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What you need to know about COVID-19 testing for travel to and from Canada

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Earlier this year, the United States began requiring all travelers flying to the U.S. to show proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding. The only travelers exempt from this rule are those flying to U.S. territories or arriving via a land border like Mexico or Canada.

But COVID-19 tests can be expensive, particularly if you don’t have insurance or are traveling with a family. And in some places in the U.S., approved tests for travel can be hard to find. This question from TPG reader Patricia Mattheiss is one that I’m sure travelers are wondering now that Canada has reopened for travel.

Do I need two COVID-19 tests — one in the U.S. before we go into Canada and one in Canada — before we return to the U.S.? Will the test we take to enter Canada suffice as our return test?

The U.S. is pretty flexible in terms of what tests are allowed for entry and accepts PCR, rapid antigen tests and even certain take-home tests.

The testing mandate only applies to air travel, so travelers arriving in the U.S. from Canada by car don’t need to bring a negative coronavirus test. However, it’s important to note that the rules differ for travelers reentering the United States by land or air.

When I visited Niagara Falls earlier this month, my negative COVID-19 test was checked at the Canadian land border. Upon returning to Buffalo, the border agent simply checked my passport and waved me along.

Travel got slightly more complicated when Canada reopened to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens on Aug. 9. Unlike the U.S., travelers have to take a test within 72 hours of departure regardless of whether they’re driving or flying into Canada.

So, yes, when you get a COVID-19 PCR test to enter Canada before leaving the U.S., that same test will get you back into the country as long as it’s been three days or less. That means you wouldn’t need to take two tests.

If you’ll be out of the country for longer than three days, you’d need to take another test before flying back to the U.S.

And remember: Right now, PCR tests are still considered the “gold standard” of COVID-19 tests. They are the only type of test suitable to enter Canada.

Government leaders in the U.S. and Canada first announced the border closure in March 2020, and it had been extended on a near-monthly basis until Canada announced its reopening. However, while Canada is open to fully vaccinated Americans, the United States has not yet reciprocated. 

The U.S. extended the closure of the land border with Canada to nonessential travel through at least Sept. 21, 2021.

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