4 Tips To Get Back To Canada If You’re Stuck Abroad

The coronavirus crisis has escalated more quickly than anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetime. Many Canadians are stuck abroad, particularly with all the borders that are being closed, but also with the flights being canceled around the world as this pandemic takes an extreme toll on airlines as well.

Those were the two biggest risks we told you about when sharing the facts about Canada’s coronavirus travel advisory against all non-essential international travel issued last Friday. Thankfully, many of you were able to get home quickly, myself included.

But many Canadians are still all over the world.

Unfortunately, it’s getting very hard to find a way to get back to Canada at this point if you’re still stuck abroad, especially in some places on lockdown like Morocco and others.

We’ll give you examples of how to get back (to do quickly), but most importantly our 4 tips to get back to Canada.

We are not experts in border and entry restrictions, as mentioned previously. We can, however, share our pro flight search and insurance tips for sure, and share the current facts about entry restrictions, but they have been literally changing every day this week.

Because of that, you should follow Tip #1, at least, for the best odds of finding a way back to Canada quickly!

 

1. Contact Emergency Consular Assistance

If you’re still stuck abroad and want to get back to Canada, at this stage, we would strongly suggest you first start by getting in contact with Canada’s emergency consular assistance. We think it’s important to get their assistance to get back home, despite some media reports of travelers criticizing them.

Maybe they have unrealistic expectations or something, but whatever the case, emergency consular assistance is in the best position to at the very least know the most recent developments in terms of borders and entry restrictions (as we saw concerning the US & EU transits), and likely be aware of flight options as well, since you’re probably not the only Canadian stuck in that country.

They can also clarify which countries’ entry restrictions are relaxed for transits only if any.

Here is the contact information:

  • Email: sos@international.gc.ca
  • Telephone: +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls accepted)
  • SMS: +1 613-209-1233

The Canadian government has also announced a COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad to provide you with a loan of up to $5,000 to cover your basic needs and help you return.

 

2. Contact Your Airline Or Booking Site

If you left on a one-way ticket or didn’t have a return ticket booked for whatever reason, this tip won’t help, but for others, it’s obviously the best place to start.

If people not scheduled to fly in the next 3 days would stop overcrowding phone lines (you can share our infographic so more people can know about how harmful this is—many simply don’t realize it) to let those stuck abroad get through to customer service as this would be your best bet to find a flight.

The airlines will let you change your return for an earlier flight with no change fee due to the special circumstances (well, at least almost all will).

But that is only true if:

  • you can actually get a hold of them
  • the flights aren’t already full
  • the flights aren’t canceled
  • you don’t transit to countries with border restrictions

First, if you can get a hold of them. I just mentioned this. So try calling and be patient, but also send a message to the airline or booking site on Twitter and Facebook.

Second, if the flights aren’t already full. This one is out of your control, but try checking out what other flights the airline offers from your current country to Canada via other countries who haven’t closed their borders to Canadians as of now. Although at thi s stage it’s probably very limited. But read our flight search tips below. 

Third, if the flights aren’t canceled. Again, the same thing as the previous issue.

Finally, if you don’t transit to countries with border restrictions. For example, if you are returning from somewhere, you can no longer transit via many countries. Airlines cannot necessarily help you with this, as they have passengers from countries all over the world and just because a border is closed to Canadians, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily closed to other nationalities (or vice-versa).

You can see the list of restrictions by country, but keep in mind they change quickly. That’s the risk in all this: you book a flight, but then the borders close before you leave.

If you are lucky, the airline or booking site is able to rebook you. Odds of that are decreasing every day, though.

And if all this fails, remember that the cost of your return flight might not be lost. If the airline canceled the flight, then you are owed a refund in cash. You can use that amount to purchase another flight. But if the flight is not canceled, at the very least almost all of them are now offering a free change, so you’ll get the value of your ticket as a voucher for future use on that airline. Not as great, but better than nothing.

Of course, that means you still have to find a flight. But first, let’s start with another way of getting a refund.

 

3. Contact Your Travel Insurance

Before finding a flight, which is sure to be expensive, let’s remind everyone of an easy way to save money.

Some might have a standalone travel insurance plan that includes trip interruption insurance.

But everyone could have had this insurance for free with a travel credit card.

