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The Canadian border has reopened to tourists, but you'll need to prepare before you cross

The border opened to non-essential travel at 11:01 p.m. CST Sunday, but fully vaccinated Americans must provide several pieces of information to get through.

MINNEAPOLIS — Avid cyclist Tom Roeber left Duluth early Friday morning on a 1,400-mile ride to his hometown of Yarmouth, Maine, helping to raise money for the MS Society on a team known as "The Rollers."

His adventure will soon cross international borders. 

After winding through Wisconsin and Michigan, he plans to enter Canada at Port Huron, about 65 miles northeast of Detroit. Roeber, who grew up in Minnesota, will count himself among the first wave of American tourists to cross the Canadian border after it opens for non-essential travel on Monday, Aug. 9 at 12:01 A.M. EST (11:01 p.m. CST on Sunday for Minnesotans).

To get through, Roeber will need to present his passport, proof of vaccination uploaded through a Canadian app, and a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of entry, among other information.

Credit: Tom Roeber

"So, I have to find some place before I get to Port Huron where I'm trying to cross," Roeber said over the phone during an overnight stop in Ashland, Wisconsin, "to go and get a test somewhere around there."

And if he has a hiccup at the border?

He'll have to adjust his route through Cleveland.

"That's the way it goes," Roeber said.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GET THROUGH THE BORDER?

Roeber's case is atypical, but it illustrates the complex process an American must follow to cross into Canada after the 12:01 a.m. EST start time on Monday, Aug. 9. 

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Only fully vaccinated Americans can enter Canada (14 days past their final dose)
  • You'll need to upload vaccine and medical information to the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours of crossing
  • You should bring your vaccine card (or an electronic copy) with you for verification
  • You need to take a molecular test within 72 hours of crossing (see here for details on the specific tests accepted)
  • You'll be turned away if you have symptoms
  • Agents may randomly select you for another COVID-19 test upon your arrival
  • Unvaccinated kids under 12 years old – who are not yet eligible for immunization – are allowed to cross with their parents. However, they'll be subject to testing on their first and eighth days in Canada.

Keep in mind, the ArriveCAN app will also ask you to create a "quarantine plan," in the event that you test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed to a positive case once inside Canada.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Despite the stringent requirements, some experts in Canada are nervous about the reopening. 

Dr. Kelley Lee, the Canada Research Chair in Global Health Governance at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said her country's decision to open the borders to American tourists is "premature." She points out that the delta variant is raging globally, particularly in the United States, and that America's vaccination rate lags about 10 points behind Canada's. For that reason, even the fully vaccinated Americans allowed into Canada may be more vulnerable.

"With full vaccination, there's definitely less likelihood of importing the virus, but that likelihood is not zero," Lee said. "We do know that people who have been fully vaccinated still carry quite a high viral load – or can – if they get infected, and they can transmit the virus."

Dr. Tom Koch, a professor of medical geography at the University of British Columbia, agreed that Canada is moving too quickly in reopening the border to American discretionary travel.

"People who are dealing with tourists, of course, will be very happy to have Americans spend your money in our country. But also remember, we are as large and diverse as you are, and different areas will have different views," Koch said. "There are some people saying, 'This is too soon, and we're probably asking for trouble by letting you folks in.'"

Canada also plans to welcome other international travelers in September, but it reserves the right to close the border again at any time.

Both Koch and Lee acknowledged there is a possibility that might happen in the coming weeks, depending on the delta variant and caseloads.

"Of course, we want visitors to come back and particularly Americans because we have a close relationship with the U.S., but this has to be done safely," Dr. Lee said. "We've all had enough of this pandemic. We don't want to keep spreading the virus around."

It should be noted that the Biden administration will keep the U.S. closed to non-essential Canadian tourism until at least Aug. 21. 

But Canada, despite concerns over delta, did not budge on its Aug. 9 reopening date.

WHAT TO EXPECT STARTING AUG. 9

Canadian officials have said there won't be any noticeable signs of change at the border after 12:01 a.m. EST Monday. After all, they've noted, essential traffic has been crossing the border for the past 16 months.

However, long lines at the border are possible after union Canada Border Services Agency employees started "work-to-rule" strike action on Friday. They didn't walk off the job, but said they would only "perform their duties to 'the letter of the law,'" which hinted at delays (an agreement was reportedly reached on Friday evening). 

"If you're looking for a couple of easy hours in Canada," Dr. Tom Koch said, "I would say wait a while."

But many business owners and elected officials on the Canadian side are still eager to see American tourists. The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, for example, has called the reopening a "priority" for border cities. 

Tom Roeber, meanwhile, hopes he won't have any trouble crossing into Canada next week with his bicycle. He plans to swing by the University of Waterloo in Southern Ontario –  where he spent a few years in school long ago – before crossing back into western New York and hopping on the Erie Canal trail for 360 miles.

After that, he'll be in Maine soon enough. 

"I ride the easy way. We don't camp; we stay at hotels. We call it credit card camping," Roeber said. "It's great, just having the freedom of being on the road, on your own schedule."

He'll just need to make sure he has all of his documents at the Canadian border.

"Basically, what I've done so far is, I brought my passport, my vaccine card, proof of vaccination, downloaded the App online on my phone," Roeber said. "And that's supposed to help you cross." 

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