Canada Is Closed

Filed Under: Travel

Updated: 2 months ago.

Air Canada has suspended flights to the United States effective April 27th.

As of Wednesday, March 18th, the Canadian > U.S. border is closed to to “non-essential traffic”.

Goods will continue to move freely, or at least freely-ish, across the border, but tourism is a no-go.

Additionally, since Trudeau’s call for Canadian citizens and permanent residents to come home, there have been some questions about what Canadians abroad are entitled to.

The short answer is that, if a Canadian citizen or permanent resident presents themselves at a port of entry to Canada, they will not be denied admittance.

What that doesn’t mean is that Canadians have any sort of right to a mode of transport to get to a port of entry. Effective March 19, all passengers for departures to Canada will be subject to health screening at the point of departure. If a passenger has a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or has been denied boarding within the past 14 days for symptoms, the passenger will not be permitted to board.

We’re hearing reports that, as flights become more scarce, Canadians abroad are being charged exorbitant rates to fly home. The federal government is offering some assistance with that, in the form of emergency loans of up to $5,000. Canadians can access the program or seek other emergency assistance by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-613-996-8885.

Last night I wrote about the Canadian government recommending against non-essential travel (original post is below), but there has now been a significant escalation.

The federal government has announced that Canada’s borders are closing to all except Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, and US citizens, with exceptions for diplomats, airline crew members, and immediate families thereof.

The measures come as Canada’s confirmed COVID-19 caseload has doubled since Friday.

It would be a constitutional nightmare to try and bar Canadian citizens and permanent residents from returning home, though anyone entering Canada from abroad is at this point expected to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Prime Minister described the US citizen exemption as being due to close ties between the countries, but it is likely to facilitate the flow of goods across the border. Frankly, as the world’s longest unsecured national boundary, the Canada-US border would be extremely difficult to lock down in any event.

That said, the government is clear that the exceptions may not hold. As we have seen over the last couple of days, the situation in Canada is moving very quickly, and I wouldn’t count on a continued ability to enter the country for very long. As Trudeau put it, “Let me be clear. If you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home.”

From a logistical standpoint, only Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver will continue to accept international flights, although flights from the US, Mexico, the Carribean, and Saint Pierre & Miquelon still seem to be welcome at their regularly-scheduled airports.

The Canadian government has now issued an official advisory to Canadians recommending that we avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice. Let’s take a look at what that might mean for your upcoming trip and, if you want to cancel, what you need to do about it.

Do you really need to cancel?

My family, for one, has cancelled all our travel plans for the foreseeable future, and are practicing social distancing within certain bounds (schools are only closed beginning today, so those bounds have been limited).

This is because we don’t want the elderly and immuno-compromised people that we know to die, or the doctors we know to be put in the position of having to choose which patients get life-saving care and which do not.

If those reasons aren’t sufficient for you to cancel your spring break trip, however, there are a number of logistical risks to consider:

Will your vacation plans still be open?

Cruises are cancelling, Disney is closed, basically the whole country of Italy has put up a “Come Back Later” sign, and France seems to be following suit, so you may find yourself having flown out of country only to land somewhere that is effectively in a shutdown.

That’s a lot of money or miles to spend only to have nothing to see or do.

What will you do if you get sick?

While the elderly and immune-compromised are at highest risk, people of all ages seem to be having a rough go of COVID-19. A scary percentage of patients require hospital care and oxygen support.

Now that there’s a federal advisory in place, your travel medical insurance likely won’t cover you if you leave the country. Ignoring such an advisory, as far as your insurer is concerned, is you choosing to take on that risk yourself.

Even if the cost doesn’t cause you concern, this is a pandemic. The question isn’t just whether you have good insurance or cash, or are in a country with a decent medical system, but also whether that medical system is likely to be overwhelmed at a time when you might need it desperately. There are only so many ventilators to go around.

Will you be able to come back?

The federal government hasn’t shut the borders yet, but has also confirmed that doing so is not off the table. Even if the borders stay open, international flights are becoming fewer and further between both because of drops in demand and operational restrictions.

While getting stuck in Cabo indefinitely might not seem like the worst fate at first blush, the expense of an extended vacation is a serious risk, especially for Canadians whose jobs and compensation may be affected by the pandemic in the coming weeks and months.

Even if nothing changes, Canadians returning from international travel are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, which doesn’t sound like the best end to one’s vacay.

Ok, fine, I’ll cancel. Can I rebook or get my money back?

