The Canadian government has now published guidance for travelers on the scope of the US-Canada border closure. Last month, the United States and Canada announced that the two countries would jointly and temporarily close the border, until April 20, 2020, to non-essential travel in an effort to limit the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The statement from the Prime Minister defined “non-essential” travel to include “travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature,” as described in our post from March 24, 2020.

Persons engaged in “essential services” are exempt from most of the restrictions.  While the new guidance provides a number of examples of “essential services,” it does not attempt, perhaps intentionally, to provide a single definition of the term. Nonetheless, the new detailed guidance should make determinations by border officials on the eligibility of travelers to enter Canada more predictable.

As discussed in further detail below, the new guidelines specify:

  • who can enter Canada;
  • exemptions to the travel restrictions;
  • the documentary requirements for entering Canada;
  • mandatory isolation for certain travelers entering Canada; and
  • temporary measures for refugee claimants.

The guidelines clarify that persons traveling by air or entering through a land port are impacted by the restrictions, which we summarize below.   Specific, additional health-screening requirements for air entry are also delineated below.

Who Can Enter Canada

The following persons may travel to and be admitted into Canada:

  • Canadian citizens
  • Canadian permanent residents
  • Persons registered under Canada’s Indian Act
  • Protected persons (e.g., persons determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board and Citizenship and Immigration Canada to have a reason to fear persecution in the country of origin due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion.)
  • United States (US) citizens or foreign nationals travelling from the United States for an essential reason, provided they have been in the United States, Canada or both for at least 14 days before the day they enter Canada
    • There are some exemptions to the 14‑day rule; for example, those whose work is essential for the movement of goods and people.

Exemptions to the Travel Restrictions

The following persons are exempt from the travel restrictions:

  • All temporary foreign workers are exempt from travel restrictions and can travel to Canada by air or land, but are subject to health screening (if arriving by air) and mandatory self-isolation
  • International students who have a valid study permit or were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020
  • Persons whose applications for permanent residence were approved on or before March 18, 2020
    • Landing appointments have been temporarily postponed until at least April 13, 2020, but telephone interviews may be conducted whenever possible
  • immediate family members[1]of a Canadian citizen or Canadian permanent resident including:
    • spouse or common-law partner
    • dependent child
    • dependent child of a dependent child
    • parent or step-parent
    • guardian or tutor
  • Immediate family members with written authorization from the Government of Canada to reunite with a non-Canadian citizen or permanent resident living in Canada
  • Transiting passengers, provided they remain in a Canadian airport to complete their connection
  • Members of the Canadian forces, visiting forces, Department of National Defence and their immediate family members
  • Accredited diplomats and immediate family members (includes North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], those under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement, and certain other multilateral organizations)
  • Air and marine crew members
  • French citizens who live in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and have been in only Canada, the United States or Saint-Pierre and Miquelon during the 14 days before the day they seek to enter Canada
  • Persons who will provide an essential service while in Canada, provided they do not pose a significant harm to public health in the opinion of the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, including, for example, people without symptoms who:
    • are making necessary medical deliveries, for example, deliveries of cells, blood and blood products, tissues, organs, or other similar lifesaving human body parts, as required for patient care
    • work in the trade and transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods and people, including truck drivers, crew on any plane, train or marine vessel, and that cross the border while performing their duties or for the purpose of performing their duties
    • cross the border regularly to go to work, including in the healthcare sector or critical infrastructure workers for the purpose of performing their duties
    • have to cross the border to provide or receive essential services, including emergency responders and personnel providing essential services to Canadians related to the COVID-19 outbreak
      • Workers in these sectors should practice social distancing, maintaining a distance of 2 meters from others, and closely self-monitor to assess any symptoms indicative of contraction of the virus
  • Persons whose presence in Canada is in the national interest, in the opinion of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; or Foreign Affairs
  • Persons coming to Canada at the invitation of the Minister of Health for the purpose of COVID-19 assistance

Health Checks and Mandatory Isolation

Travelers arriving by air must pass a health check conducted by the airlines before being allowed to board a flight. Anyone who shows symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter Canada by air. Upon arrival in Canada the government will assess the traveler’s health before they leave the port of entry.

Every person permitted to enter Canada by any means, air or land, must isolate for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms. Only people who provide essential services and truck drivers who regularly cross the border to maintain the flow of goods are exempt from the isolation requirements.

Refugee Claimants

Canada and the United States have entered into a temporary agreement, described in the guidance, regarding refugees and applicants for political asylum, which provides that:

  • Individuals entering Canada from the United States to make an asylum claim, will be sent back to the United States.
  • Individuals entering the United States from Canada, to make an asylum claim, will be sent back to Canada.

This includes anyone coming to a port of entry or entering between official ports of entry.

Until April 13, 2020, Canada will no longer

  • interview refugee claimants in person
  • process refugee protection claimant document renewals in person


[1] A listing of documents to present as proof that one is an immediate family member can be found at:


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