Canada Requiring PCR Test & Quarantine For International Travel

Filed Under: Travel

Since March 2020, Canada has been requiring a 14-day quarantine for arriving international travelers. Well, the country is now adding a further requirement, coinciding with fears of a new faster-spreading COVID-19 strain.

International travelers need a negative test result

As of January 7, 2021, Canada will require international travelers arriving into Canada by air to have tested negative for COVID-19 before traveling from another country:

  • The test must be performed using a COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, and must be taken within 72 hours prior to the traveler’s scheduled departure to Canada
  • This applies to all travelers five years of age or older
  • The negative test result must be presented at the airline check-in counter prior to boarding the flight to Canada

This requirement is reasonable enough, though it’s also worth posting a reminder that in many parts of the world it can still be tough to both get tested and get the results reliably within a 72 hour period.

While we’re seeing an increasing number of test kits designed specifically for travel for these purposes in the US, for example, there are many countries where they’re not readily available.

Getting tested within 72 hours of travel is still tricky in some places

Canada also has a mandatory 14-day quarantine

Since March 13, 2020, Canada has been advising against non-essential travel, though hasn’t outright banned it. Canada’s new negative PCR test requirement is in addition to Canada’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for arriving international travelers, meaning that you’ll need both a negative test and a quarantine to enter Canada.

The government notes that those violating the self-quarantine can face up to six months in prison and/or up to $750,000 in fines, though based on everything I’ve heard, enforcement hasn’t been particularly strict.

Airlines have been trying to persuade the government to drop the 14-day quarantine in favor of a more rigorous testing program, though as of now that hasn’t happened. Instead we’re now seeing both testing and quarantine requirements.

Canada also has a mandatory for 14-day quarantine for international travel

Canada’s borders are still closed to most

While Canada now has both a testing and quarantine requirement, the country is still closed to most foreigners. Only Canadians, as well as those who qualify under certain other exceptions (like having family in Canada, traveling for essential business, etc.), are allowed to enter Canada.

For example, the border between the US and Canada has been closed since March, and the closure has been extended by a month at a time on fairly short notice since then. At this point it seems highly likely that borders won’t reopen until case numbers decrease significantly, and/or there’s widespread vaccination.

Canada’s borders are still closed to most foreigners

Bottom line

As of January 7, 2021, Canada will require arriving international travelers to present a negative PCR test, in addition to quarantining for 14 days. On top of that, most non-Canadians are banned from entering the country, so this applies mostly to Canadians who choose to travel abroad.

I can’t think of many countries that are aiming for zero cases (like Australia and New Zealand) that have both a testing and quarantine requirement, so Canada is unique in that sense.

What do you make of Canada’s new coronavirus testing requirement for international travelers?

  1. The irony is that with the current prevalence in Canada, there is significantly higher risk from local community spread than from imported infections via persons who have already tested negative.

  2. We are getting settled into the idea that COVID-19 won’t simply vanish. In Ontario, travellers can now pay for a private COVID-19 test that will be delivered under a reliable timeframe (whereas before we had to wait with the provincial system which has not been very timely for essential travellers).

    The focus now is to make sure the vaccine gets to the highly vulnerable and essential workers, then folks likely to contract serious complications, then the rest of us. An old folks’ residence near my house lost 14 lives yesterday… of course we would like travellers heading into Canada to be tested and quarantined.

    I am planning to bring my wife home in May (she’s moving here permanently as an immigrant) and I’m going to spend about $1200 Canadian on COVID-19 tests for the both of us because the country we’re changing planes in, and Cambodia, want assurances through tests. Three tests before I’m allowed into the public in Phnom Penh. One test to enter Canada doesn’t seem like very much in comparison.

  3. No more international transfer without a test is worth mentioning to all the Americans who bought Air Canada flights.

    Also, no refunds.

  4. I don’t mind having to get tested before arriving back in Canada or even upon arrival, but the 14 day quarantine is ridiculous. Canada is not Australia or New Zealand, the virus is spreading fast in most provinces, usually with more than 5000 cases a day. The government is acting like there are few to no cases in Canada and that they are doing such a great job at controlling it’s spread within the country and that international travel is responsible for the second wave. International returning travellers make up less than 1% of new cases. Sean M. is totally right, if anything those going to the grocery store will now have a higher risk of getting/spreading the virus than returning travellers. They could at least shorten the quarantine to 7 days followed by a test on the 7th day.

  5. Air Canada on Facebook just informed me even transfer pax on itinerary such as CUN-YUL-CDG must be tested, otherwise denied boarding.

