When will Canada open its borders? 

Canada’s borders open to fully vaccinated travellers from all countries as of September 7, 2021

Fully vaccinated non-essential travellers from all countries are able to enter Canada as of September 7, 2021. Fully vaccinated travellers from the United States, which includes U.S. citizens and permanent residents who currently reside in the U.S., have been eligible to enter Canada since August 9, 2021.

Certain changes to Canada’s COVID-19 border measures accompany these new travel requirements:

  • Pre-arrival COVID-19 test: All travellers still require a pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test (note: antigen tests, often called “rapid tests,” are not accepted). For travellers arriving at the land border with the U.S., this test must be taken within 72 hours of arriving at the Canadian border. For air travellers, this test must be taken within 72 hours of flight departure.
  • On-arrival COVID-19 test (Day One test): A new randomized testing system is being used for fully vaccinated travellers. Only fully vaccinated travellers who are randomly selected will have to complete an on-arrival COVID-19 test. All unvaccinated/partially vaccinated travellers will still have to take an on-arrival test.
  • End of mandatory hotel stay for air travellers: Air travellers no longer have to stay in a government-authorized hotel while awaiting their on-arrival COVID-19 test results. This applies to all travellers from all countries. Unvaccinated/partially vaccinated air travellers may proceed directly to their quarantine location. Fully vaccinated air travellers will be exempt from quarantine.
  • Children under the age of 12: Children under the age of 12 travelling with fully vaccinated parents/guardians can enter Canada and are exempt from quarantine requirements, but will have to follow certain special measures, like avoiding schools, camps, and daycares. Refer here for details about requirements for children under the age of 12.

Canada has also announced that the ban on commercial and passenger flights from India will be extended until at least September 21, 2021. Canada has also banned flights from Morocco until at least September 29, 2021.

Your questions about Canada’s border re-opening: Answered.

Who is considered ‘fully vaccinated’?

Under current definitions (and these could change in the future), in order to be considered a fully vaccinated traveller, you must have received the full series of a Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccine or a combination of accepted vaccines. You must have received your last dose at least 14 days prior to travelling. Canada currently accepts four vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, Johnson & Johnson. If you have been vaccinated using a different vaccine, Canada does not consider you fully vaccinated at this time.

Will fully vaccinated travellers have to do anything special to travel to Canada?

Pre-arrival COVID-19 test: All travellers still require a pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test (note: antigen tests, often called “rapid tests,” are not accepted). For travellers arriving at the land border with the U.S., this test must be taken within 72 hours of arriving at the Canadian border. For air travellers, this test must be taken within 72 hours of flight departure.

On-arrival COVID-19 test (Day One test): A new randomized testing system is being used for fully vaccinated travellers. Only fully vaccinated travellers who are randomly selected will have to complete an on-arrival COVID-19 test. All unvaccinated/partially vaccinated travellers will still have to take an on-arrival test.

Proof of vaccination and other required documents must be uploaded to the ArriveCAN app at least 72 hours prior to arrival in Canada.

Which U.S. residents are able to travel as of August 9, 2021?

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible for the exemption.

Which foreign nationals are able to travel as of September 7, 2021?

Foreign nationals from all countries are eligible to travel to Canada as of September 7, as long as they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (see above for definition of ‘fully vaccinated’).

What about children under the age of 12?

Children under the age of 12 travelling with fully vaccinated parents/guardians can enter Canada and are exempt from quarantine requirements, but will have to follow certain special measures, like avoiding schools, camps, and daycares. Refer here for details about requirements for children under the age of 12.

In this guide, we bring you all the latest information influencing Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, as well as signs that may influence when the borders may reopen.

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What do we mean by “open borders”?

Before we get into the question of when Canada’s borders will open, it’s important to define what we mean by Canada’s borders being “open.” Canada’s borders are never fully “open” or fully “closed” — the purpose of a border is to regulate who can and cannot enter a country. Before COVID-19, more people met the requirements to cross into Canada, but the borders still restricted some people from entering the country.

Instead of thinking of Canada’s borders in a binary fashion — either being “open” or “closed” — it’s more useful to think of Canada’s borders like a water tap or faucet — the flow of water will increase or decrease depending on how much you turn the handle. Throughout the pandemic, Canada’s borders have never been truly “closed,” but the flow has been decreased — the tap is just barely dripping.

As the pandemic begins to resolve, we can expect the flow to increase, but it will not all happen at one moment. Canada’s borders will not go from “closed” to “open” in one day. Instead, Canada is slowly increasing the number of permissible reasons for crossing the border. In June, Canada finally lifted restrictions on approved permanent residence applicants (thousands of whom have been waiting for the green light to move to Canada since March 2020). In July, Canada began rolling back travel restrictions for individuals who have proof of full vaccination.

Plus, when the pandemic is over, Canada’s borders might look different than they did before COVID-19. We might never return to the pre-COVID “normal,” instead Canada might create a new normal based on lessons learned during the pandemic.

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How will COVID-19 vaccines impact Canada’s border closures?