For many things at the moment, the answer is yes.

If you have cancellation insurance and booked your trip before the government’s advisory warning against your trip, the government’s official advisory will likely have triggered it. That said, once the COVID-19 threat started to grow, some Canadian insurers stopped selling coverage for it because it was considered a known risk. Check your policy or call your insurer to see where you fall.

Most airlines are now waiving change fees for travel that was booked before March and scheduled prior to April 30. The hold times are incredibly long – a friend posted her predicted hold time with WestJet at 1607 minutes – but you will be able to re-book, at least. If the crisis worsens and lengthens, which most people expect it will, policies will likely become even more flexible.

Cruise lines are also offering refunds or credit to cancel, and hotel policies are evolving quickly towards refunds

Finally, stay safe. Wash your hands and look out for the vulnerable people you know. Get the phone number of your elderly neighbour so they can text you if they run low on essentials. Check in on your immuno-compromised, disabled, or chronically-ill acquaintances to find out how you can help. We still need each other, even from a distance.

  1. How about hotels (non big chain) where cancellation policy has passed? Do you know if this qualifies for trip cancellation for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card? I booked through Agoda and they had a 30 day prior fee free cancel policy which I am now in day 28 unfortunately.

  2. The Australian and New Zealand governments have now implemented a 14 day self isolation quarantine rule effective now for all travellers entering (only exception are Pacific Islanders into New Zealand). That pretty well halts about 90% of all Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand international flights.

  3. I really have to commend the team at OMAAT.

    It is my firm belief your suggestions are the right ones. This is the ethical thing to do. While I understand many bloggers rely on their blog to make a living, this is still not the time to push travel deals.

  4. But for me and my family, we have to lose out, A LOT. My mother and I was supposed to go on vacation in Europe in 2 days, and Icelandair is still not allowing refunds or free changes. They waived the meager 200 dollar change fee but for our saga class, the fare difference is 2-3 times of original fare, so we either pay nearly 5000 dollars for a potential vacation in summer, or lose our money completely. I am not sure there are any solution right now, as my mother’s insurer is not covering this kind of loss because Icelandair is still flying from Canada. I am still on the fence of going to just Iceland, but my mother has completely given up on ever getting the money back. Curses to FI!

  5. Peru has just announced closure of international borders from midnight March 16. Advice was DFAT (dept of foreign affairs and trade in Australia). Received an SMS from them.

  6. @davistev

    Having people self-quarantine upon arrival doesn’t mean 90% of flights on those airlines will stop.

  7. @ Aaron
    I should have said that the media is reporting that Air New Zealand is cutting capacity for international flights by 85-90% and Qantas will not be far behind. They have however committed to keeping a skeleton network for “national interests” whatever that means.

    The reality is that n0 one is prepared to self quarantine for 14 days. It is by result – a shutdown.

    I write this while I am in Quarantine in a hotel in Adelaide, Australia after being in Seattle.

  8. i am a snow bird in Florida and live in Winnipeg Canada. I have travel insurance until Apr. 21. Should I be coning home now?

  9. @ Barb

    ‘As Trudeau put it, “Let me be clear. If you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home.”’

    That sounds like a comprehensive “yes”.

  10. Just to be clear on the Canadian announcement today banning travel to Canada (March 16, at 1.00pm EDT,) the exceptions include US citizens. I find this incomprehensible given the spread of the virus in the US. Please don’t visit us, we love you, but please stay away right now.

  11. The Vancouver Sun website reports that the land border with the US is NOT being closed. It is unclear to me whether the land border will only allow Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, and US citizens or will allow all people through. My guess is the former.

  12. @ Barb, my thinking is that the flights could dry-up real quick, so if you’d prefer to be back on your home turf, now might be the time. This won’t last forever, though.

  13. Easily the bluntest title ever.

    Could you post something about which airlines you expect to go bankrupt next?

  14. There was a South Park episode where Canada went on strike and No one in the world cared. Very funny episode you should watch it

  15. They announced today that any Canadian abroad who has symptoms of COVID-19 are not able to return to Canada

  16. @Claire-the Canadian economy could not withstand closure of the U.S. border for very long. It’s not just tourism (which is important) but port access, manufacturing supply chains, markets for Canadian goods, etc.