  6. American living in Canada here. I went to the US in October and had to get tested before going, due to the rules of the state I was visiting.

    My test in Ontario took greater than 72 hours to come back. So even Canada’s own testing facilities can’t meet this new rule.

  7. Ok great! We should have been doing this in the begining. More information would be nice before putting it in affect.

    Like, What about those that aren’t able to get tests? Will we be denied entry to Canada? If you are positive will you be denied to enter Canada?

  8. Those measures are in no relation to the number of cases originating from international travel. If they really wanted to reduce the risk they should have them to do a quick test just before boarding, a four day quarantine after arrival and then a final test, which might be a PCR one.

  9. @Nico – obviously, there is no exception to transit. People got suckered in with AC’s low fares for flights AC never intends to operate. And as you know, AC does not refund (except ex-Europe) – so I hope this was an award ticket!

    And yes – this has nothing with actually preventing spread – but it makes the govt look good for the masses.

  10. Perhaps Canadian cabinet members should take their own advice and not go to large parties without wearing masks.
    Either way, denying Canadian citizens entry is a violation of the Declaration of Human Rights articles 9 and 13.

  11. @Bob – it was fairly expensive economy tickets originating in Europe and they already are on they return part of journey. Transit might be exception, you could fly everywhere in Europe like that (now AMS is different). Eg going Prague to Lisbon on Swiss via ZRH? No need for test because you aren’t entering the country. Transfers are always a bit different problem, yet make them tested all is easier.

  12. Ultimately most countries will require tests or eventually proof of taking the vaccine. Amsterdam now requires them for all transit passengers. Don’t blame the airlines it’s not mandatory when you buy your ticket and then a few days before you are due to travel , the government changes the regulations.

  13. It’s an unreasonable requirement – giving passengers and airlines just 1 week to prepare. I have a trip to the DR booked for January 9 – will likely have to cancel now.

    Canadian government should have started requiring PCR tests for all incoming passengers 6 months ago. This is a purely reactive decision by the federal government in response to various Canadian politicians recently vacationing in Hawaii, St. Bart’s and Las Vegas while urging citizens to stay home. Now common citizens will pay the price for their indulgence.

  14. This is a another prudent step towards reducing the transmission and number of COVID-19, even though it is a little bit too late. At least the new rule gives Canadian some leniency. Now is the time for everyone to make a little sacrifice for the sake of the whole, think about those more vulnerable who lost their lives during the pandemic, i would not complain a 14-day quarantine.

  15. this has been my worst fear for some time now.

    pretty soon these countries will require a vaccination, AND a negative PCR test and STILL make you quarantine when you get there. Who’s gonna stop them?

  16. Anyone complaining about this is just an absolute moron. It’s so incredibly easy to get tested. I can google 12 places within a 10 minute drive from my place. If you can’t afford to get tested, then don’t travel because you clearly can’t afford to get sick abroad.

  17. I am Canadian and have 48-hour business trip to America in late January.

    How will this work for me to return to Canada?

    Confused, I am.

  18. Hahahh! I do agree so much with the test but really Canada, what you want is stealing money again from citizen. WTF ! This price for a test. I’m heading back from Korea to Canada in 3 months and for this, I don’t even wanna come back. That’s a shame to abuse citizen by making them pay more than 200 $ for a test.

  19. The ultimate Pandemic Theatre.

    Big announcement for a rule that will affect only .21% of total cases. Completely politically motivated.

    1- 98.6% of transmission is local, so this deals with a maximum of 1.4% of transmission (according to Federal government numbers )

    2 – BUT…. This rule won’t apply to 85% of cross border trips (because those are deemed essential –mostly truckers).

    3- SO: This rule can only help a maximum of .21% of total cases. (15% of 1.4%) If you were actually concerned about border spread (the 1.4% of cases), you’d focus on a good testing regimen for the truckers.

    4- If you think it’s important to ACTUALLY deal with the .21% of cases targeted by this rule you’d have a testing protocol AFTER landing. Requiring Canadians arriving from places with no testing infrastructure to take a test is useless. In Germany, it’s ten days quarantine or five days plus a free test. That’s actually effective.
    Also, there’s now a new business in fake test results springing up all over the world, because there’s no way for the Canadian Government to be able to identify proper testing outside of Canada.

    5-Countries with actual data have all reduced quarantine to ten days because there’s almost zero evidence of asymptomatic transmission after ten days.

    So why did it happen? Because there’s been pressure from Premier Ford from Ontario and others (like the Sun newspapers) to “do something” and the appearance of doing something is more important than actually doing something.