Vaccines are viewed as one of the most important tools in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to a semblance of normalcy. Although Canada’s vaccine campaign was criticized in its early days for failing to keep up with the pace set by other countries around the world, the pace of inoculations is accelerating with political leaders around making some very optimistic promises about timelines.

Throughout August and September, daily vaccine doses administered have slowed considerably, although efforts are being made to persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get their shots. As of September 6, Canada has fully vaccinated more than 77 percent of the eligible population, with more than 84 percent having received at least one dose of vaccine. However, as the more infectious delta variant takes hold in Canada, even these exceptional vaccination numbers have failed to keep infections from rising and public health officials are predicting a delta-driven fourth wave of infection.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has stressed that the decision to relax public health restrictions restrictions is “less data-oriented and more disease-activity oriented.” Although Canada’s rate of vaccination gives reason for optimism, the unpredictability of the delta variant has put a damper on Canada’s re-opening plans. Despite the spread of the delta variant, the Canadian government has been opening borders to fully vaccinated travellers throughout August and September.

As of September, 2021, Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, and Johnson&Johnson. As of September 6, Canada has received more than 63 million doses of vaccine and has administered more than 53 million doses.

Vaccination within Canada is only one piece of the puzzle, especially for those outside Canada hoping to cross the border and come into the country. While reaching population immunity domestically may ease restrictions, another important conversation is emerging around the world: the use of COVID-19 vaccination passports — proof of vaccination — as a means of facilitating international travel.

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Will Canada use vaccine passports to open its borders?

Want to deep dive into this topic? Check out our complete guide to vaccine passports and travel to Canada.

Yes, Canada will be using ‘vaccine passports’ to open the borders. Simply put, a vaccine passport is the requirement for proof of vaccination among those who wish to travel.

Since July 5, Canada has allowed fully vaccinated travellers to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine. This was the first instance where Canada treated fully vaccinated travellers differently from unvaccinated travellers, and confirmed that proof of vaccination is an important tool in Canada’s border re-opening strategy. Throughout August and September, Canada has opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from all countries. Proof of vaccination will play a crucial role in this phase of border re-opening.

Vaccinated travellers will upload their proof of vaccination using the ArriveCAN app. Currently, only vaccines approved in Canada are accepted when showing proof of vaccination. This includes the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson vaccines.

Other governments around the world are also in the process of introducing proof of vaccination as a travel requirement. Israel, for example, requires a “green passport” to access certain aspects of daily life such as dining at a restaurant or working out at a gym. Many European countries are also considering the possibility.

It is worth noting that, despite concerns about equity and effectiveness of requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to cross the Canadian border, Canada has been requiring extensive COVID-19 documentation for travellers throughout the pandemic. Unvaccinated air travellers, for example, currently undergo three separate COVID-19 tests when entering Canada — one pre-departure, one just after landing in Canada, and one after day 10 of their mandatory quarantine period.

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How could COVID-19 variants of concern impact Canada’s borders?

One major variable in the efforts to open Canada’s borders and return to a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy, is the circulation of COVID-19 variants of concern. There are currently four COVID-19 variants that have been widely identified as variants of concern, but it is possible that more could emerge.

The variant of most concern to Canada presently is the Delta variant which was first identified in India, variant B.1.617. This vaccine caused Canada to implement an ongoing ban on flights from India out of fears of the variant’s increased transmissibility and reduced vaccine efficacy. Data suggests that vaccines still maintain protection against this variant, especially against severe illness and hospitalization, although the efficacy is significantly reduced after only one dose.

The Alpha variant which was first identified in the United Kingdom, variant B.1.1.7, is believed to be more transmissible and potentially more lethal than the original virus. Fears about the widespread circulation of this variant prompted Canada to briefly halt all flights from the United Kingdom, plus it was cited as a major reason behind the intensification of Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions in February. Thankfully, existing evidence of vaccine efficacy suggests that there is no significant reduction in vaccine efficacy against B.1.1.7.

Two other variants, B.1.351 and P.1, originally identified in South Africa and Brazil, respectively, pose additional concerns. Vaccines are believed to provide less protection against B.1.351, although there is not yet enough real-world data to know whether existing vaccines can provide protection against severe illness and death from the B.1.351. The P.1 variant shares similarities with the B.1.351 variant, prompting similar concerns about vaccine efficacy. On a promising note, however, vaccine makers are already testing booster shots to protect against these variants.

It’s challenging to predict the impact of these variants of concern on the opening of Canada’s borders. Variants have prompted Canada to take radical preventative action at the borders, but if existing vaccines (or new booster shots) are able to provide adequate protection against the variants, such border measures may not be needed long-term. Thankfully, as with all elements of the pandemic, more data should be available soon and hopefully definitive answers will begin to emerge.

Are you planning travel to Canada once borders open? Make sure you have proper health insurance coverage for your stay. Explore your health insurance options with our partner, Cigna. Get started today with a free quote!

The decision on when and how to open Canada’s borders is a complex one with many moving parts. As more information becomes available about vaccines, variants, and public health policy, we will update this article. Check back regularly for the latest. To stay updated on key developments, register your Moving2Canada account and subscribe to our newsletter.

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