You are currently viewing 2 elements that are not clear in the travel rule changes announced by Canada

This really isn’t a big surprise to anyone who has looked closely at all of the federal government’s travel rules over the past 2 years (and who inevitably saw how it was always done haphazardly), but there are still 2 pretty major elements of the changes announced Tuesday that are really unclear.

You can read our detailed account of all the changes announced by the government and their impact. Most of the 5 changes are clear.

But there are still 2 unknown elements, so I’m just going to highlight them here so that you know what remains to be determined before February 28 (and because many people didn’t fully read our article where we mentioned these 2 elements and are asking us about them).

Both have to do with the new additional option of presenting a rapid antigen test instead of a molecular test (PCR, NAAT, RT-LAMP, etc.) to meet Canada’s pre-arrival test requirement.

 

1. The validity of a positive rapid antigen test

Here is the part that is really a failure on the part of the government, which is basically saying 2 completely different things.

 

Rules for the positive test exemption

Basically, under the current rules, if you have a molecular positive test done within 11 to 180 days before (and valid proof most importantly), you don’t need to do a negative test. The positive test replaces the negative test.

However, with the new rapid antigen test option, the minister explicitly said during the press conference that the option works just for the negative test… and that a positive test will still have to be molecular.

Here is the exact quote (source; at 6:00):

To prove a previous COVID-19 infection, the Government of Canada will continue to only accept molecular test results (…)

But here’s what the French press release says (source; 3rd bullet point in the “Quelques faits” section):

A traveler can present a positive result from a previous molecular test or a positive result from a previous rapid antien test (…)

Exactly the opposite.

But wait, it gets even better than that. The press release in English says that the positive test must absolutely be a molecular test, not an antigen test…

It’s probably just an honest mistake.

They were probably originally going to accept a positive antigen test and The Science™ changed after the press release had already been sent to translation… and they forgot to change it back. But Flytrippers asked Health Canada media relations to confirm.

We still haven’t received a response but the French press release was modified and corrected. So we can say with 99.9% certainty that a positive antigen test will NOT be valid. That is very inconvenient…

 

Important impact of this measure

It’s a good example of how their rules are poorly thought out and how they don’t take into account the operationalization of measures. In real life, this thing specifically is really complicated for a traveler…

If what has been announced is really true as we suspect, it can become more complex if you choose to take the option of a rapid antigen test (cheaper, less time consuming for results, and less sensitive so less likely to be positive).

If it’s positive, you’ll have to do another test (unlike the molecular test option, where you can just wait 10 full days if you don’t want to pay for another test and hope for that one to be negative so you can board without waiting).

Because if a positive rapid antigen test is not accepted, you will have to either do a molecular test right away to start the 10-day countdown or to see if it is negative so you can use that one to fly right away (if the isolation rules of the country you are in allow it, of course).

Otherwise, you can do new rapid antigen tests, but unlike the molecular option which has a maximum wait period at least, maybe even on the 11th day your rapid antigen test will still be positive… in which case, you still won’t be allowed to fly.

Anyway, as I’ve said, the 72-hour molecular test right now is really not that complicated. Not at all, in fact. Finding the test and the logistics really is not an issue (at least it really shouldn’t be at all).

It’s just that for many, the risk of testing positive is an obstacle to travel.

The new rapid antigen test option doesn’t eliminate the risk of testing positive (as I said, it decreases it though)… but it can complicate the process if you do test positive (if indeed a rapid antigen test is not accepted; to be continued).

 

2. The timing of the rapid antigen test

Even something as simple as the time frame allowed for the test is not clear.

 

New test alternative offered

If you’ve followed this even slightly in the past 13 months, you know that the negative test required to enter Canada must be a molecular test taken in the 72 hours before the departure time of the flight entering Canada.

So the logic would be that the new additional (and optional) option of using a rapid antigen test should be limited to precisely 24 hours.

This is what the Minister of Health said explicitly during the press conference (source; at 5:35):

Travelers who choose to present a valid negative rapid antigen test will have to take the test no more than 24 hours (…)

But here is what the press release says (source; the 2nd bullet point):

Travelers will now have the option of using a COVID-19 rapid antigen test result (taken the day prior to their scheduled flight or arrival at the land border or marine port of entry) or a molecular test result (taken no more than 72 hours before their scheduled flight or arrival at the land border or marine port of entry)

Now, unlike the first element above, this is not in direct contradiction.

The “day prior” could mean “24 hours” of course. But it’s strange that they are not consistent in their phrasing. The sentence right after explicitly says “72 hours” and not “3 days” so why didn’t they write “24 hours”?

Those who subscribe to our free newsletter or visit our site regularly know that we have already explained that “1 day” does not necessarily mean “24 hours”: The US test rule is “1 day” but there is absolutely no limit in terms of the number of hours.

To enter the United States, if your flight is on the 18th (at any time), you can do your test on the 17th (at any time). There is no “24-hour” limit, unlike what most major media outlets always wrongly say.

Is this the Canadian rule or is it really 24 hours the 72-hour limit for molecular testing?

Flytrippers contacted Health Canada media relations to confirm and so far they don’t seem to be very sure themselves honestly… we’ll keep you posted when they respond to our follow-up.

Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it almost feels like my email is what made them realize that the US rule is NOT 24 hours and that they have to decide which rule to choose… I can’t say I’d be very surprised, given how *everyone* wrongly believes that the US rule is 24 hours, even large media outlets whose job it is to report the facts accurately.

 

Concrete example of the impact

It doesn’t make a huge difference for sure, but it’s still much more convenient to have the full day before. My 2 flights from Canada to the US in January and February left around 6 PM both times…

So if their rule had been 24 hours, since the pharmacies that offer rapid antigen tests for $40 in Québec don’t seem to have availability in the evening, I would have had to rush to get tested on the same day as my flight (especially since I live 2 hours from the airport).

But I was able to do it early the previous morning. The “full-day” rule would give you potentially over 36 hours to get tested if your flight to Canada leaves late at night. That’s 50% more time than a “24-hour” rule.

In short, having the full day before really gives you more flexibility and makes everything a lot easier.

 

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Summary

We are waiting for details on these 2 elements, but in any case, the new option to do a rapid antigen test is really not the easing of restrictions that travelers were hoping for (or that the World Health Organization experts recommend: they say that all travel restrictions should be eliminated).

What would you like to know about the new changes? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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Featured image: rapid antigen test (photo credit: Guido Hofmann)

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 64/193 Countries, 47/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Holly

    I had Covid last month and I am wondering why the Nova Scotia health authority site is saying that they do not do pcr tests for proof for travellers, as they do not provide the documentation that is required. Does this mean if I already have proof (email confirmation from them) that I still have to go get tested by a private company and pay $150 in order to get the “required documentation?”

  2. Brenda

    I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything about land crossings to and from the US. We plan on entering the US Feb. 28. There are no RAT anywhere in NY State north of NYC and east of Buffalo so the only options are PCR or NAATS. I’m confused with you last comment about if your NAATS from Walgreens is positive “you can reuse it 10 days later” if it’s positive I won’t be able to cross back into Canada. I would be getting the NAATS the day before entering Canada. I’m missing someone…..

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi, Canada’s rules require you to have a valid negative test OR a positive molecular test from 11 to 180 days prior. The NAAT is molecular, so if you test positive, you can use that same test to enter Canada 11 days later. You cannot do that with a positive test if it’s a rapid antigen test. However by land, you can technically enter at any time, but without the valid test you could be subject to a $5,000 fine. Does this answer your question?

      1. Brenda

        Hi Andrew-yes that answers my question thank you ! and basically if I test positive we have to stay in the US for another 11 days and that wouldn’t be much fun…… Thank you for all you’re doing for travellers as well!
        Brenda

      2. Andrew D'Amours

        Yeah it’s the biggest obstacle for many travelers unfortunately :S
        And thank *you* for following us 🙂

  3. Michele Walker

    My 2 granddaughters age 12 and 16 who are not vaccinated want to travel during march break to see us in Florida. They would be crossing the canada/us border by land to board a plane in the us. Are they able to cross the border into the us without being vaccinated.

  4. Ian Daniels

    The entire process is complete nonsense. I can fly from coast to coast in Canada infected or not, as long as I have been Vaccinated. I take a trip crossing a border and…wham! All of a sudden you need a redundant test. And this makes sense to…anyone?

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Those imaginary lines are very dangerous you know 😛 But just the international imaginary lines, not the provincial imaginary lines 😛

  5. Neil

    Returning from a cruise in San Pedro where Princess
    Offers a free test on disembarking.
    The. Test will be in the morning and will have expired prior
    to our flight from LAX the following day in the afternoon.
    So hoping that the entry timeline will be the same as the US one.
    Hoping for clarification .

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      We’re still awaiting their response, we’ll update the post as soon as we get one 🙂

  6. Francis

    Well it is easing it for us taking short trips. Actually they should bring back the 72 hours for land crossings. In the morning, you cross the us border, go to walgreen, get your result in 15min, go on with your day and come back with the test you took in the am. If it comes out positive then You know you were positive before you left anyways. It does not make much sense medically speaking as you could have been positive before you cross the border and you have plenty of times to infect yourself before coming back. Basically they should accept anyone by land and by plane, no symptoms.

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Indeed, it does not do much to keep Canadians safer at this point…

  7. Kathy Westbrook

    Is it still possible to get the antigen test free in the USA. I am travelling to Florida in March Break.

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      I’ve never tried the antigen ones but the molecular are still free so it should be doable to get a free antigen for sure, but it might make more sense to do the quick NAAT at Walgreens so that if it’s positive you can reuse it 10 days later.

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