Vaccine mandates and border reopenings: Canada vs US

Published 2021-12-22 12:12:50
Passengers with masks leaving a plane - photo created by -

As recently as November 2021, the US eased travel restrictions that were imposed in response to rising Covid cases at the beginning of the pandemic. This country experienced almost 20 months of travel restrictions for all non-essential travel. Families were separated, students impacted and local economies were weakened. The relief felt at the reopening of the borders is widespread as families reunite, businesses receive a boost from tourism and almost-normal life resumes. At the same time, Canada has adopted a very robust stance that leaves unvaccinated people unable to go to work or travel.

United States government lifts travel restrictions

In early November 2021, the US eased travel restrictions to allow fully vaccinated travellers to travel to the US. This applies to passengers from 33 countries. These include, amongst others, the European Union, the United Kingdom, India, China, Iran, Brazil and South Africa.

  • NB: Starting December 6, travel requirements have changed again to prevent the Omicron varaint spreading. All air passengers aged two and older, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel to the United States.

Countries sharing a land border with the US, namely Mexico and Canada also had travel restrictions lifted after travel was limited to essential travel only during the pandemic.

All over the US there were emotional scenes of joy and tears as families reunited after being separated for almost 20 months. The psychological cost of the travel restrictions will be felt for years to come: some families lost members but were unable to say goodbye, grandparents were separated from grandkids, married couples were kept apart, etc.

Airlines and the tourism sector also prepared for the influx of tourists

Many Mexican citizens armed with travel vaccination certificates waited in long queues to cross the land border to enter the US (those travellers using land borders are not required to present a negative Covid test result but must be vaccinated). The travellers into the US also included many shoppers providing relief to local US businesses who had suffered an estimated $1.3 billion loss when border restrictions were imposed.

Before the pandemic in excess of 15 million people visited the United States annually by crossing the land border with Mexico, and more than half of the 20.7 million people who visited the US from Canada in 2019 travelled by crossing the land border into the US too.

Unvaccinated travellers still banned

Unvaccinated travelers are still banned from crossing the land borders with Mexico and Canada. Even those travellers who were not barred from travel during the pandemic (deemed essential travel), like students and commercial drivers, will now be required to show proof of vaccination starting from January 2022. 

In order to enter into the United States with a fully vaccinated status, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that vaccines accepted will include those FDA approved (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s) or authorized, as well as vaccines with an emergency use listing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO) which includes AstraZeneca, Covaxin, Sinopharm... etc.

However, many would-be travellers, especially from Mexico, received Covid vaccines not recognised by the World Health Organisation (such as the Russian vaccine). This will require addressing in the coming months to ensure ease of movement for travellers between these two countries. Other international travellers using airports as a port of entry will also have to present a valid vaccination certificate but additionally a negative PCR test to gain entry into the US. According to the US State department, vaccination proof can either be paper or digital that has been issued by an official source.

Canada’s requirements for travellers

The recent response from Canada to its citizens is to limit international travel as far as possible to essential travel only. As per the official Canadian travel website only fully vaccinated foreigners will be welcomed into the country at the discretion of the authorities.

Fully vaccinated according to the government regulations include:

  1. AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD
  2. Bharat Biotech (Covaxin)
  3. Janssen/Johnson & Johnson -(1 dose)
  4. Moderna
  5. Pfizer-BioNTech
  6. Sinopharm
  7. Sinovac

To qualify you need to have a combination of two or more doses of any of the above vaccines, taken more than two weeks before the day you plan to enter Canada. Before you enter Canada you must also have a negative Covid test. This is mandatory for all travellers over the age of 5. Requirements for passengers coming from the US on land (bus, ferry, car, boat or train) are a negative Covid test not older than 3 days. Rapid tests are not accepted.

The negative Covid test should be presented to authorities either as a paper copy or electronic showing all the relevant details. These test results should be kept with you for at least 2 weeks after arriving in the country. It is advisable to have a 14-day quarantine plan in place in the event you don’t meet the requirements of a fully vaccinated traveller.

You must use the ArriveCAN application on your device (phone or computer) to record your proof of vaccination, quarantine plan and travel information within 72 hours before you travel.

As of 30 November 2021, no travel is allowed, including air travel or by rail, for any unvaccinated individuals.

Canada imposed stricter rules

Whilst the US is throwing its doors open to vaccinated visitors, Canada is making vaccines mandatory inside the country to increase vaccination rates. The new vaccine ruling will apply to all passengers over the age of 12. Canada’s strong vaccination stance has resulted in over 80% of the population being double vaccinated to date.

Already companies like Air Canada, the Canadian National Railway and Westjet have implemented the vaccine ruling mandatory.However, the vaccine mandate doesn’t apply to ferry passengers or other boat trips that are shorter than 24 hours. If you find yourself in Canada after the 30th October deadline but are still unvaccinated you may still have a window of travel if you provide a negative COVID-19 test taken that is not older than 72 hours before your trip.

The Canadian federal government, which is the largest employer, has made vaccinations a requirement for all public service and federally-regulated sector employees as of the end of October. Sectors that are federally regulated include rail companies, airlines, marine companies and the banking sector. The federal government is so serious about increasing vaccination rates that any employee who is not vaccinated will be placed on unpaid leave. Government officials expect this ruling to be enforced across all sectors, including the military. Federal employees will remain on unpaid leave until they get the vaccine or if the policy is revoked. They can apply for exemptions on medical or religious grounds but were advised that they will be granted in very limited instances.

This strong stance against Covid by the government has drawn some pushback from related unions. They say that, although they support the idea of vaccination, they will still be obliged to represent members who have not yet been inoculated. They also claim that they were not given sufficient time to respond to the proposal before it was implemented.

The vaccine mandate controversy has also spilled over into the political arena. The mandate cannot be enforced with Members of Parliament who refuse to vaccinate because legally a MP cannot be refused entry into the country’s House of Commons.

Our pandemic travel woes are far from over as Omicron sweeps through countries on a global scale. It’s still early days yet for the Omicron wave so countries may still make numerous changes to travel rules in an effort to contain the rising number of Covid infections. Local rules may also differ with regard to social distancing, mandatory masks in public areas and limits to group sizes.

It is important to remember that governments impose and enforce new travel regulations at very short notice. Keep checking official websites for your destination country and the airlines you've booked with for the latest travel rules.

Share your experience, participate in the discussion and leave comments in our forum HERE.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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