How I Successfully Navigated Canada’s COVID Protocols as a Vaccinated American to Cross By Land

Some of you may be wondering how to visit Canada now that vaccinated Americans can now travel there. I was able to cross twice with no issues so this is how I did it (Also, the situation is always changing so make sure to pay attention to that):

1.) I scheduled a PCR COVID test on the Wednesday before my trip since I was going to cross Friday night. 

You do not want to get a test last minute as a result may not come back in time. You also do not want to take the test too early as the test must be less than 72 hours from the time you want to cross. It’s a delicate balancing act to make sure you time it right.

You will need to find somewhere that does the COVID tests. Walgreens, CVS, and other chains are good places to start, but it varies depending on where you are. I actually tested at a local pharmacy a few minutes from my house. 

Because I tested at a local pharmacy, I called to make an appointment. Other places have online portals. The biggest thing is finding an available slot in that 72-hour window. This may require you to search look in several different places.

Depending on your area, you may have to sign up for a COVID test registry. I can only speak for Wisconsin since that’s where I live. Wisconsin does it at a state level. It is the Wisconsin COVID-19 Connect.

Other areas may do it differently. You should get instructions from the testing center. Wisconsin’s website is a simple form, and you receive a QR code to take to the testing center. This centralizes the results and also will allow the results to be sent to your email.

Make sure you’re aware of the test result turnaround times. You can usually get this info if you call the place where you’re going to get tested. Since there are rising cases and more tests being done, there have been some reported delays.

The standard PCR test is done at the testing center. A courier then picks it up and brings it to a lab. You may want to ask when the courier comes for the day. If you arrive after they have come, your test won’t be picked up until the next day. This will delay the result an extra day. 

In the case of the local pharmacy I went to, they told me that the courier came in the early afternoon. I needed to make an appointment before noon to make sure that my test would be sent to the lab that day. I scheduled my test for 10 AM.

I know what I said seems like a lot. You may even feel nervous about timing it right and may have heard about the “rapid” tests. I was thinking of getting a rapid test to guarantee my result came in time but ran into some confusion. Hopefully, the next bit will clear those tests up.

The biggest confusion I found was between rapid and rapid PCR. The rapid one gives an instant result but isn’t as accurate. From my knowledge, it isn’t accepted for traveling either. Do not get this test. The rapid PCR test is just the test I mentioned above, but it is usually done at the lab itself. This takes the courier out of the process. They will perform the lab test right away. This speeds up the process, but it appears to be costly (I’ve seen $200-300) versus a standard PCR test being done for free. 

I opted for the standard free PCR test. My worries about not getting a result in time were unfounded. For my test, they turned the result around in about 24 hours, so everything was good.

2.) Once you get your negative COVID test result, download the ArriveCAN app from the app store. This is where you’ll upload your information. This includes your passport, COVID vaccination records, and negative COVID test results. You will also specify which port of entry you will cross at and the date and time. You will also answer some questions and fill out a quarantine plan if you had to quarantine.

This needs to be done less than 72 hours from the time you plan to cross. Once everything is completed, you will receive an email receipt.

3.) Print a hard copy of everything. This includes the ArriveCAN receipt and your negative COVID test result. Also, make sure to have your vaccine card ready. You may need to hand this info to the border agent. Having a hard copy is much easier to hand over. Also, a lot of border crossings have limited cell phone reception, so do not rely on your cell phone working. You may want to take pictures on your cell phone for a backup, but do not rely on this.

4.) Make sure to adhere to the travel plans outlined in step #2. Some borders are extremely busy, and there have been several hour waits. I’d recommend finding a less busy port of entry to cross at and crossing during an off time.

In my case, I had followed all the steps I outlined above. I got done with work at 1PM on Friday. I then drove the 8+ hours from the Madison, WI area to the Pigeon River crossing near Thunder Bay, Ontario. This border crossing is generally quiet, and my past crossings have also not taken too long.

I arrived around midnight since I lost an hour due to the time zone difference and also had a few stops along the way. There was one person ahead of me, so I had to wait a few minutes before I was called up. I was told to put on my mask in my car, so make sure you have a mask ready. 

I then handed the border agent my passport card and asked if he wanted my ArriveCAN receipt. He was more interested in my vaccine card and my negative COVID test. I handed those papers to him. I got the standard run-of-the-mill questions, including asking why I was crossing at midnight. I answered every question to the border agent’s approval and I was shortly on my way.

Besides the extra paperwork, the border crossing itself is pretty ordinary. It takes a little longer for them to process the paperwork, but it’s a pretty painless process. The Canadian border agents seem to have the process down well, so it’s efficient overall. If you do the preparation as I mentioned above, you shouldn’t have any issues.

Now you may be asking what it’s like to cross back into the USA. The process is the same as it was pre-COVID. When I crossed, there wasn’t even a mention of COVID. I just gave them my passport card, and they asked the standard questions. I did have to pop my trunk for this border visit, but the whole process took a few minutes. Both sides were pretty painless!

Now when you’re in Canada, please be aware of the local regulations. They can vary location-to-location like in the USA. Ontario still required masks when I visited. Make sure to always have your mask handy.

Also, there may be social distancing and capacity requirements. This can make it more difficult to find a restaurant or bar. You may be put on a waitlist. It sounds like a 30-60 minute waitlist can be common, so you will want to plan ahead.

I hope this helps when it comes to crossing the border. It’s amazing being able to visit Canada again. But, make sure to be respectful of all regulations and be as safe as possible.

Happy travels!

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