Canada has lifted its test requirement, but only for fully vaccinated travelers. That means unvaccinated Canadians, including some kids, still need one. Tests are not necessarily expensive (contrary to common myth) and most importantly, it’s really not that complicated. Especially Canada’s newly-changed requirement, which is very simple to understand (I’ve done it 6 times myself).
Make sure you subscribe to our free newsletter so you don’t miss any of the upcoming content pieces about testing.
Here’s what’s coming soon to complete our new soon-to-be-ready ultimate guide to pandemic travel (including many explainer videos) in terms of COVID-19 testing for travel:
- Introduction to COVID-19 test requirements
- What happens if you test positive abroad
- Entering Canada with a positive test
- List of the 19 different types of tests accepted by Canada
- Free COVID-19 tests in the USA
- The cheapest tests here in Canada at $17
- List of test providers all over Canada
- Canada’s arrival tests
- How to understand COVID-19 test requirements
- How to easily find a COVID-19 test abroad
- How to pay less for a test abroad
- How to go anywhere in the USA without a test
- My 25 experiences with tests
- FAQs on COVID-19 tests for travel
- Why Canada should eliminate its testing requirement
But for today, here’s everything you need to know about the pre-entry test requirement to enter Canada.
Overview of Canada’s pre-entry test requirement
UPDATE: Canada has lifted its test requirement for fully vaccinated travelers so the content below will be updated shortly.
Today, we’re talking about Step 3 of how to travel, the rules to enter Canada. Nothing else, nothing about other countries’ rules; every country makes its own rules and they’re all very different from ours obviously.
And among Canada’s entry rules, we’re just talking about the pre-entry test requirement. We’ll look at each element of this pre-entry test requirement in detail in this guide.
But basically, you need to show valid proof of a test before you can enter Canada. That is why it is called a pre-entry test.
I’ll start with 4 infographics for those who are visual learners.
First, here is an overview of all the important information.
We receive hundreds of questions about the accepted tests specifically, so here’s an infographic to explain it more simply.
In case it’s still not clear, here’s an even simpler one with a question format.
And finally, for those who are confused about the timing allowed for both negative test options, we explain it visually (and in the section about the step by step process to do the test below, I have another infographic for those who don’t know which one of their flights to use for the math).
And now, the text version.
It’s really quite simple:
- A valid COVID-19 test is always required to enter Canada
- There are few exemptions, listed just below
- Required for all travelers
- Whether you have 0 doses, 1 dose, 2 doses, 3 doses, or 17 doses
- Required for short trips or long trips
- The short trip exemption ended Dec. 21
- Required for all destinations
- The special rules for some countries have all been removed
- Required for all modes of entry
- Entry by air
- Entry by land
- Entry by water
- There are 3 different test options
- NEGATIVE rapid antigen test
- NEGATIVE molecular test
- POSITIVE molecular test
- The timing allowed varies for each option
- NEGATIVE rapid antigen test: the full calendar day before or the day of your flight/entry (NOT “24 hours”)
- NEGATIVE molecular test: within 72 hours of your flight/entry
- POSITIVE molecular test: within 11 to 180 days of your flight/entry
- The test MUST be performed outside of Canada (if you use a negative test)
- A positive test taken in Canada is valid
- Entry by land without a valid test is “allowed”
- But a $5,000 fine could be enforced
- A virtual remote test is allowed
- As long as it is supervised in telehealth mode
- A formal test report is required as proof
- It can be in paper or digital format
- Some mandatory information is required on the report
- They are ALL required
- Tests are not covered by any travel insurance
- The requirement could be eliminated soon (or not)
There are some exemptions, i.e. people who do not need to do this test:
- Those under the age of 5 (vaccinated or not)
- Those transiting through Canada (vaccinated or not)
- Those traveling for essential reasons (vaccinated or not)
- The exemption for short trips is no longer offered
By the way, we’ll soon have an article to compare the pros and cons of both options (molecular or antigen tests).
How to do the pre-entry test required by Canada step by step
The 7 steps are not really that complicated.
Here they are in text format:
- Look at the price of tests at your destination
- Find a place to take your test
- Calculate your deadline for the test
- Make an appointment near the deadline
- Take the test
- Receive the result
- Show the report to the airport and/or customs
Obviously, international travel offers a much greater culture shock and is infinitely more rewarding for us as humans.
And unless you want to visit that cool spot in your province 4 times, it’s certainly worth the effort to comply with Canada’s test requirement, as “excessive” as it may be (according to the government’s expert panel)!
