Negative COVID-19 Test Required for International Air Travel to Canada

The novel COVID-19 pandemic first began impacting parts of Canada in March of 2020. With a vaccine for the deadly virus being rolled out throughout Canada, many had hoped that this was the light at the end of the tunnel for which we have been waiting for the past nine months.

Instead, as cases continue to rise and new strains of the vaccine are announced, Dominic LeBlanc, the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, announced on Wednesday, December 30, 2020, that further measures would be implemented for international travellers arriving by air. Specifically, Minister LeBlanc announced that all incoming international travellers would be required to present a “negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within a 72-hour period prior to boarding a plane.”

This new rule took effect on January 7, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. EST.

Update: The Government of Canada has recently introduced a new function on their website that allows travellers to locate reputable testing sources outside of Canada. This makes it easier for individuals to find accredited COVID-19 testing sites abroad within 72 hours.

Travellers are advised to be cautious of illegitimate tests and air carriers are currently refusing to board travellers who provide false or misleading information related to their test results. Air carriers failing to comply with the current requirements could be subject to a fine of up to $5,000.

Does this requirement apply to Canadians as well?

Minister LeBlanc’s comments specifically noted that all incoming travellers will be required to test negative within the 72-hour period prior to travel without making exceptions for Canadian citizens or permanent residents or based on the duration of the travel outside of Canada. Because no exceptions have been made, this new rule will apply to all air travellers five years of age or older, travelling for any purpose.

If I test negative, do I still have to self-isolate for 14 days once I return to Canada?

Individuals entering Canada will continue to be required to self-isolate for 14 days even if they obtain a negative PCR test prior to travel. In his statement, Minister LeBlanc outlined that the negative PCR test was not an alternative to the mandatory self-isolation upon entry to Canada, rather that the required negative test was an additional layer in protecting Canadian citizens and residents from the virus. Additionally, those who qualify for Alberta’s Rapid Test Pilot can still participate in that program.

What if a traveller is unable to get tested prior to travel?

Travellers may not be able to obtain tests within the 72-hour window or in the region from which they are travelling. According to updated statements from Minister LeBlanc, individuals without a test will not be “stranded abroad.” He went on to clarify that air passengers without a negative PCR test will be required to isolate at a federally approved site until they obtain a negative test.

This means travellers who do not have a test should be allowed to board their flights. Those same individuals will be transported to federal isolation sites on arrival to Canada. Federal isolation sites are usually hotels or other accommodations near the port of entry. Although travellers without a negative test should be allowed boarding, the National Airlines Council of Canada has stated it was blindsided by the announcement. As a result of the confusion, travellers could see significant issues boarding a flight to Canada without a test. Boarding a flight is always at the discretion of the airline.

How will this new rule be implemented?

The Federal Government continues to encourage people to avoid any and all non-essential travel. In addition, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will be increasing personnel at airports throughout Canada to reinforce compliance messaging and ensure travellers are aware of their self-isolation and COVID-19 precaution obligations once in Canada.

Travel during COVID-19 can be difficult to navigate and inconsistent application of the rules is common. Individuals planning to travel to Canada during the pandemic should obtain a full review and opinion to ensure rules are correctly applied to their application for entry. MLT Aikins has significant experience advising clients on immigration law matters and would be pleased to discuss the implications of this program.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.