    It’s also a convenient way to distract from the failures of our policies.

  20. It is true that this requirement has nothing to do with transmission in Canada or additional cases driven by travel abroad. Rather, it seems intended to provide another obstacle to leisure travel and serve as a deterrent where the 14-day quarantine won’t do it alone. And, it’s a way for the politicians to show that they are “doing something”, especially for the travel shamers out there who don’t want to travel but want to shame and make life difficult in those who choose to do so.

  21. Lucky, I suggest you write an airticle (reseach a bit) on the entry requirement of China:

    1. You need to do both PCR and antibody IgM test within two days before departure.
    2. Your result must be approved by the local Chinese embassy or consulate in order to get a green code to board.
    3. If you need to do an international transit, you need to take another PCR and anitbody IgM test at the transit airport. so if your trip is JFK-CDG-PVG, you need to be tested both at NYC and CDG airport (HEL, FRA, CDG ZRH, CPH and VIE actually now can do these two tests within a few hours)
    4. This part is for USA-China flight only, your trip is BOS-SEA-PVG, you have to arrive at SEA three days in advance in order to test in the departure city (For each U.S.-China flight, there are a few designated testing facilities and the result will be verified by the local Chinese embassy or consulate).
    5. Upon arrival, you need to do another PCR and IgM test immediately.
    6. Mandatory quarantine for 14 days at a hotel.
    7. Another one or two PCR tests during the quarantine
    8. When you return to your home city from PVG, CAN, XMN, ext, you have to self-quarantine for another 7 or 14 days and another two PCR tests.
    9. Most of the PEK bounded flight is diverted to other Chinese cities. For thoese few direct PEK flight, only local resident is allowed to board. For example, only Austrian citizen (with Chinese visa of course) or Chinese citizen in Austria is allow to board VIE-PEK flight. You need to upload ID together with your PCR and IgM test to get the green code.

  22. Smart move… Knowing people with covid knowingly board airplanes in usa everyday. Only way to protect against these idiots is to test them before letting them on board.

  23. Anyone who needs a PCR test on short notice in St. Bart’s should contact Ontario’s Finance Minister.

  24. I’m a Canadian living in SF Bay Area. ^^yes to all the reasons and politicians traveling and got caught. Shame. Just like our california leaders are hypocrites.

    This was implemented to get around the Canadians returning home and Canada requiring to take citizens. They wrote the rule that no tests should be grounds to deny boarding the flight. Technically they aren’t violating your constitutional rights as you aren’t technically at the border. So it’s tough as there are many Canadians around the world that need to go home for family reasons. So this is a way to deny people from coming home. Shame.

    I would like to mention the most horrendous part. IF you can’t get a test and you somehow beg your way on the flight. You are taken against your will to a federal covid camp. To stay when they say so. No chance to self quarantine upon arrival. This is a complete disregard to your constitutional rights. This is the most concerning is a federal network of covid camps where we can’t know where they are and who is there and the conditions for them and clear process on getting out. No judge. Just imprisonment until proven not covid. Shame!

  25. Very unfortunate indeed. It seems that Canadian policy makers, pandering to constituents’ paranoia, keep implementing measures that cause significant hardship on the traveling public while not meaningfully changing the trajectory of an epidemic that has already been widespread inside its borders since the beginning.

  26. I am American live 5 minutes from border, my son and daughter and grandchildren I havent seen in over 10 months, I would like every politician in the USA and Canada not to see their family for 10 months, If i drive across the border into Canada and see my family and drive back just to check on them, 14 days in quarantine when you have to be back to work on monday….No one puts themselves in other people shoes…

  27. Doing a pcr test b4 travel the airport and a few days after does not bother me but the fact that you have to quarantine 14 days is just crazy if you have nothing why spend 14 days locked up

  28. Our son a an ultra rare genetic disease and the only team able to treat him is in Montreal we already couldn’t go last year. How can I take now 3 weeks off to take him for a week of consultations there? 2 weeks in quarantine in a hotel unable to get out of the room with a 6yo? The only solution I foresee is a vaccine shot for the whole family. Assuming the Canadian then grants freedom of movement for vaccinated persons. Let’s hope for the best.

  29. @Alain – you have hit the nail on the head. The only situation where a 14-day quarantine combined with pre-travel tests is logical is where the target is zero cases. That is a pipe dream for Canada with such high community transmission rates.

