The Complete Guide to a U.S.-Canada Border Crossing

To cross the border, you'll need documentation of vaccination, a negative COVID test and your travel documents.
Alisha McDarrisOct 25, 2021
Truck driving into the mountains

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Borders between the U.S. and Canada recently reopened to travelers more than a year after having closed due to COVID-19. Now, many who are eager to explore our neighbor to the north are left wondering what’s involved in a border crossing and what guidelines they’ll need to adhere to for a successful journey.

If you’re anxious to visit Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary, here’s what to know — and what to expect — when crossing the U.S.-Canada border by land, air or sea.

Who can travel from the U.S. to Canada?

For starters, not everyone is currently welcome to cross from the U.S. into Canada. In fact, the only people allowed to visit Canada for leisure travel at this time are Canadian citizens, permanent residents and fully vaccinated foreign visitors.

Not fully vaccinated? You won’t be able to visit Canada if you’re traveling for discretionary or leisure purposes. If you don't qualify as a fully vaccinated traveler but still need to travel to Canada for reasons other than leisure, you’ll be required to quarantine for 14 days, take a molecular COVID test, and register for a COVID test upon your arrival in the country, which you can do in advance to save time.

If you were planning to take a cruise to Canada, think again; passenger boats with more than 12 people and cruise ships with more than 100 passengers are prohibited from entering Canadian Arctic coastal waters until at least Nov. 1, 2021. However, if you're on a boat that meets these restrictions — and you're fully vaccinated — you can travel to Canada as long as you adhere to all entry requirements and dock at an open marine reporting site. You'll also need to report to the Canada Border Services Agency upon arriving. If your boat does not anchor, moor, or come alongside another vessel, and if you don't touch Canadian soil, you're not required to report.

How many border crossings are there between the U.S. and Canada?

There are more than 100 land border crossings between the U.S. and Canada, and wait time to cross can vary widely.

At most crossings, how long you wait depends on the time of day and the day of the week. Some crossings have little to no delay at off-peak travel times, and others, like Buffalo, New York, can log wait times around 40 minutes.

If you want to set appropriate expectations for how long it takes to cross the U.S.-Canada border, check the Government of Canada website, which is updated hourly.

Checklist for a U.S.-Canada border crossing

If you're fully vaccinated and traveling to Canada, whether by car, plane or boat, you still have to follow certain protocols. To meet entry requirements, you must:

  • Have no symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Have received all doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 full days before you enter Canada.

  • Upload your proof of vaccination in ArriveCAN, an app that provides border crossing info and stores important documentation.

  • Take a pre-entry COVID-19 molecular test (not a rapid antigen test). This is required for anyone age 5 or older, and must be taken within 72 hours of: a) your departure time, if flying, or b) your arrival time, if driving or boating. You must have paper or electronic proof of the results.

  • Have your required entry documents.

If you don’t meet all the requirements of a fully vaccinated traveler, you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. You may also be selected for a random arrival test at some airports and land crossings. These may take place at the airport or a designated testing site, or you may be provided with a do-it-yourself kit that you can send in once you arrive at your final destination.

Special cases for Alaska residents

If you live in Alaska, you may sometimes have to drive through Canada to get to certain regions of the state. Alaska residents who must pass through Canada for necessary purposes (i.e. not for leisure or recreation) may do so without pre-entry and arrival COVID tests, but they must remain in their vehicle while driving through Canada. They'll also likely be given a specimen collection kit when they cross a land border into Canada.

If you're leaving Alaska to travel to the lower forty-eight, or if you're returning to Alaska after being in another state, you may also be granted special permission to pass through Canada. However, if you’re not fully vaccinated you will need a negative COVID molecular test result to enter. You'll also need proof that you live in Alaska if you’re driving north, or proof of residence or employment in the lower forty-eight if driving south.

If you want to cross the U.S.-Canada border …

The key to a successful U.S.-Canadian border crossing is preparation. Make sure you know what tests, documentation and information you need well in advance of your arrival at the border or the airport. Ensure everything is in order and uploaded to the ArriveCAN app, and be patient. Above all, travel safely.


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