What You Need To Know About Canada’s Travel Advisory For COVID-19

The Canadian government has issued an advisory to avoid all non-essential international travel. Many aren’t sure what that means or confuse that with restrictions to enter the country. We simply want to explain the facts about both concepts. And most importantly, many want to know how this affects them if they are traveling now, if they have trips planned in March, or if they have trips planned in the future.

As we told you in our special message about not traveling due to COVID-19 yesterday, we’re abroad right now ourselves and working on a Canadian Travelers Coronavirus Resources Ultimate Guide to keep you informed about this mess. (You can sign up for free to be the first to get access to this great free tool.)

But this info is urgent. First of all, if your trip is not planned in March, keep calm. There’s no point in canceling or doing anything now; you’re just making things worse for everyone who has immediate plans that need to be fixed and sorted out in a hurry.

As you know, most people won’t die or even get that sick with the virus: all these coronavirus measures happen to be explicitly about thinking of others. So for travel plans, extend that same courtesy to others if you aren’t traveling in the next 3 days, and wait a bit so the most vulnerable to this travel advisory—those traveling now—can get help.

While you’re at it, think of others at the store too, and maybe leave some toilet paper for them. This pandemic is not the end of our world, folks; I can guarantee it. And every expert says not to panic. Be careful, take precautions—but don’t panic. It doesn’t help.

In all cases, whether you are traveling now or your trip was planned very soon or in the coming weeks, it’s good to understand what the travel advisory is… and what it isn’t. And, most importantly, what to do.

 

The Canadian Government’s Travel Advisory

The WHO (World Health Organization) still does not recommend international travel restrictions, but on Friday, the Canadian government followed the USA’s lead and has issued an official travel advisory to avoid all non-essential international travel.

Many don’t seem to really know what this entails.

So first, about a travel advisory:

  • This is not mandatory
  • This is not a law
  • This does not prevent Canadians from entering the country
  • This does not prevent foreigners from entering the country
  • This does not close any borders
  • This does not impose any quarantine requirements
  • This does not ban any flights
  • This does not close any airports
  • This is what the name says it is: an advisory

Those are all entirely different things.

Just so that everyone knows the facts about what it is.

To be crystal clear: this is completely unrelated to re-entry restrictions or anything of the sort; see next section for those—they might surprise you.

Many think these advisories are a threat of not letting you back in, or that it’s the same thing as the US blocking Europeans. It has nothing to do with that.

It’s the government recommending to Canadians to avoid all travel. It is not enforceable, in and of itself it does not keep you from traveling, and it does not keep you from re-entering. It’s a recommendation. One that has a serious impact on an important aspect of your trip.

Travel advisories, at least for security reasons, are well-known to be particularly geared for the more casual travelers and, therefore, often overly alarmist. However, “global” advisories for health reasons, like this one, are quite rare. They’re still subjective though: the UK and France still do not advise against travel, for example. In short, each country makes its own recommendations.

Whatever your opinion on the matter, in all cases, the undeniable fact is that the most significant impact of these advisories is on travel insurance: most medical travel insurance (including the free one you should be getting with travel credit cards) will no longer cover you for a trip if an advisory is posted.

What that means for your trip depends on:

  • if you haven’t left yet
  • if you are traveling right now

In other words, now that the government advises against all non-essential international travel, you are no longer covered for future trips, at least with most insurance companies. If anything happens to you, you are responsible for the medical bill.

This is not to be taken lightly. Healthcare is prohibitively expensive in some countries, even close to home in the US. Especially in the US.

Once an advisory is issued, if you are already on a trip, there are two types of insurance rules:

  • most insurance policies will give you 10 days to return home and will maintain your coverage during that time
  • some insurance policies will cover your entire trip until your initial scheduled date of return

The key here if you are on a trip right now and want to know if you can even consider staying, is that you need to check your own insurance coverage to see whether you are covered until the planned return date or if you have 10 days to return.

Remember that you should have multiple credit cards if you are a financially responsible traveler:

  • to get more free travel rewards with signup bonuses
  • to have a better credit score (contrary to the very common myth)

Therefore, you might have multiple cards that offer medical travel insurance. So check them all, because, yes, contrary to another common myth (there are many of those about credit cards), you do not need to have used your card to pay for your trip to be covered for the medical travel insurance.

In simple terms: the medical travel insurance coverage is one you get as a cardmember regardless of whether you charge the trip to the card or not. So maybe one of your cards has more generous policies than the others.

Checking your insurance is the first step in deciding whether to cut your trip short. The rest of the decision is a very personal one, based on your own outlook on things, your risk tolerance about potentially getting stuck, and, most importantly, the situation in the country you are currently in.

For those who asked about how to get insured despite an advisory, I must admit at this stage, I have never looked into that. I’ve been to many places where the government had advisories, but always if places with no advisories were very close, only for just a short period, and not during a worldwide pandemic. So I can’t share my experience in this particular situation, but it seems like some standalone plans will still cover COVID-19. Please feel free to share if you have any data points about this.

