What Canadians Should Know Before Travelling During COVID-19

Restrictions vary across the country—here’s what to know before flying

After months of Instagram scrolling, Netflix-watching and recipe experimentation of quarantine, we are all itching to get away now that the weather is warmer and businesses are reopening. To help you navigate the complicated flight and travel restrictions across Canada, and internationally, we’ve rounded up everything that you may need to know before you book your next adventure.

Is it safe to fly within Canada?

If you want to travel this year, your best option will be to explore Canada. However, before you book that flight, be sure to research the current provincial and territorial health restrictions, as all travellers by plane will be subjected to health checks at the airport and those vary by location (more on that in a bit). As of July 28, Canadians can freely travel to Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia freely but depending on where visitors to Yukon, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are travelling from, they may be required to self-isolate upon arrival. But that doesn’t mean that flying within Canada is risk-free: Starting on July 1, Air Canada and WestJet have removed social distancing measures on their aircrafts, which means that middle seats are now available for sale. As of July 14, there were 14 domestic flights (and 33 international flights) in Canada with confirmed cases of COVID-19. All passengers aboard these flights have been requested to self-isolate for 14 days following the flight and monitor for symptoms. 

The in-flight experience has also changed, with your safety in mind. Not only have airlines intensified their cleaning procedures to include stronger disinfectants, fogging sanitization (a process using a hydrogen-peroxide based cleaner that kills up to 99.9% of bacteria to thoroughly clean the interior cabin of the aircraft) and the use of hospital-quality HEPA filters to introduce fresh air every two to three minutes, all travellers are required to wear masks both in the airport and for the duration of your flight. Travel expert Waheeda Harris recommends booking your flight directly through the airline instead of a third-party website as they will be able to provide travellers “specific information regarding booking your ticket, their refund policy and what the process will be like at the airport.”

What should I pack because of COVID-19? 

Despite being someone who regularly travels with only carry-on luggage, when Harris went to B.C. last month to visit family, she checked a bag to limit the number of personal items she had with her in-flight to only the essentials (like your phone, headphones, wallet and medications). Travel expert Heather Greenwood Davis suggests packing a thermometer and a few items (such as your own pillowcase and towel to use at your accommodations) that will help to reduce your worries while on the road. Additionally, Air Canada and Air Transat currently provide Customer Care Kits to all travellers that include a complimentary mask (to be worn for the duration of the flight), gloves, bottled water, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, headset and snack, but you’ll want to pack at least your own mask and sanitizer just in case. Harris also recommends packing sealed snack foods for your travels as only select vendors at the airport are open and may be serving a limited menu. 

What are the travel restrictions in Canada because of COVID-19? 

The travel restrictions in Canada because of COVID-19 currently vary by province and territory. For example, any inter-provincial or territorial travel to British Columbia is allowed as long as you “follow the same travel guidelines as everyone else in B.C. and travel safely and respectfully.” Conversely, Prince Edward Island is welcoming travellers from elsewhere in Atlantic Canada after completion of a self-declaration travel form but requiring Canadian travellers from all other regions to self-isolate for a period of 14 days and to submit a self-isolation plan. Residents in the Atlantic Canada travel bubble will need to present personal identification and provide a printed and completed self-declaration form. Seasonal residents must apply for pre-travel approval and self-isolate for 14 days upon entry. To help you navigate through these complex restrictions, Destination Canada has created a user-friendly Interactive Map on CanadaNice.ca that shows current travel restrictions and safe travel requirements by province and territory. 

Similar to what you are noticing at home, hotels, tour operators, local attractions and other tourism businesses all across Canada have added safety measures to your guest experience to keep the staff and visitors safe. As a courtesy to the locals, Greenwood Davis recommends finding a way to limit your interactions with locals and suggests planning a trip to a destination with plenty of outdoor space, or finding accommodations with a kitchen to allow for the preparation of light meals so as to avoid over-frequenting local restaurants. Thankfully, this is pretty doable: Nearly 80% of Canadians live within a 30-minute drive from The Great Trailover 24,000 kilometres of hiking and cycling paths weaving its way across every province and territory in Canada.

Can you fly internationally right now?

While a growing number of countries in Europe and the Caribbean are opening their borders, the Government of Canada continues to advise Canadians to “avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada and to avoid cruise ship travel entirely until further notice.” Greenwood Davis recommends looking into the terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and requirements of both your travel and medical insurance policies as there may be exclusions to your travel medical claims with international travel being deemed higher risk by Global Affairs Canada. The Government of Canada has also stated that they will not plan further flights to repatriate Canadians after July and have stated that “any international trips will be the sole responsibility of the individual traveller.” In short, if you choose to travel outside of Canada and get stuck there because of a sudden lockdown, you’re on your own. 

However, should you still wish to travel to the United States and to other destinations internationally, it is crucial to look at the entry and exit requirements of both your destination and the Government of Canada for when you return. Many countries, such as Barbados, require a negative test from a COVID-19 assessment centre (within a specific time period before your flight) and a pre-departure customs formadditional on-site testing may also be required at the airport and when you land. If you have a connecting flight or stopover, it is important to be aware of the government requirements of that destination as well. In some countries, like Bermuda, travellers must complete a pre-depature authorization form and pay a $75 fee for a COVID-19 test upon arrival in addition to providing a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure.

What can Canadians returning to Canada expect in order to re-enter? 

Upon your return to Canada, all travellers who are entering from anywhere outside of the country must self-isolate for the mandatory 14-day period and must provide documentation that they will have a suitable place to quarantine without risking the health and safety of other Canadians. To avoid airport lines, download the ArriveCAN app (available in iOS, Android, or web format) to submit your information easily and securely within 48 hours of your arrival.