COVID-19 (Coronavirus) may impact your travel plans. Wherever you're going, you'll find the latest advice here.

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Which COVID tests are required for travel?

With the vaccine rollout and a growing number of countries opening their borders to international travellers, it’s safe to say that COVID-19 tests for travel purposes has evolved over the past several months. Feeling overwhelmed? We break down the latest COVID testing rules below.

What types of COVID-19 tests are required for international travel? Will I need a COVID PCR lab test for travel? What about flights within Canada? So many questions, and we’ve got those answers to help explorers like you plan smarter, better, and safer travel.

Please note: This article was last updated on August 22, 2021. To our knowledge, the information in this article was correct at the time of publication. And before heading out on any trip, remember to always check the latest local and international travel guidance. We recommend official sources like the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO).

All you need to know about COVID-19 tests for international and domestic travel

Which COVID-19 tests are required for international travel?

person with medical gloves putting a COVID test in its case for lab testing
Which COVID test do you need to travel internationally? Each country is different.

The COVID test you may need will depend on the destination(s) that you’re travelling to. If you’re in Canada and planning to travel internationally, be aware that each country currently open to Canadian passport holders has its own guidance and entry requirements.

There are two main categories of COVID-19 tests: viral and antibody tests. A viral test is also called a diagnostic test, which can detect if you’re currently infected with the virus. An antibody test checks your immune system using a blood sample to see if it produced any COVID antibodies. You will also see these referred to as serological tests.

A positive result from a serological test means that you were previously infected with the virus, because COVID antibodies can typically remain in your system for a few months after you’ve recovered from the virus. Either category of test may be required for travel purposes, but the viral COVID test is the most common.

For diagnostic (viral) COVID tests, there are two types:

  • molecular (PCR, RT-PCR, and LAMP). PCR is the most common type of COVID-19 test used throughout Canada, and mucus samples need to be sent to a medical lab for analysis.
  • antigen (also known as rapid or rapid antigen tests). A mucus sample is also required for this test and results can be administered on the spot in a matter of 15 minutes, in some cases.

You can read more information on how diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are performed on Canada’s official public health website.

COVID tests and international travel rules

Young woman at the airport, traveling after new normal situation
COVID-19 testing for travel

With more COVID vaccines being administered around the world, some countries and airlines do not currently require travellers to present a negative PCR or antigen test result for entry if the traveller can show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. However, the rules for international travel change fast are constantly evolving.

Certain countries still require a negative PCR test and/or a period of quarantine in order to travel. For example, Antigua and Barbuda requires a negative RT-PCR test taken in the previous seven days. Canadians need to show proof of a negative rapid antigen test result taken no later than 48 hours before travel in order to visit the US. Other countries, like Mexico, don’t require a COVID-19 test result for travel.

There are some destinations, including Canada, that ask travellers to present an antibody test results in lieu of a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test in order for travel. Canadians can travel to Croatia by showing proof of past infection with a test result or a certificate. The test result must be a positive PCR or antigen test that’s no more than 12 days old, and no later than 180 days before arrival.

Required PCR tests for travel

In some instances, countries will request a PCR test if the traveller has visited certain countries over the past two weeks. The Dominican Republic currently requires travellers to present a negative PCR test result from the previous 72 hours if the traveller is coming from a country considered “high-risk” for COVID-19 transmission.

It’s also worth mentioning that not all PCR tests are the same, and destinations like Hawaii and Hong Kong only accept certain types of PCR tests for international travellers. We recommend checking with the testing centre to see if they will administer you the right type of COVID test needed for your trip.

Before you make travel arrangements, always check the latest travel rules for not only your arrival destination, but also for any countries where you will be in transit.

What kind of COVID-19 test do I need if I’m flying into Canada?

Toronto skyline
COVID tests for international flights from Toronto

As of January 7, 2021, all travellers entering Canada (five years and older) from an international destination must show proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular (PCR) test result taken a maximum of 72 hours before departure. This pre-entry test for travel is required regardless of vaccination status.

How long does it take to get the results of a COVID-19 test?

COVID-19 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 usually arrive within 72 hours. Rapid antigen test results can arrive as quickly as 15 minutes.

In recent news, what’s being called an “ultrarapid” COVID test is currently being studied by medical scientists.

Where can I get a COVID test prior to international travel?