    A regime of 72-hour pre-travel PCR testing, combined with on-arrival rapid antigen testing has been shown to achieve around 99.7% efficiency on deployment in Ghana. While not perfect, it reduces the number of potential imported cases (3 per 1000 passengers within 14-days of arrival) to well below the community transmission rate. This allows the borders to be reopened with a mitigated risk – striking a balance between social, economic and medical priorities.

    There are very few countries in the world where some kind of PCR testing is not available with a 72 hour turnaround. PCR-72 is quickly becoming the international standard for pre-departure testing and both governments and private sector providers are adapting to be able to provide these (sometimes at a fairly steep price though). I have personally been tested in multiple countries, including some of the poorest nations in Africa, and the results have arrived in anything from 20 minutes (Accra airport – rapid antigen test on arrival) to 30 hours (QECH in Blantyre, Malawi).

    Solutions to safe reopening of borders exist if there is political will to implement them. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in Canada, and likely won’t be as long as a minority federal government has to prioritize inefficient consensus building over decisive but hard choices.

  30. I’m all for testing. Although I know plane are safe, I find it acceptable to have one more safety net towards ensuring that no passenger is infected by COVID-19. However, I don’t understand why a PCR test is required rather than a rapid test. I’m currently in the Boston area coming back to Canada on the 9th. Up to this point, I understand that most places will require a physician’s reference to take a PCR test and that even then, the timing to get the results is unreliable. I really don’t mind paying for a test, but if paying ends up in me having to quarantaine in a government facility (read hotel) rather than home, that’s where I draw the line. Why not accept rapid tests which are widely available (including at major airports in the US) as a mean to confirm that one is not infected? I can only imagine how difficult it must be to find a PCR test in the Caribbean. To me this is good policy with bad implementation thereof.

  31. Can we just stop pretending that general international travel is feasible, reasonable, or responsible outside of a very small set of circumstances until widespread vaccinations have happened?

  32. Anonymous cell data is showing that in Ontario, 1 in 4 International arrivals at Toronto Pearson (who are almost all Canadians, because most other nationalities aren’t allowed in, period) are ignoring the quarantine requirement and are just going back to work etc. And yes, it’s true that foreign travel is a tiny fraction of new cases at this point so the broad value is questionable. However, the upshot of this will mostly be that non-essential leisure travel to sun destinations (eg the DR, Florida and Cuba) will further crater, unless the destinations start providing cheap and rapid testing. Why? Because people won’t want the cost and hassle of the tests. I fully expect that making it more painful is part of the point of the policy, just like Ontario ski hills being closed is mostly about giving people fewer things to do and just keeping them at home. Said another way, tens of thousands of people have been ignoring the Government reccomendation against non-essential travel, so they’re make it more difficult and expensive so fewer will go. As someone who’s been in the Canadian travel world for more than 25 years, I guarantee demand will plummet once people realize they’re paying up to another $800-1000 a couple, for tests going and coming (depending on the destination). Which for sure is part of the point.

  33. I just came back from Cancun Dec 26th, and have another trip scheduled in March to Cancun again. Currently, and even after Jan 7th, 2021, there are no tests required to GO to Cancun, other than a few questionnaires that are completed within minute, but my concern is getting a PCR test done in Cancun, within the allowable timeframe, and getting the results within an appropriate timeframe for my return to Canada. I am currently in my 9th day of the 14 day quarantine, and while it is inconvenient, as long as you prepare for it before you leave, it is a mild inconvenience at best. My health is worth 14 days to me, as is others health, as it was MY choice to travel. How do we combat, or plan for a PCR test outside our country? Specifically Mexico?? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  34. I’d like to find out too, we were looking for somewhere reliable in Cancun… that WestJet will accept as a lab. Quarantine isn’t an issue, work from home. Hope we get answers soon.

  35. @Constantine – I don’t think you need to cancel your trip to the DR. The DR seems to have some pretty good testing capabilities. At least I hope so! If you are staying at a resort I would imagine they would arrange it for you. I’m a Canadian living in Haiti where I think testing capabilities are pretty limited and I may be popping over to the DR on my way to Canada next time just to get a test.

  36. Just another way for the Canadian government to control our lives … inaccurate tests & vaccines that aren’t 100% effective … this will never end … if you believe that it will after the vaccine then you should do more research and not listen to mainstream media … even the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccines have said there’s no guarantee, they don’t know how long the effectiveness of it will last, whether or not you will get sick or die from it and how often you’ll need to have follow up inoculations … plus they also have no liability… what does that tell you … government control, agenda 2021/2025, new world order, great reset …. etc. etc. they now “own you” and control everything you do, everywhere you go and all of your freedoms!!

