Canada has very strict Covid-19 regulations for visitors to the country and violating those regulations can result in very severe penalties or even jail time. You must be traveling for an essential purpose if you are trying to enter Canada by land or water. 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.
Important Update: If you are flying into the country, read the new testing requirements below.
Who is Allowed to Enter Canada?
In addition to the general essential travel definitions, Canada will allow people with certain travel reasons to enter the country. You must check the websites we list below to confirm the details of these travel exceptions.
- Immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents who are foreign nationals can enter Canada to be reunited. See details below.
- International students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit, on March 18, 2020, who are travelling for non-optional and non-discretionary reasons. Be prepared to provide proof of enrolment at the border or airport. See details below.
- Work permit holders travelling for non-optional and non-discretionary reasons.
- Permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 18, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada.
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has carved out various other exceptions to the travel restrictions that only apply to limited groups.
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 and has teeth with huge fines and jail time penalties for violations. Only certain exempt individuals are not required to quarantine.
The definition of quarantine is strict. You must have a place where you can obtain the “necessities of life” without leaving your confinement. You cannot shop at grocery stores. You cannot run out to pick up a take-out meal. You cannot use any shared common spaces like the gym, lobby or courtyard of a condominium. About the only reason you can leave your confinement would be due to a medical emergency.
You should not be staying with high-risk individuals or in communal settings like student dorms, a shared small apartment, or a household with many family members living together. If you are sharing a house with family or friends who were not part of your quarantine, you must have a separate bedroom and bathroom. No guests are allowed to visit you – even if it is to be outside and two metres apart.
When you enter Canada you must provide your personal information such as name, date of birth, quarantine or isolation address, and telephone number information. This applies whether you are arriving by any method – air, land or water. This information is then used to enforce the 14-day quarantine or isolation requirement. Canada has set up websites and a new ArriveCAN app to help make the process easier. To use ArriveCan, you must enter your information 48 hours before arriving at a Canadian port of entry. Using the app will speed up the process for entering the country and it can also then be used to update your quarantine information. The app can be downloaded from the iOS, or Android app stores, or you can access it on the web. The data that is collected is sent to provinces and territories so they help ensure you are following your quarantine plan.
While in quarantine, visitors must submit a daily COVID-19 symptom self-assessment.
You may ask for approval for a limited release from mandatory quarantine. These are granted for specific situations where respecting the 14‑day mandatory quarantine period is not feasible, such as visiting a loved one who is critically ill.
ALL travellers entering Canada must wear a non-medical mask or face covering when crossing the border. This includes truck drivers. 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.
You may cut your stay short and leave the country before the full 14 day quarantine period is over. However, that means you are in full quarantine for the entire time you are in Canada. If you are denied permission to fly out of the country because you show Covid symptoms, you will need to stay in quarantine.
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. Canadians who suspect a visitor is violating the coronavirus restrictions have been encouraged to call the CBSA Border Watch Line at 1-888-502-9060 to report violators.
If you are caught violating Canadian Covid rules here are your possible penalties:
- Typically, 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 it is likely you will have a hard time ever entering Canada again.
These penalties are not idle threats. The Canadian Government has set up a large call center which makes live and automated calls daily to confirm you are complying with the quarantine order. If you cannot be reached, or if you are suspected of not complying with quarantine requirements, you will receive a visit from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or provincial police officers. These officers have full authority to issue fines of up to $1,000 and may ticket an individual again in the presence of repeated instances of non-compliance, resulting in multiple fines. If you still fail to comply with the regulations you can then face fines of up to $750,000 and up to 6 months in prison. Willfully or recklessly contravening the Quarantine Act can also result in fines of up to $1 million and 3 years’ imprisonment.
We have seen reports of people lying to CBSA officers about their intent to go to Alaska, but instead they simply head to resort areas. Some may in fact be going to Alaska but decide to do some sightseeing along the way. DON’T. In addition to the fines and possible jail time, your next attempt to enter Canada may result in an full secondary inspection and potentially a lifetime ban from Canada. What violators are forgetting is that border officers can see your entry and exit records.
All of the rules on land border crossing also apply to boaters and $1,000+ fines are being handed out to boaters who break the rules.
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. In addition, the mutation of the virus is triggering additional restrictions on travel from certain countries so make sure you review ALL restrictions before leaving.
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.
If you are flying into Canada you must submit your quarantine plan, contact info, travel details and a COVID-19 symptom self-assessment before boarding your flight. When you arrive, you must provide proof of that you completed the ArriveCAN submission by a receipt which is available online and through a mobile app. If you fail to do this, you may be subject to enforcement action, ranging from warnings to a $1,000 fine. Exceptions will be made for those unable to submit documents electronically due to personal circumstances, such as disability or inadequate infrastructure.