If you’re stuck abroad now and didn’t pay with one, this is of little consolation at the moment, but it’s a good time to learn that hard lesson so you remember it and make sure it does not happen to you again next time!!!

If you did pay with a card with trip interruption insurance, you often have $1,500 per person covered for the purchase of a flight back home. Call your card insurer to check the exact amount.

This is 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

Don’t miss our detailed post about trip interruption insurance Saturday.

But in short, since a government travel advisory has been issued, you are likely covered to buy a one-way flight back home, at least for some portion of the amount.

You need the insurer’s authorization first. Once you get it, you simply buy a plane ticket 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.

But that still means you have to find a flight.

 

4. Search For A Flight Home

Now the trickiest part.

As we warned you last Saturday that this would happen, options are getting rarer and rarer. And as budget-travelers, it pains us to say this, but most flights are prohibitively expensive. It’s frustrating, but it’s supply and demand. Plane ticket pricing is always based on one thing only: how much people are willing to pay for it.

If you’re stuck, you’ve probably used a price comparison tool to search for flights from the city you are in to the city where you want to go. If not, obviously try that first.

But that’s a common mistake—but a normal one since this is what most people think is the best way to search for flights.

It’s not.

So here’s how to use expert-level flight searching tips to see all possibilities and find a way home.

The best way to see your options is to use a search tool that allows for more advanced searches.

Our favorite is Kiwi (you can see all our favorite flight search tools, the ones we use ourselves—always easy to access in our top menu under “resources”).

First, select “one-way.”

 

Enter your departure point. If it is feasible to move within the country, write the name of the country instead of just the city, to give you more options (not in Sri Lanka, but in larger countries).

 

For your destination, like I just said, it’s important not to input your city. And not even Canada as a whole. At least if you are far away, in countries with no nonstop flights to Canada.

(To make sure there aren’t, or if you are closer to home, you can input “Canada” and do the following steps to make sure you see only nonstops.)

Why shouldn’t you input your city? Well, it’s a somewhat similar logic than the one behind our multi-ticket itineraries technique to save money on long-haul flights in normal times: regular searches are too restrictive.

They will often only show you flights that are on airlines that partner together, with the “normal” short layovers most people are willing to pay more for, etc.

But in this case where there are so few options left, what you need is to see all possibilities to increase your chances of finding something that works.

And more importantly, if you input Canada, you’ll have no control over where the layovers are, which in normal times is mostly irrelevant, but is very important now since so many countries have closed their borders to foreigners.

You should, therefore, input “Anywhere.”

 

Then select the next 2 days first to see what is available.

 

Click “Search.”

Now, here is an important extra step, considering the aforementioned fact that many borders are closed.

You should exceptionally limit the search to nonstop flights from the country you are stuck in (you normally shouldn’t do this if you want to save money).

 

This is to make sure you can control where the layovers are and not buy a flight that you won’t be allowed to board because of entry restrictions in your transit country.

In this case, I would use the map version of the results, so click “Large Map” to enlarge.

 

It is a manual trial-and-error trick, but there isn’t really another way to find anything at this point. Piecing together an itinerary by searching and searching is your only shot.

Start with a search for the next 2 days, but if that doesn’t yield anything even with our examples in the following section, try searching again for the next day. But since border rules change quickly, it’s important to understand that this is an emergency tip that is to come back now, not to book a flight in a week!

So for this example, if you are in Sri Lanka, there aren’t many nonstop options. There is an expensive flight to Istanbul. Then, you can look at Turkey–Canada flights. There are direct flights to Toronto and Montreal available. Turkey has still not closed its borders to foreigners.

But if you don’t want to verify that information for each city you get in the results, we’ve done some preliminary research for you: a list of a few good countries to look for.

Here it is, with examples depending on where you are stuck.

 

Bonus: Examples Of How To Get Back Depending On The Country

Hopefully, you didn’t skip directly to this section, because, with the detailed tip about searches above, you can start doing your own searches to try to get home. Along with the 3 other tips, this will put you in the best position to find a solution for your specific situation.

We received so many of your inquiries about getting home from X or Y country, but we simply can’t do a detailed search for each.

But here are a few possible solutions that you should double-check as things evolve quickly.

I’ve indicated specific tips for each region.

