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COVID testing for travel: all you need to know

We know that travel is especially difficult right now, but alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

COVID testing for travel has now become an entry requirement for a number of countries around the world. If you plan to travel into or out of Canada, make sure that you are up-to-date with the latest coronavirus travel information before heading out.

Proof of a negative COVID-19 test result prior to boarding a flight into Canada and the U.S. is now required by all travellers. When travelling to Canada from any international destination, arriving passengers must also take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. What do Canadian travellers need to know about getting COVID tested for travel? We’ve collected all the latest information you need about coronavirus tests so you can plan better travel in 2021.

Information about COVID testing for your trip

What types of COVID tests are available for travel?

COVID testing for travel
Rules for travelling during COVID and testing

There are currently a few types of coronavirus tests available, from molecular tests to antigen tests. The type of COVID-19 test you should take depends on what you are looking for, and they differ depending on where you are planning to travel. If you’re looking to travel to Canada, tests must be performed using a COVID-19 molecular test, such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) test. Please note that other types of coronavirus tests, such as antigen tests, will not be accepted for arrivals into Canada.

PCR, LAMP, antigen tests…what’s the difference?

Most people are looking to find out if they have been infected with the virus (whether they are symptomatic or not), and a coronavirus test is the way to verify for any potential infection. In those situations, a viral test such as a PCR test or a LAMP test is required.

Both coronavirus tests require a swab to be taken from the back of the throat or the very top of the nostrils. One of the main differences between PCR and LAMP is that a LAMP test can be done on-site and your COVID test results take a couple hours. If you take a PCR test, it will be sent to a lab for processing. There have been concerns about the accuracy of LAMP tests, which is why some countries prefer PCR tests or require multiple LAMP tests.

There are antibody coronavirus tests available for those who may have been previously infected with COVID-19 and are no longer contagious, but carry the antibodies.

Which destinations require a test on arrival?

Toronto skyline
Mandatory COVID testing for travel into Toronto

Many countries are requiring negative COVID testing for travel into the country. These countries include Canada, the U.K, the U.S., Colombia, and many more. At this time, proof of having a vaccine will not replace a negative test result for most countries. Some countries, like Canada, will accept a positive PCR test result from 14 to 90 days prior to arrival for previously infected patients who are no longer contagious.

Before you make travel arrangements, make sure to confirm the latest travel rules for not only your arrival destination, but also for any countries where you will be in transit. Since travel restrictions are constantly changing, the best travel advice we can give in 2021 is to always confirm details before planning and booking any travel.

How long before travelling should I get the test?

aerial beach view
COVID testing for travel : All you need to know

Each country has their own requirements when it comes to COVID testing. For example, every traveller over the age of five must show a negative COVID test result from a PCR or LAMP test administered in the 72 hours before their flight’s departure into Canada. The 72 hour PCR test requirement for entry into a country seems to be the norm these days, but there are other countries such as The Netherlands who also require proof that passengers have tested negative for coronavirus following a rapid test, directly before departure.

Another point to keep in mind is that travellers who have recovered from COVID-19 can continue to test positive long after they have recovered and are no longer infectious. These passengers must provide proof of a positive COVID-19 molecular test conducted between 14 and 90 days prior to departure, instead of a negative COVID-19 molecular test.

Where can I get COVID testing for travel?

Mountain view with chalets on the water
COVID testing for travel: all you need to know

Health care professionals must perform all COVID tests in Canada. There are some countries that have authorized at-home COVID test kits, but Canada is not one of them. In Canada, COVID tests for outbound international travel are available through pharmacies like Shoppers Drugmart and through private clinics such as Maple, Dynacare, and LifeLabs. Some countries, such as the U.A.E, also have COVID testing stations available upon arrival at the airport.

Travellers into Canada are recommended to have their COVID tests performed at reputable local COVID-19 laboratories or testing facilities. A fraudulent document could result in the passenger being denied boarding and subjected to fines.

How long do the COVID testing results take?

COVID test results can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the type of test taken and where it was conducted. Each laboratory and country has their own processes and timelines in place.

PCR test results take about 48 hours on average, but can take up to a week in some countries. You may be able to receive LAMP COVID test results within a few hours. Some private laboratories also offer next day results.

How much does the test cost?

In Canada, there is no cost for the COVID test if you have been exposed to the virus. However most provincial governments, like Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, will no longer provide free COVID-19 tests for those looking to be cleared for international travel.

If you’re looking to be COVID tested for travel reasons, there is a charge at the pharmacies and laboratories. It usually ranges between $150 to $200. It’s worth it to check with your travel insurance provider to see if they will cover any potential coronavirus tests that are required during your trip.

What do I know once I get the results back?

woman taking a picture after COVID testing for travel
COVID testing for travel: all you need to know

If you took a PCR test or a LAMP test, you will be informed if you’re positive or negative for the coronavirus by text through your phone, or whatever type of contact you gave at the testing site. Those who are positive must isolate and follow the advice given by a medical advisor. You will have to cancel your flight and accommodations. If you test positive, you are not cleared for travel and must hold on to the document for future travel. You may continue to test positive for a few months.

If you are negative, you are cleared for travel. You must remember that some countries, like Canada, request that you keep proof of your test results for the 14-day period that begins on the day you enter Canada. You also have to make mandatory hotel arrangements at government approved locations.

If you have questions about your COVID test results, please contact the location where you were tested or your health care provider.

Travelling is a personal choice during these times, and there may be many unexpected expenses for the traveller. This is because most countries are advising against all non-essential travel. COVID testing and wearing a face mask for air travel is a mandatory requirement these days for most countries. Ensure you check the guidelines for your departure, transiting, and arrival destinations.

Where can I travel now?

Find all you need to know about travel restrictions for Canadians with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.

Coronavirus travel advice and the latest restrictions for Canadian travellers: map
Where’s open at the moment? See our map and find out.

Frequently asked questions

How many coronavirus test can you have?

Depending on where you reside you can have as many tests as you want but the results will usually be the same during a certain period. Some countries are experiencing a shortage in PCR tests and there is a charge for them.

Do I need a negative COVID test to enter Canada?

Anyone flying into Canada from another country requires proof of a negative COVID test unless they have testes positive 14 to 90 days prior to landing in the country.

Can coronavirus spread through food?

At this time scientists and researchers are monitoring the spread of COVID-19. Currently there are no cases identified where transmission took place from contaminated food.

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