The United States will reopen its land border to fully vaccinated travellers as soon as ports of entry open on Nov. 8, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced at a press briefing on Tuesday.
That means ports of entry open 24 hours will accept vaccinated travellers when the clock strikes midnight, while the others will accept travellers as soon as they open that day.
The U.S. has kept its shared land border with Canada closed to non-essential travel since the start of the pandemic in March, 2020. But on Nov. 8, for the first time in 19 months, the U.S. is set to welcome back travellers by land and passenger ferry — as long as they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
CBP confirmed travellers entering by land will not have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, but said they should be prepared to verbally attest to their vaccination status, and present their vaccination documentation upon request.
To be considered fully vaccinated, travellers must have all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization.
WHO-approved vaccines include Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and its Indian-made counterpart, Covishield. The U.S. will also accept any combination of these vaccines, such as a mix of AstraZeneca and Moderna.
Children under 18 years of age will be exempt from the vaccination requirement.
Expect long wait times
CBP says its border crossings will be staffed at pre-pandemic levels starting on Nov. 8, but warns there could be longer than normal wait times.
“For travellers making the trip to the United States, we ask for patience with our officers,” said Matthew Davies, the executive director, admissibility and passenger programs, with CBP. “To help reduce wait times and long lines, we encourage travellers to have the correct documentation ready.”
Relief for Canadian travellers
In March 2020, Canada and the United States agreed to close their shared land border to non-essential travel to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
It was widely assumed that — when the time was right — the two countries would announce a joint reopening of the land border.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, 2021 while the U.S. remained silent on its border plans. That sparked anger and frustration among Canadians who wanted to cross into the U.S. by land, including those with family in U.S. border towns.
Now that the land border is reopening, it has provided relief to many, including Canadian snowbirds who want to drive to the U.S. sunbelt for their winter stay.
“I am ecstatic, I’m over the moon and back again,” said snowbird Fred Welsh of Gillams, Nfld. who plans to drive his RV to Florida on the first day the land border reopens.
“When they announced they were opening the border on the eighth of November, I was — I had to be the happiest man on the golf course.”
Come Nov. 8, unvaccinated travellers may continue to cross the U.S. border for essential reasons such as trade and transport. However, by January, essential travellers will also be required to be fully vaccinated.
Canadians still need to take return test
When returning to Canada, recreational travellers must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before their return flight or planned arrival at the land border.
Canada will only accept a molecular test — such as a PCR test — which can cost hundreds of dollars.
Travellers crossing into the U.S. for a short trip are allowed to take their molecular test in Canada and then use it upon their return — as long as it’s less than 72 hours old.
Canada is facing pressure from travellers, tourism groups and senior advocacy organizations to drop its pricey COVID-19 test requirement.
The federal government says it’s reviewing the requirement but that it’s staying in place for now as a precaution.
“Canada is still in many areas battling the fourth wave,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam at a news conference on Friday. “While vaccines reduce the risk [and protect] people against infections, it’s not 100 per cent and that protection could wane or be reduced over time.”
New air travel rules on Nov. 8
Since the start of the pandemic, recreational Canadians travellers have been able to fly to the U.S. Starting on Nov. 8, they will face stricter rules.
Currently, Canadian air passengers entering the U.S. must show proof of a negative molecular or antigen test no more than three days before their flight’s departure.
Come Nov. 8, all foreign air travellers, with few exceptions, must also show proof they’re fully vaccinated.
Children under 18 will be exempt from the requirement, but children between the ages of two and 17 will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.