Last Updated: September 14, 2021
Unlike last season when the vast majority of Canadian snowbirds decided to stay home for the winter due to COVID-19, it appears that most Snowbirds are planning to spend the winter somewhere warm this year.
Unfortunately, the entry and testing requirements for each country change frequently and can be very confusing - to say the least!
To help snowbirds navigate these requirements, we’ve created the following overview of COVID testing and entry requirements for some of the most popular snowbird destinations, as well as for returning to Canada for those snowbirds who plan on travelling back and forth over the winter.
However, please keep in mind that while these requirements are current as of the date this article was published, COVID testing and entry requirements are likely to change frequently and without warning over the next several months as the COVID situation changes.
Accordingly, we encourage you to check the following official resources for the latest rules when planning your trip and continue to check them regularly right up until your departure date:
- The Government of Canada travel website
- The official website for your travel destination
- Your airline
Currently, Canadians are permitted to travel to the U.S. by air for non-essential travel, but not by land. The land border closure is currently in effect until September 21st, 2021, but could be extended beyond that date.
Please note that testing requirements for Hawaii differ from the rest of the U.S. and are covered below in their own section.
Canadians currently do not have to be vaccinated to enter the United States.
However, in August 2021 there were news reports that the U.S. was considering requiring all international visitors to be vaccinated. Since that time there has been no additional information about this initiative.
Furthermore, the initial reports did not make it clear if this initiative – if implemented - would apply to Canadians. Nor was it clear how this initiative would treat individuals who received the AstraZeneca vaccine or mixed dose vaccinations, both of which have been approved in Canada but neither of which are currently approved in the United States. There was also no information about booster shot requirements.
On a side note, some U.S. states and cities have implemented vaccine passports that require individuals to be vaccinated to participate in certain activities such as dining, concerts, theatres, events, etc... Before travelling to your U.S. destination, you should check to see if your destination has any restrictions for unvaccinated travellers in effect that might impact the types of activities you want to engage in while there, and what the vaccination requirements are (i.e. Will they accept AstraZeneca or mixed dose vaccinations?)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Order, visitors to the U.S. must receive a negative test completed within 3 days prior to travelling to the U.S., which must be a viral test that could be either an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). Examples of available NAATs for SARS-CoV-2 include:
- reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR),
- reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP),
- transcription-mediated amplification (TMA),
- nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR),
- helicase-dependent amplification (HDA).
The test used must be authorized for use by Canada for the detection of SARS-CoV-2.
According to the CDC, rapid tests are acceptable as long as they are a viral test acceptable under the CDC order.
The CDC further states that you can use a self-test at home if it meets the following criteria:
- The test must be a SARS-CoV-2 viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test) with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- The testing procedure must include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection. Some FDA-authorized self-tests that include a telehealth service may require a prescription.
- The telehealth provider must confirm the person’s identity, observe the specimen collection and testing procedures, confirm the test result, and issue a report that meets the requirements of CDC’s Order.
- Airlines and other aircraft operators must be able to review and confirm the person’s identity and the test result details.
- The passenger must also be able to present the documentation of test results to U.S. officials at the port of entry and local/state health departments, if requested.
Recovered from COVID-19?
If you have had COVID 19 and are recovering, you may still test positive for a while.
The CDC website offers the following guidance: “If you have had a positive viral test in the past 3 months, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with documentation of your positive viral test results and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as “documentation of recovery.”
According to the CDC website, “A letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that clears you to end isolation, e.g., to return to work or school, can be used to show you are cleared to travel, even if travel isn’t specifically mentioned in the letter.”
There are currently no quarantine requirements in the U.S. for Canadians.
You can find the CDC Order about entry requirements for the U.S. here.
Hawaii is open to Canadian visitors, but testing requirements for arriving travellers differ from the rest of the U.S. and some areas have implemented proof of vaccination requirements to engage in certain activities.
Currently, vaccines are not required to enter Hawaii.
However, as of September 13th, 2021, the island of Oahu, where Honolulu is located, has introduced a “Safe Access” pass that requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours to enter indoor establishments.
Customers will also have to provide proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theatres, museums, and arcades, or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours.
The city and county on the island of O'ahu's south shore will also require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to operate and places serving alcohol will have to stop serving at 10 p.m.
On September 15th, 2021, Maui is also introducing a less restrictive Health Pass required for restaurant dining, and possibly other activities.
