The Canadian Government announced a 72-hour ban on flights from the United Kingdom. It’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that Canada has a flight ban of any kind. And this changes absolutely nothing to who from the UK can enter Canada (or vice versa). So we’ll take this opportunity to try and explain once and for all the important notions about how travel-related restriction measures work: it can seem complicated.
Many people clearly are confused by all this. And it’s important to understand for all travelers, even those who aren’t ready to travel at all.
Speaking of distinctions, this is apparently a new variant of the coronavirus but not a new strain. I’ll leave the education around that one to the epidemiologists, as we have our hands full with just the many explanations to give for the travel element, and that’s obviously our expertise.
Here are the details.
Canada’s UK flight ban
It’s pretty straightforward: for 72 hours (starting at midnight Monday morning), flights arriving from the UK are banned from Canada. It seems very likely to be extended, like everything always is since the beginning of the pandemic. (UPDATE: it has officially been extended to January 6th.)
The ban is in response to a new coronavirus variant that is worrying officials in the UK and elsewhere.
In banning UK flights, Canada is following the lead of many other countries who’ve taken this step in recent days. If only Canada could also follow their lead on adopting an evidence-based approach with testing and/or not requiring a quarantine for all destinations regardless of the coronavirus situation there… as almost all of those countries have a list of safe countries where you can return from without quarantining.
We recently shared why a testing program would be a lot safer for Canadians than the current quarantine rule (based on a study showing that a 14-day quarantine was in fact the least effective option based on actual data, among other reasons). Some criticized us for saying the quarantine was not perfect, but if the quarantine was perfect, why would we need to ban flights?
We’re not saying this flight ban is the wrong thing to do: we just want you to consider that the quarantine is not perfect. Testing is better according to a study.
Anyway, with this, Canada is doing something it has never done since the beginning of the pandemic: adding a flight ban to its arsenal of travel-related restriction measures.
What Canada’s UK flight ban means
Okay, pardon the excessive bolding and slight bluntness but we’ll try to be as clear as possible so that hopefully more people can finally make sense of how all this works! Please ask any questions in the comments to help us help everyone understand.
Here it is:
Whether there are flights between 2 countries or not has absolutely nothing to do with whether citizens can enter or not.
Nothing at all!
Those are 2 completely separate and unrelated things:
- Just because there are flights to a country doesn’t mean you can enter
- Just because there aren’t flights to a country doesn’t mean you can’t enter
To give a concrete example, direct flights from Canada to France have never stopped operating, even in March. Yet, Canadian travelers were not allowed to enter France and French travelers were not allowed to enter Canada.
The flights are still operating today. Canadian travelers still can’t enter France. French travelers still can’t enter Canada. There are flights, but you can’t enter.
Flights and entry rules:
All this can be confusing, but it’s not that complicated: flights are one thing… and whether you can enter a country or not is another thing.
In other words, despite Canada’s UK flight ban:
- Essential travelers from the UK are still allowed to enter Canada
- Non-essential travelers from the UK are still not allowed to enter Canada
- All (essential or non-essential) travelers from Canada are still allowed to enter the UK
- All Canadians can always enter Canada, even if they are in the UK right now
Flight bans make entering a country logistically more complicated, yes… but they don’t change anything to the actual rules for entry (see the last section for more details about that).
Border closures vs. entry restrictions vs. flight bans
I’ll try another approach in my mission to make Canadians travelers more knowledgeable about this aspect of travel: let’s define the 3 terms that are widely used.
Oh and by the way… why is it important to understand how this all works? It’s not just that debunking false information is important.
It’s that no matter when you’ll be ready to travel, some of these measures will certainly still be in place in some countries. There are 193 countries (and even more that aren’t recognized by the UN) and they each make their own rules. And some will surely be slower to remove all restrictions than others.
So it’s good to be informed, especially since it’s actually easier than it looks if you take 5 minutes to understand.
Ther are 3 terms always used when talking about travel-related measures:
- Border closures
- Entry restrictions
- Flight bans
It’s the wording everyone loves to use and probably the most frequently used… and it’s the one that doesn’t even really mean anything concrete. No border is closed. We have agents at every border (at land border crossings and airports) and plenty of people are entering. It’s very much open for many travelers: over 5 million entered Canada since March according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
What many call border closures are border closures for specific types of travelers, and so those are in fact… entry restrictions.
This is the measure that actually exists. An entry restriction (or entry ban) keeps certain nationalities from entering the country (or it can be based on other criteria; we’ll have a separate post on how entry restrictions alone).
Entry restrictions rarely apply to every traveler, as there are often exceptions for essential travelers of that nationality. But leisure travelers are pretty much always included when there is an entry restriction for a specific nationality.
- Canada has an entry restriction for Americans
- Canada has a separate entry restriction for non-American foreigners
- Canada has no entry restriction for many foreigners who have family in Canada
- Canada has no entry restriction for many essential travelers and truck drivers
- Canada has never had any restrictions for Canadian travelers
All our borders are “open” to let in those who aren’t targeted by the entry restrictions (like ALL Canadians, and many non-Canadians).
Most of the confusion around all these measures probably comes from the fact that many don’t understand that Canadians are always allowed to enter Canada, no matter where they arrive from or how they arrive.
There are so many people who think that a “closed border” applies to everyone (the world of travel has always been one with many myths). Anyway, Canada’s border is only closed to foreigners who want to enter for leisure travel.
The only thing that determines whether you can enter a country is whether that country has an entry restriction that applies to you. That’s it. Nothing to do with anything else, especially not whether flights are allowed or offered between the countries.
