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Is discretionary, non-essential, zero-night travel from US to Canada reasonably doable since Canada's recent reopening to vaccinated US tourists?

I'm a US citizen in rural New York, less than an hour from Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. I rarely eat out, even before the pandemic, but when I have reason to treat, the restaurant options are a bit more savory over there. Also the trails beckon. So I'd like to go over for an afternoon for a meal and bike ride. I've ticked off these requirements:

(1) But I'm stumbling on the quarantine plan. I think I understand why a plan is required: it's to give border agents more discretion to decide I should not be exempt from quarantine. But I'm not about to stay in a motel for two weeks just for lunch. My actual backup plan is to turn around and return to my US home if I'm not allowed in. But ArriveCAN requires a Canadian address. I could give the address of a Canadian motel; the form seems to encourage that. But that seems disingenuous because I have no intention of staying there. The honest answer to this part of the questionnaire is to give my US address. So it seems as if a day-trip into Canada is not currently possible.

Arrive Canada questionnaire step 7, quarantine address

(2) The second reason it might be impossible is the testing requirement. I need to get tested 72 hours before entry. I took the Walgreens test Thursday. The pharmacist said to expect the results Monday, and explained that the 72-hour turnaround they offer is "business hours". (How that math works out is beyond me.)

(3) The third way this venture might not work: what's the likelihood US customs will let me back in? The US website seems a lot more ambiguously and lawyerly worded than the Canadian website about border crossing for non-essential purposes.

An ulterior motive for going to all this trouble is a trial run for staying in Canada. I've already paid for a border closure preventing a nonrefundable Airbnb booking. Not interested in doing that again.

EDIT: changed the title from possible to practical. Reworded first sentence.

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  • 2
    What's your status in the US? Are you a US citizen? a US permanent resident? or someone on a nonimmigrant status (and which nonimmigrant status)?
    – user102008
    Aug 20 '21 at 18:53
  • 1
    Thanks @user102008, I edited my question with your answer: US citizen.
    – Bob Stein
    Aug 20 '21 at 19:35
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Yes, if you're a US citizen, persistent, and lucky.

(1) quarantine location

I followed the slightly snarky but always constructive advice from @JonathanReez and filled out the CBSA client support contact form. No human responded, but a bot reply had a phone number for ArriveCan app support 1-833-283-7403 where I eventually got to a human. After a check with the supervisor I had a practical answer: for a short visit, for the quarantine plan location, just enter the address of a motel. I asked if that was acceptable even if I had no intention of ever staying there and the agent said yes. The call took 12 minutes. So I googled a random nearby hotel.

google for motel

quarantine plan, motel address

Soon after filling out the ArriveCAN address I got a "receipt". No QR code as the instructions indicated, but there was a 6-character code.

ArriveCAN receipt with 6-character code

I printed that and handed it to the border agent. She asked for three things:

  • passport
  • vaccine card
  • covid test results

Because I was prepared and lucky, I got through promptly.

(2) 72-hour covid test

My Walgreens COVID test result came in Saturday morning, 45 hours after the test Thursday. This was a lucky break. The test must be 72-hours recent, but Walgreens offers no guarantee: "Test results for travel purposes cannot be guaranteed in time for travel". It might have been better to get tested early in the week but that's a guess; my pharmacist suggested weekend test results come slower. When looking for a Walgreens location be careful to get an appointment where they give the PCR test, as the Rapid Diagnostic Test (ID NOW) or Rapid Antigen Test (BinaxNOW) is not acceptable.

UPDATE November 2021 - @MattKrause got in with an ID NOW test, pointing out that test-maker Abbott Labs claims it is "isothermal nucleic acid amplification technology." And the government of Canada includes "Nucleic acid amplification test" and "Isothermal amplification" in their list of accepted tests.

accepted types of molecular tests

(3) return to US

I had no trouble getting back into the US. The border agent only asked to see my passport. She did not ask for covid test or vaccine papers. She did confirm the food I brought was prepared food. @xngtng found some reassuring words regarding covid-19 related travel restrictions: "U.S. citizens ... will be exempted." To my amateur eye, that phrase stands out from the tangle of legalese contraditions. @jdouglas found where the CDC requirement for a covid test for returning US citizens applies to air travelers, not land travelers.

afterthoughts

For me the trip was worth the hassle. I got a huge take-out order of excellent middle eastern food at the bustling and friendly Shawarma on Wheels where they seemed genuinely surprised and happy to see "an American" as they called me. I biked 12 miles on the better maintained and more numerous trails along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. If I may opine briefly, travel is a kind of trade, and trade tends to make everyone better off. As The Economist points out this week, most covid-19 travel restrictions are ineffective and wasteful.

