Canada has a pre-departure testing requirement to enter the country. There is a little-known exemption that is very useful, in theory: It is for those who have been infected in the previous 6 months. It saves you from having to take that pre-departure test (and the arrival test too)! But only if you have the required proof (it’s strict)…
- A record number of Canadians who’ve been infected with COVID-19 recently
- A record number of Canadians traveling by plane
- And probably just as many people who also want to travel soon
- To escape the cold
- To escape extreme restrictions
- To travel simply because traveling is great
So this is by far the most common question we’ve received since the holidays.
Heere are the details of the exemption for those who have been infected in the past.
The basics of the exemption for those who have been infected
I guess you already know that Canada requires a pre-departure test for all travelers over 5 years old who want to enter the country. If not, you can read our ultimate guide to Canada’s pre-departure test requirement (and/or our introduction to COVID-19 tests for travel).
Canada offers an exemption if you were infected within 11 to 180 days before entry.
But actually… Canada offers an exemption IF YOU HAVE VALID PROOF that you were infected within 11 to 180 days before entry.
That’s not quite the same thing.
Of course, if you were infected but have no official proof… that’s completely useless unfortunately. In the eyes of the rigid bureaucratic system, it is the same as if you were never infected so… no exemption for you.
But even if you were infected and you have provincial proof of an official molecular test… the federal government is completely separate and the federal government is the one in charge of entry requirements… and a provincial proof of infection is not necessarily accepted.
The exemption also extends to Canada’s random arrival tests too.
The basics of the proof required by countries
It’s good to understand that just because a document is from an “official” source doesn’t mean it will be accepted. Of course not. Just like having the “Canadian” vaccine passport for travel does not guarantee that another country will accept that to consider you vaccinated.
Whether a document is “official” or not is irrelevant… it’s always just the details of the requirements that you have to look at unfortunately.
If you travel during the pandemic, you always have to read the countries’ rules carefully anyway, there’s just no way around it.
I’ll soon write a post about our own preparation for our current trip to Central America to give you a concrete example of how to plan a trip during these weird times. It’s my 9th pandemic trip so I’m getting pretty good at it. Sign up for our free newsletter to get all our content for Canadian travelers.
Anyway… Canada has very specific requirements for the proof of a positive test. You have to make sure your proof is valid.
Yes, it sucks and it’s a shame that Canada is so restrictive. But that’s how it is. Traveling is awesome so it’s necessarily absolutely worth the effort to navigate these rules and requirements.
The proof of test required by Canada
Let’s start by explaining this very clearly: The rule to enter Canada is that you need valid proof of one of these 2 test results:
- NEGATIVE molecular test result from within 72 hours
- POSITIVE molecular test result from within 11 to 180 days
It’s simple. It’s one OR the other.
There are NO other options or alternatives. No letters from a doctor or anything. Just one of those 2 tests. And rapid antigen tests are never accepted.
Without that, you just can’t enter Canada (except by land… and even that is not officially “allowed” as explained this week).
And most importantly, in both cases (negative or positive), you don’t just need a test…
You need a test report that includes these MANDATORY elements:
- Name of the laboratory/clinic/facility that administered the test
- Civic address of the laboratory/clinic/facility that administered the test
- The date on which the test was taken
- The type of test taken
- The test result
- Traveler name
- Traveler date of birth
All of this information is required, as indicated on the official government website.
As always, Flytrippers has officially reconfirmed with Health Canada media relations and they have explicitly said that all of this information MUST be on the proof of test.
Whether it is positive or negative. Whether it’s an official provincial test result or not.
It has to have all those elements. Is it really enforced strictly? I included a section below…
But based on the rules, if you don’t have proof that includes this, it’s just not considered valid proof.
Proof of infection provided in Canada
So yeah, that’s the problem for many who has been infected here in Canada.
If you were recently infected, you probably only got the result from a rapid antigen test done at home (because our governments had just 2 years to put in place a decent testing capacity or at least a simple mechanism to report the infections discovered by home tests back to them for accounting and tracking purposes… and like so many things, it was an utter failure on their part and it’s chaos) so you have no proof.
If you were infected before they lost control of the situation… the proof you have might not work if your result came from a test run by the public health system, unfortunately.
If your positive test from the public system has all the info required by Canada’s rule, or if it comes from a private lab (like if you got a positive result while traveling), then you’re fine and you can easily take advantage of the exemption. You don’t have to worry about tests for 6 months after your positive test (at least to enter Canada).
What happens if your proof is not valid
That means you can’t take advantage of the exemption and you still have to do the pre-departure test… and that poses an additional risk: The risk of testing positive on your pre-departure test because of your prior infection, since people who have had COVID-19 can apparently test positive for several months.
That’s precisely why the exemption exists in theory.
It seems that many results from public testing do not include the name and address of the lab (and the type of test isn’t always there, depending on the province).
