Becoming less testy about COVID travel

Hearing that the federal government was lifting the travel restrictions allowing for non-essential travel on Feb. 28, I got really excited. Then, the fear of what all the ongoing COVID restrictions meant started to creep in.

My travel planning joints are rusty and, from COVID testing to cancellation insurance, there were so many new decisions and unknowns. If you are thinking about a March Break getaway with your family, here are a few things that might save you some time and get you on your merry way.

(And by way of disclaimer, you can use this information to inform your decision process, but don’t rely on it, as rules are changing faster than politicians promises lately.)

First off, let’s talk COVID testing. As of Feb. 28, Canada will no longer require a PCR test to re-enter the country. This is great news, but you still need a rapid test. It’s important to note that you can’t just bring along and use one of the rapid test home kits and then show Customs and Immigration your negative result. It would be unverifiable that it was actually you who did the test, and when you did it.

To get an authorized, verified test, you have two options. One, get it done by professionals in the country where you are going, or two use the nifty service that I just learned about from a fellow traveller. (Thank you, Sarah.)

If you opt for a professionally monitored test in the country you are visiting, check with your hotel or resort, as some offer verified rapid tests on premises or offsite. Some places even offer free tests.

The upside is that it requires less in advance planning (read on). The downside is that you may have to take precious time out of your vacation to visit a pharmacy or clinic to have the test done properly if your accommodations don’t offer the service. Not knowing the price in advance, how long it takes, or if it would be accepted by the Canadian re-entry folks are other very real concern.

Which brings me to option two. Find the Switch Health website and have them mail you kits that you take with you. An online representative verifies you and your results, and they say you have your results in 45 minutes. I found an Aeroplan “deal” for two kits that was $90 taxes in with free shipping. You also have to factor in cell phone access in country, so for me that means adding a $14 charge to my cell phone bill.

The downside is that you need a week for them to mail you the kits (but you can pay for rush shipping in 1-3 days), and you need internet and your phone to complete the tests when in country. The upside, is that you know the cost in advance, and can complete the test from the comfort of your hotel and not seek out another facility. You can be reassured that these tests are accepted by Canada for reentry, and happy that you aren’t having to miss time away from more fun vacation activities.

With re-entry to Canada now covered, you also need to find out if your destination requires testing in advance. Air Canada has a helpful page where you can check entry and testing requirements by country. If you need a test prior to travel, there are testing services at some major airports, such as Toronto’s YYZ.

I didn’t have room to touch on the can of worms of cancellation insurance, but suffice it to say that it is expensive, and many policies don’t consider a positive COVID test an acceptable reason to cancel travel.

Regardless, I hope that what I did have space for may have shown you a clearer path toward enjoying a vacation abroad with family, while eliminating a few COVID testing uncertainties.

Happy travels and stay safe.

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