Covid-19 coronavirus Travel Restrictions Now In Effect
The “essential travel” requirements that the United States and Canada have adopted are still in place. You must be traveling for an essential travel as we describe below if you are entering either country by a land vehicle, commuter rail, ferry, or boating. This action does not apply to air, rail, or sea travel at this time. These travel restrictions are effective until July 21st, but it is likely they will be extended through at least this summer if a treatment or vaccine doesn’t become available.
This post provides details on all of the restrictions including facemask requirements, quarantine requirements, the definition of essential travel, the Canadian “Family Member” exemption, and more. At the end of this post we list the covid-19 government webpages for both the US and Canada. The United States and Canada have also reduced the operating hours of numerous border crossing ports between the two countries and we have a separate post which shows all of the Reduced Port Hours Along U.S. and Canadian Border.
If you are not a citizen of the U.S. or Canada, and you are trying to enter either country by land, you will most likely to be denied entry unless you are a permanent resident, or immediate family, of that country’s citizens. The U.S. will also refuse entry to anyone at both the northern and southern border that do not have proper documentation for lawful entry. This will result in an outright rejection of individuals even if they are seeking political asylum or refugee status.
What is “Essential Travel”?
The list of essential travel reasons is very lengthy, difficult to read, and may change. The full list of allowed travel can be found at the U.S. and Canadian government websites we include at the end of this post. Despite the length of the lists, it is not always clear what falls under the essential travel definition. The government orders are intended to be a guideline, and border officials will use their own discretion to interpret your trip and decide whether to allow you to enter the country. Border officers make their decisions on a case-by-case basis. Below is a general summary of items considered essential travel:
- Work related travel
- Trade and Commerce including truck drivers
- Medical purposes such as shopping for essential goods such as medication or goods necessary to preserve the health and safety of an individual or family
- Attend educational institutions. You will probably need to provide proof of enrolment at the border or airport.
- Emergency response and public health purposes
- Cross-border trade
- Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations
- Canada Only: immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents who are foreign nationals can enter Canada to be reunited. See details below.
- Alaskans may travel through Canada to return to their home in Alaska. You should be ready to make a convincing case so bring supporting documentation such as your passport, Alaska driver’s license, utility bills etc. You will be asked to limit stops along the way. Note that you will have 24 hours to get through the Yukon territory. Make sure you read the covid-19 restrictions for every province you will pass through as the penalties for violating restrictions can be significant.
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. Canadians have become angry about Americans breaking the rules and have begun looking for US license plates and then reporting violators. 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. Local police officers are handing out $1,200 per person fines for violating province restrictions. If you lie about heading to Alaska but then return to the lower 48, 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. If Canadian border officers catch you in a lie they can assess fines of up to $750,000 and 3 months in jail.
If you do not clearly fall into one of the essential travel categories, you should be prepared to discuss in great detail why you should be allowed into the country. Bring any relevant paperwork to prove what you are saying. If your reasons are borderline, you may spend hours trying to convince an officer to let you pass. If you are an American entering Canada, you will need to demonstrate that you have a suitable quarantine location, and that you have medical insurance that will cover you if you get sick. Come prepared.
One issue we have noted is that one government agency may say you can enter the country for a certain purpose, but the border officers still reject your entry. For example, you can call the Canadian Border Information Service Covid hotline who may you that you have a valid reason to travel but the Canadian Border Services Agency can still refuse you entry. To repeat, officers at the border have final say on whether you are allowed into their country. They can deny you entry based on hunches and instinct, and do not need a proveable reason to turn you away. See our post on how to prepare for your border crossing to increase your chances of being admitted.
You should also realize that even if you are making an essential trip, this does not change in any way the normal requirements to be allowed into either the U.S. or Canada. You must still have the required documentation, follow the rules on bringing prohibited items across the border, and are still subject to the issues with prior criminal offenses.
What is “Non-Essential Travel”?
You are likely to be turned around at the border if you are trying to cross for any type of “non-essential travel”. The following are examples of things considered NON-ESSENTIAL:
- Shopping or picking up something you ordered
- Visiting your spouse when you live in different countries. The Canadian Family exception does not allow you to come and go for a visit.
- Both spouses need to be citizens of the country they are trying to enter. If one spouse is a citizen, but the other is not, then only the citizen spouse will be allowed to entry.
- Visit family, friends, girlfriend or boyfriend, or fiancé. The Canadian Family exception does not allow you to come and go for a visit.
- Collecting mail
- Boating across the border for non-essential purposes. Border officials are patrolling waterways to ensure people are not crossing the border to evade the restrictions. In addition, many small vessel reporting sites, small airports of entry, ferry terminals and the Remote Area Border Crossing program have been shut down. The minimum fine for failing to report to the CBSA upon entry to Canada is $1,000 and a possible lifetime ban.
- Fishing or hunting;
- Attend a party or celebration
- Go to a restaurant for take-out
- Taking a shortcut through Canada to get to a U.S. destination faster
- Picking up a pet
- Opening or checking on a property such as a cottage or seasonal home
- Immigration Services
- When entering the U.S., a foreign national coming to temporarily reside with spouse or immediate family during the pandemic. Officers may however consider circumstances such as whether the individual is trying to avoid the pandemic or trying to ensure their partner’s health and well-being.
- Travelling to be a caregiver for a family member. Officers may consider factors such as whether there are other options for caring for the family member.
- Travelling for the birth of a child. This will be a judgement call and the officer may take into account factors such as hospital restrictions on visitation, which may prohibit a visitor who has travelled outside the country in the past 14 days.
- A spouse or child crossing the border with a truck driver transporting essential goods. The passengers may be admitted if they have no other way home or if they are a co-driver, but may be turned away if they do have alternate ways to return home.
