Update: 3/30/20: If you are a still traveling for an essential service be aware that many services that you might normally use could be closed. These include roadside rest stops with bathrooms and the number of operating restaurants. You should plan meals and your other stops carefully. Restaurants along your route may be offering take-out, but many, if not all, have closed sit-down dining. Fast food places with drive-thru windows are not always allowing walk-up customers. You should consider carrying 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.
We have also seen recommendations to carry your passport so you can prove that you have not been to a restricted country recently. Border officers are definitely performing the enhanced screening measures we describe below.
3/29/20 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.
3/24/20 Washington State Ferry service between the U.S. and Canada has been suspended until at least April 26. This suspension includes the routes serving Anacortes, and Sidney, British Columbia. San Juan Islands service will continue. To receive updates of changes to the ferry service you can sign up for ferry email alerts or check the Washington State Ferry website
3/22/20 Update: Canada will allow its citizens to enter the country in a vehicle with U.S. license plates in order to get home. See details below.
3/21/20 Update: To slow the virus spread and protect their toll takers, most of the bridges that span the U.S. Canadian border are eliminating the use of cash to pay tolls. You will need to use a credit card, debit card, or a cashless bridge account.
Covid-19 coronavirus Travel Restrictions Now In Effect
The border between the U.S. and Canada, and the U.S. and Mexico is now closed to all non-essential traffic. The borders will not be physically closed. Instead, you will only be allowed to cross the borders for “essential travel.” Prohibited, “non-essential travel” is mainly traveling for tourism including sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events. At this time, the travel restrictions do not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada.
The list of essential travel is very lengthy, difficult to read, and may change. Despite the length of the list, it is not always clear what falls under the essential travel definition. It is intended to be a guideline and border officials can use their discretion on how to interpret your trip and whether to allow you to enter the country. It is possible that essential workers will at some point be required to have some sort of documentation to prove the purpose of their travel but that has not yet been defined. 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. Below is a general summary of items considered essential travel:
- Individuals traveling for medical purposes
- Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions
- Individuals traveling to work in the United States
- Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes
- Individuals engaged in lawful cross-border trade
- Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel
- Members of U.S. Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, returning to the United States
- Individuals engaged in military-related travel or operations
All land ports of entry to the United States, Canada and Mexico are OPEN and there are no plans to close ANY of them.
Both countries will continue to use “Enhanced Health Screening” at various airports, ferry terminals, rail, and land ports of entry. Officers at the crossings are allowed to quarantine any travelers they suspect are ill. You should now suspend non-essential travel of any type. Many U.S. and Canadian locations are implementing shutdowns of restaurants and other non-essential services. Gas stations will remain open.
If you are considering any international trips – DON’T. If you must, you should first check travel advisories to the countries you are planning to visit. Both the United States and Canada have restricted travel to many parts of the world. We have links to the official government travel advisories below. In addition, the European Union is implementing a similar ban on non-essential travel and may not allow foreigners into their countries. New restrictions may be imposed with little warning, and it is possible you could be stuck outside of your home country. You should realize that even if you do not actually catch the coronavirus in a foreign country, you face the risk of being denied boarding on your return flight home if you show fever or other COVID-19 symptoms – even if they are from something like food poisoning. You may then end up stuck for some time in quarantine and the medical system of the country you are trying to leave.
Foreign nationals from countries other than the U.S., Canada or Mexico are likely to be denied entry to the U.S. or Canada unless they are permanent residents 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.
Enhanced Coronavirus Health Screening When Entering the United States
You must be prepared to answer questions from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers about the purpose of your trip, recent travel, and general health. If you raise a red flag you will be referred to a secondary screening.
