The US-Canadian land border has (finally) reopened. Here’s what you need to know.
This morning, the United States reopened its land border crossings to foreign citizens, after a 19-month COVID lockdown that remained in place long after the resumption of non-essential air travel, and months after Canada opened its border to incoming Americans.
Foreign citizens can now enter the US by land or passenger ferry, without the need to show a negative COVID test, though anyone 18 or older must carry proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. As before, these restrictions do not apply to US citizens, US permanent residents or lawful immigrants.
Also new this week is a stricter requirement for air travellers; previously, you’ve needed proof of a negative antigen or molecular test to fly into the US, but now you’ll need proof of full vaccination as well.
The US Center for Disease Control has confirmed that any two-dose combination of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca is acceptable, including anyone who’s had a mix of any two of these. Covaxin, Covishield, Sinopharm and Sinovac are also accepted in two-dose regimens, and the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is accepted as well.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says it will have border crossings fully staffed to pre-pandemic levels, but still warns of longer wait times than you might remember from before the pandemic. While CBP representatives urged travellers to have the correct documentation ready, it sounds like all passengers will be asked about their vaccination status, but document checks will be randomly-determined.
Fully-vaccinated Canadians can now re-enter Canada without the need to quarantine, though any unvaccinated child under age 12 cannot attend school, camp, daycare or any other crowded setting for 14 days after re-entering Canada. Presumably this will change once vaccination becomes available to children under 12, but no confirmation has been published.
Testing Molecules, Testing Patience
While travellers entering the US by land or ferry won’t need to show any form of COVID test, all non-essential travellers over the age of four entering Canada - regardless of citizenship - must show a molecular test (PCR, NAAT, LAMP etc) taken within 72 hours of their return flight or planned arrival at the land border.
As I write this, Canada still refuses to accept rapid-antigen tests, though multiple reports suggest that this policy is currently under review. In the meantime, only the slower, more-expensive molecular tests are accepted. These tests are widely available at a variety of medical clinics, and at the CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid pharmacies you’ll find every few miles across America, though turnaround times for test results can run over 24 hours, so you’ll want to plan ahead for exactly where and when you’ll test.
Don’t leave this until the last minute; testing appointments book up quickly, and an unprepared traveller can find their options shrinking quickly.
On a recent visit, I was able to get a free PCR test at an everyone-welcome clinic run by the local fire department in Pontiac, Michigan, but on another recent trip to North Carolina, my first PCR test showed “inconclusive” the day before departure, leaving me the choice to rebook my flights and hotels at considerable expense, or hand over nearly $300 USD to a private-testing clinic that provided me with PCR-test results in under an hour.
In an unusual move, Canadian travellers crossing into the US on short trips can re-enter Canada using a test taken before leaving home, providing the test result is still less than 72 hours old. This won’t reduce the cost of the test – often well over $100 per person no matter where you take it – but you may find it more convenient.
Canadians who enter Canada without a negative test result could be fined up to $5,000 CAD.
For the latest updates to these policies, refer to these links: