With the Canadian/US land border finally opening for Canadians on November 8 and international flights more regularly underway, many Canadians are ready to get back out there. But as COVID-19 is still here and yet to transition to an endemic phase, it’s understandable that some remain hesitant to go on trips and navigate the many remaining COVID-related protocols still in place.
In this article, I’ll provide insight on the experience of travelling between Canada and the US and what travellers can expect along the way.
The information provided in this article is based on available travel information for Canada-to-US trips and the experience Odenza’s President, Rick Peters, recently had during a week-long trip to Las Vegas.
Crossing the Land Border vs Flying
One of the most recent developments at the time of writing has been that the Canadian-US land border will be opening for Canadians to travel through to the US on November 8, 2021.
Differences: Land Border & Flights
Important Note: As the guidance surrounding land border crossings and international travel can regularly change from day to day, be mindful that some of the information and noted requirements contained below may change after the date of this article’s publication.
There are a couple of important points to keep in mind when comparing crossing the land border and taking flights into the US.
First, if crossing the land border to the US, Canadians will only need to provide proof of full vaccination and have received both doses – or one dose, when considering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The US has confirmed they will also accept Canadian travellers who’ve received mixed doses (e.g. 1 Moderna & 1 Pfizer, 1 AstraZeneca & 1 Moderna, etc.).
A notable difference between land border crossings and flights into the US is that those crossing via the land border will only need to show proof of vaccination, while flights will still require a negative PCR test within 3 days prior to flying in along with proof of full vaccination.
These rules are even more stringent for individuals who are not vaccinated. For any eligible traveller who will be entering the US via a flight and is not vaccinated, they must submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours prior to departure – a negative test within 3 days prior to departure will not be accepted for the majority of unvaccinated.
There are some exemptions to this 24-hour requirement. Children under the age of 18 who are not vaccinated will not have to produce a negative test within the 24-hour window prior to departure, but they will still be required to submit a negative test within the 3 days prior to departure.
It’s also important to note that while the US is not currently requiring PCR tests to enter via the land border for those who are fully vaccinated, the Canadian government still requires visitors or returning travellers to have received a negative PCR test within 72 hours of crossing the border back into Canada, regardless of vaccination status.
• Crossing land border into the US: Proof of full vaccination required
• Crossing land border into Canada, Flights into the US, & Flights into Canada:
○ Negative PCR test within 72-hour window prior to crossing (land or air) border + proof of full vaccination required
○ For unvaccinated Canadian travellers flying into the US, they must provide a negative PCR test within 24 hours prior to their departing flight (some exemptions apply)
Flying to Las Vegas from Vancouver, BC: Real-World Example
In September, Odenza’s Rick Peters went for a week-long trip to Las Vegas. He departed out of Vancouver International Airport and flew back via Las Vegas’s McCarran International (expected to be officially renamed Harry Reid International Airport before the end of 2021).
Below is a breakdown of his experience preparing for his flight, completing the required PCR tests, providing proof of vaccine, and how the process played out when leaving for the US and returning to Canada.
Heading to the US
When flying into the US, there were two key prerequisites Rick had to account for: proof/confirmation of vaccination status and completing a Rapid Viral Antigen test with a negative test result for COVID-19.
Rick completed the Viral Antigen test through Bon Voyage Medical, who’ve partnered with Air Canada for rapid testing. Tests can also be conducted at Vancouver International Airport, with the test site itself located in the US departures area. The testing site in the airport was open from 7 am to 7 pm, and the rapid test results are typically produced within 3 hours.
As you likely expected, the test involves using a Q-Tip/cotton swab and running it along the outer-perimeter of the nose. Importantly, Rick noted that the test did not involve pushing the cotton swab further up the nostril as was common with rapid testing in the early days of COVID-19. So, chances are you will face a less unpleasant testing experience than in the past.
The cost of having the Rapid Viral Antigen test was $110 (CAD).
It’s worth noting that Air Canada offers additional options for rapid tests (such as through Bon Voyage Medical) and are now offering portable self-administered testing kits that travellers can use while abroad – making it easier to meet Canada’s ongoing requirements of a negative PCR test prior to returning.
Rick completed his test the day before his travel departure.
Another point worth noting is that COVID-19 rapid tests can be susceptible to returning false-positives (saying you have COVID-19 when you don’t). It’s a good idea to complete a test at least 48 hours prior to departure in case of a false-positive. This way, you still have time to run another test and confirm whether the positive result is accurate.
Once through security and at his departure terminal, Rick needed to present to proof of vaccination and sign a declaration of his vaccinated status. As is the case with most airports and airlines, masks were mandatory throughout the transit process – Vancouver Airport, during his flight, and at McCarran/Harry Reid International in the US.
During the week-long vacation in Vegas, Rick stayed at the Aria Resort & Casino.
Masks were mandatory in indoor settings but optional when outside. In terms of vaccine mandates, they do not apply on a state or city level in Nevada or Las Vegas, respectively, but different businesses and events may require proof of vaccination in order to enter their premises.
Throughout the week, it was clear that Vegas was in a much better state than it had been in 2020. Conventions were underway and many hotels, casinos and/or resorts were undertaking renovations in preparation for continued increases in tourists.
Major conventions, such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), have already booked their space for their 2022 events.
Be mindful that, due to the staff shortages the hospitality industry has seen because of COVID-19, some restaurants in Vegas opened for limited hours due to being short-staffed. This will likely remain an issue for some time still, so make sure to keep more options on the table for when and where you want to eat and drink.
Overall, the trip was a relaxing, well-handled and welcome experience.
Flying Back to Canada
When returning to Canada, many of the same requirements had to be met. Along with producing a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure, Rick also needed to provide proof of vaccination and ensure he had filled out the requisite information on the ArriveCAN website/app.
The ArriveCAN site/app allows Canadian travellers to submit relevant information such as their vaccine status, their PCR test results, the last 14 days of their travel history, as well as any other relevant COVID-19 information. Once filled out, an ArriveCAN receipt is provided via email, which can then be shown to a Canadian border services officer upon arriving in Canada (via land or air).
As Rick was staying at an MGM-owned property, he was able to have a PCR test conducted in his room. Currently, MGM has partnered with Community Ambulance Service in Las Vegas to provide professionally conducted PCR tests in-room. Similar to his test prior to leaving Canada, this one involved the use of a Q-tip/cotton swab to take a sample from the nose.
About 20 minutes later, the result of the test was finalized and Rick was provided with a copy for his flight back. He added the negative test result as needed on the ArriveCAN site.
Then it was simply a matter of heading to the airport, following the applicable guidelines, and showing his proof of vaccination and PCR test results for boarding his flight. With all necessary arrival information filled out on ArriveCAN, he could sit back and relax as he made his return flight to Vancouver, BC.
Thanks to being fully vaccinated and having all his documentation in order, the arrival in Vancouver was hassle-free and there was no need to quarantine upon his return.
Get Back Out There!
Hopefully, with all of the above information, we’ve been able to provide you with a clearer picture of what to expect whenever you’re ready to get back out there and fly (or drive) across the US border.
It’s been a tough couple of years, to say the least, but the world is starting to open back up again. Along with the US opening on November 8, many other countries are either already open or are now into the process of finalizing their roadmaps to reopening.
While there are new steps to be accounted for when travelling – and it may take some time to get used to these steps – one thing is certain: it’s an absolute joy to be able to travel again!