The short version is that these 5 countries have major airports, offer nonstop flights to Canada, and still allow Canadians to transit through as of today, which makes them your best bets to find flights home from wherever you are:

  • United Kingdom
  • Turkey
  • Japan
  • Hong Kong*
  • Mexico

*Hong Kong is not a country but has its own separate immigration system

We were able to confirm some good news.

In addition, these 5 countries allow you to transit through as of now, but double-check with the airline before booking:

  • United States
  • European Union*
  • Singapore
  • Panama
  • Taiwan

*the EU is not a country but many countries have abolished internal borders

Take into consideration that while these countries do not ban Canadians from entering, they do ban you if you have been to a region that is hard-hit by the virus. Double-check.

If you want to see the info for other countries that your research might give you, here is the list of restrictions by country.

 

Australia

Let’s start as far away as possible. Your best bet would be to find your way to Japan, which still has a few flights to Canada directly and has no restrictions. Hong Kong is another option.

Singapore is a transit option to get to Japan if that’s cheaper (but you would need to stay in the transit area, so double-check if that works for separate tickets, for example). Taiwan too.

As a last resort, London and Istanbul are other options, as are other EU countries that allow transits.

 

East Asia & South-East Asia

Your best bet would be to find your way to Japan, which still has a few flights to Canada directly and has no restrictions. Hong Kong is another option.

Singapore is a transit option to get to Japan if that’s cheaper (but you would need to stay in the transit area, so double-check if that works for separate tickets, for example). Taiwan too.

As a last resort, London and Istanbul are other options, as are other EU countries that allow transits.

 

South Asia & Middle East

As I just showed in Tip #4, for India, Sri Lanka, and this whole area, Istanbul might be your best bet. Or via London or other EU countries that allow transits.

You can go the other way to Japan or Hong Kong as well.

Singapore is a transit option to get to Japan if that’s cheaper (but you would need to stay in the transit area, so double-check if that works for separate tickets, for example). Taiwan too.

 

Africa

Again, Africa is well-connected to Istanbul overall, and one reader who was in Senegal was able to book via Turkey.

London would be another option, as are other EU countries that allow transits.

But if you are in a place like Morocco, as many of you are, flights to most countries have been banned outright, and there simply doesn’t seem to be anything left to get out.

 

Europe

The UK has no restrictions and has nonstop flights to Canada. Istanbul is another nearby option, as I just showed in Tip #4. As are other EU countries that allow transits.

If you were in Europe before the closing of the borders, there are still flights to Canada directly, depending on where you are.

You can definitely find a transatlantic flight by searching from “Europe” as a whole to “Canada” as a whole, assuming you can fly separately from where you are to that departure city. This is not a sure thing; it’s hard to confirm what is allowed or not.

 

USA

Mostly not an issue for now, as there are still plenty of flights. But soon there won’t be many left, as airlines cut capacity.

 

Caribbean

Since most people who make their way to this region are there as part of package vacations, these flights are quite different and don’t work the same way at all, as we often tell you. It’s just a different world since the airlines are what we call “leisure airlines,” and these operate completely differently than regular airlines. Most of our many tips about flights don’t really apply since the business model is so dissimilar.

In all cases, many airlines are offering rescue flights to the area that aren’t necessarily bookable online, and it’s harder to find info for those.

 

Mexico & Central America

There are still flights from Mexico to Canada, and some from other countries as well. But if not, from other countries, you can make your way from Mexico since there are no restrictions as of yet.

Panama is closed to foreigners, but that does not apply to transits, so that’s another option. If you haven’t been to Europe, transiting in the US should be an option.

Some countries in Central America are shut down, though, and there isn’t really an option currently.

 

South America

There are a few nonstops to Canada, but alternatively, you could find a direct flight to Mexico and then to Canada, since Mexico has no restrictions as of yet.

Panama is closed to foreigners, but that does not apply to transits, so that’s another option. If you haven’t been to Europe, transiting in the US should be an option.

 

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Summary

Here are a few tips to get you back to Canada if you are stuck abroad. Emergency consular assistance will help you (especially with border and entry restrictions), your airline might be able to reschedule you depending on a few factors, your insurance might cover a part of the cost, and finally, with those advanced flight search tips, you can find a path home by searching and searching.

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).

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