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Negative COVID tests required for air passengers arriving in Canada

January 9th, 2021  |  Travel

If you’re returning to Canada by air from another country, it’s a good idea to do some planning before you leave.

As of Jan. 7, 2021, the Government of Canada requires all passengers five years of age or older – regardless of country of origin – to provide a negative laboratory COVID test prior to travelling back to Canada. The test must be conducted within 72 hours prior to your scheduled flight’s boarding time and, unless otherwise exempted, travellers must provide written or electronic documentation proving the test result was negative.

The test must be conducted before boarding the plane, in the flight’s country of origin. The government has directed airlines to turn away travellers who do not present a test result at the time of boarding.

Limit spread of virus

Ottawa announced the move Dec. 31 to try and further limit the spread of COVID-19 as cases continue to climb in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, approximately 6,000 cases of COVID-19 in the country – just under two per cent of the total – have been linked to international travel.

At the outset, there are time-limited flexibilities for travellers departing from some countries in recognition of the need for testing systems to adjust. Those departing from Saint Pierre et Miquelon are exempt from the requirement to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test until Jan. 14, and travellers departing from Haiti, until January 21, 2021, but they are strongly encouraged to get a COVID-19 test once they arrive in Canada. Travellers departing from the Caribbean or South America can use tests conducted within 96 hours of departure until Jan. 14, 2021.

The federal government recommends anyone who is unsure how they can obtain a test outside the country contact their airline, local health authorities or the nearest Government of Canada office.

Here’s more of what you need to know:

What kind of COVID test is required?

The test must be a COVID-19 molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test – the standard nose swab – or a loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) and must be conducted within 72 hours of the traveller’s scheduled departure from a lab accredited by an external organization (e.g., a government, a professional association or ISO accreditation). Other types of tests, such as a rapid antigen test, are not acceptable. Only written or electronic proof of a negative lab test result will be accepted. Otherwise, boarding will be denied by the airline.

What if I can’t get a PCR test in my destination?

If you are travelling from a country where PCR testing is unavailable, you will be required to report to a designated Public Health Agency of Canada quarantine facility for the full duration of your mandatory 14-day quarantine upon your return to Canada. (Delays in obtaining test results do not apply.)

Do I still have to quarantine when I arrive in Canada?

Yes. The 14-day quarantine requirement is still in place along with the test. Travellers must have a quarantine plan in place when arriving in Canada and must use the ArriveCAN app or sign in online at ArriveCAN and provide accurate contact information about your mandatory quarantine plan on or before entry. Canada Border Services Officers have also increased their scrutiny of quarantine plans. If your quarantine plan is deemed insufficient, you will be required to spend the quarantine period at a Public Health Agency of Canada facility.

Does the negative COVID test requirement apply to land travel?

No. Currently, the requirement to obtain a negative COVID test prior to arrival doesn’t apply to individuals entering Canada by land. It is unknown at this time if testing requirements will be expanded or modified.

What if I have been vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to travelling to Canada?

Vaccination is not accepted as an alternative to a negative COVID test result.

Who pays for these COVID tests?

You are responsible for the cost of your COVID test. It is unlikely that a COVID test, for this reason, will be covered by your travel medical insurance policy, but you should check to find out what their COVID-19 related medical expenses coverage includes. For travellers who do not have travel insurance, the federal government strongly recommends they get insurance immediately and make sure that it covers COVID-19-related medical expenses, other non-COVID-19 emergency-related expenses, as well as trip cancellation and interruption. Read the fine print and verify the terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, and requirements of your insurance policy. If you have questions, talk to your broker.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Violating any quarantine instructions provided when you enter Canada is an offence under the Quarantine Act and could lead to up to six months in prison and/or up-to $750,000 in fines.

The bottom line? Planning is key. Canadians who are currently travelling and returning to Canada soon should start immediately arranging for a COVID-19 test, to avoid delay. Those who are planning to travel abroad should consider how they will meet these requirements before departure.

RELATED READING: For more details and future updates about the policy, visit Transport Canada’s COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers entering Canada.

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