Canada-U.S. border rules and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic

Confused over Canada-U.S. border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Perhaps you’re wondering why you see U.S. licence plates in a local parking lot when the Canada-U.S. land border is closed to tourists. 

Or you’re stumped why your neighbour was able to fly to New York last week, but you can’t make the five-minute drive across the Windsor-Detroit border to visit family. 

Here’s what you need to know about current Canada-U.S. border restrictions and how they may impact you.

Canada-U.S. land border rules

To help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, Canada and the U.S. agreed to close their shared land border to non-essential traffic starting on March 21. The agreement is reviewed every 30 days. So far, the border closure has been extended three times. 

The current end date is July 21, and that date could be extended once again, particularly if the number of COVID-19 cases in some U.S. states continues to spike. 

“I honestly don’t think the border will open until the end of the year,” said U.S. immigration lawyer Len Saunders. “Especially when you hear about more [COVID-19] cases in Arizona and Texas and all these southern states.”

The Canada-U.S. land border remains open to people making trips for essential reasons, such as for work or school.

On June 9, the Canadian government loosened its border restrictions to allow American visitors with immediate family in Canada to enter the country. Note that a boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t qualify as family and a common-law partner only qualifies if that person has lived with their significant other for at least a year. 

Visiting family members must stay in Canada for at least 15 days and self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Ian Geddes with his wife, Birgit Heinbach, at the Peace Arch border between Surrey, B.C., and Blaine, Wash. The couple lives eight kilometres apart on opposite sides of the Canada-U.S. border. (Len Saunders)

The land border closure continues to frustrate many cross-border couples who can’t meet Canada’s requirements for reuniting with family. 

Last year, Ian Geddes of Blaine, Wash., married Birgit Heinbach  of Surrey, B.C. Until Heinbach gets her U.S. immigrant visa, the two are separated by the border. 

Geddes said he can’t get enough time off work right now to complete a 14-day quarantine in Canada — before he can hang out with his wife and her son.

“It’s just a really tough situation,” said Geddes, who wishes the Canadian government would waive the self-quarantine requirement for immediate family.

“You should be allowed to cross into a country and see your wife,” he said. “Give us some kind of a concession.”

You can fly to the U.S. 

Some Canadians may be surprised to learn they can still fly to the U.S. during the pandemic, even though the same rule doesn’t apply on the other side of the border. 

With the exception of immediate family, Canada currently restricts all foreigners — including Americans — from…

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