 

Canadian Re-Entry Restrictions

So the advisory is one thing, now the entry restrictions. Or for us Canadians, re-entry.

Currently, most countries around the world have some form of entry restrictions due to COVID-19.

Not Canada.

Canada has not implemented any type of restriction on who can enter the country, or any mandatory quarantine (except for the passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship a while ago), and this travel advisory has not changed that in any way.

Separate things. These entry restrictions (or lack thereof) could very well change soon, but this is the situation right now. Of course, authorities recommend self-quarantine for 14 days upon return. But just to be clear, there is no official requirement as of today, and again, that has nothing to do with the travel advisory.

In other words, the quarantine is just a suggestion, but it is not mandatory, at least not government-imposed. Some employers require it, so check that too.

So yes, you could rub shoulders with a thousand other Canadians at Costco on the day you’ve arrived from Wuhan or Milan. Another excellent example of one of my favorite sayings: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

And that’s also why, personally, I am a bit irked by the concept of just simply relying blindly on what the government says is “okay” or not. Going to a country with almost no COVID-19 cases is not “okay,” but returning from the hardest-hit area of Italy with no mandatory quarantine is “okay.”

Anyway, up until my flight got canceled yesterday, I was planning to keep my Sri Lanka trip scheduled for late March. I don’t mind a 14-day quarantine since I work from home (and also, Sri Lanka has fewer cases than we have here). I will self-quarantine when I get back this week too.

And I would urge you to self-quarantine as well when returning (whether the government says it’s mandatory or not…) so the spread can slow and we can get back to traveling as soon as humanly possible!!!

But the point is, the travel advisory does not mean you can’t get back in. Many seem to think that is the case; it’s not. It’s a recommendation about whether to travel or not.

And to be clear, even if the border were to be closed, it would not be closed to us, Canadian citizens. A mandatory quarantine is an eventual possibility, but they can’t just decide not to let you in: you live here.

However, another very real possibility is that getting here could get more complicated as more flights get canceled, as we’re seeing all around the world.

 

Other Countries’ Restrictions & Flight Cancelations

Apart from no longer being insured, the biggest risk in traveling right now is simply getting stuck. At least for travel to countries with fewer COVID-19 cases than we have here in Canada and where the crisis has not exploded yet.

To protect their citizens (from us—because again, Canada has more cases than a majority of countries in the world, so COVID-19 is more dangerous here than in most places as of now), many countries have entirely shut down their borders, and are not letting any foreigners in. No matter where you’re from and where you’ve been.

And the other countries, well most of them (but not Canada), have at least some restrictions, refusing entry to those who have visited the hardest-hit areas (China, Italy, Korea, Iran, or often the other Western European countries and even the USA).

You can see the list of restrictions by country; we’ll also include that link (and many others) in our upcoming Canadian Travelers Coronavirus Resources Ultimate Guide.

If you’re already traveling, keep in mind that there are rarely restrictions on exiting a country, but countries, where you need to transit to exit, could have entry restrictions, even only for a simple layover.

But the biggest risk is that airlines are canceling flights almost everywhere internationally in dramatic fashion due to the restrictions (and to avoid bankruptcy). Another example is that in some countries, like Poland, while there is no formal restriction keeping you from exiting, absolutely all international flights and trains have been banned. So it makes getting out harder.

If you are easygoing and live well with uncertainty and can work from anywhere like Flytrippers’ other cofounder Kevin, who is in Thailand right now (and staying), it’s not the end of the world. But we know most of you are not in that situation.

In other words, while the risk of contracting COVID-19 is still infinitely low in a vast majority of countries, the risk of being stuck is now extremely high, given the current extreme and unprecedented measures put into place to slow the virus’ spread. And these measures keep changing rapidly and getting more strict literally every day.

 

What To Do To Cancel A Trip

This section depends on these 3 very simple situations:

 

If You Are Abroad Now

Contact your booking site or airline. It always helps to be prepared and to have looked at your situation on your own. You’ll have plenty of wait time on the line to do so anyway, because Karen, whose flight is in April, is clogging the call center for no reason instead of waiting a few weeks (apologies to all Karens; you get the point of the example).

Being prepared means taking responsibility: research your airline’s flight options to get back home, have the flight numbers ready. Make sure the transit options are countries that haven’t closed their borders, etc. Make it easy for the employee to help you; it will be quicker.

Airlines are all very flexible due to this highly unusual situation, so this should all be done at no cost to you—don’t worry.

Don’t want the hassle of calling the airline? Your credit card’s Trip Interruption Insurance might help you.

That’s why we keep telling you, since the very moment we launched in 2017, that paying for a flight with anything other than a good travel credit card is the biggest mistake you can make, and getting one is the easiest way to make your travels smoother. There are some for all levels of income.

Not only do these cards give you hundreds worth of free travel when you get them, but many of the good ones also offer plenty of free insurance coverage. I use the various insurance benefits every year and save hundreds of dollars! We’ll have more content about how cards work during this forced travel break so you can put this time to good use.

