Canada reopens today to American travelers. What you need to know

Alex Harring
The Detroit News

Detroit — Canada reopens its land border Monday to vaccinated Americans, many of whom will be lining up for the first chance into the country since pandemic restrictions kept them in the United States.

COVID-related mandates, however, will dictate who gets in and who stays behind. There are also the usual requirements for crossing, including having a valid passport or enhanced license.

"It's definitely worth it," said Devon Wargo, a nurse from Grosse Pointe who works in Windsor, Ontario, of the requirements designed to corral COVID-19 at the border. Wargo will cross the border this week with her husband and children to visit family they have not seen since the pandemic began.

Canada also has implemented a border surveillance program that will require additional, on-site COVID-19 testing for some travelers to track the spread of variants. Border officials say travelers must provide a quarantine plan in the app ArriveCAN and be prepared to isolate if needed, despite being vaccinated.

All of which means travelers to Canada might experience delays at the border because of the enhanced public health measures. The Canada Border Services Agency has said it "will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians for the sake of border wait times."

The economic impact of allowing Americans into Canada has been a central argument for critics of the closure. Fewer than 1.5 billion international tourists came to Canada in 2019, supporting an industry that provides around 10% of full-year jobs in the country.

Public health experts say the current requirements for Americans should keep transmission low, even with rising concerns over the delta variant. Experts say placing these requirements on travelers will provide protection to the communities they enter without sacrificing revenue for businesses.

"It can be done safely, and that's the way it is being done," said Eric Arts, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Western University in London, Ontario.

Failure to comply with Canada's current border-entry requirements can result in up to six months in prison and $750,000 in fines, according to Rebecca Purdy, a Canada Border Security Agency representative.

A view from the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge of backups on the Ambassador Bridge due to a work slowdown by Canadian border agents on August 6, 2021.

The country's Quarantine Act grants officers "the authority to review, challenge and confirm travelers' statements," Purdy said.

If a person puts another at risk of imminent death or bodily harm in the process of violating the act, the punishment increases to up to $1 million in fines and three years in jail.

Decisions on whether to pursue fines or jail time for those who violate public health provisions rests with either the Public Health Agency of Canada or local police, Purdy said. 

Enforcement has already taken place. Two travelers arriving in Toronto were fined nearly $20,000 each last month after falsifying vaccination and testing documents.

There are some exceptions. Vaccinated parents traveling with unvaccinated children under 12 will be exempt from quarantine. Unvaccinated youth, ages 12-17, and dependent children 18 and older who are exempt for vaccinations on the basis of mental or physical health are permitted to enter but subject to the 14-day quarantine. All unvaccinated children who are at least 5 years old will be subject to Day 1 and Day 8 testing.

Changes also are coming Monday at Canadian airports. Only four major airports were accepting international flights until now: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

On Monday, international flights will be permitted to land at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport and Edmonton International Airport.

The scheduled border reopening follows a work slowdown led by the union representing Canadian border workers that was resolved late Friday after a tentative contract agreement was reached with the government. Trucks waited hours Friday to cross the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit and Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, among other entry points, during the "work-to-rule" action.

Canada's reopening comes before the U.S. reopens its border to Canadians. Some Canadian leaders reported being "stunned" when they heard of the U.S.'s decision not to reopen on the same day, citing arguments from American politicians that the northern country was too slow in reopening.

"Keep in mind, we had a group of American politicians ... beating the drum that Canada needs to open its border and they need to do it now," Sarnia, Ontario, Mayor Mike Bradley said when the reopening was announced. "So Canada has moved forward and done its part, and now it's not being reciprocated."

Business leaders from both sides of the border also called for reciprocity.

Experts said the U.S. may be slower to act given that the Biden administration is new and there would need be considerations about the southern border. Holdups in policy and the ability of the Department of Homeland Security also could be factors.

But a growing chorus of critics, including politicians, on both sides has been quick to call the lack of reciprocal policy unfair to Canadians.

"There's no endpoint in sight," said Devon Weber, an American citizen living in Canada who helps run Let Us Reunite, which has pushed for Biden to allow Canadians with family members in the United States to cross the border by land.

"It's frustrating for families."

The U.S. border is expected to remain closed to Canadians through at least Aug. 21.

There's also concern from some that the policy may not last as COVID-19 cases in the United States spike. Wargo, the nurse, is planning to keep her family in Canada until September in case the border policy does not last.

"You never know what the next little bit will bring," she said.

Though there are uncertainties, Americans like Wargo say they are happy to see the border reopen, at least for now.

Tom Roeber was hoping to cross on Sunday as part of a 1,500-mile bike trip from Minnesota to Maine that will take him to Port Huron and into Canada as part of his route.

Roeber planned the trip before knowing the border would be open. He said given the alternative route, which would take him around the U.S. coast of Lake Erie, would have added about 300 miles and another half-week to his trip.

"It was just in time for me," he said.

Traffic is backed up at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, Friday, August 6, 2021.

What to expect

Here's what tourists should know before trying to visit across the Detroit River, the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron or the crossing in Sault Ste. Marie:

  • Be fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to entering Canada with doses from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson
  • Be living in and traveling from the United States
  • Show a negative pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test result taken no more than 72 hours before arriving in Canada. This would have to be a nasal swab test including PCR (polymerase chain reaction), nucleic acid test (NAT) or any of the following listed here. Antigen tests are not accepted.
  • Be asymptomatic
  • Show proof of vaccination on arrival
  • Information uploaded to the border's database ArriveCAN, via the website at or a downloaded app within 72 hours before arrival
  • Be admissible under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, show United States identification by enhanced ID or passport
  • Take a COVID-19 test on arrival, if required. Failure to do so could result in a ticket.

Twitter: @alex_harring