We have a lot of content on COVID-19 tests coming soon, by popular demand. Tests are not necessarily expensive (contrary to common myth) and most importantly, it’s really not that complicated. Especially Canada’s requirement, which is very simple to understand (and which I’ve done 3 times now).
Make sure you subscribe to our free newsletter so you don’t miss any of the upcoming parts.
Here’s what’s coming soon to complete our new ultimate guide to COVID-19 testing for travel (which is in addition to our ultimate guide to pandemic travel for everything else, that is soon-to-be-revamped with videos):
- Introduction to COVID-19 test requirements
- How to understand COVID-19 tests
- The cheapest tests here in Canada at $20
- List of test providers all over Canada
- What happens if you test positive abroad
- 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 13 experiences with tests for my trips
- FAQs on COVID-19 tests for travel
- Why Canada should eliminate its testing requirement
- Canada’s arrival tests (for the unvaccinated)
So here’s everything you need to know about the pre-departure test requirement to enter Canada.
Overview of Canada’s pre-departure test requirement
Changes are coming so I’m splitting this up by date to be very clear. We’ll look at each of these items in more detail later in this guide.
BEFORE November 30
Today we’re talking about Step 3 of how to travel, the rules to enter Canada. Nothing else.
Basically, you need to get a test in the country you are visiting*.
It’s really quite simple:
- A negative COVID-19 test is required to enter Canada
- For all travelers (vaccinated or not)
- For all trips (regardless of duration)
- It must be a molecular test (not antigen)
- It is applicable by air
- It must be done in the 72 hours before the scheduled departure time
- You must show it to board the plane
- It is applicable by land
- It must be done in the 72 hours before the time of entry into the country
- You must show it to the customs agents
- Some information is required on the test report
- It can be in paper or digital format
- Tests are not covered by any insurance
- There are special rules for India and Morocco
- The requirement may be eliminated soon (or not)
*You can actually do the test in Canada before leaving and use it to enter Canada, if you are leaving for a short trip and comply with the 72-hour rule (very effective to keep you from bringing back the virus from abroad)
There are some exemptions, i.e. people who do not need to do this test:
- All children under the age of 5
- All those who were infected in the 14 to 180 days before (vaccinated or not)
- Those transiting through Canada (vaccinated or not)
- Those traveling for essential reasons (vaccinated or not)
STARTING November 30
The test requirement will be eliminated ONLY for trips that meet all 3 of these conditions:
- Trips under 72 hours in length
- Fully vaccinated travelers OR accompanying children under 12
- Citizens/permanent residents of Canada
There are no other conditions but those 3. The test requirement will be eliminated for the trips that meet those 3 above conditions:
- Regardless of the mode of entry (by land or by air)
- Regardless of the country travelers are arriving from (it’s not just from the USA)
Absolutely NO other changes were announced about the test requirement to enter Canada.
How to do the pre-departure 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 5 tests abroad cost me $58 TOTAL (not $58 each).
There are also plenty of countries that don’t require a test at all to enter (64 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 13 in the last 7 months).
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 steps (and if you want a concrete review, I’ve shared each step of my free COVID-19 testing process in the USA).
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).
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 it’s quite easy to find it everywhere. NAAT, RT-LAMP and others are also accepted by Canada, but they aren’t as common.
Canada doesn’t really have any particular requirements on the type of lab. 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 like 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.
Calculate your deadline to take the test
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 timespan you have to take your test.
For entry by land, it’s simple: You can do it in the 72 hours before you enter.
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, nobody cares about that: It’s the flight that ENTERS Canada that counts, since it is an ENTRY requirement. I explain this with an example in the timeframe details section below if it’s not clear).
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.
Often, test results are guaranteed within 48 hours or even 24 hours. No problem and no worries in those cases of course.
In other places, the cheaper tests may not have a guarantee of results (or there may be fewer labs).
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, 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, on everything.
All situations are different. Make your own decision. Search online. Talk to the test provider.
Gather information, analyze it, and decide accordingly. Like for any topic.
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 key 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.
