As Canada prepares to reopen for U.S. travelers, its wary residents weigh the risks of tourism during the pandemic while looking ahead to a season of adventure and recovery.
In March of 2020, spreading coronavirus cases caused America’s neighbor to the north to close its borders and impose nationwide health regulations. As a rising college senior who had never traveled for spring break, I decided to spend my weeklong vacation from midterms in chilly Toronto with a group of hometown friends. We heard whispered reports about rising numbers of COVID-19 cases before our trip but didn’t know much about the dangers of the virus and chose to forge onward across the Canadian border.
After only a few days under the shadows of the looming CN Tower, we noticed a growing number of locals shielding their noses and mouths with medical masks and realized that what at first seemed like a minor health risk was quickly becoming a substantial threat. We spent our final day inside our cramped Airbnb monitoring case numbers outside, unaware that our shared anxiety and apprehension would persist for the next year.
As we passed through a rushed border patrol to head back home, we never imagined that we would be some of the last U.S. travelers to cross the Canada-U.S. border in over a year. As case numbers finally subside and millions of Canadians look ahead to long-awaited relief from the novel coronavirus, the Great White North is preparing to reopen its borders to travelers with full immunity on August 9th. Read below for a comprehensive travel guide before you go.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents will be the first eligible travelers permitted to cross Canadian borders in the initial phase of the country’s reopening process. Those who have received their final dose of a Canada-accepted vaccine at least 14 days before departure may enter Canada by using the ArriveCan app or web portal to submit necessary travel information.
Though vaccinated tourists will not be required to present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in Canada, those crossing the border without vaccine verification should be traveling for essential purposes and may be subject to PCR testing and quarantine protocols. Due to ongoing health concerns predominantly posed by the Delta variant in the United States and Canada, nonessential travel is highly discouraged for unvaccinated citizens.
Though average airfare and hotel reservation costs haven’t yet reached pre-pandemic rates, an increased demand for tickets before the border reopens in early August will likely cause drastic inflation within a renewed travel sector. To beat rising prices over the next few weeks, prospective tourists should book in advance and seek accommodations that offer flexible cancellation policies and limited travel deals.
In lieu of the border reopening, Air Canada is increasing flight options with 55 available routes that connect to 34 U.S. destinations, though the international airline plans to eventually restore services to all 57 of its previous U.S. destinations as health conditions allow. As the Canadian travel industry attracts more business with fewer national restrictions, prices will steadily inch toward pre-pandemic rates to accommodate travel interests and availability.
With roughly 60% of its national population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, provincial cases across Canada are steadily decreasing, though variant outbreaks still pose considerable risks to several areas with high rates of transmission and infection. Ontario is still reporting high case numbers with a larger residential population in major cities like Toronto and Ottawa, and its neighboring province, Quebec, is also battling variant outbreaks in Montreal. Likewise, British Columbia recently reported its highest single-day case total since May as the westernmost province battles a COVID surge among its unvaccinated residents.
Tourists seeking regions mostly unaffected by COVID cases should visit less populated provinces like Nova Scotia, where the Atlantic meets the tranquil cape shores of Canada. Those looking for historic attractions and immersive whale watching can enjoy the natural beauty of Nova Scotia without the threat of COVID transmission. Another less populated treasure is Banff National Park, a municipality in Alberta that is home to Rocky Mountain peaks, electric blue glacial lakes, hundreds of hiking trails, and picture-perfect views in every direction. COVID-cautious travelers should frequently check government websites like this one here for updated case statistics and travel information before visiting any of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories.
Though Canada is slowly easing its yearlong health restrictions as case numbers gradually drop, many regulations are still enforced nationwide to ensure the health and safety of all locals and incoming travelers. Mask mandates remain in place across Canada, and social distancing affects capacity limits in most stores, restaurants, and other public spaces. Many of Canada’s provinces and territories also have travel restrictions in place, so visitors should stay up to date on territorial requirements when traveling throughout the country.
Public transportation and essential services continue to operate normally across Canada, and no curfews are currently in effect in any Canadian destination. Remaining regulations will inevitably change as cases are monitored and borders reopen in the coming weeks, so vacationers planning a trip to Canada should regularly check health guidelines issued by the government and national health services.
Despite its guarded pace in the global race toward post-pandemic tourism, Canada’s prudence is proving beneficial with higher vaccination rates and dwindling case numbers sure to facilitate a smooth reopening process. As the countdown begins for the final revision of Canada-U.S. travel restrictions in early August, government officials in both countries proceed with caution in their return to post-pandemic tourism and in their commitment to economic recovery.