  17. @al
    based on this message for Hilton, it seems like if you booked Hilton, you should be fine.
    “Government Restrictions. In regions affected by government-issued travel restrictions, we will continue to waive change fees or offer full refunds. Please see below for the latest information on region specific travel waivers.
    Existing Reservations. All reservations – even those described as non-cancellable (“Advanced Purchase”) – that are scheduled for arrival before April 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.
    New Reservations. Any reservation you make – even those described as “non-cancellable” (“Advanced Purchase”) – that are booked between today and April 30, 2020 for any future arrival date, can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival.”

    They are even extending expiration on reward night certificates and points.

  18. This is so heartless. I can’t believe this little dweeb is closing the border! Complete mismanagement of this crisis. This is ridiculous. How will I be able to go see the northern lights?!

  19. I’m really confused at this time. I am trying to book a flight from Lisbon to Canada. All I see are flights LIS-EWR-YYZ.

    I thought that only US residents and diplomats could enter the US since there are no sterile transit zones in the US.
    Yet Canada is allowing US citizens to enter Canada.

    Is this a quid pro quo or is Trudie being coerced into a special favour?

    Is a Canadian allowed to transit through the US to Canada?

  20. Jojo’s attempt at humour and dig at Canada is an ignorant comment from a moron. Over to you moron!!!

  21. Azamaraal, I don’t think you can transit the U.S. to get to Canada. The new American regulations say nothing about it

  22. What canada and other countries are doing is necessary sadly. More and more scientific evidence is showing that this virus is far more dangerous than previously thought. Were days away from learning the real story and when it comes out it will shock society as we know it. The real mortality rate of this virus is over 100 times that of the common influenza. This is depressing and real, acting now can save millions of lives.

    Yiu probably think this is hyperbole, but consider this, would countries around the world shut down like they have if it isnt this serious? The answer is clearly no. Were not yet being told all the truth, and perhaps that’s a good thing because panic and looting is just around the corner. Expect to see military patrolling streets soon.

  23. I think the article is written quite well, overall. Although, respectfully, I disagree about the ideas speculated as to why U.S. citizens are still allowed entry to Canada. If the belief is that it is to permit the flow of goods, what would that have to do with individual American citizens? As seen in Germany, only commercial traffic is allowed. So, essentially you can limit the flow of individual traffic but maintain commercial traffic. I think it is more about Canada wanting to still keep the very close relationship with the U.S., so I would agree with the first assessment.

  24. We are in Mexico and have not been able to reach the airline. (Aeromexico). We were on hold for 4 hours and never spoke to anyone. We went to the airport today and the agent told us she could sell us a new ticket for $38,000.00 pesos, which is $2300.00 Can. For a one way ticket. How are we supposed to come home???

  25. In the beginning of Coronavirus Canada was sleeping and now suddenly imposing Strictest restrictions allowing only Citizens and PR to return by March 29 and thereafter ‘Canada Closed’.

  26. Where is the outrage now? Where is the similar comments about it is stupid to shut down travels/border when you already have community spreading? It is so ironically to see how the comments here several days ago when US initially announced the EU bans hit by the reality.

    BTW, Hong Kong just announced It will perform 14 days mandatory quarantine for anyone traveled outside of the city.

    Just wait, the whole world will shut down flights and borders in less than two weeks. Case number is starting to jump in South America countries. Not a good sign at all.

  27. Mauritania is closing borders and stopping all flights into nouachkott for the next 3 months and closing borders with Niger Mali and cocos islands.

  28. Yemen closing all.borders it shares with Saudi Arabia and oman and Mexico affective immediately. They are concerned of MERS from Mexico reappearing in Saudi Yemen and Norfolk.islamd!
    Terrible times on king island all flights cancelled including daily double EK king island to Dubai direct.
    What will happen next?

  29. @ Joshua — Canada’s policy is actually equally moronic in ways. Viruses don’t understand passports, so allowing in U.S. citizens (other than healthcare workers), when we have massively unreported cases here, is bonkers.

    That is the problem with travel bans. Global bans might have helped with containment six weeks ago, but citizens have a right of return. Picking and choosing other people to allow based on their nationality versus their geographical patterns is silly.

  30. In another blog it was stated that the Canadian “ban” is allowing Canadians (citizen and landed immigrants), Americans, Mexicans and those from the Caribbean.

    This makes no sense whatsoever and unfortunately is our PM’s idea of being fair.

    With US citizens trying to get home it is impossible to find flights from Lisbon to Toronto as the flights are full of “others” passing through Toronto.

