How to get to the USA during Covid?
In Covid time, it is difficult to travel. But if you live in Canada, it is possible to go to the United States, even if the borders officially reopen in November. I'll give you a step by step guide on how to do it.
I have combined my own experience and that of people I have interviewed (and yes, there are many variables to consider).
The list of documents required at the airport
Canada to USA
The ESTA : it's the tourist visa for the US, to be requested online at least 24 hours before the departure, valid for 2 years, which costs 14 US dollars : the website here
a negative Covid test to be done within 72 hours before departure: Antigen test, PCR/NAAT test. OR a proof of a positive result obtained in the previous 14 to 180 days
Proof of Vaccination (from October 30th)
USA to Canada
Negative Covid test but not just any test, only NAAT, LAMP and PCR are accepted. Always do maximum 72h before departure. OR proof of a positive test result obtained within the last 14 to 180 days.
Your ArriveCan file number
Your proof of vaccination as of October 30/November 8
Do the PCR and Antigen test
To the United States
I recommend the Antigen test. It costs $40 unlike the PCR which costs over $100. Moreover, you can do it in any Rexall or authorized pharmacy. You will receive the results in about 15 minutes. Be careful, some centers require an appointment.
Since the PCR is mandatory, you don't have much choice. Depending on the state where you are going to be, the test is free or not. However, be careful, when the tests are free, there can be long waiting periods. For example, in Chicago, a free test can take up to 72 hours to arrive, but 24 hours if you pay $100 US. You can do the tests in labs, CVS or Walgreens. WARNING: some will offer Rapid tests for flights. Do not take them, they are antigenic tests not valid for Canada.
Information that must appear on your test
Attention, some information must appear on your test: Your name, all your middle names and your date of birth. And all this information must appear ON THE SAME PAGE or you will be refused a flight. When I left for the United States, I was refused because my date of birth was on page two of the negative Covid test.... Some companies really abuse on this point (hello Porter).
Arrival in the USA
So surprisingly, I don't have much to say. At the border they only asked me for the ESTA, my reason for traveling (tourism) and if I was traveling with people. At no time was I asked for my proof of vaccinations or even my negative Covid test. This may change as of November 8 when the US opens its doors to all.
Return to Canada
The day before your return, you will be asked to register on the ArriveCan mobile application. You will be asked for a multitude of information such as:
your copy of the PCR test
your vaccination if you have received one
a four-week plan if you are not vaccinated
that you have no symptoms
Upon arrival at Pearson
Recording of some information individually (questions such as: purpose of your stay in Canada, expected duration of your stay, do you have any symptoms of Covid 19, do you have any goods to declare at customs,...).
The immigration officer will ask you for your passport, proof of vaccination, your visa if needed and your ArriveCAN receipt. The agent will then ask some standard questions (purpose of the trip to the USA - no problem with the answer which was 'tourist trip'-, status in Canada, your professional plans for when your visa will end,...).
Vaccines recognized by the USA and Canada (October 30)
Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty, tozinameran, BNT162b2)
Moderna (Spikevax, mRNA-1273)
AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD (ChAdOx1-S, Vaxzevria, AZD1222)
Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (Ad26.COV2.S)
A mix of the above two vaccines
For all the formalities, make sure to book appointments in advance... but not too early, as the validity of the Covid test may be out of date.
Make two different appointments for the Covid test (especially if you have an anxious temperament). However, don't forget to cancel the extra appointment at least 24 hours before or at least the day before so that others can benefit from it.
Have all the originals or printouts of important documents with you (your work permit, PR card, vaccinations, rental agreement, work contract...)
Prepare yourself before leaving Toronto to spend a possible fourteen days at home on your return.
Be aware that some airlines may not accept the antigen and/or require 48 hours notice - check with your airline.
Story about finding a testing center in Texas by Goldie Busollo
And since everyone has their own experiences, here's how Goldie Busollo experienced her search for a clinic in Texas, where apparently getting tested is not easy.
"Some states have free clinics available for travelers to get tested. Unfortunately, Texas wasn't on the list. So option B. CVS pharmacy and Walgreens Pharmacy (equivalent to our Rexall and Shoppers Drug Mart). The tests are 100% free - even for foreign nationals. You can find them everywhere, but not all of them offer the tests recognized by Canada. For these two pharmacies you have to make an appointment on the internet...and this is where you have to be careful not to make a mistake in your selection. CVS offers 'rapid tests' and they told me that they were accepted for flights -> be careful, this is a mistake, they are antigen tests and therefore not valid for re-entering Canada. CVS also offers PCR but to get an appointment they ask for a US social security number or a US license number -impossible for us French to get an appointment for this kind of test.
Walgreens pharmacies offer 3 types of tests: the rapid diagnostic, the lab test PCR, and the antigen. Their 'rapid diagnostic test (ID now)' is a NAAT type test, so it is the one to select (associated with the red color, the other two are blue - light and dark). The results of the 'rapid diagnostic test ID now- are obtained in 4 to 6 hours (by email) but they recommend to do it at least 24 hours in advance because officially the results are communicated within 24 hours. Beware however: a. not all branches offer all 3 tests and it is impossible to get an appointment for the same day (walk-ins get turned away!)
The tests are only available at the drive-in! Impossible to show up at the drive-in window without a car and impossible to do the test inside or elsewhere on the parking lot, so plan to rent a car, a friend with a nice car or an Uber with a generous tip because even if the test itself is quick you will stay 15-20 minutes at the drive-in window, the time it takes for all your information to be taken (of course don't forget your passport and the screen shot of your appointment!)
Personally, each time I tried to make an appointment I always saw on their website only 2 days open for the appointment: D+1 and D+2 (i.e. looking at Wednesday, there were only places for Thursday and Friday, nothing for Saturday, Sunday and the days after). Most of the time there were only a few slots left on D+2, nothing for the next day. I was told that this was because people make multiple appointments at different testing centers and don't show up but don't cancel them either which makes getting an appointment a super tricky mission. "
Thank you so much to Goldie Busollo for her testimonial about her trip to Texas, and helping me for the structure of the post, and to the people I was able to share with about different destinations in the US.
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