In some countries, the test costs just $25 (yes, even the PCR). My 8 molecular tests abroad cost me $75 TOTAL (not $75 each). Now that Canada accepts rapid antigen tests, tests are really affordable almost anywhere.
There are also plenty of countries that don’t require a test at all to enter (47 at last count for vaccinated Canadians), as outlined in our ultimate guide to the entry rules for each country.
That means you only have to take one test for your entire trip. It’s really not that bad (I’ve taken 25 in the last year).
And even in countries where tests are more expensive, if you choose wisely and go to one of the 40 countries where it’s possible to travel for C$30/day total, you’ll still save money overall, compared to traveling in ultra-expensive Canada.
Anyway, as with any calculation, you have to look at the WHOLE math, not just ONE of the items by itself (I’ll say it again for those who don’t want to pay an annual fee on a credit card and miss out on welcome bonuses worth literally hundreds of dollars to “save” $120 🤣).
Here are details on each of the 7 steps (and if you want a concrete review, I’ve shared each step of my free COVID-19 testing process in the USA).
1. Look at the cost of tests at your destination
If you want the cost of testing to be lower, it’s simple: Choose a country where the cost of testing is lower. Crazy principle, right?
It’s like if you want a place where the accommodation is cheap for example… the time to look into that obviously isn’t AFTER you choose your destination: You have to do that BEFORE!
So, if you want to reduce the price of tests:
- It’s even more important than usual to prioritize countries with a low cost of living
- It’s even more important than usual to plan your trip well and research test prices
- It’s even more important than usual to make choices accordingly if traveling for less is important to you
That’s why it’s step number 1: Do it BEFORE you choose a destination (if you want a lower price).
2. Find a place to do your test
As mentioned in the intro, how to find tests deserves its own in-depth article to come.
But it’s really easy to find molecular tests literally anywhere in the world… so with rapid antigen tests, it’s even easier now!
So it’s quite easy to find it everywhere. NAATs, RT-LAMPs, and other molecular tests are also accepted by Canada, but they aren’t as common at all.
Canada doesn’t really have any particular requirements on the type of lab (as some countries have). As long as it’s the right type of test and it’s done on time. It’s really not that complicated!
I have no idea why so many people think this is hard to find. Maybe it’s because they think that every country in the world has a government that demonized travel as we have here, but believe me, that is really not the case and tests for travelers are really very easy to find anywhere.
More tips to come.
3. Calculate your deadline to take the test
If you enter by plane, the scheduled departure time of your flight that enters Canada is what matters.
If you enter by land/water, the precise time of entry into Canada is what matters.
If you choose the rapid antigen option, it’s super easy: You can take your test the day of your flight (or entry into Canada by land) or the full calendar day before the day of your flight/entry. There is no hour-based limit. The rule is NOT “24 hours”. If you fly into Canada or enter Canada by land on Friday at any time, you can take the test on Thursday at any time. Simple.
If you choose the molecular option, once you know the time of your return flight to Canada (or your entry into Canada by land), you need to calculate the 72-hour timing allowance you have to take your test.
So for entry by land, it’s simple: You can do it in the 72 hours before you enter.
And for entry by air, it’s also simple: You can do it in the 72 hours before the scheduled departure time of your flight to Canada.
(If you have several flights, Canada doesn’t care about that: It’s the flight that ENTERS Canada that counts — but other countries’ rules can be different since each country makes its own rules. I explain Canada’s rule with an example in the timeframe details section below if it’s still not clear).
It’s the local time at the land crossing where you are entering or the local time at the airport where you are boarding your last direct flight that enters Canada that matters of course.
If you transit in other countries, you obviously also have to comply with each country’s entry rules (which may be different for transits… or not). So if a country you are going through requires you to get a test in the 48 hours before that flight… make sure to do the math.
While you wait for our posts about the 2 options…
As you probably know, rapid antigen tests give results in about 15 minutes (but you can’t reuse the test if it happens to be positive).
Often, molecular test results are guaranteed within 48 hours or even 24 hours. No problem and no worries in those cases of course. Also, in the US, Walgreens has free ID NOW tests (NAATs) that give results within a few hours, by far the best option there.
In other places, the cheaper tests may not have a guarantee of results (or there may be fewer lab/clinic options).
So do it as close to the 72-hour limit and maybe have a Plan B in case it doesn’t come back in time (many airlines have a free change policy now, you can check that if you are like us and are not in a rush anyway).
In terms of strategy for the molecular test, it depends on your preference. Some people prefer to pay to ensure quick results.