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  • If a person is a US Citizen, once that fact is established, US CBP cannot prevent that person entering the country. Oct 10 '21 at 3:26
  • @MatthewBarclay do you have a reference citation? Apparently that is not the whole story for air travelers. A CDC order requiring a negative COVID-19 test "applies to all air passengers, 2 years of age or older, traveling into the US, including US citizens and legal permanent residents."
    – Bob Stein
    Oct 10 '21 at 15:17
  • @BobStein for air travellers, it's not CBP that doesn't let the traveller enter the country, but the airline not letting the traveller fly to the border.
    – JakeDot
    Oct 11 '21 at 7:29
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    Perhaps this has changed since August, but the ID NOW test seems to be acceptable: It uses isothermal amplification, listed under "other acceptable molecular tests", and the agent seemed okay with it in late November. Dec 9 '21 at 1:24
  • @MattKrause that could help a lot. Though it would help if the site explicitly included ID NOW.
    – Bob Stein
    Dec 9 '21 at 3:26
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The answer is yes, with a bit of preparation from your end. Below is from personal experience of doing such a day trip.

I think I understand why a plan is required: it's to give border agents more discretion to decide I should not be exempt from quarantine

The official quarantine information page gives the following rationale for the quarantine plan:

Plan your quarantine. Even if you are fully vaccinated, you still need a quarantine plan in case it is determined at the border that you do not meet the necessary requirements.

So your quarantine plan will essentially be... "hop into my car, turn around and go back to New York". Its not there in case you're infected during your stay, its only there in case the border agents want you to quarantine upon arrival. However the online form doesn’t fully support this scenario so enter the name of any hotel next to the border or whatever hotel you’ll be spending the night at. This was confirmed to me by the CBSA agent at the border and by OPs experience in the accepted answer.

I need to get tested 72 hours before entry. I took the Walgreens test Thursday. The pharmacist said to expect the results Monday, and explained that the 72-hour turnaround they offer is "business hours". (How that math works out is beyond me.)

Yes, the processing time for free COVID tests is not guaranteed but usually it should be okay. Your options are:

  1. Hope that the free test comes within 72 hours (which it should most of the time). If it doesn’t, take another test next week and try again.
  2. Get an express PCR test with a guaranteed turnaround. The closest place to Cornwall that I could find is "Garnet Testing Center" in Burlington, they charge $250 for a same-day result. If you search around, there might be a premium test company closer to where you live.

Additionally be aware that you might be randomly selected for a second COVID test right as you cross the border. Trying to argue with them by saying you’ll be back in the US before the test results come in unfortunately didn’t work from personal experience, so you might be forced to spend around 20 minutes after crossing filling out additional paperwork and getting your test done. That second test is free of charge. In theory you might get a call afterwards saying that you’re positive and asking you to start your quarantine plan but you’ll be long gone by the time it happens so said phone call is going to be moot.

The third way this venture might not work: what's the likelihood US customs will let me back in?

If you're a US citizen or permanent resident, there's nothing for you to worry about. The official rule states the following:

For purposes of the temporary alteration in certain designated ports of entry operations authorized under 19 U.S.C. 1318(b)(1)(C) and (b)(2), travel through the land ports of entry and ferry terminals along the United States-Canada border shall be limited to “essential travel,” which includes, but is not limited to

— U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States;

You might think that citizens need an "essential" reason too but that's not true - only foreigners need valid reason like work, medical care or diplomatic travel. US citizens/Green Card holders are "essential" by the very fact that they're returning home, no other reason required. As a side note, crossing the US land border is currently amazing and looks exactly like it was in 2019: you roll on to the border guard, show your ID, they say "welcome home" and you're on your way. No tests, no vaccine card to show, no one asks about any symptoms, no pre-registration required - its beautiful.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Sep 1 '21 at 16:29
-2

The land borders are closed to non-essential travelers.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/us-border-canada-closed-1.6147189

"Canada's land border with the United States will remain closed until at least Sept. 21."

https://ca.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-canada-3/

"Land border restrictions for travel to the United States remain in effect through September 21, 2021 and may be extended. For information on travel restrictions for Canada, see Entry and Exit Requirements below."

Remember that if you are a USA citizen and you actually are in Canada, you are allowed to go back to the USA, even by car.

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  • 1
    This closure does not apply to US citizens and residents.
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 20 '21 at 19:24
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    This page seems to indicate that tourist travel to Canada is allowed if you're fully vaccinated. The articles that you posted is about Canadians visiting the US. Re-entering the US is always allowed for citizens, although currently you need a <3 day old COVID test to do so.
    – jdouglas
    Aug 20 '21 at 19:24
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    Thanks Max! I think your first sentence disagrees with CNN and Forbes and Reuters articles. Your articles apply to the flipside of my question: a Canada-US-Canada day-trip. But it is useful (and disappointing) to learn the rules are asymmetric.
    – Bob Stein
    Aug 20 '21 at 19:33
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    @jdouglas I see the <3 day COVID test requirement for air travelers, a CDC rule since January, even vaccinated. Can you see where it does or does not apply to car travelers? Everywhere I can find it, air travel is specifically mentioned.
    – Bob Stein
    Aug 20 '21 at 19:45
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    @BobStein Sorry about that, you're right indeed. The CDC's page specifically says it's not required for land crossings.
    – jdouglas
    Aug 20 '21 at 20:01

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