20 months after the closing of the borders the Canadian government finally removed the ridiculous Covid testing requirement for trips under 72 hours. (I say ridiculous because you could get a test in Canada, travel to the United States for 3 days doing whatever you wanted, and cross back on the same test… made no sense to me.) Whether you’re a property owner like me, and trying to get to the states to check on your place, or looking to head down for a weekend getaway, here is your step by step guide for travelling to the United States by car for a trip 72 hours or less.

Recognize That Times Have Changed

Doing a quick jaunt across the border for milk and gas isn’t going to be as easy or worthwhile as it used to be. From my experience and from my research, many Canadians who have travelled across the border since the land opening have had a different experience as they cross the border. Crossing now comes with more logistics, paperwork, questions at the border, wait times, and increased Covid security including requests for second Covid tests and short-term quarantine. So if you’re looking for a short and easy trip, I’d recommend you stay local and skip the border.

Check the Current Travel Requirements

Things have been rapidly changing so quickly that from the time I write this article to the time it gets published things can change. So knowing exactly what is required from each country is imperative. To stay up to date here are the best websites to reference when sourcing official entry information for each country. Be warned… times are changing so fast that I even found discrepancies on official statements on these sites, so be sure to read every detail and cross-reference where needed. 

Canada – https://travel.gc.ca/travel-covid
United States – https://ca.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-canada-3/

What to Expect – Requirements for Entering the United States

Canadians wishing to cross the border into the United States are allowed to do so as long as they are fully vaccinated. Travellers DO NOT NEED to provide proof of a negative test in order to cross the border. 

Note: If it’s been a while since you crossed the border it may be good to brush up on what you can and can not bring across the border. In other words, make sure you don’t bring fruit for a snack, or the wrong dog food for your pooch! For a complete list of what you can bring across the border visit: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/prohibited-and-restricted-items  

Get All 3 Passports Ready

woman holding up her covid vaccine passport, canadian passport and nexus card

You may need up to three passports in order to cross the border. Depending on who the border guard is and where you enter you could be asked for any combination of these travel documents. This includes: 

Canadian Passport – Your traditional passport that is needed for travel.
Provincial Covid Vaccine Passport – Your provincial vaccine passport.
National Vaccine Passport – Your national vaccine proof of vaccination. (For British Columbians you can access this document via the BC Health Gateway).
Bring Backup – If your phone died, would you be able to cross the border? I’d recommend printing off physical copies of your vaccine passports so that if you need to access them without your phone you can. 

What about Nexus?

If you have a Nexus card be sure to bring it but don’t expect the front-of-the-line experience that you’re used to having. Depending on where you enter, Nexus lines may be closed and your quick pass may do nothing to speed up your wait time. However, it may help with quicker passage once you’re at the border check. 

Alternatively, you may cross somewhere that the line is open, but based on my experience the Nexus lines haven’t been as accessible as they were in the past. 

What to Expect – Requirements for Returning Home to Canada

directional sign above the road indicating to turn right to the Canadian boarder crossing

During the first few weeks of travelling back into Canada, returning Canadians reported longer processing times at the border (Sumas was averaging about 10 minutes per car). This is quite different from pre-Covid processing times. For our group of property owners, a lot (I’m estimating about 25%) were required to go for secondary covid testing at home, which meant they were in quarantine until they had submitted their test. Travellers can also expect to see fewer lanes open and longer wait times overall while the borders slowly transition back to regular capacity. 

If you are travelling for 72 hours or less, a negative PCR test is no longer required, however, if you are visiting for longer than 72 hours you will need to produce a negative PCR test. (Hint, search around, you can find some free testing sites being offered right now!) 

Border Checklist For Returning To Canada 

  • Travel Documents (ie Passport & Nexus) 
  • Proof of Vaccination
  • ArriveCan Completed Registration Receipt  
  • Activities in the car to entertain the kids while you wait.
  • Negative Covid PCR test results if you’ve been in the United States for over 72 hours

ArriveCAN Tips and Tricks

Travellers returning to Canada must complete the ArriveCAN App within 72 hours prior to returning to Canada. Completing the ArriveCAN app gave me a bit of anxiety as once again there were a lot of questions to complete and a LOT of questions about quarantining at the end. The quarantine questions took me by surprise as they went in-depth on my “quarantine plan” should I not qualify as a fully vaccinated traveller. It asked extensive questions including where I’d quarantine, how I’d get food and supplies, about other members of the household. So while I am a fully vaccinated traveller this in-depth questioning surprised me when I first came across it as I didn’t anticipate being asked these questions. 

ArriveCAN Tips: 

  • Have your vaccination dates easily accessible as you’ll need to enter them on the ArriveCAN app. (I used my physical vaccination card to get the dates. They can also be found on your proof of vaccination cards) 
  • Give yourself 5 or so minutes to complete it and be ready for all the quarantine questions. 
  • One person per family can complete the app. 
  • Bring a copy of the receipt (which will be emailed to you) to your border crossing.

What about Unvaccinated Children?

Unvaccinated children may enter the United States as well as return to Canada but they have a different set of rules they must follow due to their lack of vaccination. This includes: 

  • Unvaccinated children 6- 12 must complete pre-entry, arrival and Day-8 tests, (unless you have evidence that the child had a positive COVID-19 test taken 14 to 180 days prior to arrival in Canada or the child is under 5 years of age.)
  • For the next 14 days, the children must also do a modified quarantine, which includes not attending school, camp or daycare, not taking public transit, not attending crowded settings, and more. For a full list visit this link

You Win – What to do if You Win the “Random Test” Draw

Upon your entry to Canada by air or at a land border crossing, the border services officer may notify you that you have been selected for a mandatory randomized arrival test. When we were crossing the first week we found that a lot of our Glen neighbours were selected for this (our uneducated estimate was somewhere around the 20% mark of people crossing). 

“If you are selected for a mandatory randomized test, you:

  • Must take the arrival test as directed on the day you enter Canada. The test may be administered at the airport or you may receive a self-swab kit to complete within 24 hours of entering Canada.
  • Don’t have to wait for the results, you can travel on to your final destination, including taking connecting flights.
  • Don’t have to quarantine while waiting for your results.
  • Are not required to pay a fee for the arrival test.” 

In short, do the test quickly and then you can get on with your life.

Travelling to the states by land for 72 hours or less can be a worthwhile trip as long as you’re well informed and willing to wait a little bit while the paperwork processes and proof are produced where needed! 

If you’re not up for crossing the border just yet, no worries! There are lots of incredible local businesses and shops that would gladly welcome you into their doors with open (but socially distanced) arms. But if you are, we hope this step by step guide for travelling to the United States by car has helped you make an informed decision.

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