Personally, I’ve never had an issue with results that took too long to arrive… and so I absolutely would not pay extra to ensure faster results, I like to travel too much to spend on that (money saved = more travel).
And I am never in a hurry or stressed. But I also know that many people have a much lower risk tolerance than me, about everything.
All situations are different. Make your own decision. Search online. Write to the test provider.
Gather information, analyze it, and decide accordingly. Like for any topic.
4. Make an appointment close to the deadline
It’s best to make an appointment in advance.
We always repeat it, as for example in the must-read article on our deal to Dubai for $190 roundtrip: Preparation and planning are the keys to cheaper travel!
That doesn’t mean booking everything in advance of course. I almost never book hotels before I leave.
It’s not important and the consequences are minor. There will never be a shortage of hotels. Maybe in rare cases, I’ll get caught with a slightly overpriced option, but it won’t be hundreds of dollars (and almost never happens).
But for something as important as the test and with such a serious consequence (if you don’t have it, you will be denied boarding), you better make sure you have more appointment time slot options!
If you wait and there is only a clinic with $300 tests that still has availability… then it’s no wonder most unprepared people believe the myth that travel is expensive 😛
5. Take the test
Forget about cotton swabs that go deep into your brain as we all saw at the beginning, now it’s really not always that bad.
It depends on the test, but often it’s not even deep. Many tests just require doing circles on the contours of your nostrils.
Not unpleasant at all. Not even the slightest bit uncomfortable.
Here’s a video of the self-administered PCR test I did 5 times.
Some tests are even done with a mouth swab instead of a nose swab. My first free PCR in the US was like that.
Speaking of the US, the 2 free rapid molecular tests I did there were also like that first self-administered PCRs and only require doing circles in the nostrils as you can see.
On the other hand, some of the PCRs go deeper for sure. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not really very long either. I was apprehensive about it, but it was far from the end of the world in reality.
The one at the airport in Toronto (back when they were free) before my trip to Asia in May was the deepest, while my very recent free PCR in Miami was much less deep. It seems like it varies (or it might just be how gentle the nurse is).
In any case, the testing process is extremely quick. It never took me more than 5 minutes all ≈ 15 times I did molecular tests.
6. Receive the results
In most cases, the lab will send you the report by email so it’s very simple. Just make sure you give the right email address. My 4 times in the USA it was like that (and in Canada too).
Check you spam folder, as my El Salvador test result ended up there.
In Central Asia, the cheapest labs didn’t offer results by email and I had to go back and get the report on site. As cabs cost literally C$1.49 in those countries, it’s not too bad, especially since I was staying in those cities as well.
So labs like that must be the exception, but at least inquire about how results will be provided so you can plan your itinerary accordingly.
Download the report that contains the results (so it’s in your phone even if you’re offline) and send it to yourself by email too as a backup, so you don’t lose it. And take a picture of it if it is in paper format (and send it to yourself by email too).
Of course, there’s the risk of testing positive overseas. By the way, since a lot of people were asking us this question, I did a separate article about what happens if you test positive while traveling. Here I will focus on how the Canadian test requirement works because everyone wants shorter posts.
7. Show your report at the airport and/or customs
Finally, nothing complicated.
Just show the digital or paper version to the airline agent and/or the customs agent.
In my case, I was never asked to enter the proof of test in Canada’s ArriveCAN app (unlike my proof of vaccination) or on arrival at the airport, but I do have a NEXUS card so that may be different for others.
You can see my detailed experience entering Canada in November for the details of how it is verified, if you’re interested.
Details of the pre-entry test requirement for Canada
Here is all the detailed info on each part of the test requirement.
For all travelers
I think by now, most understand that even if you are fully vaccinated, you still need a pre-entry test to enter Canada. But if not, sorry to be the one to tell you.
Whether you have gotten 0 doses, 1 dose, 2 doses, 3 doses, or 17 doses… you need a test.
The panel of scientific experts assembled by the government itself has been recommending that this measure be abolished since May, but the government is not following the experts’ advice. Political science trumps real science.
Since public opinion is the most important thing for this government, we will soon have a nice visual that you can share on social media if you want to do your part to try to get this measure removed, since even the experts say it should be removed.
Type of tests accepted
Many people believed that Canada only accepted PCR tests, but this is 100% false.
From the beginning, Canada has accepted all molecular tests. This includes the PCR test of course, but also NAAT, RT-LAMP, and many others. It’s just that PCRs are by far the most common.
