On May 12, 2021, I came back from a 2-month trip to Houston and had to experience the Canadian Federal implications of international travel. I was coming into Calgary, Alberta as a fully vaccinated Canadian citizen but that didn’t necessarily make a difference in which instructions I had to follow.
My Instagram family had a lot of questions about my experience like:
- What was the entrance process?
- Do I have to pay the $2000?
- Do I have to book a hotel?
- Can I book any hotel?
- How much was the hotel?
- Are there any loopholes you can exploit? (saved the best for last – this is an interesting one)
Let’s dive in and get you some answers, so you know whether your summer travel plans can happen!
Before Entering Canada
Booking a flight back into Canada during this pandemic, being allowed on the flight, and being allowed into the country, are 3 different things.
Your journey to checking-in starts 3 days before your flight. You must provide proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test that has been taken no more than 3 days before your flight. I did the self-test nasal swab at a CVS drive-thru for USD $139 (I’m sure there are cheaper options). My recommendation is to get a throat swab instead of a nasal swab if you have a choice. After experiencing both, I can confidently say that I’d rather gag than have whatever experience is associated with the nasal swab. I don’t even have a name for it; it’s just thoroughly unpleasant.
While you have the choice to do the test 1, 2, or 3 days before your flight, I highly suggest you do the test 3 days in advance to give yourself time to receive your results, formulate a plan of action if necessary (like rescheduling your flight if the test comes back positive for COVID-19), upload your results onto your flight company’s Travel Requirement portal, and receive confirmation that your negative COVID-19 test is acceptable.
After getting your test done, you’ll need to use ArriveCAN to submit travel information to enter Canada. You can either use the website (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/arrivecan.html), or download the app. With either one, you’ll need to create an account and answer all questions asked. This method of giving information is necessary regardless of whether you’re entering Canada via air, land, or marine.
After submitting the mandatory information on ArriveCAN, a receipt will be displayed and emailed to you. This can be presented to the authorities via the app, as a screenshot, through your email, or as a printout.
Once you are checked in, through security, and about to board, you must to provide the following 3 things for inspection before you’re allowed to board the flight:
- Your passport (duh)
- Proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test
- Your ArriveCAN receipt
Failure to provide any one of these things will result in you being turned away at the gate.
Arrival in Canada
Once you’ve touched down in Canada, you will be required to do the following:
- Show your ArriveCAN receipt
- Show proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test
- *Show confirmation of a booked 3-night stay at a government-authorized hotel
- *Submit to a COVID-19 test after collecting your baggage
*NOTE: This is where the loopholes can be applied. I will first detail what a regular person will have to do before sharing the loopholes so keep reading!
After providing all of the information to the Canada Border Services officer, I was directed to a waiting area where I had to to fill out some more mandatory information about how many travellers where in my household, whether my quarantine accommodations were up to standard, whether I had been vaccinated, and my contact information for screening officers to contact me and make sure I was in compliance with isolation requirements.
As soon as that information had been filled out, I was led to take my post-border COVID-19 test (this was a throat swab thank God). Here, I was told that even though I had shown proof of a negative COVID-19 test, was fully vaccinated, and had just had another COVID-19 test administered, I would have to take yet another COVID-19 test on my 8th day of quarantine. These tests were either going to be administered by a local participating pharmacy, or a test kit would be given to me to take home and do myself. I was told to head to my local pharmacy which was a Shoppers Drugmart.
A pink “Alberta Health Services COVID-19 Test Requisition” document was given to me before I finally headed to the hotel.
- Do I have to book a hotel?
- Can I book any hotel?
- Do I have to pay the $2000?
- How much was the hotel?
Let’s tackle these questions.
The short answer to whether you have to book a hotel is yes. You have to book one before you get to the Canada Border Services Officer because they’ll be asking for it. What about your hotel choices? Can you book any hotel? No, you must book a government-authorized hotel and you must book your stay for 3 nights. Things get interesting when we talk about the $2,000.
Earlier in the year, Justin Trudeau mentioned that international travellers will spend up to $2,000. That was an estimate, not a price set in stone. I stayed at the Hyatt Place Calgary Airport and it cost $842.04 for 3 nights (all meals & drinks included). I was travelling with my brother and even though Federal law allows every household the liberty to stay in 1 room together, we chose to book separate rooms. Our grand total therefore was $1,684.08 so if you’re travelling with people you’ll be isolating with, you can all pitch in to stay in 1 hotel room and make your lives cheaper!
I was a little worried about what the state of these hotels would be because someone had previously told me that these would not be nice hotels. The thought of staying in a grimy hotel for 3 nights made my stomach churn, so it was such a pleasant surprise to step into the Hyatt Place and see the beautiful decor and experience excellent customer service.
Since all meals and drinks were included, I got to choose all the meals I wanted for the next couple days right as I was checking in so that the meals would be delivered to my door without me having to leave isolation. My suite was spacious and included 2 queen beds and a lovely seating area and a big window. These features were so important because I didn’t feel claustrophobic during my entire stay. I had a lovely time at the Hyatt Place, it felt like a peaceful buffer before I had to return to my home and to real life.
3 nights & another negative COVID-19 test later, I took a taxi and headed home to finish my quarantine.
While in quarantine, 3 main things are required of you.
1) You are required to report your symptoms everyday via ArriveCAN. They will ask if you, or a fellow traveler quarantining in the same household, is exhibiting or experience any COVID-19 related symptoms. After answering either yes or no, you’re free to go about your day until the next day, when it’s time to report your symptoms again.
2) Throughout your 14-day quarantine you will receive calls from Government of Canada officials who will ask whether you are complying with isolation requirements, whether you have access to fresh air and urge you to continue isolating. The call lasts a maximum of 5 minutes. You may also receive in-person visits from a designated screening officer to make sure you’re not lying on those calls. A screening officer did indeed visit my home on the 8th day of quarantine and I’m not sure if/when they will drop by again.
3) Finally, the last main thing you need to do is take a final COVID-19 test on the 8th day of quarantine. If your test is being administered at a local pharmacy, you will have to call in advance and book a time slot. The following things are necessary for this test to be carried out:
- The pink “Alberta Health Services COVID-19 Test Requisition” document that you would have been given to you after your COVID-19 test at the airport.
- Proof of the negative results of the COVID-19 test you did at the airport. This can be shown from the email, as a screenshot, or in printed form.
- Government-issued photo ID.
I handed over the required documents and had a throat swab performed. It was quick and easy and afterwards, I was instructed not to shop around the store and head straight back home. If that test comes back negative, you are free to finish reporting the remainder of your quarantine on ArriveCAN.
The government of Canada is quite clear and strict on its travel requirements during this pandemic, as they should be. On their website, they’ve provided a wealth of information on both how to comply and who is exempt from certain requirements like booking the mandatory hotel, and taking the COVID-19 test upon arrival at the airport.
According to THIS PAGE (for COVID-19 test exemptions), and THIS PAGE (for hotel stay exemption) the most general exemption from these requirements, is providing proof that you have recently recovered from COVID-19. You would need to “have proof of a positive COVID-19 molecular test taken between 14 to 90 days before travel.”
The Canadian Border Services officer also let me know that if someone travels in and out of Canada a lot for work, they may be eligible to skip the mandatory requirements.
An increasingly popular way to evade the hotel quarantine is detailed in THIS ARTICLE by The Globe and Mail. Many take a flight to Washington airport and cross the border either by car or on foot!
While I’ve heard of more alternative tactics, I can’t speak to if they will work for you. I’ve heard, from trustworthy sources, of people who used their citizenship rights to refuse the 3-night hotel stay and post border COVID-19 test successfully. I’ve heard of people who simply told the Canadian Border Services that they couldn’t afford a hotel and were allowed to go home (this one might be tricky because I saw on the website, that you will simply be transferred to a government facility for the full 14 days).
My recommendation is to either comply with government regulations or have an air tight alternative course of action because the penalties for not complying with these requirements range from $3,000 – $750,000 in fines, up to 6 months imprisonment, or a lovely mixture of fines and prison time.
I hope this blogpost provided all the information you need to decide if travelling outside Canada is worth it. If you do decide to travel, will you take the government compliance side, or live on the wild side and take your chances with alternative measures? Comment down below, I’d love to know!
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