However, here in Québec there seems to be a way to get your hands on a valid proof, so if other provinces don’t include all the required information either… maybe there is a way to get the more detailed version there too. I’ll get to that in the next section.
But if your proof is not valid, you’ll have to do the pre-departure test… even if that’s completely illogical.
Welcome to the world of government bureaucracy. Nobody can really be surprised that it’s rigid, stupid, and impractical…
Don’t be mad at us, we think it’s very absurd that they have no flexibility of course. We’re just telling you the official rules, we don’t make them!
How to travel if you have been infected
In concrete terms, here is how you can travel if you have been infected in the last 6 months based on your specific situation.
Please note that I’m just talking about Canada’s test exemption… you must also comply with other countries’ requirements of course, see the last section of this guide for more important details on this.
For those who have a valid test
It’s simple, you use your valid positive test to enter Canada and you don’t need to do a pre-departure test for 180 days.
For those who have been infected and have done a molecular test
You have to try to obtain the required proof from your provincial government.
For example, in Québec there is an online health file called Health Booklet / Carnet Santé and apparently you can get the full lab report there.
We’ll try to learn more for each province and report back, but let us know in the comments if you were able to get that in yours to help out other travelers.
If this doesn’t work, then the next situation applies to you by default.
For those who have been infected in the past without proof
Your options are pretty limited honestly, you have 3 choices.
First, you can obviously just hope that your pre-travel test will be negative. But that means taking the risk of being stuck for another 11 days if it is still positive. For those going to a country with flexible isolation rules and where the cost of travel is just $30 total per day, it doesn’t necessarily cost much more… but not everyone can be away from home for longer than expected.
Secondly, the less risky option would be to do a private molecular test before leaving (there are PCR tests for $99 in Montreal for example; full list of testing options coming soon). This way, if you are still positive, you have proof of a positive test that will become valid 11 days later and will allow you to benefit from the exemption. And if you are negative, it means that there is a good chance that you will test negative again for your pre-departure test when you are traveling.
Finally, it’s actually a cheaper version of the second option… that works just for certain destinations and for those who are going for at least 11 days obviously. It’s to do your molecular test as soon as you arrive in a country where the tests are cheaper (there are several). That’s what I tried to do in Miami on Wednesday (COVID-19 tests are free in the USA if you book in advance), I’ll save that for another article soon.
For those who are still infected or with an upcoming infection
Ideally, doing a private molecular test when you are infected to have valid proof and be done with that for 6 months sounds great, since you know you are positive and you know you’ll test positive.
But if you are infected, you have to follow the isolation rules of the province where you are… so you probably can’t go out and get tested.
There is still the option of getting a self-test that you can do at home, I will come back to this with a more detailed article very soon since everyone prefers shorter articles and this one is already long.
Positive test from 14 days, 11 days, 10 days, or 5 days?
You might have previously seen a 14-day minimum, because the rule was 14 to 180 days, it just changed today precisely (Canada’s rules don’t change often at all compared to other countries, but they can always change—like all travel rules).
So as mentioned, the positive test must be between 11 and 180 days old.
It used to say 10 days on the government website, but now it says 11… I believe that change is just to clarify the whole thing, since the way the government counted the 10 days (and 14 days before) was certainly confusing for many travelers.
See the next section for how the 11 days are counted.
Note that many provinces have reduced the isolation period to 5 days after a positive test… but that’s completely irrelevant.
As we explained in the main causes of the phenomenal amount of fallacious misinformation circulating about travel rules, many people unfortunately often mix up a lot of separate rules… they have no bad intentions, but it can easily mislead travelers, we see it literally every day (so we strongly recommend you ignore everything you read and hear).
Isolation rules are provincial. The province where you are when you test positive decides how long you have to isolate.
Entry rules are federal. The federal government always decides how long after a test you can fly into Canada (but it does NOT decide how long you have to isolate… that’s up to the country you’re in).
Would it make sense for Canada to reduce that to 5 days too? Of course it would. The American CDC (their public health agency) has reduced it to 5 days too, for example.
But objectively, implementing rules that make sense and acting quickly are really just not 2 things our federal government has done since the pandemic started when it comes to travel rules.
Anyway, there hasn’t been any mention of reducing this to 5 days, but it could still happen at some point. Flytrippers is keeping a close eye on this and you’ll know as soon as it changes if you follow us on Facebook or if you subscribe to our free newsletter.
How the 11 day wait period is calculated
Like many government rules, let’s face it… it’s not always clear. The official Government of Canada website doesn’t even seem to specify how the 11 days is calculated anywhere.
And it’s pretty important, especially if you’ve had a positive result while traveling, because you probably want to come back as soon as possible.
So Flytrippers has gotten the details directly from official spokespeople at Health Canada media relations again.
The required wait period is 10 full days. If your positive test is on the 1st of the month, you can use it to enter Canada on the 12th of the month (not the 11th).
