Canada's new COVID-19 travel rules: What you need to know about the restrictions, and what officials can do to stop you

Elisabetta Bianchini
·5 min read

The Canadian government’s latest restrictions on international travel will see mandatory COVID-19 testing upon arrival at airports, with a required isolation in a hotel while travellers wait for their results, but there are still some outstanding questions around how this process will be executed.

On Jan. 29, the federal government announced it will require air travellers to get tested when they arrive at Canadian airports, at their own cost. International passenger flights can only land at Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal airports, beginning at midnight on Feb. 4.

Canada’s new traveller quarantine process

Anyone travelling to Canada, whether they are a visitor or resident, will have to pay to quarantine at a government-approved hotel for up to three days, until they receive their test result. Trudeau said the expected cost is about $2,000.

Each traveller is still required to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine at their home or a government quarantine facility. This is in addition to the pre-departure COVID-19 testing that is required 72 hours before a traveller’s departure flight to Canada.

The federal government did not provide an exact date for when the COVID-19 testing upon arrival and the mandatory hotel stay will be put into place, but in an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live transport minister Omar Alghabra said people should be prepared to see these rules in place “as soon as Feb. 4.”

How do Canada’s COVID-19 travel and testing rules compare to other countries?

Ewa Krajewska, a partner at the Canadians law firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, told Yahoo Canada that the federal government is “trying to strike a balance,” particularly compared to quarantine rules in other countries.

New Zealand has a “managed isolation” system in place, where anyone travelling to the country must stay at a government-approved hotel room for 14 days, with a final health check and COVID-19 test conducted before they leave. Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms is taken to a quarantine facility.

The cost to travellers ranges from $3,100 for one person in one room, to $5,000 for two adults and two children in one room, or $7,150 for two adults and four children in two rooms.

Liability for managed isolation and quarantine charges in New Zealand
Liability for managed isolation and quarantine charges in New Zealand

Exemptions to the managed isolation includes individuals with severe medical needs, such as a matter that requires hospital care, or a temporary exemption to attended a medical appointment. The New Zealand government indicates that exemptions for exceptional circumstances can be made but only in “rare circumstances.” The government indicates this would not include a funeral where multiple people would be gathering or visiting an ill family member.

Australia also has a required 14-day quarantine rule in a government-approved accommodation, in the city air and sea travellers arrive in. States and territories determine the costs associated with the quarantine. For example, New South Wales requires international travellers (other than individuals from New Zealand) to pay $3,000 for one adult, $1,000 for an additional adult and $500 for any children between the ages of three and 18.

TORONTO, Feb. 1, 2021 -- A traveller wearing a face mask shows his test certificate at the exit of a COVID-19 testing site at Toronto International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on Feb. 1, 2021. Canada's Ontario required all international arriving passengers to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival starting on Monday to stop the spread of COVID-19 variants. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images)
TORONTO, Feb. 1, 2021 -- A traveller wearing a face mask shows his test certificate at the exit of a COVID-19 testing site at Toronto International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on Feb. 1, 2021. Canada's Ontario required all international arriving passengers to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival starting on Monday to stop the spread of COVID-19 variants. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images)

How far can the Canadian government go with travel restrictions?

Under the Quarantine Act, the federal government has the ability to restrict or add conditions to entry into Canada when there is an outbreak of a communicable disease that poses an “imminent and severe risk to public health in Canada,” when there are “no reasonable alternatives to prevent the introduction or spread of the disease are available.”

Krajewska explains that some of the core outstanding questions about these new requirements are around how the government continues to define essential and non-essential travel, and if there are any exemptions for people who leave the country, for example, to care for a loved one.

“There's a lot of moving parts here,” Krajewska said.

“I don't think we've reached the limit of the government's power but at the same time, I think the government, probably from a political perspective, appreciates that this is kind of walking a fine line between protecting public health and appearing to be overly [restrictive] on Canadians’ ability to go abroad.”

Krajewska could see Canadians challenge the federal government’s latest restrictions and claims there are no “reasonable alternatives” to the mandatory three-day stay at a government-approved hotel.

“The government can do it, the question is whether they are using reasonable means and response,” she said. “You could probably see arguments on both sides of this.”

Krajewska added that she thinks people may challenge the notion that travellers have to cover the costs associated with the mandatory quarantine, but she identified that the circumstances around someone’s travel will come into play.

“I think it really kind of depends on who's challenging it and what are the circumstances of that challenge,” she explained. “If you are...the typical Canadian snowbird who went down south, despite guidance not to travel, you may not get as much sympathy from a court.”

“But if you had to go abroad to care for a family member or for travel that would be considered much more essential for either family or health reasons, I think that person may challenge the order, or at least the provisions of the order that say that they have to pay for the hotel quarantine at their expense instead of at the government’s expense.”

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