Even with constantly changing travel restrictions, the good news is that getting a COVID-19 test is much more accessible nowadays. One perk is that travellers can schedule testing appointments on arrival and departure at an airport.

If you’re arriving in Canada via air, testing centres have been set up at Canada’s major airports and offer COVID testing (free of charge) for all arrivals. Travellers should schedule their appointments beforehand. COVID-19 tests are also available for international departures, but those will come at a cost to the traveller. See the table below for more details on testing centres for outbound international travel.

Canadian airportCOVID testing centreType
TorontoSwitch HealthPCR/antigen/other
commonly accepted tests
MontrealBiron Group SantéPCR/rapid PCR/antigen
CalgaryNumi HealthPCR/antigen
VancouverMultiple health clinicsPCR/RT-PCR/antigen

COVID-19 tests for outbound international travel are also available through pharmacies and private clinics such as Maple (GTA and Halifax), Dynacare (Manitoba and Quebec), LifeLabs (British Columbia and Ontario), and Canadian Travel Clinics (major cities in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario). You can check those websites to find a COVID testing site nearest you. Pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart Health also provides COVID testing services throughout Canada.

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

How much does a COVID test for travel cost?

If you’re looking to be tested for the purpose of international travel, there is a charge at pharmacies, medical labs, and airports (if available). The price for a standard PCR test usually costs between $150 and $200, sometimes more if you make a special request for last-minute travel. Some testing centres at airport hotels in Vancouver can provide rush PCR tests (less than 24 hours) and the cost is $900.

While not as common for international travel, rapid antigen test costs can range from $5 to $150. An antigen test for travel at Shoppers Drug Mart is $40 plus tax (the test is free for regular purposes). Public service members in Ontario can get free PCR tests at participating Shoppers Drug Mart locations.

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. We also recommend asking if the COVID testing centre provides receipts for insurance purposes.

What COVID testing is required at the land border?

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

As of February 15, 2021, Canadians over the age of five travelling via land border will be required to present a negative COVID-19 molecular test result taken from the previous 72 hours, which must be an accepted PCR test. At this time, antigen tests for entry to Canada are not accepted.

Travellers will receive two COVID-19 At Home Specimen Collection Kits. Fully vaccinated travellers will only receive one self-test to take upon arrival. These testing kits must be used on the day of arrival to Canada and on day 8. You can use the kits with the help of a telehealth healthcare provider. Some Canadian border crossings have services on-site to help arrivals with their COVID test. Travellers should download the ArriveCAN app before travel, and are encouraged to create an account in order to save time at the border.

Travellers who provide a positive COVID-19 test result may be exempt from arrival testing at the border. These passengers must show proof of a positive PCR test taken between 14 and 90 days prior to departure.

What happens if my test comes back positive?

If you took a PCR test for travel, 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. In certain instances, positive results will be followed with a phone call. Those with positive test results must isolate and follow the advice given by the medical advisor. You will have to cancel your flight and accommodations. If you test positive, you’re not cleared for travel and must hold on to the document for future travel.

If your test comes back negative, you’re 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.

And if you have questions about the results of your COVID-19 test, 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. Wearing a face mask for air travel remains a mandatory requirement for travel to most countries. Ensure you check the guidelines for your departure, transiting, and arrival destinations.

Where can I travel to 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.

COVID-19 tests for travel: FAQs

Do you need COVID vaccinations to enter Canada?

At this time, travellers from the US as well as Canadians can travel to Canada for non-essential reasons. All travellers must be fully vaccinated (by vaccines recognized for travel to Canada) or must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. Two COVID tests (day 1 and day 8) will also be required.

How long should I self-quarantine if I have been exposed to COVID-19?

Scientists and experts have stated that the coronavirus typically stays in your system for at least 14 days. If you’ve been exposed to COVID, self-isolate for two weeks and monitor your symptoms on a daily basis. Experts also advise to keep your immune system in check by eating healthy, getting sunlight whenever possible, exercise, and engage in stress-free activities to help boost your mood.

How do I know which COVID-19 test is required for travel?

Keep in mind that the requirements for COVID-19 tests in destinations around the world is changing every day, so be sure to check in with your planned travel destination regularly, especially the week leading up to your trip. With all that’s happened over the past year and a half, planning a trip too far in advance (even by a month or so) isn’t very helpful.

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