Canadians consumed by wanderlust can choose from nearly 50 international destinations that aren’t requiring travellers from this country to quarantine on arrival.
The novel coronavirus has cancelled or postponed travel plans for close to six months now, and there is no end in sight for the battle to control the virus.
But Canadians are among the biggest travellers in the world and a growing list of nations are welcoming back tourists from Canada, desperate to overcome some of the devastation wrought by COVID-19.
“Canadians are seen as desirable tourists abroad, as our case numbers are considerably low and have been regarded worldwide as successfully managed,” Kashlee Kucheran, CEO and editor of travel blog Travel Off Path, wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. “Because of this, many nations that have banned other higher-risk countries, chiefly the U.S.A., are allowing Canadian tourists in without restrictions.”
The “perks” to travelling right now include discounted fees for flights and hotels and the “chance to see overrun cities like Paris or Amsterdam without the hordes of tourists,” said Kucheran, whose blog has carefully documented where Canadians are able to travel with few or no restrictions.
“Many of our readers are sending in photos and reviews of their travels saying how incredible it is to see bucket-list cities without the overbearing crowds.”
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, 40 per cent of all destinations worldwide had eased restrictions on tourism as of July 30, while more than half still had their borders closed to tourists.
As destinations reopen, Canada’s air carriers are increasing their service, including Air Canada, which is planning to ramp up its routes and frequencies to many international destinations in September and October.
Air Transat resumed its operations July 23, saying it plans to offer reduced routes to Europe, sun destinations and three U.S. cities – Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, and Orlando.
The airline also offers a practical guide that travellers can consult online here.
But keep in mind, the Canadian government has not changed its advisory, put in place March 19, that all Canadians avoid any non-essential travel outside of the country. Canada is also advising to avoid all travel on cruise ships outside Canada until further notice.
Friday, Canada extended through Sept. 30 its international travel restrictions banning all non-residents from entering the country as well as the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for Canadians returning from abroad.
Failure to comply with the restrictions under the Quarantine Act can result in maximum fine of $750,000 and six months in prison. Anyone who contravenes the act and causes risk of death or serious bodily harm to another person could face a fine of up to $1 million and imprisonment of up to three years.
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EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
“The itch to travel is definitely there for our travellers,” says Tullia Marcolongo, executive director of the Toronto-based International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. “We see a lot of people planning trips for later in the fall or early next year.”
She urges would-be travellers to be fully versed in entry requirements and in what is happening with the virus in their destination.
“Is it overwhelmed with COVID? Is the health-care system overwhelmed? Will you get access to good care? What are the quarantine requirements? Will you be stuck in a hotel room? Is a trip worth all of that?”
Potential travellers must also research what will be open to them as tourists and to really think about what it will be like to spend much of their time wearing masks, and then to have to return to Canada and go into 14 days of isolation.
The federal government warns those considering travelling abroad that international travel “restrictions are changing quickly and may be imposed by countries with little warning. Your travel plans may be severely disrupted. Should you choose to take non-essential travel outside Canada, you may be forced to remain outside of Canada longer than expected.”
It also warns: “If you choose to travel despite these advisories, be aware that commercial airspace closures and movement restrictions can occur without warning and could prevent your return to Canada. The Government of Canada is not planning additional facilitated flights to bring Canadians home during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Canadian government asks citizens travelling abroad to register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to allow for emergency notification (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration and to ensure travel medical insurance covers COVID-19. Once at your destination, follow the guidance of local authorities when it comes to masks or lockdowns, and avoid large crowds.
NO PROHIBITION ON TRAVEL
Despite the dire warnings of government, the decision to travel still rests with Canadians, says Marion Joppe, a professor of tourism management at the University of Guelph.
“The advisory is only that. It’s not a prohibition. If you want to go, you can. We aren’t prisoners in our country. But when you come back, you must self-isolate. That’s the only stick.”
Another sticking point is travel medical insurance. Some countries are requiring visitors provide proof of coverage and it’s a huge risk to travel in a pandemic without it, says Joppe. But she knows of only two insurance companies providing COVID-19 coverage to Canadians travelling internationally and only one that is covering U.S. destinations.
She urges travellers to do their research about coverage, even if they are travelling within Canada.
And tourists should be prepared that travel in many parts of the world has drastically changed. Some countries have curfews in place, and many have restrictions on gatherings, and requirements for physical distancing and masks. Tourist destinations and amenities may be closed or operating under capacity limits.
It’s also important to remember that international restrictions are changing rapidly, especially as some regions are experiencing a second wave in cases. Countries may approve travel from Canada one day and ban it the next. The European Union, for instance, is reviewing its list of “safe” countries every two weeks.
Hungary and Ukraine have both closed to tourists in the last few days amid surging COVID numbers.
“Any Canadian looking to travel during the pandemic needs to be aware that their plans could change at any moment,” said Kucheran.
“Countries that are currently accepting Canadian tourists with no restrictions could suddenly see a rise in cases, and could cause a second border lockdown, which we have seen happen with just one or two days’ notice.”
Another example of the shifting landscape is the Bahamas, which reopened to international tourism on July 1, but changed course just a few weeks later when COVID-19 cases skyrocketed. The country banned all international commercial flights on July 22, but exempted travellers from Canada, the U.K., and the European Union who had tested negative.
The numbers have only become worse and, as of Aug. 1, all visitors are required to submit a health visa for approval and adhere to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. If a traveller’s plans to isolate don’t satisfy local authorities, they must submit to quarantine in a state-run facility at their own expense. To be released from quarantine, travellers must then undergo and pay for a COVID-19 test, as well as submit to monitoring and install an app on their phones for contact tracing.
WHAT’S OPEN TO CANADIANS
Click on the country for more detalis.
The International Air Transport Association has produced a worldwide map that shows, at a glance, where international travel is suspended or heavily restricted in much of the world.
Notable exceptions are Brazil, which lifted its entry restrictions on July 29, and Mexico.
According to the IATA, 156 countries or territories have quarantine measures for travellers in place. Its dashboard lists public health risk mitigation measures for travellers to each country, including quarantine, physical distancing and masks in the airport, temperature checks, health declarations, COVID-19 testing and contract tracing.
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable lists countries that Canadians can travel to for leisure or business with few or no restrictions. It is relatively short, containing just 25 of the roughly 200 nations of the world, and includes no nations in South America, Africa, Asia or Oceania.
As of Aug. 4, when the list was last updated, countries with few or no travel restrictions for Canadians included 16 of the 44 countries in Europe. France, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland are among those without restrictions.
Iceland requires a 14-day quarantine, but if a traveller pays for a COVID-19 test and that result is negative, the quarantine is waived.
Greece requires visitors to fill out a passenger locator form before entering the country that informs authorities about their travel plans and provides contact information.
Italy is allowing Canadian tourists to visit, but they must submit to a 14-day quarantine within their own accommodations and may be contacted by public health officials.
Canada was not included on a recently released long list of countries exempt from quarantine if travelling to the United Kingdom.
Canadians are permitted to fly to the United States, though land crossings remain closed to discretionary travel until at least Sept. 21. Canadians may be subject to measures imposed by local governments, including health screenings and quarantine.
When it comes to traditional hotspot vacations, Mexico and Jamaica have no restrictions. Aruba, Bermuda, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia all require proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within a certain window before departure. Barbados encourages travellers to upload a negative test result. Those who don’t must take a test at the airport for free or for a fee at certain hotels.
Canadians are permitted to enter Costa Rica as of Aug. 27, but must fill out a health pass, have a negative virus test within 72 hours of travel, and hold travel medical insurance that guarantees COVID-19 coverage for at least US$50,000.
The Dominican Republic, a popular destination for Canadians, has taken an interesting approach to reopening. It welcomed back tourists on July 1, and has required visitors to fill out a health affidavit, provide their contact details for their stay, and submit a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than five days before arrival. If that is not presented, the traveller is tested through a rapid blood test at the airport at no cost.
But the country plans to replace that with random breath tests of passengers by the end of September. The government also plans to provide all tourists visiting a hotel with travel insurance that covers “emergencies, telemedicine, lodging for prolonged stays and costs for changing flights in the event of an infection. This insurance will be provided at no cost to the visitor until December 2020 and will be 100 per cent paid for by the Dominican State.”
DEVASTATING TOLL ON TOURISM
The economic toll of the novel coronavirus has been devastating, with the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimating at the end of July that the pandemic had already led to US $320 billion in lost revenues by the end of May when compared to 2019, more than triple the cost of the 2008-2009 global economic crisis.
Tourism-based nations and travel operators will be desperate to make up for lost ground, but
whatever the dream deal, Marcolongo at the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers urges Canadians to think about their responsibilities as travellers, both to protect fellow Canadians when they return, but also to protect those they will come into contact with while travelling.
“There is an escapism to travel, but there is always a responsibility, too,” she said.
“We have a collective responsibility to heed the advisories. They are in place for a reason. It’s a privilege to travel, it’s not a right, especially at this point.”
STAYING HOME AND SEEING CANADA
There is little doubt Canadians love to travel. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian residents took 316 million domestic and international trips in 2018, spending close to $84 billion.
More than 70 per cent of Canadians’ international trips were to the U.S. in 2018, with Mexico, Cuba, the U.K., the Dominican Republic and China the next most popular five destinations.
According to the United Nation’s tourism organization, Canada ranked seventh in the world on spending on international travel, landing among countries with vastly more people, including China, the U.S., Russia and Germany.
The 2020 numbers are bound to be much different, but it’s important to note that 88 per cent of those trips two years ago were within Canada, where residents spent almost $46 billion.
Authorities have spent months urging Canadians needing a vacation beyond their own backyard or balcony to do more of that exploring of Canada.
“We have such a big, beautiful country and there are so many things to do,” says Marcolongo.
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable has produced an interactive map that shows where you can travel in Canada depending on which province you’re travelling from and which province you reside in.