It is important for Canadians to be aware that for both the Oahu Safe Access Pass and the Maui Health Pass, AstraZeneca and mixed dose vaccinations will NOT be accepted as proof of vaccination.
These measures are expected to be temporary, but it is unclear at this time how long they will be in effect.
Flying Direct from Canada to Hawaii
If you are flying from Canada directly to Hawaii, you must have a negative COVID test completed within 3 days prior to your departure from Canada. However, the type of test and the testing facility where the test is administered must be approved and designated by your airline. Accordingly, you should contact your airline directly to find out which testing facilities and types of tests they have approved for travel to Hawaii, and be aware that approved testing facilities are only available in select cities across Canada.
Flying to Hawaii through the U.S.
If you are flying to Hawaii through the U.S., pre-entry testing requirements can get more complicated. Be sure to contact your airline for information.
If you do not provide a negative test result that meets Hawaii’s pre-entry testing requirements, you will be required to self quarantine for 10 days.
You can find more information on Hawaii’s official tourism website here.
The land border between the U.S. and Mexico remains closed. Canadians can fly to Mexico direct or via the U.S.
New entry requirements for Mexico
All Canadians need to complete a Mexico Travel Health Form prior to their departure flight. The form can be completed online and printed or printed out and completed by hand.
Travellers must also present the completed health questionnaire to immigration officials upon arrival in Mexico, or they will be denied entry.
This new entry requirement has been introduced by the Government of Mexico due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadians do not have to be vaccinated to enter Mexico
There are currently no testing requirements to enter Mexico. However, if you are flying via the U.S. then the U.S. rules would apply for your flight.
Visitors must complete a health declaration form and scan the QR code it generates on arrival.
There are currently no quarantine requirements in Mexico for Canadians.
Costa Rica is open to Canadians.
Proof of vaccination is not required to enter Costa Rica. Vaccines - including mixed vaccines - are accepted if authorized by a “strict health authority, such as Public Health Canada.”
However, tourists who are not vaccinated, with incomplete vaccination or vaccinated with a serum other than those admitted by the Costa Rican authorities, must purchase mandatory travel insurance that covers lodging in case of quarantine and medical expenses due to COVID-19 disease, as detailed on the Visit Costa Rica website.
There are currently no testing requirements to enter Costa Rica.
There are currently no quarantine requirements for Canadians visiting Costa Rica.
Panama is open to international visitors.
However, visitors should note that mobility restrictions and mandatory curfews at night are currently in place.
Vaccinated Canadians are exempt from providing a negative COVID-19 test provided they have physical or digital proof of a complete vaccination regime endorsed by the WHO, EMA and FDA, equal to or greater than 14 days after the last dose.
Non-vaccinated travelers must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test taken no more than 72 hours prior to their arrival in Panama.
If a test is not possible within that time frame, a COVID-19 rapid test will be mandated at the airport before entering customs and the cost is approximately $50 USD.
There is no quarantine requirement for vaccinated travellers or non-vaccinated travellers who presented a negative COVID test completed 72 hours prior to their arrival in Panama
For travellers who opt to receive a COVID test when they arrive in Panama, if the test result is positive, the traveler will be placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a Hotel Hospital designated by the Ministry of Health and will be responsible for all costs.
Canadians are allowed to visit Portugal at this time.
Canadians are not currently required to provide proof of vaccination to travel to Portugal.
Canadians must provide a negative RT-PCR test taken 72 hours before boarding or a negative Rapid Antigen taken with 48 hours of boarding.
At this time, Canadians are not required to quarantine when arriving in Portugal.
Canadians are currently allowed to visit Spain
Canadians are not currently required to provide proof of vaccination to travel to Spain.
No testing rules in place, but Canadians must have the QR code which is obtained from filling in the Health Control Form available at Spain Travel Health.
At this time, Canadians are not required to quarantine when arriving in Spain.
If you are planning on travelling back and forth between your winter destination and Canada this snowbird season, it’s important to stay up to date on the latest COVID testing, entry and quarantine requirements for coming back to Canada, as they may change quickly and frequently depending on the how the COVID situation evolves.
It is also likely that these requirements will continue to be different for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated travellers.
The bottom line
Wherever you are headed this winter, be sure to keep checking with the official website of your destination - as well as with your airline - to make sure you are aware of the latest vaccination and testing requirements and any restrictions.