COVID-19 tests required for cross-border travelling (US/Canada) and other travel tips

HOORAY! US/Canada borders are open again!(with some restrictions):

If you are anything like me, you might be itching to do some travelling again, and why not stick close to home by visiting the country that we share a border with? Follow these tips to learn how to make your next trip as smooth as possible.

  1. All travellers need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (except for children: see #5, #6, and #7 below).
  2. Entering/re-entering the US by air requires a negative viral test. The test must be taken within 24 hours of your scheduled plane departure time (of the flight that crosses the U.S. border). The quickest and least expensive viral test is the rapid-antigen COVID-19 test. Results are usually available in less than 30 minutes and the cost ranges from $17 (Costco), $20 (Walmart),$35 (CHL), $30 (Rexall) and $40 (Shopper’s Drug Mart). Sadly, in some provinces like British Columbia you will likely not be able to find a rapid-antigen test for less than $120.
  3. Alternatively, you may enter/re-enter the US by air with proof of a positive COVID-19 viral test result acquired less than 90 days before the flight’s departure from Canada and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel.
  4. Entering/re-entering Canada by any route requires a negative molecular test such as a PCR (RT-PCR) test. This test is usually very expensive ($100 – $300) and results can take up to 48 hours to get back. Because the test must be taken within 72 hours of the plane departure, the timing can be very tricky from receiving your test result to showing it to a Canadian official at the border or at the airport. Try getting an NAAT test instead (see NOTE, below). RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE TO ENTER CANADA.
  5. Alternatively, you may enter/re-enter Canada with proof of a positive COVID-19 molecular test result acquired between 14 (10 after Jan. 15, 2022) and 180 days before departure of your flight to Canada so long as you are symptom-free (no doctor’s letter required).

NOTE: If you are entering/re-entering Canada, please do some research before paying for an expensive molecular COVID-19 test. Apparently some US drugstores and pop-up clinics provide free PCR tests, even for Canadians. (Example, click here for free PCR tests in Manhattan). Also, some Walgreen drugstores offer free NAAT tests (called “ID NOW”) with results that can be acquired under 24 hrs and in as little as 2 hours. If there are no Walgreen pharmacies near you in the US, try googling “Free asymptomatic COVID19 tests for travel in (city/state)”, or “Free rapid-antigen test for travel in (city/state)”, or “Free NAAT covid19 test in (city/state)”. Note that some websites might not allow you to book an appointment from an IP address outside the US, so you might have to do this while you are in the US.

In Canada, I have not heard of any free asymptomatic COVID tests for travel purposes.

Make sure that the documentation you receive when your test is complete includes the following information:

  • Your full name as it appears on your passport
  • Your passport number OR your birth date
  • The time and date the test was taken
  • The type of test
  • The word NEGATIVE next to “Test result”
  • The name and contact info of the health provider who conducted the test
  • NOTE: When you check in with Air Canada online you have the option to upload the document with your negative test result. Do not be alarmed if you get an email later that says “Your document is incorrect”. This happened to me and I knew that the test would be accepted at the airport because it was a legit test from Shoppers Drug Mart. As it turned out, no one at the airport asked to see it!

More tips: 

  1. Most COVID-19 tests facilities require an appointment so book early early to avoid stress and additional costs. Many places have limited time slots available.
  2. Set up an appointment to allow you to have your test result back at least 1 day before your travels (again, to minimize stress and to allow more time to make alternative arrangements in the unlikely event that your test result comes back positive). 
  3. I would NOT RECOMMEND booking a test at the airport (I have heard horror stories of long lines and missed flights, even with a set appointment). 
  4. If someone else arranges a test appointment for you, ask questions and make sure that it is the correct test to avoid paying unnecessary costs or to be denied passage to your destination due to a wrong test.
  5. Note that your must take your COVID-19 test 72 hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight that crosses the border into Canada, and 24 hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight that crosses the border into the U.S.
  6. For entering the U.S., if your plane is delayed or cancelled you will get a 24hr extension of your negative test result so be sure to have a record of your original flight departure time (the flight that crosses the border). If there is a delay beyond 24 hours you will have to re-test. You have a 48 hr grace period to your connecting flight if delayed (48 hours from your first flight departure). Click here for more info.
  7. For entering Canada, it appears that there is an unlimited extension of your negative test result from the scheduled flight departure time (click here for more info).
  8. Children under 18 years old DO NOT need to be vaccinated to enter/re-enter or fly within the US, however, they DO need to show proof of a negative COVID19 test (children under 2 are exempted from all rules).
  9. Children over 12 years old DO need to be vaccinated to enter/re-enter or fly within Canada in addition to having a negative COVID19 test (children under 2 are exempted from all rules).
  10. In Canada, unvaccinated children under 12 who return from travelling internationally have many restrictions placed on them for two weeks when they return to Canada, including not being allowed to attend school. Click here for more info.
  11. Everyone entering/re-entering Canada must use the ArriveCan app to provide mandatory travel information. Please note that the instructions on the ArriveCan app says that “a negative molecular (PCR) COVID-19 test result is required”, however, a negative NAAT test is accepted as well, as confirmed here (tap on “Get a pre-entry test (accepted types and timing”). Note also that even if you are fully vaccinated and have tested negative for COVID-19, the ArriveCan app will ask you for an address in your Canadian destination where you can quarantine for two weeks.
  12. Rules change quickly so double check before you plan your trip that the info in this graphic and post are still relevant.

Safe travels!


Great resource: Find out if you can board a flight to the United States: