RVing In Canada – Can You Cross The Canadian Border?
With 48 National parks and a massive amount of Crown Land (public land) to boondock on (over 90%), Canada is an RVer’s Paradise. Unfortunately for American RVers, all that great land has been closed off due to COVID-19. Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian border will open in stages.
Canada’s not ready to receive American RVers or tourists yet, but that may change by the end of July 2021. We’ve received many questions about RVing in Canada. The Border Security Agency (BSA) and the Canadian Government developed a pre-screening system you’ll need to be aware of once they open the Canadian border. We’ll show you the current guidelines for traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic and what the Canadian Government is planning shortly. If you’re planning on passing through Canada to reach Alaska via the Alaska-Canada Highway (AlCan Highway), there are different guidelines.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) hasn’t released an official re-entry border crossing plan yet. However, we can tell you some information now that won’t change to help you prepare when you’re ready to come back home.
The Current State of the Canadian Border
Close to 70% of all Canadians are fully vaccinated. During the entire pandemic, the country had 1.4 million confirmed cases and 26,389 deaths. The multi-stage border opening plan focuses on minimizing hotspot outbreaks. During the worst of it, Canada wouldn’t allow its citizens to cross provincial borders. For example, if you lived in the Province of Saskatchewan, you couldn’t travel outside of those borders. Earlier in 2021, that regulation lifted, but the border was still closed except for essential workers. The July 5th change allows those under the “non-essential” status to come into the country, but they must have a valid reason.
Those non-essential reasons include attending a funeral, caring for a loved one, celebrating a wedding, returning to school, reuniting with family, and other valid reasons. Leisure travel is still prohibited. There is an expected border opening date of July 21 for tourism. It could change based on COVID-19 outbreak levels and other mitigating factors.
The only way to enter the U.S. border is by flight or through a pre-registration program. The programs are for commercial use or those workers that cross the border daily for work purposes. After July 21st (or whenever Canada opens for tourism), The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will release information on the requirements to return to the United States. More than likely, the process may be similar to the Canadian BSA procedure.
The long and detailed background check process required for the FAST, NEXUS, or SENTRI programs isn’t worth the effort if you’re crossing the border once or twice a year. In addition, if you do have a membership to one of these programs, you won’t be able to use the designated crossing lanes if anyone in your vehicle isn’t a pass holder.
The Ideal Scenario for Crossing the Canadian Border With a Camper
The best way to discuss the process of crossing into Canada is first to explain the best-case scenario. Then, once we’ve laid out the process, we’ll break it down into easy-to-follow detail. This way, you’ll have an overall picture you can refer back to for context purposes.
- Download and install the ArriveCan app on your mobile device and bookmark the website on your computer.
- You and those traveling take a COVID-19 test and upload your results onto the ArrivCan system. Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, must do this two weeks before your trip.
- Finish filling out the ArriveCan information. This includes all of your personal information, a quarantine plan if you test COVID-19 positive, and other information. The Canadian Government does accept quarantining in your RV.
- Ensure you know how to access the confirmation code on the ArriveCan app to show the BSA officer at the border.
- Go to the Canadian Border Security Agency’s website to satisfy all of the requirements on their checklist.
- Make sure you have the proper identification documentation. State Driver’s Licenses and State ID cards won’t work crossing into Canada.
- Purchase 2 COVID-19 home test kits per person to use at the border in your vehicle.
- When you’re waiting in line to cross the border, have your identification documentation and COVID-19 home test kits ready.
- Follow the instructions of the BSA officer in the booth. First, show the BSA officer your confirmation code on your ArriveCan app. Next, hand them your ID paperwork for the inspection. Next, the officer will instruct you to complete the home testing kit while they watch. Then, give them the sealed sample.
- You’ll receive the results of the home kit test on the ArriveCan app within 72 hours. After receiving your results, still, follow Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) guidelines like facemasks and other safety gear. Otherwise, enjoy your trip.
The steps above are the current requirements as of July 5, 2021. Essential workers and non-essential people with valid reasons must follow these guidelines to enter Canada. On July 21, Canada should open its borders to tourism. This date is subject to change, and the Canadian Government may change the process.
The ArriveCan system can be used on your computer or downloaded to your mobile device. All of your pre-testing, vaccination information, quarantine plan, and other preliminary information must be uploaded and completed before you reach the Canadian border. At the border, you show the Border Security Agency officer your ArriveCan receipt/confirmation code so that they can look it up on their side of the system. Then, after everyone in your party completes the COVID-19 home test kit in front of them (in your vehicle), the officer will collect the samples and release you into the country.
Your test results will post on the app or website up to 72 hours later. If anyone tests positive, all of you need to quarantine based on your pre-determined plan. You’ll also need to keep track of everyone you’ve come into close contact with because they will require testing and possible quarantine as well. Failure to pre-test has a fine starting at $3,000.
Once the Canadian border opens to tourism, these requirements may stay the same or change. However, it’s a good idea to be aware of them now, so you have an idea of what to expect after July 21st or whenever leisure travel is allowed.
Is the Canadian Border Open For RV Travel and What Do I Need?
For U.S. citizens or permanent residence, bring one of the following:
- Birth Certificate
- Certificate of citizenship or naturalization
- U.S. Permanent Resident Card (a.k.a. Green Card)
- Certificate of Indian Status with photo identification (like a driver’s license)
Notice that a driver’s license or state identification card didn’t make the list for primary identification. This is because state identification doesn’t substitute U.S. federal identification standards. From a legal standpoint, some places in the United States allow registered visitors, asylum refugees, and others to obtain state ID and privileges as non-citizens or permanent residents. Crossing international borders is a federal matter, not a state issue. Also, minors, those that use a different name rather than their legal name (i.e., going by your middle name), and other complicated situations need this level of documentation to verify their identity.
Finally, make sure everyone traveling with you has their paperwork, including the three-month-old in the car seat. Most of the time, it’s the little things that create border crossing problems. For example, a forgotten birth certificate, pet paperwork, or someone’s frustration gets the better of them due to the long line.
You’ll need to declare any goods that you’ll be leaving in Canada. Realistically, you shouldn’t have to worry about any presents you have gift wrapped for your loved ones (but you do want to mention it to the BSA officer). However, if your toy hauler’s garage has your merchandise for the trade show, you’re going to, that you need to declare.
Like any international border crossing, the BSA officer may ask you to pull over for an inspection. It’s always best to stay calm, follow instructions, and let them do their job. Don’t let this interruption ruin the fun and excitement you have planned for the next few days or weeks.
The duty-free stores at the border are always an enticing place to stop to load up on the tax-free goodies for your vacation. Unfortunately, Canada limits how much alcohol and tobacco you can bring in without paying duty (taxes) on it.
- Wine: Up to 53 fluid ounces, or two standard bottles
- Liquor: Up to 40 fluid ounces, or one standard bottle
- Beer or Ale: Up to 287 fluid ounces, or twenty-four cans/bottles
- Cigarettes: 200 cigarettes, or one carton
- Cigars: 50 cigars or one box
- Tobacco: 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco
- Tobacco sticks: 200 tobacco sticks
If you are importing tobacco or alcohol beyond these limits and stamped accordingly, you may have to pay duty (tax) on them. The legal smoking age is 18. Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec’s drinking age is 18, but 19 for other provinces.
There are many different types of goods you must declare at the border. For example, you must report firearms, weapons, vehicles for commercial purposes (buying or selling), food, plants, animals (potential health risk), and consumer products with safety labels.
It’s prohibited to bring ammunition, explosives, or fireworks across the border unless you have a permit. If your RV vacation includes a hunting trip, there are plenty of gun shops and other places in Canada to pick up everything you need. Besides, you’re going to need to register for a hunting permit anyway. You can read more about the restrictions, requirements, and expectations on the official Canada Border Services Agency Website that delineates everything.
Camper Smarts Tip on Firearms and Weaponry: When you declare your firearms and weaponry for hunting purposes, the BSA could confiscate it depending on the weapon. When you return to the U.S., there have been instances where people could not retrieve their property. The best idea is to call ahead for alternative solutions. Some hunting businesses can assist you with gun rentals or have hunting weapons you can use as part of their features. Check the BSA’s website on import or export a firearm or weapon into Canada or the hunting guide for more details.
When Will the Canadian Border Open for Tourism in 2021?
The Canadian border will open for tourism starting July 21, 2021. The Canadian Government developed a COVID-19 testing system for everyone crossing their borders by air, land, and sea. We’ll discuss the crossing by land details for our purposes, including those passing through to or from Alaska.
Take the Pre-Test Screening
The Border Sevices Agency and Canadian Government created an online pre-screening quiz to determine if you are exempt from the mandatory COVID-19 testing and/or quarantine requirements. They also created a checklist of things to do ahead of time to make your border crossing as smooth as possible. You’ll want to research and start the process at least 3 weeks in advance, so you’re fully prepared.
Fully Vaccinated Entry Requirements
Those who have received both rounds of the COVID-19 vaccination from the approved list can upload their proof of vaccination in the ArriveCAN system. Your last injection must be at least 14 days before entering the country. There are several items you must have ready to qualify for the fully vaccinated exemption. This exemption allows you to skip quarantine.