Important Update: PCR Test Requirement
Beginning January 7, 2021, all persons arriving in Canada by airplane MUST test NEGATIVE for Covid-19.
- All Persons age 5 or older must take a molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours – three days – before the scheduled departure time of the flight. You should expect that it will take at least a day to get your results so make sure you confirm exactly when you will get your proof of a negative test result.
- You will not be allowed to board the plane if you cannot submit written or electronic proof of a negative test result.
- You must be tested by a lab accredited by “an external organization” like a local government or a professional lab in the country you are departing from.
- If the country you are leaving from does not perform PCR testing, you may be allowed to board the plane, but upon landing you will be required to report to a Canadian quarantine facility maintained by the Public Health Agency of Canada. You will have to stay at the quarantine facility for 14-days.
- You must arrange for the test on your own and pay for the test unless your medical insurance covers the test costs. You should absolutely obtain travel insurance and make sure it will cover Covid-19 related expenses. The previously announced Emergency Loan Program will not cover the cost of testing or flight cancellations, or the costs related to quarantine after arriving back in Canada.
- At this time, proof that a traveller has been vaccinated against the coronavirus will NOT replace proof of a negative test.
- The only persons exempt from this testing requirement are children under five years of age, emergency service providers, airline crew members and people travelling on refueling flights.
- You must still quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the country and use the ArriveCan application to file your plans.
The Canadian government is not sympathetic about the difficulties these rules will cause because they simply do not believe you should be travelling at this time. This new test requirement makes it critical that you confirm that the country you’re travelling to can offer you a PCR test. They will be increasing the number of Canada Border Service Agents at border crossings and airports to enforce these new rules and to increase quarantine enforcement.
Canada has started a pilot project to give international travellers an alternative to the current 14-day quarantine requirement. This pilot is only offered at Calgary International Airport and the Sweetgrass / Coutts border crossing. If you are travelling through these ports you will being give the option to take a Covid-19 test and then self-isolate for 24 to 48 hours while you await your results. If you receive a negative test result, you may leave self-isolation on the condition that you remain in Alberta Province for 14 days, get another COVID-19 test within the next six to seven days and complete daily symptom checks. You are not eligible for this test option if you are showing any Covid-19 symptoms. This option DOES NOT change any of the “essential travel” requirements or any of the other Canadian Covid-19 regulations. It simply allows you to avoid the quarantine requirement.
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. Upon arrival in Canada, a traveler’s health and ability to quarantine will be assessed before they leave the port of entry.
All air passengers are 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.
If you do not arrive at a border crossing to exit Canada by the date you have been given, your license plate number will be circulated to Canadian police forces and you will be sought out and fined. 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.
Compassionate Exceptions and Limited Release from Quarantine
Canada has created a “Compassionate Exemption” from the strict border restrictions. You can also obtain a limited release from the mandatory quarantine. You will need to submit several different applications that state you wish to enter Canada based on one of the following reasons:
- You want to be present during the final moments of life for a loved one or to provide support or care to someone who is critically ill
- You need to provide care for a person who has a medical reason that requires your support
- You want to attend a funeral or end of life ceremony
You must receive ADVANCE APPROVAL for both the exemption to the border restrictions and a limited release from quarantine. If you do not get this approval in advance, you may be denied aircraft boarding or entry into Canada by land. In addition, without an approved release from quarantine, you’ll be subject to all mandatory quarantine requirements.
Each traveler must complete their own application forms. There are a number of requirements to complete the application including such things as a Letter of Required Support, or other documents such as proof of death, burial permit, death certificate.
Note that even if you get these approvals, it is possible that provincial or territorial quarantine requirements may still prohibit you from reaching your destination. You must check with the provincial or territorial health authority for your destination to verify any additional restrictions or exemptions. In addition, you may also need the permission of the site you’ll be visiting, such as hospitals.
Make sure you have everything you need before starting the application process. You won’t be able to save the online web forms once you start filling them out.
Be aware that it’s an offense under the Canadian Quarantine Act to provide a false or misleading statement. Lying on these forms could lead to up to 6 months in prison and/or $750,000 in fines.
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.
Entering Canada for School During Covid-19
Foreign students can enter Canada for schooling subject to the following conditions:
- 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
- International students who are attending a learning institution that has a COVID-19 readiness plan in place that’s been cleared by provincial or territorial health authorities. A list of approved schools will be posted and you will need to submit various documents to take advantage of this program.
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.
These new regulations will also allow immediate family members to accompany an international student to Canada if their reason for travel is non-optional or non-discretionary, such as getting established in Canada in support of the principal applicant’s study program. This could include a spouse or common-law partner, a dependent, or in the case of a minor child who will be studying in Canada, a parent or legal guardian.
Complete details on the International Student Travel Restriction Exemption can be found on this Canadian Immigration and Citizenship webpage.
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.
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
- Student Information from the Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Agency.