Cars line up to enter Canada from the Houlton-Woodstock port of entry in Houlton on the first day in 16 months that Americans have been able to enter the country. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Canada began allowing fully vaccinated Americans to enter the country Monday for the first time in 16 months, ending the longest period of closure between what is normally one of the most open borders in the world.

But gaining entry is much different now than when the U.S. and Canada shuttered their borders in March 2020. Canada is still wary of the spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant, and generally took much more stringent measures against the virus than its southern neighbor. In inviting Americans to explore the country again, Canadians are also taking steps to ensure that won’t lead to a surge in new cases.

For many in Aroostook County, which shares several border crossings with its neighbor to the north, the new requirements mean the days of traveling quickly back and forth are on hold — at least for now.

The mandates will likely contribute to longer wait times for processing travelers driving through ports of entry, according to Canadian Border Services Agency spokesperson Jacqueline Callin.

“Travellers should plan for the possibility of additional processing time when crossing the border due to the enhanced public health measures,” she said. “The CBSA will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians for the sake of border wait times.”

The agency frequently updates estimated waiting times for more prominent ports of entry, such as the Houlton-Woodstock border crossing, which can be viewed online on the agency’s webpage.  

In order to enter Canada, U.S. citizens will have to meet several testing and vaccine requirements.

First, they must have had a negative COVID-19 test conducted 72 hours prior to their travel across the border. Rapid antigen testing kits, such as those found at pharmacy drive-thru services, don’t count. Travelers must have a PCR or RNA test, which takes longer for results, and depending on insurance may end up as an extra travel expense.

The Canadian government website offers a complete list of eligible tests.

Anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 may also produce a positive test result taken 14 to 90 days prior to visiting Canada.

When the testing requirement is met, Americans must download the ArriveCAN app and register for a free account. A series of questions regarding the trip are asked, similar to those posed by border officials, such as the trip’s purpose, which port of entry will be used and the estimated time of arrival.

Travelers must also upload proof of vaccination into the app, which involves uploading a photo of their vaccine card and stating the dates on which shots were received. Canada warns that anyone providing false information can be charged and fined up to $5,000.

Finally, another COVID-19 test is mandated upon arrival at the port of entry. If the port does not provide the tests, visitors must provide a home test kit. Candidates for entry are required to have a quarantine plan should they test positive at entry, or contract the disease while in Canada. For U.S. travelers without family in Canada, the best option would likely be a hotel.

Frequent cross-border trips are unlikely to resume anytime soon. Canadians are also unable to travel across to the U.S., which has extended its travel ban until at least Aug. 21. Unvaccinated Americans may travel to Canada if they quarantine for 14 days.

Fortunately, returning to the U.S. is a much easier task and has remained unchanged throughout the pandemic. To reenter the United States, travelers simply need to present their passports.