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U.S. border is reopening to Canada. What you need to know before you travel

The U.S. is set to reopen its land border to non-essential travellers, including from Canada, on Nov. 8 after an over year-and-a-half closure.

The border has been closed since March 2020 to non-essential travellers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Canada reopened its land border to non-essential American travellers in August, the U.S. did not reciprocate until now.

Here’s what you need to know about the changing rules.

New land border rules

Beginning Nov. 8, all ports of entry into the U.S., including ferries, will allow non-essential travellers, such as tourists, if they are fully vaccinated. The new rules will go into effect as of 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 8.

To be considered fully vaccinated, 14 days must pass after either a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or after a one-dose vaccine, namely the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

The U.S. will accept all vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and those given Emergency Use Listing (EUL) by the World Health Organization (WHO).

These include COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Covishield.

The U.S. will also accept mixed doses of approved vaccines from different manufacturers, as long as they were taken at least 17 days apart.

Travellers must be prepared to answer verbal prompts asking whether they are fully vaccinated and their reason for travelling to the U.S., and must provide evidence of their vaccination status if requested, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A digital or print version of a vaccine certificate with a QR code or a vaccination record will be accepted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Children under 18 years old will be exempt from the vaccination requirement provided they are travelling with a fully vaccinated adult, and the U.S. does not require a negative COVID-19 test to cross the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) field officers say to expect an increase in border wait times, especially at busier crossings.

“Travellers should be prepared with the correct information and documentation to improve and expedite their travel experience before starting a trip to the border,” said CBP Executive Director Matthew Davies.

“At any point, the officer may request that they should have [proof of vaccination] available to present.”

The U.S. currently does not require essential travellers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but will beginning in January 2022, although the exact date has not been revealed.

Canada has allowed non-essential travel over its border for fully-vaccinated travellers since Aug. 9, 2021.

Returning to Canada

While a negative COVID-19 test is not required to cross the border into the U.S., the same does not apply when returning to Canada.

Canada requires a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours of the border crossing to enter the country for all travellers five years of age or older. Other tests that will be accepted include a nucleic acid test (NAT), nucleic acid amplification test (NAATs) or reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP).

These tests use methods such as a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab, nose swab, or saliva sample.

Canada will not accept a rapid antigen test even with a negative result.

If you’d like to do a quick day trip to the U.S., say to shop at Target or see a Buffalo Bills game, you can also get your test done in Canada to re-enter, as long as it was done within 72 hours.

If you’ve had COVID-19, you can present a positive test taken between 14 and 180 days earlier to cross the border, as long as you are symptom-free.

Fully-vaccinated travellers may be randomly selected for a COVID-19 test at the border.

Children under 12 years old, who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, must also quarantine for 14 days after arrival regardless of their test result. They must not attend school, camp or day care, or crowded places, such as public transportation, according to the government.

The testing and quarantine requirements have received backlash from the Canadian tourism industry, though, which is calling for an end to them.

“It’s irrational,” said Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who is also co-chair of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable. “It simply doesn’t make sense.”

A PCR test can cost between $150 and $300, which could act as a barrier for families hoping to travel to Canada, but there are reports other tests such as a NAAT can be obtained for cheaper at locations such as Walgreens.

Canada’s top doctors said as recently as Friday that the decision to keep the PCR test requirement is based on “prioritizing the health and safety of Canadians.”

Officials said an “analysis” is ongoing about whether the rules may change, and instead be replaced by a rapid test. But for now, a PCR test will stay the rule to re-enter.

Air travel rules update

In addition to the new land border rules, as of Nov. 8, the U.S. will also require those coming into the country via air to be fully vaccinated, along with a negative COVID-19 test for those two years old and older.

The test must be done no more than three days before travel. If you are under 18 years old, you do not need to be fully vaccinated if you are travelling with a fully-vaccinated adult.

If you have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you can provide the positive test result as well as a signed letter from your health-care provider giving you the OK to travel.

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