Best Cards For Trip Cancelation / Trip Interruption Insurance

Scotia Passport Visa Infinite

Best for incomes over $60k
$171 in free travel (simple points)
Get 6 lounge passes & no FX Fee

Scotiabank Gold

Simplest for incomes below $60k
$90 in free travel (simple points)
5x earn on groceries & no FX fee

Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite

Best for cashback ($60k income)
$200 in free credit (10% on $2K)
4% earn on groceries & 2% on gas

American Express Gold Rewards

Best for incomes below $60k
$240 in free travel (airline points)
Trip interruption insurance only

*conditions apply

Call your card insurance (in this case, the one you used to pay for the flight), and since a government advisory has been issued, you are likely covered to buy a one-way flight back home, often up to $1,500.

If you get their authorization, simply buy a flight and keep the documents they ask for, and voila. You get back home, and as an added bonus, you get to earn points for the purchase! Send them the documents and let the insurers deal with the details and deal with talking to the airline.

It’s one of the only types of credit card insurance I haven’t tried yet, and maybe I’ll get to do so now since Air Canada’s Aeroplan does not answer the phone… which is not surprising since sadly they didn’t really answer the phone before COVID-19 anyway.

We’ll have a post to try and help if you are stuck. Leave a comment below.

If you need emergency consular assistance, here is the contact information:

  • Email: sos@international.gc.ca
  • Telephone : 613-996-8885
  • SMS: 613-209-1233

Thursday morning, I’ll share a post with tips on how to find flights depending on where you’re stuck. Please comment below to let us know where you are stuck so we can try and help you if you’re in this situation.

 

If Your Trip Is In The Next 3 Days

Again, contact your booking site or airline. We’ll share a post with every airline’s policy very soon, but almost all of them have instituted flexible change policies for travel in March.

So you might get a full refund in cash. If they only offer a voucher or a credit for future use, which they often try to do, you can often negotiate to get cash if they’ve canceled your original flight.

You can check to see if you can do the refund/changes online on your own. Some allow this.

But to make sure to get cash, call your card insurer and use your Trip Cancelation Insurance instead.

If you skipped the previous section because you’re not traveling now, I’ll repost these 2 paragraphs.

That’s why we keep telling you, since the very moment we launched in 2017, that paying for a flight with anything other than a good travel credit card is the biggest mistake you can make, and getting one is the easiest way to make your travels smoother. There are some for all levels of income. 

Not only do these cards give you hundreds worth of free travel when you get them, but many of the good ones also offer plenty of free insurance coverage. I use the various insurance benefits every year and save hundreds of dollars! We’ll have more content about how cards work during this forced travel break so you can put this time to good use.

Best Cards For Trip Cancelation / Trip Interruption Insurance

Scotia Passport Visa Infinite

Best for incomes over $60k
$171 in free travel (simple points)
Get 6 lounge passes & no FX Fee

Scotiabank Gold

Simplest for incomes below $60k
$90 in free travel (simple points)
5x earn on groceries & no FX fee

Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite

Best for cashback ($60k income)
$200 in free credit (10% on $2K)
4% earn on groceries & 2% on gas

American Express Gold Rewards

Best for incomes below $60k
$240 in free travel (airline points)
Trip interruption insurance only

*conditions apply

Yes, again, if you paid with a good travel credit card, it’s preferable to use that. Not only will they likely answer the phone quicker than airlines will, but they will also refund you in cash, instead of having a voucher that is much more restrictive. Cash is king.

You Trip Cancelation Insurance will refund any nonrefundable travel expense, now that the government has issued a travel advisory. I’ve used this before, and it’s very painless, I’ll share a detailed post soon.

 

If Your Trip Is In More Than 3 Days

Keep calm. Wait. And most importantly, do not call.

Thank you, it’s that simple. Thousands of people are trying to fix urgent travel plans; there is no need to make life harder for them. And there’s no benefit to you either, so just wait it out a bit.

If your trip is in March, call 3 days ahead or check to see if you can do the refund/changes online on your own. Some allow this.

If your trip is further away, it’s too early to know what the situation will be like. Take a step back—more details in tomorrow’s detailed post.

 

Want to be the first to get the ultimate guide to coronavirus resources for Canadian travelers?



 

 

Summary

What a nightmare situation this is for us travelers. But in all cases, this is what the travel advisory is, and what it is not: the entry requirements are entirely separate. And for most of us, the most significant risk in most countries is not catching COVID-19 and bringing it back (and certainly not dying of it), but rather getting stuck with all the flight cancelations and entry restrictions put in place by many countries—but not Canada. And to cancel, you should try to contact your airline or booking site, but the best shortcut is through your credit card (or regular) travel insurance. But not if your trip is weeks away.

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: 61/193 Countries, 46/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Janice Mcintosh

    Thanks for the info Andrew…invaluable! I have forwarded to several friends who are traveling now.

  2. Ocean

    This is a great article and very refreshing and informative!

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