As the US prepares to reopen its land border to Canadians on November 8, some travellers may look to avoid travel-related PCR test fees by getting a free COVID-19 test from a hospital or testing centre before leaving.
Provinces told Daily Hive that travellers should not abuse free tests intended for sick people and positive cases’ close contacts for recreational trips, but test results from BC and Ontario contain nearly all of the necessary information for re-entry at the border.
According to the Canadian government’s website, a negative PCR test must be less than 72 hours old and contain all of the following information to grant a person entry into Canada:
- Traveller name and date of birth
- Name and civic address of laboratory or clinic that administered the test
- Date test was conducted
- Type of test conducted
- Test results
Canadians are allowed to get a test before leaving if they’re going on a short trip to the US. Many travel clinics offer COVID-19 testing for travel purposes, but their fees range from $150 to more than $200.
BC Premier John Horgan criticized Canada’s testing requirements in a news conference Thursday, saying people may think twice about going for a day of cross-border shopping in Seattle or, worse, fake symptoms to do it.
“We don’t want to see people going and pretending to have COVID-19 symptoms so they can get a test so they can go shopping. I’m not saying British Columbians would do that, but it’s a possibility,” he said.
While Canadians may be able to save $200 by faking symptoms and getting a test from a local health authority, government officials were not clear on whether they’d be accepted at the border.
Two test results Daily Hive saw from BC and Ontario contained all the necessary information except for the laboratory’s civic address.
British Columbians usually receive a text message containing only their name and result, but if they click a link to the BC CDC website, there’s a portal to access more detailed results that are downloadable. Instead of a clinic address, the BC one contains a clinic ID.
Over in Ontario, residents are also able to access detailed test results through a provincial portal. Date of birth is not displayed on the certificate, but it is shown on an earlier page to access the portal. Although no clinic address is included, the hospital where the test was conducted is clearly indicated.
Canadian officials won’t say if symptomatic tests are acceptable at the border
Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers are the ones stationed at Canada’s borders who decide whether to let people into the country. But a CBSA spokesperson would not say whether these tests would be acceptable, and instead passed the request to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
A PHAC spokesperson said it cannot comment on “individual cases or situations.” It’s not clear why it considers provincial formatting of COVID-19 test results to be an individual situation.
PHAC did not respond to follow-up questions before deadline.
The BC Ministry of Health told Daily Hive it does not provide asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for travel purposes.
“Anyone who requires a COVID-19 test for travel can access private testing offered through the private facilities listed on the BCCDC website,” a spokesperson said. “It is expected there will be an increase in demand for travel testing, which are private pay tests that are not administered by health authorities.”
The spokesperson did not answer Daily Hive’s questions about the potential for people to lie about symptoms to get a free test.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Health told Daily Hive that its COVID-19 tests are for people that need them, and not for international travellers.
“COVID tests for the purpose of travel clearance are not publicly funded in Ontario, and tests for this purpose are not available at our publicly funded assessment centres or other public testing sites. The government has no role in setting or suggesting prices for private testing in Ontario,” spokesperson Bill Campbell said.
Queries to Alberta and Quebec’s ministries of health went unanswered.
Here’s who is currently eligible to get a free COVID-19 test in each province:
- BC: People experiencing symptoms
- Alberta: Albertans with symptoms, people linked to a known outbreak, people who need testing for outgoing travel, healthcare workers, teachers, shelter workers, correctional staff, meat packing plant workers, industrial plant workers and people who got a positive result from screening
- Saskatchewan: People experiencing symptoms, close contacts, people part of an outbreak situation, certain immunocompromised patients, and people being transferred to or between congregate settings
- Manitoba: People with symptoms, close contacts, people newly admitted to hospital, people in outbreak situations
- Ontario: People experiencing symptoms, close contacts of a COVID-19-positive person, people who got a COVID Alert app notification, staff at workplaces with active outbreaks, residents and workers in long-term care, temporary foreign workers, Indigenous people, those who travel to remote Indigenous communities for work, and people who need a test before surgery.
- Quebec: People with symptoms, close contacts, people who received a COVID Alert exposure notification
- New Brunswick: People with symptoms, close contacts of cases, and people who need testing for travel purposes
- Nova Scotia: People with symptoms, close contacts of cases, people who were at a community exposure location, Canadian travellers entering Nova Scotia from another province, people who screened positive on a rapid test, pre-surgery patients. Note that Nova Scotia provides test results over the phone and not in writing.
- PEI: People with symptoms, travellers arriving in PEI, and outbound travellers
- Newfoundland & Labrador: People with symptoms, close contacts of cases, people who received a COVID Alert app notification, arriving travellers, and people involved in a public exposure
- Yukon: People with symptoms
- NWT: People with symptoms
- Nunavut: Online self-assessment tool retired
In the end, it’s not clear right now if people who use a free test will be able to cross the border, though the answer may be available closer to November 8.
Another consideration for people thinking of saying they have symptoms to dodge private test fees is that people awaiting results are supposed to self-isolate. If they’re found crossing the border before getting their results back, they could be charged under the Quarantine Act.