Immigration Update: On Paper vs. In Practice: Two Worlds of Travel Restrictions and Quarantine Rules (March 4, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. EDT)

Please note that we are not providing legal advice in this article, but are simply commenting on what our clients have been experiencing. If you require legal assistance, please reach out to one of our lawyers.

In the last few weeks we have seen a number of travel restrictions and requirements come into effect. No more flights to the Caribbean and Mexico. All international flights diverted to one of four airports. Mandatory three-night quarantine hotel stay. COVID testing at the land border. As reported in the media, the roll-out of these new initiatives has been anything but smooth. There have been stories of people being unable to book a hotel room despite spending tens of hours on hold (and being told that they could face a large fine for travelling without a booking). The Conservatives have called for a suspension of the quarantine hotel program after two cases of sexual assault. Canadians arriving by air have been sent to a quarantine facility because they provided the wrong kind of COVID test (when they should have been denied boarding). Essential workers exempt from quarantine are being forced into a hotel (but not their colleagues doing the same job and presenting the same paperwork). And people who are flat-out ignoring the quarantine hotel requirement are receiving fines that are much less than the cost of the hotel stay.

In this special CILF immigration update, we compare what the government has intended with what is actually happening on the ground. We leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about the effectiveness of these new initiatives.


#1 On paper: Effective Sunday, January 31, Canadian airlines suspended service to Mexico and Caribbean destinations until April 30.
  • In practice: Non-Canadian airlines continue to service these destinations and flights continue to fly into Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal from these destinations. Individuals in Canada may fly to the U.S. for tourism purposes and take a flight to another destination from there.
#2 On paper: Effective February 22, all individuals arriving by air will be required to undergo a PCR COVID test, and then go to a government designated hotel for three nights to wait for the result. If the result is negative, the traveller can complete the remainder of the 14-day quarantine period at home, under increased scrutiny. If the result is positive, the traveller must finish quarantine at a government facility. Trudeau said that the three-night stay will cost travellers “up to $2,000”.
  • In practice (get ready for this one): We do not think it would be unreasonable to observe that the roll-out of this requirement has been nothing short of chaos. For example:

1. The cost of the hotel stay varies widely. In some cases it is far less than $2,000. In others it is far more. It seems to be all up to the hotel. Some have received one price when booking and then a much higher price when they arrived at the hotel. On March 2, the government indicated that room rates range from $180 to $930 per night.

2. Individuals were initially only allowed to book the hotel by phone (they could not book online or call the hotel directly). Individuals reported being on hold for hours at a time with no success. All the while, the government website indicated that they could face a fine of $3,000 if they arrive in Canada without a hotel booking. On March 2, the government updated its webpage and it now says that individuals can contact the hotel directly to book. Perhaps this is a recognition that the government’s designated travel agent, GB Travel Canada Inc., is not capable of handling the volume of calls. Some of the hotels can be booked online.

3. Individuals must book a hotel for three nights, and in many cases this reservation is non-refundable even if the individual is ultimately exempted from this requirement by a border officer or the test results come back before the three nights have elapsed. An individual reported that her test result came back within hours. She went to the hotel but did not have to stay overnight. The government is not taking any responsibility for these abusive refund policies, stating that it is up to each hotel to set the refund policy.

4. Individuals with connecting flights must complete the hotel quarantine process and receive a negative test result before boarding a domestic flight to their final destination. As test results can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, this has made it very difficult for travellers to plan and book their connecting domestic flight and accommodation for the balance of their days of quarantine.

5. In addition to undergoing a test on arrival before going to the hotel to wait for the results, travellers are given a Switch Health COVID test kit to complete on Day 10 of their quarantine. Travellers are responsible for registering the test kit, booking a telehealth appointment with a Switch Health nurse who will observe the collection process, and scheduling a pickup with Purolator who will collect the sample. The results should be issued within four days. Travellers can only end their quarantine when a negative result is issued. In the event of a missing result, an inconclusive result, or a positive result, the quarantine period will have to be extended. So, to travel to Canada, most individuals need to take at least three PCR COVID tests – one within 72 hours before travel, one upon arrival in Canada, and one on the tenth day of quarantine.

6. Those who are exempt from quarantine are, unsurprisingly, exempt from the hotel quarantine requirement. However, border officers are not applying the rules consistently. One oil worker returning from the U.S. was forced into a quarantine hotel, while his colleague was allowed to go home (they presented the same paperwork).

7. Airlines have denied boarding to individuals who did not have a hotel booking, even though the Order-in-Council does not state that airlines must deny boarding for this reason (only those who do not have the correct type of COVID test). Transport Canada has confirmed that a hotel booking is not required to board a plane. Bookings can be made at the airport in Canada if the person is not exempt from quarantine.

8. Airlines have boarded individuals who had the incorrect type of COVID test (such as an antigen test which is common in the U.S.). Upon arriving in Canada, the individual was sent to a quarantine facility for three days.

9. Individuals are not being escorted to the quarantine hotel, and are expected to get there by themselves (though one individual reported that the cost of getting to the quarantine hotel is part of the three-night package and will be reimbursed).

10. Individuals have been disregarding the hotel stay requirement and just walking out of the airport upon arrival. Reports indicate that they have received fines of approximately $800 (and these can still be challenged, so they may not end up having to pay anything at all). The fine seems to be much less than what the website is saying ($3,000) and, very interestingly, less than the cost of the hotel stay.

11. Travellers have reported poor quality food and even a lack of food at the quarantine hotels. Travellers may want to bring food with them to Canada (while being mindful of the fact that certain food items are prohibited and not forgetting to declare the food upon arrival).

#3 On paper: Everyone must have a negative COVID test before arriving at the land border.
  • In practice: Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not being denied entry to Canada at the land border even if they do not have a negative COVID test result. The government has said they will be fined $3,000, but it is unclear if fines are being given and what the amount is. It is more likely they will be turned back. Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have active COVID-19 symptoms or proof of an active COVID-19 infection are also allowed to enter Canada at the land border. It is unclear if they are being sent to a federal quarantine facility (free of charge) or told to quarantine at home if they have a suitable quarantine plan.
#4 On paper: The government has said that those who travel now will have to spend a lot of money on a quarantine hotel upon their return.
  • In practice: Individuals entering Canada by land do not have to pay for or go to a quarantine hotel and are free to complete the 14 days of quarantine at home provided they have a suitable quarantine plan. Individuals can fly to the United States for tourism and return by land. The Rainbow Bridge has confirmed that it is still open 24/7 to pedestrians. We have also confirmed that taxis are allowed to carry passengers into Canada and drop them off. Additionally, some rental car companies are allowing individuals to pick up the vehicle in the United States and return it in Canada. Therefore Canadians and those with Canadian temporary resident status who are in the United States have options if they do not want to deal with the restrictions applicable to those travelling by air.
#5 On paper: Effective February 22, 2021, proof of a negative COVID test result on a sample collected within the previous 72 hours is required at the land border.
  • In practice: Many individuals are exempt (including truckers, which make up the bulk of the individuals entering by land). “Essential workers” are exempt – but the definition of “essential worker” is not being consistently applied by border officers. Nurses entering Canada to begin work have been deemed non-essential. Individuals crossing once a week or every other week who previously qualified for an exemption from quarantine as cross-border workers have been told they are no longer exempt from quarantine because they have not been travelling daily or weekly.
Yup, our heads hurt too. Stay tuned for more updates – we are sure there will be more.

We continue to recommend that anyone (including Canadian citizens and permanent residents) seeking to enter or exit Canada speak with an immigration lawyer before doing so. Our lawyers can be reached by phone (416 368 1111) or via email:;

Please contact your lawyer at CILF for additional details or specific questions.