Restrictions for Individuals Travelling to Canada from the United States (All Modes)

Date: February 18, 2021

Classification: Unclassified

Branch/Agency: SPB/CBSA

Proposed Response:

If pressed on cross-border students:

If pressed on opening up the border:


Every day, $2.7 billion-worth of goods and services passes through the Canada-US border and that trade is essential to both our countries. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada and the US are temporarily restricting all non-essential travel across its borders. In our respective countries, individuals are encouraged and are recommended to exercise caution by avoiding unnecessary contact with others (social distancing). This collaborative and reciprocal measure is an extension of that prudent approach.

Canada and the US recognize the critical necessity to preserve supply chains between both countries. These supply chains ensure that food, fuel, and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border. Supply chains, including trucking, will not be impacted by this new measure. Canadians and Americans cross land border crossings daily to perform essential work, to study, or as a result of urgent or essential reasons. This travel should not be impacted.

To help manage the threat posed by international travel, Canada announced reciprocal restrictive measures with the US, for individuals in those countries who are travelling for non-essential, optional or discretionary reasons.

Order in Council

New OIC 44: 2021-0076 entitled Prohibition on Entry into Canada from the United States, has effect from the period beginning on February 14, 2021 (11:59:59 PM) and ending on March 21, 2021 (11:59:59 PM). This order repeals and replaces OIC 40: 2021-0009. 

For a U.S. citizen or other foreign national to enter Canada from the U.S.:

Non-essential travel restriction

On March 18, 2020, the Governments of Canada and the United States announced that both countries would be implementing collaborative and reciprocal measures to suspend non-essential travel along the Canada-US border in response to the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential travel includes, but is not limited to, tourism, recreation, and entertainment. The restriction initially came into effect on March 21, 2020, for 30 days. Since that time, these temporary measures were renewed and/or revised on a monthly basis and will continue to be in effect while such renewals continue to be required.

Authorized Essential Travel

Some examples of essential travel purposes are:

Border Services Officers exercise discretion when enforcing restrictions. 

Refugee Claimants

Arriving between Ports of Entry (irregularly)

Refugee claimants who seek to enter Canada between official ports of entry (i.e., irregular migrants) will continue to be directed back to the US, but will later be allowed to return to Canada to make their asylum claims once the prohibition on entering Canada expires or is repealed.

Arriving at Ports of Entry

For those asylum seekers arriving at a land port of entry, the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) applies. If an individual is not eligible to make a claim based on the STCA, they will be found ineligible, a removal order will be issued and they will be returned to the US.

If the individual meets an exception under the STCA, they will be able to enter Canada and have their claim for refugee protection processed. Exemptions and exceptions include:

National Interest Exemption – Claim for Refugee Protection

Despite present border restrictions, claims for refugee protection are permitted if the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness or the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to be in the national or public interest, while recognizing the paramount public health interests of Canada and Canadians.

Symptomatic Travellers

Any foreign national exhibiting signs and symptoms of a fever and cough or a fever and breathing difficulties is prohibited from entry, even if they are seeking entry for essential travel. The only exception to symptomatic foreign nationals are refugee claimants who meet the exceptions, as described above.

Canadian citizens, permanent residents, persons registered as Indians under the Indian Act and protected persons are exempted from the above. They will be provided with a Public Health Agency of Canada pamphlet containing the latest health advice that advises travelers to quarantine or self-isolate for 14 days.

Exemptions for foreign nationals

Immediate Family Members

For the purposes of the border restrictions, the definition of immediate family member is aligned between Orders in Council and is as follows:

  1. the spouse or common-law partner of the person;
  2. a dependent child of the person or of the person’s spouse or common-law partner;
  3. a dependent child of a dependent child referred to in paragraph (b);
  4. the parent or step-parent of the person or of the person’s spouse or common-law partner; or
  5. the guardian or tutor of the person.

Extended Family Members

For the purposes of the border restrictions, the definition of extended family member means:

Simply meeting the definition of “immediate family” or “extended family” does not guarantee a foreign national’s eligibility to enter Canada. Foreign nationals must also be travelling for a non-discretionary (essential) purpose to be granted entry to Canada. However, foreign nationals may be exempt from the requirement to enter for an essential purpose if they can establish their intent to enter Canada to be with an immediate or extended family member (who is a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or registered Indian), as well as their intent to remain in Canada for at least 15 days. They must also agreement to comply with all the requirements to quarantine detailed in the Order pertaining to mandatory isolation.

Extended family members must have, under both prohibition on entry OICs:

Compassionate Travel

For the purposes of border restrictions, foreign nationals are exempt if they intend to enter Canada for the following reasons:

International Students

For the purposes of border restrictions, as of October 21, international students are exempt from the prohibition on entry if they seek to enter Canada to attend a listed institution and hold a valid study permit, or they may apply for a study permit when entering Canada, or if their application for a study permit has already been approved but the permit has not yet been issued.

A listed institution is an institution that is determined by the provincial government in which the institution is located to have appropriate measures in place to ensure that students can meet any applicable obligations under any order made under section 58 of the Quarantine Act and is published on IRCC’s website.

Immediate family members of international students, other than dependent children of dependent children, are also exempt from border restrictions when seeking entry for a non-discretionary purpose.

Note: A new exemption (with conditions) has been created under the mandatory isolation Order for cross-border students (and their drivers) who attend learning institutions in Canada and in the US on a regular basis.

High performance amateur athletes and support personnel

Foreign nationals who are high performance amateur athletes participating in an International Single Sport Event (ISSE) or persons deemed to perform an essential role in relation to an ISSE, may seek entry into Canada as long as they have an authorization letter issued by Heritage Canada (PCH). The authorization is granted and remains valid only with the support of the provincial government and local health authorities and may be revoked by PCH if this support is withdrawn or if the event is cancelled by the organizers. The discretionary purpose test will not apply at the POE.


Regardless of how they seek to enter Canada, all travellers arriving in Canada, including workers who provide essential services, are subject to questioning about their health. CBSA Officers not only query travellers on the state of their health, but will look for visible signs of illness and will refer any traveller who they suspect of being ill, regardless of how the traveller responded to the health screening question.

Media Reports on Admissibility to the US by air

Between April 1, 2020 and January 19, 2021, 7,589,439 individuals entered Canada from the United States, an 88.7% decrease from the same period of time last year (67,170,125 from April 1, 2019 to January 19, 2020).

Mode April 1, 2019 to January 19, 2020 April 1, 2020 to January 19, 2021
Air 15,243,324 566,684
Land 48,557,770 6,860,338
Marine 3,146,786 141,874
Rail 222,245 20,543
Total 67,170,125 7,589,439

Since the implementation of the travel restrictions for travellers seeking entry from the US, to January 20, 2021:


Approved by: Kathy Thompson, Vice-President, Strategic Policy Branch

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