How to road trip to Canada since the lifting of Covid travel restrictions

Last month we returned from a nearly two week road trip to Canada as tourists. We entered on August 9, the first day Americans were allowed into Canada for tourism and without quarantine. Travelers from the rest of the world will be allowed in under the same conditions starting on September 9.

This post will be about the process for entry, what we experienced while there, and the experience coming back. 

Before we left

Canada allows for a waiver to its post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements if arrivals:

  • Are fully vaccinated by a Canada-approved vaccine
  • Have waited 14 days since final shot
  • Have completed and received a negative PCR test within 3 days of entry and have the results in hand

All vaccines given in the US are in Canada’s approved list, though the Russian and Chinese vaccines given to some in México and elsewhere are not. 

So on a Friday afternoon, in preparation for our Monday departure to Canada, we each took a PCR test. Results were expected back within 24 hours, while ours arrived a bit slower, but still by the end of the following day. 

In preparation for arrival we downloaded the ArriveCAN app on our phones and entered all our vaccination and arrival information, including photos of our vaccination cards, time of arrival, and port of entry. We crossed in the small city of Ogdensburg, NY after checking wait times. Once we arrived to the front of the line, we handed our confirmation code and paper copies of our negative PCR tests to the border agent and we were on our way in less than 5 minutes. 

The only glitch in this process was that since it requires date of arrival, you have to fill out at least part of the form en route and some of the vaccination data we had previously entered didn’t save between sessions and had to be reentered.

Note: Some border crossings that were formerly 24 hours have been closed after 8pm or earlier. To avoid issues at off-hours, cross at larger ports of entry and check hours before departing.

In Canada

Traveling around Canada was nearly identical to a summer US road trip (besides the road signs being in kilometers). The standard Covid-related policies in New York are on display in Canada, namely contact information when dining-in and timed entry for museums. Now that New York City is requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining, Canada is actually more lax. Some restaurants in Montreal still had restrictions on indoor dining but there was plenty of outdoor dining space.

I want to keep this short and on-topic, so I’ll follow up with a post on our itinerary later. Suffice to say we were not inconvenienced in any way during our trip and we even had the odd sensation of being the only non-locals in many of the places we visited.

Coming back

Returning to the US by land, you do not need to take a negative Covid test. This was such a confusing point to clarify that I even called US Customs and Border Protection to verify. As of the date of this post, if you travel by air you do need to take a test within 3 days of returning, even if you are fully vaccinated.

Currently, only the following individuals are allowed to cross into the US by land:

  • US citizens and residents repatriating to the US, or
  • Those traveling for essential reasons

The following link lists the valid reasons for crossing the border by land.

On our way back into the US, we crossed in North Troy, a small town in northern Vermont. Given the sleepy crossing and that Americans are only allowed into the US by land as repatriation, we were questioned longer than normal by the border agent. We were likely the first tourists he had seen in over a year, so his caution made sense.

[Not] crossing the land border as a non-American

At the time of this post, foreigners or US visa holders are not currently allowed into the US by land for tourism (they are however allowed in by air). This has created a strange situation where Americans are allowed to drive into Canada for tourism or discretionary reasons, but the same is not true in the opposite direction. This means that if you are a foreigner working or visiting the US, you may be allowed into Canada but not back into the US if you return by land.

I hope this post will be useful to others that plan to visit Canada in the next few months and will save some others the hassle or confusion that we had during the planning of our trip. Safe travels!

Not a Train: Taking Greyhound NYC to Montreal

Take the bus to Montreal. It’s direct, it’s frequent, and it can be done last-minute. While riding the Jazz Train is still on my bucket list, we headed up to Montreal over the Fourth of July long weekend by Greyhound, which was relatively efficient and a great deal. Here are the details:

Trip time: 8-9 hours
Cost: $120 round-trip ($60 if companion fare LINK)
Amenities: Wi-Fi, Power Outlet, seat with Paola (wife)

On the weekend we chose, July 1-4, the once-daily 10-hour Penn Station-Montreal Amtrak route, roughly $150 round-trip, was already sold out. Holiday weekend, it figures.

Greyhound it was, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect for 8 hours in a vehicle, definitely an improvement over a car, since Montreal is more of a biking, walking, and transit city where I’d rather not search for parking. Here are the details:

Route

Greyhound has 12 daily departures direct to Montreal from NYC, roughly on an hourly basis. We chose the 11pm departure, which arrived late at roughly 8am.

On the return trip to New York there are 13 daily departures on a Sunday, with most buses either before 9am (for daytime arrivals) or after 9pm (for overnight, arriving in the early morning). We chose the lone 5:15pm bus, arriving at 1am.

Departure

Port Authority is one of my least favorite places in New York City, but I will begrudgingly admit that it is convenient. Its dungeon-like bus loading areas enter and exit directly into the Lincoln Tunnel, saving time in traffic.

On this particular evening, which was Friday, July 1, i.e. Canada Day, we were roughly 45 people back when we arrived at 10:15, 45 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. As we waited the line behind us doubled, and then wrapped around the back wall and tripled. Amazing. There were about 150 people in line for Montreal.

Luckily, we caught a seat on the first bus after a lengthy process in which a Greyhound attendant checked each and every passenger’s passport and travel documents and stamped their ticket. He informed me that the bus company is fined thousands of dollars for each infraction at the border, so they carry out this a pre-departure check.

Trip

Paola bought us those funny travel neck pillows that everyone has these days, only ours were made of memory foam and fleece-lined. Bus seats aren’t the most comfortable, but they’re bearable if you can lean or sleep on your fellow passenger and have some neck support.

We stopped briefly in Albany at 2am to refuel, which was announced in advance, and I felt we had stepped back in time to the 1980s. Everyone filed off the bus, waited in the fluorescent glow of the bus terminal, and then filed back on.

At 5am, we reached the Canadian border. Little did we know, we would spend the next two hours there waiting to go through customs. Three customs agents in a little shack processing bus after bus of travelers, 50 passengers at a time. As the sun came up we waited, and waited. It took an hour and a half in line and then 30 minutes to get through at the border, after unloading all of our belongings and taking them inside.

Arrival

The Gare d’Autocars sounds classy in the way that French can when you don’t speak it. It’s right next to downtown Montreal and on top of the Berri-UQAM station, which is the central node in Montreal’s subway station. It’s clean, light-filled, new and easy to reach from anywhere.

Departure from Montreal

Given the pergatory-like feeling you get in Port Authority, it’s never too fun to arrive early for a bus. Montreal’s station is light, clean, has amusement park-like line dividers, and is a pleasant experience. We arrived 30 minutes early for our 5:15pm departure and were in an even better position than we had departing New York. A quick document check and we were off, together with a dozen choice Canadian craft beers from Dieu du Ciel as souvenirs.

Return to New York

Believe it or not, the return trip only lasted 8 hours. We arrived at the US-Canada border and the new and well-staffed Customs and Border Patrol post processed us quickly and efficiently with 5 agents on staff and others standing by. We were asked to leave everything on the bus, which probably saved us another 10 minutes at the border.

If border crossing was a hockey match, Team USA won this one.

Our preoccupied bus driver, hoping to make it home to catch his last train home, brought us safe and sound into Port Authority at 1am, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. This left us enough time to rush home and get a normal night of sleep before work on Tuesday morning.