- Taking the pre-entry test at home and uploading the results to the ArriveCan system
- Have a quarantine plan in case you don’t qualify for the exemption
- Take the arrival test
- Have all of the requirements complete on the BSA’s checklist
The Canadian Government does allow you to use your RV as a quarantine shelter, but they won’t reimburse you if you’re using an RV from RVezy or any other rental company (see the dropdown section named “If you do not have a suitable place to quarantine”). However, there is a list of approved locations that they reimburse, like government-approved hotels to quarantine. To qualify, you must have a confirmed reservation with the hotel before you cross the border.
When you arrive at the border, bring a COVID-19 home test kit with you. Some border crossing locations provide testing kits; others don’t. Therefore, it’s best to come prepared. BSO officers will need to witness you performing the test. Check the Canadian website for approved Coronavirus home test kits that the BSA accepts.
Traveling to Alaska
If your destination is Alaska, you’ll want to enter Canada from one of these five border locations:
- Abbotsford-Huntingdon, British Columbia (Sumas, Washington)
- Kingsgate, British Columbia (Eastport, Idaho)
- Osoyoos, British Columbia (Oroville, Washington)
- Coutts, Alberta (Sweet Grass, Montana)
- North Portal, Saskatchewan (Portal, North Dakota)
If you enter through another location, you’ll have to follow the standard border crossing procedures. If you’re just passing through to reach Alaska, this method allows you to skip the pre-testing step and arrival testing. You’ll have to travel under quarantine conditions, limiting your exposure to others, except for essential reasons.
At these locations, you’ll receive a tag that hangs from your rearview mirror (motorhomes without a rearview mirror must display it in an easy-to-view place on your windshield). The front of the tag shows that you are driving through Canada and the date you’ll leave Canada.
The back of the tag lists all the rules you must follow while inside the border. The BSA gives you plenty of time so that you can navigate your way to our 49th state safely. The route you take must be a direct course, avoiding National parks, tourist attractions, and other populated areas. In other words, you can’t stop along the way to enjoy those roadside attractions or enjoy the local culture.
The only time you can stop is for fuel, food (drive-throughs only), and practicing good hygiene when using public restrooms. We recommend using your RV’s dry or wet bath instead of public facilities, avoiding the issue. If you don’t have one, there are many portable cassette toilets under $100 you can pick up online or at many camping stores. You can use Sanidumps to find dump stations on your way to Alaska. You can also choose a portable compost toilet if you prefer.
You will have to take a COVID-19 test at the border locations each time you cross. These five locations will provide you with 2 test kits per person when you enter Canada. The first you’ll use in front of the BSA officer. The second one you’ll use in front of the border officer when you’re exiting Canada. You may want to buy one or two and keep them stored in case something happens. One thing we all know about the RV Life is to always have backups on essential gear.
Returning to the United States
Unless you have a pre-registration membership card like the FAST, NEXUS, or SENTRI program, crossing into the United States is closed by land. That will change on July 21, 2021, or when the Canadian Border opens to tourism. No matter how the reentering procedures pan out, here are some laws and regulations you’ll need to know.
- Starting in May 2023, The REAL ID program begins. If there is a star on your driver’s license or state ID, it will be considered a valid form of identification.
- You can tune your car radio to 1620 AM at every border crossing location for border crossing information. If you missed something, don’t worry because it’s on a loop.
- You must declare all goods you obtained in Canada. However, there is an $800 exemption on gifts, personal items, and one bottle of alcohol.
- Check the state and local law website on the amount of alcohol you’re allowed to bring back from Canada.
- Fruit, plants, and Cuban cigars are prohibited.
- If you’re bringing home a new pet, you’ll need to have the USDA paperwork completed and submitted before you cross the border.
Can I Travel Unvaccinated?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s position on allowing unvaccinated travelers to cross into Canada isn’t favorable. Currently, there isn’t a date set allowing those that haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine into the country yet.
If you want to fit an RV vacation to Canada into your summer 2021 plans, stay current with the news and make sure “you’re on the list” with all the newsletters throughout the RV Life Network. That includes Campground Reviews, Camper Report, Camper Smarts, Do-It-Yourself RV, RV Life Magazine, and the many RV Forums.
Don’t forget to check out the ultimate trip planner, RV Trip Wizard. When you sign up for RV Trip Wizard, you actually receive a suite of apps for the same low price. It gives you a trip planner, RV-friendly GPS, a campground review program, and one of the best RV maintenance trackers out there.
Stay Safe, welcome to the RV Life, and we’ll see you down the road!