That’s why plenty of Canadians have traveled since this summer: plenty of countries have no entry restrictions for Canadians, and returning to Canada is not restricted for Canadians (as long as you can find a flight, which is a completely separate topic).
A flight ban is when a country restricts flights from other countries. And again: even if flights are banned, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel from that country to Canada: you just need to do it via another country… as long as no entry restriction applies to you.
I can’t even start to count how many people thought Canada had a flight ban since March. There has never been one until today’s UK flight ban. Some countries had them, but not Canada.
A very frequently asked question about this is: why are there flights (for example those same Montreal-Paris flights) if Canadian travelers can’t enter France and French travelers can’t enter Canada?
Simple: there are foreign essential travelers, Canadians returning to Canada, French travelers returning to France, French travelers with Canadian family members that can enter Canada, and even cargo in some cases.
So as we’ve been saying for months: the fact there are flights offered or not is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether there is an entry restriction.
It’s simple when you think about it. There is just one thing that determines if you can travel, that’s the entry restriction. Everything else is about if you should travel.
What Canada’s UK flight ban means for international travel
We’ve been regularly updating you about the travel outlook in general since around May, in our role as travel experts and your go-to resource for all things travel.
So without sounding too alarmist, the last few days’ news has not been promising. It’s too early to know that much about the new coronavirus variant, but there is one certainty: things are even more uncertain than they already were.
We already told you that if you are even considering traveling, you have to be okay with change and uncertainty. It’s even truer now.
You can download our free pandemic travel checklist to see a summary of the many risks of traveling now (or read the more detailed soon-to-be-updated guide to whether you should travel based on your personal situation).
When we traveled to Europe in August and again in November, we told you that the risk of getting stuck is a major one. We decided to travel because as digital nomads, we honestly don’t mind that risk at all personally (among many other reasons we explained).
This UK flight ban is another perfect example of those risks: again, it’s too early to tell for sure, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that many countries could completely shut their borders if this new coronavirus variant turns out to be a severe issue.
So all we’ll say is the same thing we’ve been saying since July repetitively: don’t take the decision to travel lightly. And we’ll repeat it once more: if you’re not going to travel safely and responsibly, stay home.
We’ll keep monitoring the situation for Canadian travelers and how this new development affects international travel, the best type of travel.
For the many of you who asked, as of today we still plan on leaving the country in the new year because we can do it safely and responsibly and we’re still comfortable with the many risks… but things can change very quickly. We’re okay with uncertainty and being flexible, as we were before all this.
How to return from the UK if you’re stuck there
If you’re stuck in the UK right now, you probably planned to stay there over the holidays anyway since Canada’s 14-day quarantine means you’d be locked inside your home until January anyway if you’d return (unless you live in Alberta).
But if you absolutely don’t want to risk getting stuck for a long time and want to return, just like we said in March: the faster you act, the better your odds. It might already be too late. Maybe this will all blow over and flights will be restored, or maybe things could get worse before they get better.
When I first started to write this post last night, Portugal still hadn’t announced a UK flight ban. When I visited Europe in November, I flew Montreal-Lisbon-London for C$226 on TAP Air Portugal (the airline on which Flytrippers often spots deals to Europe in the $400s roundtrip from Toronto and Montreal).
And Portugal allows Canadians to transit, at least when it is on a single same itinerary. I had seen a $343 one-way flight for Wednesday on that exact routing and airline for those wanting to get from the UK to Canada.
I had written this sentence: “But Portugal could very well do what other European countries have done and ban UK flights tonight.”
And that’s exactly what happened before we even had time to post this.
So here’s the second most important lesson in this post, after how the restrictions work: entry restrictions change all the time and they change very quickly.
In November, I booked my flight less than a week before departure (cheap last minute seats to Europe—the travel world is really turned upside down) and at that point, Canadians were allowed to enter Portugal (I wanted to spend a few hours in Lisbon so I picked a long layover for the same price because I love to travel).
But then when I got there, Portugal had imposed an entry restriction for Canadians. In other words, please stop asking us if X country will be open in June 2021 😉
Nobody knows if X country will be open next week, much less next year!!! That’s the current reality of travel.
The importance of changeable bookings and being flexible is another key element we’ve explained in our free pandemic travel checklist.
Some countries like Mexico literally never closed and never had any conditions (tests/quarantine), not even for citizens of the hardest-hit country, the USA (that’s why every American traveler and their mother is in Mexico right now). On the other extreme, other countries didn’t bother with putting any effort and just stayed closed to everyone (like Canada).
But in most countries, they follow the science and data and adjust based on the changing situations everywhere, which is a pretty reasonable thing to do.
So they change their entry rules. There’s nothing you can do but wait and see. Book closer to the date and be more easygoing.
In short, many countries have not yet banned flights from the UK, so it’s still possible to leave. But then you have to make sure you are allowed to transit in that said country, which is honestly extremely hard to find. And it can be very costly. Your best bet seems to be flying from the UK to Sweden, then from Sweden to Canada via another country that allows Canadians to transit, like France or Germany.
That doesn’t mean the rules won’t have changed by the time you read this though…
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Canada’s UK flight ban temporarily restricts flights arriving from the United Kingdom. The flight ban changes absolutely nothing to the entry restrictions in place for UK residents and doesn’t keep Canadians in the UK from entering Canada… if they can find a flight via another country.
Have any questions about entry restrictions? Tell us in the comments below.
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