Testing costs latest consideration for cross-border travellers

A man is tested for COVID-19 from a health-care worker at a pop-up testing centre at the Islamic Institute of Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Friday, May 29, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Nathan Denette)

As vaccination among Canadians continues to climb, more people are considering vacations to the United States but it’s important to understand what Covid-19 tests are required and the costs that can come along with them.

While the American land-border crossings will open in early November to Canadians looking to travel for leisure, currently, air travel is the only way to get to the States for a vacation and many people are capitalizing on cheap hotel stays and discount airfare.

”Four nights in Las Vegas was $1200 for the two of us to go all in, flights and hotel, it was phenomenal,” says Andrew Dagenais, who recently returned from a vacation with his wife. “It’s been two years of not doing anything we had to do something.”

But there was some research ahead of their trip they needed to be aware of. Along with a valid passport, and the ArriveCan App, a negative Covid-19 test result must be provided to board a plane the U.S. and another for Canadian re-entry.

For travel to the United States, a rapid antigen test is required and is valid for 72 hours. The test is available at many pharmacies across the city of Ottawa and results are received in about 15 minutes. 

The cost is also reasonable.

“We had our test done at Costco,” says Dagenais. “We were in and out and it was only $17.”

Shoppers Drug Mart offers an antigen test for travel for $40 and Walmart charges $20.

But for anyone, five-year-old and up, coming into Canada, a molecular test, like PCR, is required. These tests take longer to get results, and typically cost more money.

Dagenais says he and his wife paid $150USD per person to a local clinic that caters to travel testing in Las Vegas. 

“For that test we had to go to a specific place to get the results in 24 hours just to guarantee because we’re only here for four days.” Says Dagenais.

However there are cheaper options in America, many Walgreen’s pharmacy locations even offer it for free, but the test is administered at a drive-thru and if you are not travelling in a car, you will need to order a taxi. Also, there is no guarantee that you will get your results within the three day window that Canada requires for a test to be valid.

If a weekend road-trip is more up your alley, then you are in luck, land border crossing will open on November 8th, and by then, fully vaccinated Canadians will not be required to provide an antigen test.

But you will still need a molecular test to come back and if the vacation is less than three days, the best bet is to buy a PCR test in Canada.

Rexall Pharmacy sells a take-home test starting at $200. The kit comes with the postage included. The test must be administered in front of a technician via a video conference which is part of the package.

Shoppers Drug Mart can provide a test for $200.

It’s also important to plan ahead, as results can take between 24 and 48 hours. 

While the added costs of tests can add up, Dagenais says it’s a small price to pay, to finally be able to get away.

“I mean when you factor in all the money we saved just from the trip alone it was definitely worth it.”