To determine who should receive additional screening, CBP officers will:
- Examine your travel history records in their database. They 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
- Make their own visual observations as to whether they feel there is a potential health issue
- Examine your self-declarations about recent travel
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has dispatched personnel to several U.S. border crossings and airports to assist with the secondary examination of travelers. If there are not CDC personnel at the port of entry you are using, the CBP officers may contact the CDC to get input on what steps to take
You will not be allowed to board a international flight which arrives in the U.S. if you shows any of the signs of Covid-19. All international travel arriving in the U.S. is being funneled to the airports below and passengers will be subject to a temperature check and a health assessment. These airports include:
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
- Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia
- Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
- Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
What Happens if a U.S. Citizen Re-entering the U.S. is Deemed a COVID-19 Health Risk
If you are a U.S. citizen and are deemed a potential Covid-19 risk, you will be allowed to enter the country but you may also be:
- Subject to a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days.
- Required to undergo a health screening and possible self-quarantine.
COVID-19 Restrictions When Entering Canada
Canada has closed its borders to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. Exceptions will be made for U.S. citizens, air crews, diplomats, and immediate family members. Those who are allowed to enter are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. The new border controls will not apply to trade and commerce in order to keep Canada’s supply chains open. Truck drivers are asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves for 14 days after trips to the United States if they show symptoms.
Snowbirds and travelers: when you arrive in Canada, do NOT go to get groceries, drop off your RV, or visit the grandkids. You go straight home for 14 days. This isn’t a hint or suggestion; it’s a public health order.
Like the U.S., Canadian border officials are asking health screening questions to identify those who have been to various foreign countries. You are required to tell a CBSA border services officer if you are sick or if you may have been exposed to anybody with the illness. Any traveller who shows symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, will be isolated from other travellers and CBSA staff. A Canadian or permanent resident will still be allowed into the country, but they will be taken immediately under the care of public health officials.
In addition, the following steps are being taken:
- For travelers who raise COVID-19 concerns you may be given a mask kit, containing a surgical mask and directions how to use it.
- Travelers who visited areas of concern will be told how to monitor themselves, how to self isolate, and how to contact local public health if symptoms develop.
- Travelers may also be given a Public Health Agency of Canada coronavirus form to fill out, allowing health authorities to monitor and track those identified as a potential concern and were asked to self-isolate.
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, subject to the following terms and conditions:
- 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.
This is what you can expect at the border if you are driving a U.S. licensed vehicle:
- A border service officer will explain the terms and conditions of temporarily importing your vehicle and if you agree, the officer will grant you a Temporary Admission Permit (E29B). While the vehicle is in Canada, you must always have this permit available in the event that you are asked about its importation.
- If you are unable to return the vehicle to the U.S. within the specified time period or have any questions regarding its importation, contact the nearest CBSA office before the expiry date indicated on your E29B permit. Please note that the time limit may be re-evaluated as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
- If you wish to use your U.S.-plated vehicle while you are in Canada, please make that known to the border service officer, who can help you permanently import your vehicle.
- The CBSA Memorandum D2-4-1 provides additional information concerning the temporary importation of vehicles by residents of Canada.
Entering Canada by Plane
Both air and rail operators will ban anyone who is showing symptoms of the virus from getting on a plane – including Canadian citizens. They are required to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger. 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. These measures will apply to aircraft with 10 seats or more but do not apply to commuter trains.
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 announced that they are setting up a program that will provide Canadian travelers 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. Only four Canadian airports will receive international flights. Domestic flights and flights from the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean will not be affected at this time.
- Pearson International Airport in Toronto,
- Vancouver International Airport,
- Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and
- Calgary International Airport
If you are coming from certain countries like China or Iran, you must declare this to the public health authority in the province or territory where you live – or are staying – within 24 hours of arriving in Canada. You must also provide your contact information so they may follow up with you. In addition, you will likely be asked to enter a 14-day self-quarantine.
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.
- List of Essential Services that determine if you can cross the border.
- State Department Covid-19 coronavirus webpage
- You may use the following link to search the 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
- Department of Homeland Security Covid-19 coronavirus website
- You can read the official document spelling out U.S. coronavirus travel restrictions
- Map showing all U.S. coronavirus cases
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.
- Official Canadian announcement defining essential travel
- Here is the link to the COVID-19 page for the Canadian Border Services Agency
- 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
See our updates and travel tips on the COVID-19 coronavirus travel restrictions.