In short, take the date of the test, add 10… and you can enter the next day (1 + 10 + 1 = 12 in the previous example). It doesn’t matter what time the test was taken or what time the flight was, it’s not relevant to this calculation for this rule.
That’s probably why they changed the rule to say 11 days directly instead of 10. You take the date of your test and add 11. No matter the time of day. But of course, Flytrippers has reached out to Health Canada media relations to confirm. We are awaiting their official response.
For all the other details of the test to be done and plenty of tips, the ultimate guide to Canada’s pre-departure testing requirement has a ton of information.
Enforcement by the airlines & customs
Okay… now I’m going to talk about the testimonials you may have seen from many travelers who say they were able to board the plane (or enter by land) with their proof of positive test from their provincial health system even if it did not include all the required info…
I don’t know what to tell you other than that it’s not supposed to, according to the rules. If the name and address of the lab isn’t there, it is not a valid proof of test according to Canada’s rules. That is very clear.
It most certainly could work… but hoping and expecting them to accept proof of a test that is clearly not valid under the government’s rules is a big risk.
If you try, you have to be willing to live with the fact that they might refuse and you’ll be in the wrong in that situation.
Of course, the airlines are the ones who enforce this requirement by checking your test before boarding.
Is it possible that the airline employee would see the proof of a positive test from an official government source and have enough good judgment to know that it’s true and that it’s official and that it’s reliable… and that they accept that proof?
It’s very well known that very often, employees don’t understand the rules at all themselves. It happens excessively often. It happened before the pandemic and it will keep happening for as long as we are all alive.
But anyway, according to the rules… they shouldn’t accept it.
Not to mention that I imagine that it’s not impossible that customs officers in Canada might ask to see your test again. They never ask me for my proof of test in the ArriveCAN app every time I enter Canada, but if you choose the positive test option instead of the negative one, maybe they ask for it (or maybe they ask for it when you don’t have NEXUS, I wouldn’t know).
In an attempt to find out, Flytrippers also asked the media relations of each of the major Canadian airlines if they would accept government proof of a positive test.
Air Transat and Porter responded that they do require proof that includes the name and address of the lab as per the official rules.
Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, and Flair did not respond to our request.
As for foreign airlines, I would assume that the odds of them accepting something that isn’t valid based on the official rules would be much much lower.
If you enter by land, depending on your point of view, it could either be:
- Less risky (the other land rules are already not really enforced strictly)
- More risky (the agents should theoretically know what type of proof is required)
Exemption from other countries’ entry requirements
All of this above is obviously just for Canada‘s entry requirements.
If you’ve read the basics of how to travel during the pandemic (and our brand-new section coming soon with COVID-19 resources for travelers is going to be even better), you know that the process itself is simple to understand: There are just 3 steps for any trip.
So for step 3, we just explained everything.
For step 1, it’s not relevant because it’s just a vaccination requirement and the fact you’ve tested positive doesn’t change anything.
So that leaves step 2, each country’s rules.
If you only remember one thing about travel rules, it’s that every country is different. So their rules are all different. And it’s going to be like that forever because it’s always been this way.
Yes, most countries that require testing have some sort of exemption for those who have been recently infected too.
(But don’t forget that there are plenty of countries that just never require tests at all, there are 47 at last count — including the one we are going to next week that removed all its COVID-19 restrictions — so no problem going to those places obviously.)
The proof of infection required by other countries can be just as strict — or less strict. Again, if you want to travel, it’s not complicated: You just have no choice but to read the requirements of the country you’re going to.
You will be able to see exactly what they require in terms of a test to enter, if any. And what type of proof is required. And sometimes it’s not enforced as strictly as they say, as I’ll share in that post about our current Central America trip.
But to give just one example of another country’s exemption for previous infections, let’s look at the United States.
(We have a complete guide on how to travel to the United States, because it is the #1 destination for Canadians and because many want to go where life is normal after 21 months of this pandemic and I can’t blame them at all.)
The US requires a test just if you enter by air (no test if you enter by land). They too have an exemption for recent infections, but they require a positive test AND a letter from a health professional saying that you have recovered.
Not very easy to find in Canada (apparently possible through private clinics; detailed post to come). And their exemption applies for a maximum of 90 days (and they have no minimum).
Every country is different.
Fortunately, the USA is part of the 27 countries that accept the rapid antigen test for entry (available for as little as $17 in some provinces in Canada), in addition to being part of the 47 test-free countries if you enter by land (you can then fly anywhere in the US test-free; another detailed post to come).
Anyway, since that test type is less sensitive and less accurate, there is apparently a much lower chance that you will still test positive after your recovery than with the molecular test (like a PCR for example).
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The exemption to Canada’s pre-departure test requirement for those who have been infected is really great in theory. But unfortunately the proof required is very restrictive, especially if you tested positive here in Canada.
What would you like to know about the exemption for previous infections? Tell us in the comments below.
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