Again, be aware that border officers have complete discretion on interpreting these rules. You may be allowed to cross the border one time, and be denied another time when you are traveling for the same reason. A specific detail can sometimes mean the difference between someone allowed entry into the country or being refused.
Penalties for violating Canada’s Covid-19 restrictions can be very severe: up to six months in prison and/or $750,000 in fines. If they feel you caused a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully, or recklessly, violating the regulations, you could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or 3 years in prison – or both.
Arriving in the U.S. or Canada by Plane
Both countries are funneling all international flights to a limited list of airports, and all passengers will be subject to a temperature check and a health assessment.
The essential travel restrictions do not apply if you are flying into the U.S. You can fly into the United States for any reason including recreational travel. Canadians cannot drive across the border into the US, but they can fly into the country. However, you will not be allowed entry if have recently visited a country on the U.S. list of restricted countries. You are not required to quarantine after landing in the U.S. unless it is required by the state or area you are visiting.
Canada is more restrictive. 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 U.S. or Canadian citizens. Carriers are required to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger. If you are flying into Canada, you will not be able to board a plane for 14 days after a denial, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms that your symptoms are not related to COVID-19.
The Canadian government is temporarily allowing passengers to board a domestic flight with an accepted government-issued identification that has expired after March 1, 2020. This is due to the difficulty in getting identification renewals, and is in effect until June 30, 2020. The Canadian government also announced a program that will provide Canadian travelers in foreign countries with financial assistance to help them with the costs of returning home or temporarily covering their basic needs while they wait to come back to Canada.
Other Coronavirus Travel Considerations
Make sure you check out the Covid-19 restrictions for the state or province you will be travelling through. There are a wide variety of restrictions in place and checkpoints along some routes. In addition, the rules are changing constantly so make sure you have current information. We have links to state and province Coronavirus websites at the end of this post.
If you do travel to another country, it is VERY important that you check with your medical provider to see if you will be covered if you get Covid while abroad. Many policies will NOT cover Covid, and you could be saddled with huge medical bills if you do get sick. A lengthy stay in a hospital could run as much as a million dollars without insurance. Also, remember that if you show symptoms you will not be allowed to fly home so your options may be very limited.
If you are traveling for an essential service, be aware that businesses that you might normally use could be closed. These include roadside rest stops with bathrooms and the number of operating restaurants. All of the provincial campgrounds in British Columbia and Alberta are closed to nonresidents. You should plan meals and your other stops carefully. Restaurants along your route may be offering take-out, but many have closed sit-down dining. Fast food places with drive-thru windows are not always allowing walk-up customers. You should consider carrying water and enough food to make your own meals. Many gas stations and truck stops are still open, but there are also many that are closed. Those that are open may have some limits on the services they offer such as washroom use. We have seen an outcry from truckers who say they have been denied access to a washroom, and some are therefore carrying portable toilets that are similar to a children’s potty.
Most of the bridges that span the U.S. Canadian border have eliminated the use of cash to pay tolls. You will need to use a credit card, debit card, or a cashless bridge account.
Enhanced Coronavirus Health Screening
Both countries are performing enhanced health screening at all of their ports of entry. You will be asked various questions about your health including whether you are sick or have been exposed to anybody with the coronavirus. Any traveler who shows symptoms of COVID-19 will be isolated from other travelers and from border personnel. The health screening may include:
- Questions about where you have been. They can examine of your travel history records in their database and will know exactly where you have been, so don’t lie when asked about countries you have visited.
- Question you and any other fellow travelers
- Visual observations as to whether there is a potential health issue
If you are considered at risk for the coronavirus, and you are a permanent resident of the country you are entering, you will still be allowed into the country. However, you will likely be put under mandatory quarantine. Canada has implemented even stricter health restrictions which you can read about below.
COVID-19 Restrictions When Entering Canada
Canada has stricter rules than the United States regarding the coronavirus for non-essential travelers. You should also be aware that various Canadian provinces have enacted their own border restrictions and you may find province staffed checkpoints at province borders. Provinces may block travel from other provinces in addition to restrictions on crossing the US border.
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. 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 they are arriving by anyone arriving in any mode – air, land or marine. You must provide your contact information to a border services officer when seeking entry. This information is collected for the Public Health Agency of Canada 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, as there is a limited supply of medical grade masks available. Acceptable masks could include the use of scarfs, bandanas or other materials.
In addition, 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.
Canadians who believe they are engaged in essential travel, but encounter difficulties getting across the 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.
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 Family Member Exception
Effective June 8 at midnight: 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. There are significant penalties if you violate the quarantine order: $750,000 and/or six months in prison. And if your actions endanger a Canadian’s life, those penalties can increase to a $1 million fine and three years in prison. The Canadian Government uses spot checks to confirm you are complying with the quarantine order.
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.
U.S. State and Canadian Province Travel Restrictions
Each of the 50 U.S. states have enacted their own regulations on travel within the state. To determine whether a trip you are planning will be limited by covid-19, you will need to examine the regulations for each state you wish to travel through.
Canadian provinces have also enacted coronavirus regulations and they may have their own set of quarantine and travel restrictions. These regulations change, so you must review the Covid websites we list below for each province you will be traveling through. Canadian provinces can asses their own fines and penalties for violating their rules so don’t ignore this step.
U.S. Government Coronavirus Websites
Below are some of the United State government websites which should display the latest guidance on Covid-19 and any rules and restrictions in place for travelers.
- Department of Homeland Security Covid-19 coronavirus website
- List of all U.S. state Health Department websites which spell out current state covid regulations for that state
- State Department Covid-19 coronavirus webpage
- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website
- The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the primary source of COVID-19 coronavirus medical information
- You can read the official document spelling out U.S. coronavirus travel restrictions
- List of Essential Services that determine if you can cross the border.
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