Canadian border re-opening: phased approach for fully vaccinated travellers
The Government of Canada is undertaking a phased approach to re-opening the international border. While the government has had limited exemptions to the travel prohibitions throughout the pandemic, the loosening of the restrictions will allow more freedom of movement across the border for fully vaccinated travellers. This is welcome news for tourism sector businesses and those individuals looking to travel to Canada to visit relatives or simply hoping to travel to the country for vacations.
Throughout the pandemic, the federal government has enacted and enforced three Orders in Counsel which together restrict international travel into Canada and require various COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements. The phased re-opening plan has been loosening these federal travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. Please note that while more restrictions are set to be loosened for fully vaccinated travellers in the coming weeks, some provinces and territories have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in place that function independently to the federal government’s decisions. These provincial restrictions will also need to be considered prior to travelling to Canada.
Relaxation of US border restrictions for some fully vaccinated travellers
The Government of Canada took the first step of loosening the travel restrictions on August 9, 2021.¹ In recognition of the close ties between the US and Canada, this step included allowing fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents who reside in the United States to travel to Canada for optional or discretionary purposes.² Similar provisions are in force to allow fully vaccinated French citizens who currently reside in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon to enter Canada for non-essential travel.
It is important to recognize that the Government of Canada has currently specified that this re-opening is only for the groups mentioned above and does not extend to other foreign nationals even if they are travelling from the US or Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. Also, while the travel restrictions have been loosened for the above-mentioned individuals, there are still essential pre-travel steps that must be taken before travelling to Canada.³
Removal of quarantine hotel requirement and additional airports accepting international flights
The federal government also undertook several other actions on August 9 to ease the quarantine requirements. Potentially most the impactful move was to eliminate the three-day government authorized hotel stay requirement for all travellers arriving by air. While fully vaccinated travellers can qualify for an exemption to the federal quarantine requirement, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated travellers must still quarantine for 14 days after entering Canada despite the removal of the three-day mandatory hotel stay. Nonetheless, all travellers must still provide a quarantine plan and be prepared to quarantine, in case it is determined at the border that they do not meet the necessary requirements to qualify for a quarantine exemption.
Additionally, all international commercial flights travelling in Canada had been required to arrive at the airports located in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver since February 3, 2021. As of August 9, five additional airports were approved to receive international flights, including:
- Halifax Stanfield International Airport;
- Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport;
- Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport;
- Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport; and
- Edmonton International Airport.
Updates to post-arrival testing requirements
The Government of Canada has made modifications to their post-arrival testing strategy for fully vaccinated travellers. This includes fully vaccinated travellers only needing to undergo a post-arrival test if they have been randomly selected to complete a day 1 COVID-19 molecular test. Non-vaccinated individuals will still be subject to testing upon arrival and a further test on the eighth day after their entry to Canada.
Despite the relaxation in testing for vaccinated individuals, there are no changes to the requirement that all travellers, whether fully vaccinated or unvaccinated, must have a pre-entry COVID-19 molecular test result.
Upcoming changes to non–US travel restrictions
The federal government also announced that on September 7, 2021, the international border will be open to any foreign national who qualifies as a fully vaccinated traveller.⁴ While the government has announced September 7 as the date, it is important to note that this is tentative and is dependent on the domestic epidemiologic situation remaining favourable.
As you will note, the federal government’s phased re-opening of the international borders is only removing the travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. To qualify as being fully vaccinated for Canada’s purposes, travellers must meet the below requirements:
- have no signs or symptoms of COVID-19;
- have received the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine or a combination of accepted vaccines
- Vaccines that are currently accepted include:
- Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty, tozinameran, BNT162b2)
- Moderna (mRNA-1273)
- AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD (ChAdOx1-S, Vaxzevria, AZD1222)
- Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (Ad26.COV2.S)
- Vaccines that are currently accepted include:
- have received your last dose at least 14 days prior to the day you enter Canada;
- upload your proof of vaccination in ArriveCAN.⁵
If a traveller can demonstrate that they meet the above requirements then they will be considered fully vaccinated for travel purposes. We note that the approved vaccine list may be expanded in the future, but is currently restricted to the vaccines listed above.
Of course, it is important to recognize that the Canadian Border Service Officers will continue to make the final determination of whether an individual qualifies for entry to Canada regardless of vaccination status.
The loosening of the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers is a pleasant change for many businesses and travellers who have struggled due to the strict border restrictions and quarantine requirement. These changes make the assessment of whether a traveller is authorized to enter the country more accessible to the average individual as it would in many cases reduce the considerations to one factor – whether an individual qualifies as a fully vaccinated traveller. Also, the changes, including removal the government accommodations requirement and more airports eligible to accept international flights, make planning travel to Canada cheaper and easier.
While the travel restrictions are loosening, the restrictions and quarantine requirements as well as immigration rules can at times remain very complex. Our immigration team of lawyers are able to help you review your options under the existing exemptions and to advise various pre-arrival and post-arrival requirements.
This update is intended for general information only. If you have questions about the above, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.
¹ Public Health Agency of Canada, Easing border measures for fully vaccinated travellers entering – Permitting discretionary travel for citizens and permanent residents of the United States, online.
² These fully vaccinated travellers from the US must also be otherwise admissible to Canada including criminally and medically admissible.
³ Public Health Agency of Canada, COVID-19 vaccinated travellers entering Canada, online.
⁴ Public Health Agency of Canada, Government of Canada announces easing of border measures for fully vaccinated travellers, online.
⁵ Government of Canada, COVID-19 vaccinated travellers entering Canada, online.
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