But for something as important as the test and with such a serious consequence (if you don’t have it, you get 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 no wonder most unprepared people believe the myth that travel is expensive 😛
Take the test
Forget about cotton swabs that go deep into your brain like 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 free PCR in the US was like that.
Speaking of the US, the free rapid molecular tests there are also like that first PCR 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.
In any case, the testing process is extremely quick. It never took me more than 5 minutes all 13 times.
Receive the result
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 3 times in the USA it was like that (and in Canada too).
In Asia, the cheapest labs didn’t offer this 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 back-up, so you don’t lose it. And take a picture of it if it is in paper format.
Of course, there’s the risk of testing positive overseas. By the way, since a lot of people are asking us this question, I’m going to do a separate article just on that soon. Here I will focus on how the Canadian test requirement works.
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.
You can see my detailed experience entering Canada last week for the details of how it is verified, if you’re interested.
Details of the pre-departure testing 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-departure test to enter Canada. But if not, sorry to be the one to tell you.
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 believe that Canada only accepts 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 is not accepted is the rapid antigenic test (cheaper and quicker results).
I myself have used NAATs twice, these are the free tests in the USA that also give quick results… but they are molecular tests. 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.
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 (but expensive) option that we’ve told you about before, but unfortunately it’s out of stock. Sign up for our free newsletter and we’ll let you know when it’s available again.
That test was an RT-LAMP, so again… not a PCR.
72-hour timespan 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-Newark-Toronto, it is the time of the Newark-Toronto flight that counts. These are ENTRY rules, so it’s the flight that ENTERS Canada that matters. All the other flights don’t matter!
Same thing if you fly Newark-Toronto-Timmins. Which flight is the one for your entry to Canada? Simple. It’s the Newark-Toronto flight. It is the scheduled departure time of that flight that determines your timespan.
So if your Newark-Toronto flight is scheduled for 9:00 am on Monday, you can take your test any time after 9:00 am on Friday. Simple.
Many people ask if that 72-hour timespan is strict… I’ll let you guess and I’ll have a post on that specifically this week.
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.
Finally, the airline will check to see if you have your test before boarding. They don’t just check once you land in Canada.
72-hour timespan 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.
Other than that, it is exactly the same test requirement whether you arrive by air or by land. No difference.
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 and address of the laboratory
- Date and time of the test
- The type of test
- A negative or undetected result
And any test provider is going to have all that anyway. Here is an example of a lab report.
However, make sure your personal information is accurate when you take the test (as well as your email address to receive the results of course).
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. It’s usually to your advantage, but make sure because you don’t want it to affect your 72-hour timespan.
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) can be in digital or paper format, it really doesn’t matter.
Tests are not covered by any insurance
Just because many people ask: No 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 Morocco and India
There are just these 2 countries that have a special rule regarding the pre-departure test requirement to enter Canada.
If you are flying direct from Morocco to Canada, your test must be done by a laboratory certified by the government of Morocco specifically. This does not apply for transits through Morocco (including our deal to Dubai at $190 roundtrip).
If you take an indirect flight like Morocco-(other country)-Canada, your test must be done in the other country during your stopover and not in Morocco.
If you are flying direct from India to Canada, your test must be done at the Genestrings lab at the Delhi airport (DEL) within 18 hours before your flight departure time.
If you take an indirect flight like India-(other country)-Canada, your test must be done in the other country during your stopover and not in India.
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-departure testing 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 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 following this closely.
Details of the exemptions to Canada’s pre-departure 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-departure testing requirement to enter Canada.
You can read our ultimate guide to travel rules for children.
Exemption for those who have been infected
Also very simple: If you have proof of a positive test in the 14 to 180 days before your flight, you do not need to do the pre-departure test to enter Canada.
This 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).
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 (starting November 30… if the government really does that)…
But it lets unvaccinated foreigners board flights to and from Canada… test-free. The Science™.
Exemption for essential travel
You can see what exemptions apply to your type of essential travel on the Government of Canada website.
Want to get all coronavirus updates for Canadian travelers?
The pre-departure testing 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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