
Upon arrival to Canada, students will be evaluated by a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer subject to the following conditions:
- Proof the student is exempt from the travel restrictions and is travelling for a non-optional or non-discretionary purpose.
- The student is already living in Canada
- The student is able to complete a 14-day quarantine period as soon as they arrive to their destination in Canada.
- The student will begin studying after they complete the quarantine.
- The student needs to be in Canada for their program (e.g., for workshops or laboratories).
- The student’s school does not offer them the option to pursue their studies online or if it is not possible for the student to study online from their home country due to internet restrictions or bandwidth limitations.
Be prepared with the proper documents before you head to Canada. Make sure you have one of the following:
- A valid study permit, or
- If you are arriving from the U.S., a port of entry letter of introduction that shows you were approved for a study permit, or
- A port of entry letter of introduction that shows you were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020 if you are coming from any other country than the U.S.
A port of entry letter is a letter you will receive from the Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Agency once you are approved for a study permit.
Covid Help Line for Canadians
Canadians who believe they are engaged in essential travel, but encounter difficulties getting across the US border, can call for help using a hotline established by the Canada Border Services Agency, The agency’s Border Information Service, which usually operates under limited hours and provides recorded advice, is now available 24 hours a day and staffed by actual service agents. It can be reached at 1-800-461-9999. If you are outside of Canada you can call 1-204-983-3500 or 1-506-636-5064.
Temporary Covid-19 Vehicle Rules
The Canadian CBSA has implemented a new temporary policy that will allow you to use a vehicle with United States license plates in order to get home. You will allowed to temporary import the U.S vehicle without paying duties and taxes. The rules require that the vehicle is only to be used to get you from the border to a specified destination in Canada and return; the vehicle may remain in Canada for a period not exceeding 60 days from the date of importation; and during this time, the vehicle cannot be used for any local use, for touring purposes, or for other leisure activities in Canada.
Canadian Coronavirus Websites
Below are some of the Canadian government websites which should display the latest guidance on COVID-19 and any rules and restrictions in place for travelers.
- Canadian COVID-19 coronavirus rules and restrictions
- Canadian Family Exemption Order
- Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)
- Canadian Travel Advisories
- Government of Canada COVID-19 coronavirus information line: 1-833-784-4397
- Canada has produced an information sheet discussing the coronavirus for travelers returning from abroad
- British Columbia Covid website
- Alberta Covid-19 Website
- Saskatchewan Covid-19 Website
- Manitoba Covid-19 website
- Ontario Covid-19 Website
- Quebec Covid-19 Website
- New Brunswick Covid-19 Website
- Nova Scotia Covid-19 Website
- Newfoundland and Labrador Covid-19 Website
- Prince Edward Island Covid-19 Website
- Northwest Territories Covid-19 Website
- Nunavut Covid-19 Website
- Yukon Covid-19 Website
- Official Canadian announcement defining essential travel
- Student Information from the Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Agency.