  37. Virus is going to virus. The vaccine is not 100 percent effective, will be released at “warp speed” without established multiphase testing protocols, has already elicited extreme reactions such as anaphylaxis and autoimmune response, and is the first of its kind (mRNA). The virus is 99.8 percent survivable, even more so for those who are healthy and under 80 years of age.

    I am fine with wearing masks, presenting negative tests before travel at my own expense, social distancing, and even purchasing added hotel rooms and/or airplane seats to be able to travel. In fact, my partner and I have done the former three criteria already and will do the latter if necessary. But demanding “vaccine or no travel” (or “jab or no job” as in Australia, or “jab or no concert” as Ticketmaster has mentioned) should give those of us who value bodily autonomy and decry totalitarian dictates in the name of “public health” pause. Please note that during the Nuremberg Trials, it was established that any coerced or forced medical treatment, no matter the pretense of “for your own good” was deemed inhumane.

    Do we really want a society where those who are unable, unwilling, or inclined to wait to get the vaccine are placed under draconian restrictions no matter what compensatory measures they are (and have been) willing to take towards protecting themselves and the public against this illness? If you say yes, and also acknowledge that the media reports that not only is one dose of vaccine is not sufficient against CV, that the virus will continue to mutate, that masks and social distancing will still be necessary, that there are extreme and potentially deadly reactions to this novel, untested vaccine, you need to look further before continuing to endorse “Vaccines Uber Alles or you are a Nazi” (or a Karen, same difference nowadays, apparently).

    Front-line physicians are taking a backseat to politicians, pharmaceutical CEOs, dot com centi-billionaires, and a power-hungry man who gained fame and fortune at the hands of millions of suffering gay and bisexual men in the 1980s. Cui Bono to create the type of “sero(mRNA vax) positive” vs “sero (mRNA vax) negative” society that bigots back in the 1980s were demanding with their strident spittle-fests about mandatory HIV tests and even forced tattoos for the positives? And if these vaccines haven’t even been proven to be safe, effective, without unforeseen repercussions years later, subject to usual phased approval including via testing on children, the elderly, the autoimmune, the immune-suppressed, the allergic, etc., why are they being pushed as akin to a driver’s license in a society where lacking one will lead to a person becoming an Untouchable/Huxleyan Epsilon? Even if, prior to the “rollout”, they traveled frequently–masked, tested, distanced, law abiding, and recognizing that while the survival rate was 99.8, some people had genuine concerns.

    Why no thoughts to those with genuine worry about taking this vaccine?

    I do not know how old you are, but I am a man approaching fifty and my parents started their extremely successful business in the travel industry back in the 1960s. I grew up loving travel more than anything, and voluntarily spent weekends in their office from the age of eight. I met my partner in college. He was a musician and studying to be a recording engineer; despite my Ivy League undergraduate studies and subsequent law degree, I could not imagine anything but helping my parents’ in their business while furthering my love and knowledge of travel, as well as my partner’s developing enchantment.

    Due to the CV, our business is facing tough times. This I expected. But I never expected that the very generation that fought against the idea that even a (then) 100 percent deadly disease should scapegoat and restrict the rights of a group of people (as well as embed the belief that this was just, because their “unconventional lifestyle” equaled disease, contagion, and willful nihilism) would now be gleefully endorsing the same paradigm on those who, while willing to test/mask/distance/spend more money to assure others’ safety (as these measures have more evidence behind them than an experimental vaccine whose only guarantee is to increase the wealth of already lucre-gorged stakeholders) object to the idea that exercising bodily autonomy and refusing a medically unproven, potentially dangerous, and (by one’s own judgment, perhaps in conjunction with trusted health care professionals) is at odds with participation in many aspects of American life.

  38. this isn’t a horrible piece of legislation, it does seem a bit elitist in the sense that there’s a monetary barrier to entry for travel, but its intention does indeed feel like its meant to make it painful to travel without banning travel entirely.

    my issue is that it seems rushed and the Canadian government isn’t providing adequate resources on how to source labs that provide the required test. there’s way too much gray area here as has been the case with covid legislation around the country federally and provincially. give us the resources (names, labs, directories, etc) in order to find out which labs will provide the necessary test results in a timely manner. at the very least the biggest travel destination, USA, should have a directory of labs in each state that Canadians can get a PCR or LAMP test with the required 72h turn around. a price/fee would be a bonus.

    if anyone has a list of qualifying labs around the US (or any countries for that matter) please do share, thanks!

  39. If you are in Chicago both ohare and midway airport administer PCR and rapid test as walk in and by appointment

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