What was not accepted was the rapid antigen test (cheaper and quicker results). But that changed on February 28.
I myself have used NAATs twice, these are the free tests in the USA that also give quick results… but they are molecular tests. Rapid NAATs don’t seem to be available outside the USA unfortunately.
Canada also accepts saliva testing, as long as it is one of the accepted types of tests. My free PCR in the US, which was my first PCR ever, was a saliva test without even trying to find that version of the test.
It doesn’t matter how the sample is taken, as long as it’s the right type of test.
Self-administered tests (a kit you take with you on a trip so you don’t have to search for a lab over there) are accepted by Canada, as long as the test is one of the accepted types and is done under the supervision of a professional in telehealth mode.
This is a convenient option and we’ll have an exclusive discount for you this week. Sign up for our free newsletter and we’ll send it to you.
Some self-tests are RT-LAMPs, so again… not a PCR. Yet everyone and their mother all think they are experts and keep saying Canada only accepts PCRs. That is not quite true.
That’s why it’s important to watch out for the nuances of these travel rules and to not rely on anything anyone says… because almost everyone sadly gets almost everything wrong when it comes to travel rules (even if they don’t have bad intentions… they can mislead you).
72-hour timespan for the negative molecular test (entry by air)
The test must be done no more than 72 hours before your scheduled departure on your direct flight to Canada. Many have trouble with this and make mistakes.
I will explain it very clearly: If you are flying Miami-New York-Toronto, it is the time of the New York-Toronto flight that counts. The flight that ENTERS Canada. All the other flights don’t matter to the Government of Canada!
Same thing if you fly Miami-Montreal-Toronto. Which flight is the one for your entry to Canada? Simple. It’s the Miami-Montreal flight. It is the scheduled departure time of that flight that determines your test timing allowance.
So if your New York-Toronto flight is scheduled for 6:00 PM on the 24th, you can take your test any time after 6:00 PM on the 21st. Simple.
Many people ask if that 72-hour time allowance is strict… it really is. I’ll have a post with an extreme example later.
Many people also ask what happens if there is a flight delay on the day of your trip, Flytrippers has contacted Health Canada media relations to confirm and you need not worry: It’s the scheduled departure time that determines your test validity: You have an additional 24-hour allowance for your test validity if there is a delay (so 96 hours total).
However, if your flight is canceled (and not just delayed), according to the official rules, then your test is no longer valid if the 72-hour limit was reached before you board a new flight. But I’ll let you in on a little secret… in practice, many airlines don’t really apply that rule and could be lenient. So check with them if you are in that situation.
Finally, the airline will check to see if you have your test before boarding. They don’t just check once you land in Canada. You won’t be allowed to board without a test, it’s that simple.
72-hour timespan for the negative molecular test (entry by land)
Since there is no flight, you must take the test within 72 hours of your arrival time in Canada if you enter by land or by water.
If you enter the country at 6 PM on the 24th of the month, you must do your test after 6 PM on the 21st.
Other than that, it is exactly the same test requirement whether you arrive by air or by land. No difference.
10 to 180 days timespan for the positive molecular test
You can read our very detailed post about the exemption for those who have tested positive in the past.
It’s very simple: If you have valid proof of a positive test in the 10 to 180 days before your flight, you do not need to do the pre-entry test to enter Canada.
It just changed subtly with no official announcement, it’s back to 10 days (it was 14, then 10, then 11…) so if you tested positive on the 1st day of the month (molecular test only) you can use the positive test starting on the 11th of the month (no matter the time of the flight or the time of the test).
You can also enter earlier of course if you get a valid negative test before 10 days. That —and even the 10 days — depends on the isolation rules of the country where you are of course. We explained all that in our post about what happens if you test positive on a trip.
This positive test rule applies whether you are vaccinated or not (the government has never even hinted at banning unvaccinated Canadian travelers from entering Canada by the way; people just always confuse the different rules).
However, the lab report needs to contain all the same information that is required for the proof of a negative test. This means that if you got tested through public health testing in most provinces, you likely do NOT have required proof of a positive test (but you should be able to get it).
1-day timespan for the negative rapid antigen test
As for the molecular test option, it’s obviously the scheduled departure time of the flight that enters Canada or the time of entry into Canada by land that matters.
But unlike the negative molecular test option, there is no hour-based limit. It’s the day of your flight/entry or the full calendar day before, as I explained earlier. Not “24 hours”.