    Supposedly TAP is shutting down LIS-USA tomorrow Mar 18.

    My booked flight is Mar 24. Is there any chance TAP will still be flying then to Canada? With all the flights full one would hope that $$ will keep them flying but who knows.

    I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Lisbon.

    Please, Americans, fly home on United

  31. Don’t agree with allowing visitors from the United States. Hopefully they will elect to stay home
    Trade yes visitors no. This decision is illogical and dangerous for Canadians..

  32. If you are already overseas, stay outside Canada. Wait until the rate of spread plateaus out, then return home to Canada. The PM must be having a panic attack when he made the “return home now” announcement.
    If you are scheduled to travel within the next few days, the logical thing to do is to cancel. Even if you can get fly to your destination, you will be quarantined for 14 days and not able to go outside your hotel.
    Crowded airports and planes are the last places that you want to be confined in for hours at this moment.

  33. I respectively cannot disagree more.

    1. This is not the flu and will not be over soon or if even this year

    2. If you expect to avoid the virus you are betting long odds

    3. Do you expect a foreign country to prioritize you when triage happens in a few weeks?

    4. Have you checked your travel health Insurance lately? If it hasn’t expired because of ‘act of God’ it will soon.

    If you want to stay where you are, then great. One less on the plane and one less burden for Canadian health care.

  34. Trudeau and Trump just announced that all foreigners including Americans will not be allowed entry to Canada. The longest unguarded border in the world will be closed between the US and Canada except for commercial traffic. Goods will still flow between the two countries.

  35. Australia closed as of 9pm Friday night (assume Sydney time). ScoMo (our PM) said

    “We believe it is essential to take a further step to ensure we are now no longer allowing anyone, unless they are a citizen or resident or direct family member, [to enter Australia],” he said in an address on Thursday afternoon.

    “The reason for this decision is about 80 per cent of the cases we have in Australia are either the result of someone who has contracted the virus overseas or someone who has had a direct contact with someone who has returned from overseas,” he said.”

  36. Canada is on pace with Australia in the timeline. Both are at about 700 confirmed cases but it’s too late. They should have shut it down weeks ago. The cat is out of the bag as they say.

  37. Canada was a bit slow off the mark ; surprising really because Canada, Toronto in particular, suffered quite badly during SARS. One would have expected Canada to take the lead, especially given the tragically farcical testing situation in the US, which was apparent very early in the piece.

  38. A word of warning about those phone calls, I thought I had coverage for long distance phone calls and was on hold for over a hour before I was just disconnected. The cost of this futile call? Eight dollars a minute on AT&T!

  39. Closing border is like social distancing. It is about decreasing considerably the amount of people passing/interacting at borders, not a full stop at the border. No one realistically expect 100% crossing/enforcement the border, unless you are in China or North Korea. Just like social distancing, the expectation is about 70-75% cut in contact/interaction. Social distancing= flattening the curve.

  40. Traveling from Florida back to Toronto. Can anyone tell me how bad the border crossing is?

  41. Absolutely nothing being done about Corona when we arrived last night from Lisbon. Gave out a pamphlet.

    Nobody at airport at all concerned. No temperature checks. No SOCIAL DISTANCING – had to tell people to back off.

    Our wonderful PM says its not an emergency.

  42. @theresa

    should have mentioned fastest ever transit from international arrivals to the bus. Less than 30 minutes all told but had priority bag tags. The new Nexus terminals delayed us a bit as they were different and I ended up taking my picture twice on the slip 😉

  43. Can anybody confirm or deny the rumor, in light of efforts to repatriate everybody, the CA gov’t will not reimburse Canucks who are seeking reimbursements for foreign hospitalization bills?

  44. @KK

    The Globe and Mail reported yesterday

    “We’re working with Canadian airlines to make commercial flights available for as many who are stranded as possible. We will also be working with other countries to ensure that our airlines have the permissions and other supports necessary to fly,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters from outside his residence in Ottawa, where he is self-isolating after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus.

    “We won’t be able to reach everyone but we’re going to do our best to help those we can.”

    Canadians will be expected to pay a “responsible ticket price” for their flight home, Mr. Trudeau said. If Canadians are unable to get on a flight home, he encouraged them to apply for an emergency government loan of up to $5,000 to help cover expenses they incur while abroad.

    The loan seems to be the best offer at this point.

    The Prime Minister encouraged all Canadians abroad to register with Global Affairs Canada so the government can communicate with them.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *