Fully vaccinated and yearning to travel? Here are the new rules of the road

Canada’s announcement that fully vaccinated Canadian travellers can skip quarantine upon their return has inspired some people to start making travel plans.

But before packing your bags, take note that the pandemic isn’t over — and there are still travel rules in place that could affect your trip.

“Travel isn’t quite the same as pre-COVID, and that’s just the reality moving forward for the foreseeable future,” said Claire Newell, owner of Travel Best Bets, a travel agency based in Burnaby, B.C. 

Here’s what you should know before booking your long-awaited vacation. 

COVID tests and vaccination requirements

Although vaccinated Canadian travellers are now exempt from quarantine, they’re still required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test before returning to Canada and must take a second test upon arrival. 

The federal government covers the cost of the arrival test. However, travellers must arrange and pay for their pre-arrival test, which could cost hundreds of dollars, depending on which country they are departing. 

Some vacation destinations, such as the United States, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, also require travellers to provide proof of a negative test upon entry — including those who are vaccinated. So Canadians heading to such destinations must also pay to get a test before departing, which can cost upward of $100.

“It’s expensive for the current types of tests that are required pre-flight, that are at the passenger’s expense,” said Newell.

Passengers getting off international flights at Toronto’s Pearson airport are shown getting mandatory COVID-19 tests on Feb. 1, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Some sun destinations, such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic, have no test requirement for Canadian travellers, and some European countries are now waiving the requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians.

On July 1, the Council of the European Union recommended that member countries lift travel restrictions for Canadian travellers. 

Currently, several European countries, including Greece, France and Italy, are welcoming Canadians and allowing them to skip their required COVID-19 test and any quarantine requirements — if they show proof of vaccination.

So how do Canadians provide proof?

Diodora Bucur, a spokesperson for the EU Delegation to Canada, said the EU is working on a “COVID certificate regulation,” which will include standard rules for travellers from outside the region. 

“Until then, member states should be able to accept [foreign]-country [vaccine] certificates,” Bucur said in an email. 

Travellers should carefully check all entry requirements of their desired destination before booking their ticket, including which types of COVID-19 vaccines a country accepts. 

Newell recommends scoping out this destination tracker — created by the World Tourism Organization and the International Air Transport Association — which outlines travel rules across the globe.

What about domestic travel?

Newell, however, doesn’t recommend Canadians go abroad just yet. That’s because the federal government’s advisory against non-essential travel abroad is still in place — even with eased quarantine rules for those vaccinated. 

“The government is still advising us not to be travelling,” said Newell.

And that advisory may stay in place for a while, as the delta variant sparks a surge in COVID-19 cases in countries across the globe, including the U.S. and several European nations.

Claire Newell, owner of Travel Best Bets in Burnaby, B.C., recommends not going abroad until Canada lifts its advisory against non-essential international travel. (clairenewell.com)

For now, Newell recommends Canadians focus on domestic destinations. Some airlines are currently offering cheap seats on domestic flights to woo Canadians to return to air travel, she said. 

“People often get over their fear of travel when there’s a very, very cheap deal.”

Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces still require certain visitors to quarantine, but exempt vaccinated travellers. The exception is Prince Edward Island, which will start exempting vaccinated travellers on July 18

What about travel insurance?

Many insurance providers have reinstated medical coverage for COVID-19-related illnesses while travelling abroad. 

But Toronto-based travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said it’s currently impossible to get
COVID-19-related cancellation coverage — because COVID-19 is now a known problem.

“My biggest concern is that should we have another [COVID-19] wave … there would be no coverage from a cancellation perspective, if the sole reason is COVID,” said Firestone. 

However, he said, one major insurance provider has indicated to him it will reinstate COVID-19-related cancellation coverage once Canada lifts its travel advisory, and that other providers could follow suit.

WATCH | 14-day post-travel quarantine lifted for fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents:

14-day post-travel quarantine lifted for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents

Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning from international travel no longer have to quarantine for 14 days if it’s been over two weeks since their second dose and their vaccines are approved by Health Canada. 1:58

Canadians booking cruises also likely won’t be able to get COVID-19-related medical coverage at this time, Firestone said, because the government currently advises Canadians to avoid all cruise-ship travel outside the country.

CBC News did find one provider, Johnson, which offers this type of coverage to customers who are members of a group insurance plan. 

New flight rules

If travellers do have to cancel their travel plans, Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat are each offering to waive their change fee for flights purchased on or before July 31. 

Air Canada also says that, until further notice, customers can cancel their bookings and transfer the full value to a travel voucher which never expires. 

On top of that, the airline says that if it cancels a flight for any reason and can’t rebook a passenger on another flight departing within three hours of the original departure time, customers can request a refund. 

Last year, Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing sparked customer fury when they refused to offer refunds for flights cancelled during the pandemic. The airlines have since changed their tune and have begun doling out refunds to affected customers. 

Air passengers may not have to worry about fighting for refunds once proposed Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) regulations go into effect.

The proposed rules require airlines to provide passengers with refunds if they cancel a flight for reasons outside of their control — such as a pandemic — and can’t ensure the passengers complete their itinerary within a reasonable time.

Currently, Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations only mandate that airlines provide refunds for flights cancelled for reasons within their control.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that these minimum obligations are insufficient,” the CTA said in a statement. “Amid the subsequent collapse of global air travel, most passengers could not be rebooked and thousands were left out of pocket for the cost of tickets they could not use.”

The CTA said it plans to finalize the more stringent refund regulations by fall.