Must be performed outside of Canada (if you use a negative test)
This is new. The rule used to be very stupid, even by Canada’s very low standards. You were allowed to do your test in Canada before leaving, then show it to “prove” you didn’t get COVID-19 outside of the country. 🤡
That is over. You must now do the test outside of the country even for short trips.
It’s not that much more scientific though.
Let’s say you enter the US and get tested right away. You can then spend your entire trip french-kissing an infected person and your test will still be negative…
But hey, it’s not about having effective rules… it’s all about the government making itself look tough on evil travelers.
Entering by land without a valid test
Canadians can never be denied entry into Canada at the land border, even without a test. But there could be consequences, most notably a huge fine…
You can read our detailed post about entering Canada by land while positive (and if you’re not positive but just don’t have a test, then the chances of getting the fine are probably higher).
Many people think that the lab report requires your passport number or a QR code or a lot of stuff that is not required.
Here is the only information that is required by the Canadian government:
- Your name
- Your date of birth
- Name of the laboratory
- Address of the laboratory
- Date of the test
- The type of test
- The test result
For all tests. Whether they’re positive or negative.
For negative tests, almost every test provider abroad is going to have all that info anyway. Here is an example of a lab report from one of my free COVID-19 tests in the United States at Walgreens.
For tests performed in Canada (a positive test of course, for the exemption), the Government of Canada doesn’t care about your provincial proof. It has to contain exactly all these required elements. It’s mandatory.
If your report has the info, it’s valid. If your report doesn’t have the info, it’s not valid. It’s that simple! The fact that your proof is “official” or that it is issued by your provincial government (or by the Pope directly) is completely irrelevant.
The required info is mandatory. Period.
In all cases, make sure your personal information is accurate when you take the test (as well as your email address to receive the results of course, as I already mentioned).
I also recommend double-checking that everything is fine as soon as you receive the results. Including the time of the test, because sometimes they make a mistake. In my experiences, every time it was to my advantage, but I guess it could be the opposite. So make sure because you don’t want it to affect your test timing allowance.
Paper or digital format
Credit where credit is due, especially when they so rarely deserve it. The Canadian government is really not picky about formats at least.
The test result (like your proof of vaccination, if you have it — again, not mandatory to enter Canada if you’re Canadian) can be in digital or paper format, it really doesn’t matter.
Tests are not covered by any travel insurance
Just because many people ask: No travel insurance covers the cost of a travel test. At least not to our knowledge.
However, we will have a detailed article on travel insurance for COVID-19 soon, because there are insurers that cover the cost of a quarantine abroad at least!
Special rules for arrivals from certain countries
These stricter requirements were lifted on January 28th, 2022 (India and Morocco) and on December 18th, 2021 (10 African countries).
Now, no matter where you arrive from, the same simple rules always apply.
This requirement may be eliminated soon (or not)
We get a lot of questions about the end of this measure.
Sometimes people ask us, “Is the pre-entry test requirement going to be abolished?”
That’s the easiest one to answer!
Of course it will be abolished.
No one knows when though, unfortunately.
Since January 2021 and the “travel shaming” craze in the media, the government has stopped basing these travel rule decisions on science, so it’s literally impossible to predict. You just can’t predict at all when there is nothing objective or rational about it.
But there are more and more voices calling for this to be eliminated, so that’s a good sign. Flytrippers is obviously following this closely. Sign up for our free newsletter to get all the frequent updates.
Details of the exemptions to Canada’s pre-entry testing requirement
Finally, here are the details of the exemptions.
Exemption for children
It’s very simple: All children under the age of 5 are exempt from the pre-entry test requirement to enter Canada.
You can read our ultimate guide to travel rules for children.
Exemption for transits
Anyone just transiting in Canada does not need to be tested (or even vaccinated).
Pretty funny that the government says that unvaccinated people are a danger and must be banned from flights departing from Canadian airports…
But they let unvaccinated foreigners board the same flights from Canada (and flights to Canada)… test-free. It’s The Science™.
Exemption for essential travel
Since Flytrippers focuses on those who travel for so-called “non-essential” reasons, you can see what exemptions apply to your type of essential travel on the Government of Canada website.
Exemption for trips shorter than 72 hours
This exemption ended on December 21st, 2021. It had been in effect only since November 30. We’ll let you know if it returns.
Want to get all coronavirus updates for Canadian travelers?
The pre-entry test requirement to enter Canada is still in effect, despite the recommendations of government scientific experts. Until the government trusts the experts, it’s not that hard to travel despite the requirement. More content on these tests coming soon!
What would you like to know about Canada’s entry test requirement? Tell us in the comments below.
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