A truck crosses the Bluewater Bridge border crossing between Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan on March 16, 2020. - The Canadian government decided March 16, 2020 to close its borders to most foreign nationals with the exception of Americans. (Photo by Geoff Robins / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)
CNN  — 

The Canadian/US border is expected to remain closed for another 30 days, until August 21.

In March, the longest un-defended border in the world closed to all “non-essential traffic” due to Covid-19. The US and Canadian governments review the agreement every 30 days, and reports suggest the closure will be extended a fourth time.

Prioritizing Canadians’ safety

“We recognize that the situation continues to be complex in the United States with regard to Covid-19,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Monday. “We are going to continue to keep Canadians safe and to keep our economy flowing.”

The US/Canada border is expected to remain closed for another 30 days, until August 21.

The premier of Ontario, Canada’s largest province, is on board with the closure. “I see these numbers from Florida and they’re staggering, 15,000 people that contacted COVID in a day,” Doug Ford told reporters earlier this week. “That is scary, but we’re being pretty vigilant, we’re not rushing into anything.”

Overall, Canadians are “apprehensive” about Americans visiting north of the border, says Darren Reeder with the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta (TIAT), a group representing hundreds of tourism operators in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere across the western province.

“People are nervous. It doesn’t mean we don’t want our neighbors or we don’t want to resume with travelers,” he told CNN Travel recently. “But I think everyone is understandably cautious because in their own home community they feel they’ve done the right things … and there is this trepidation, if you will, of others coming in too quickly.”

In Atlantic Canada, the four provincial governments have just loosened travel restrictions to allow people from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to move freely throughout the “Atlantic Bubble” without having to self-isolate for 14 days. But there is no sense of urgency to start welcoming visitors from south of the border.

Newfoundland, Canada, typically welcomes a lot of US tourists, but not this year.

“I feel badly for those people because it’s a real tough situation down there,” says Tom Earl, owner of the Tilting Harbour Bed and Breakfast on Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.

“(Americans) are a big part of the business here, but people are not too thrilled about having them travel right now. Everyone here is pretty OK with not having them come until they get their story together down there.”

In previous summers, Americans helped fill the rooms of Earl’s century-old home in Tilting, gazing at icebergs, wandering the quaint villages on the tiny island and taking part in artistic events through the world-famous Fogo Island Inn.

But Earl is closing his B&B for the rest of the season and hoping to see US visitors back next year.

Essential visitors only

While truck drivers and others essential to North America’s “economic services and supply chains” cross back and forth as needed, the border is closed to most other US citizens.

Americans are allowed into Canada only if they are working, going to school, supporting critical infrastructure, getting immediate medical care, for safety and security, or shopping for “goods necessary to preserve the health and safety of an individual or family.”

US travelers driving to their home or a job in the state of Alaska are also allowed to travel through Canada, but transit must be “direct, continuous and uninterrupted,” and they’re only allowed to stop for sleep, bathroom breaks, gas or food (wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is required at any stop).

Alaska's "Into the Wild" bus was a magnet for out-of-their-depth hikers, until it was removed in 2020.

US travelers may also cross the border to visit immediate family if they stay for at least 15 days (note: a sibling, boyfriend, girlfriend or cousin are not considered immediate family).

Travelers need to pack a lot of paperwork, says Rebecca Norton, a Calgary immigration lawyer working with US citizens wanting to visit family, including new grandchildren, in Canada.

“They need to prove their child is their child, so a birth certificate. They need to prove their (child’s) status in Canada, so a copy of visitor record or Canadian passport. If they’re married to a Canadian, they need to have a copy of the marriage certificate, proof that their spouse is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. They have to prove that their spouse is in Canada, so a copy of a (Canadian) drivers’ license,” Norton says.

If a US citizen is trying to visit a common-law spouse, they need to prove they’ve lived together for at least a year.

Discretionary travel forbidden

US citizens are not allowed into Canada for “discretionary travel,” which includes hikes, birthday parties, boating across the border, picking up a pet or opening a summer house.

Hiking, boating and other discretionary travel in Canada is not accessible to US travelers at this time.

“Between March 22 and July 1, a total of 10,104 foreign nationals were denied entry into Canada from the US as a result of their purpose of travel being deemed to be discretionary,” Jacqueline Callin of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) told CNN Travel in an email. “Of the 10,104, 8,815 were US citizens and 1,289 were citizens of other countries arriving from the US.”

The individual CBSA agent at either the airport or land crossing makes the final call about whether someone can enter Canada. The agent will ask you about your health and may send you over to a public health official to do more screening for the coronavirus (in recent weeks more Canadian public health workers have been dispatched to busy border crossings to help check people for Covid-19).

If you show any signs or symptoms of Covid-19, you will be turned back.

The agent will ask you for proof that your travel is indeed “essential” and that you have a plan to go somewhere directly (a hotel, or family member’s house) and quarantine for 14 days.

The agent will get your contact information and send you on your way with a handout explaining the quarantine instructions.

“The CBSA people expect travelers to speak to their quarantine plan,” says Norton. “Exactly where they will be staying, how they will be getting to their place of quarantine, ideally that’s in a private vehicle. They have to travel directly from the port of entry to the place of quarantine and they have to stay there for the 14 days and can’t leave for any reason.”

Travelers also need to explain how they will get groceries and other necessities, such as having an Airbnb host drop provisions on the porch. Norton has seen cases where CBSA calls the Airbnb host to confirm.

Rules and regulations

“There are some compassionate reasons for people to be permitted to travel. They just have to follow the quarantine once they reach their destination,” RCMP Cpl. Deanna Fontaine told CNN Travel. “If they’ve been permitted to travel to visit family, they have to quarantine and they have to physically distance en route and things like that.”

Banff, a popular tourist destination for US travelers, has seen a few Americans traveling about. Mounties, however, are able to fine people found breaking the rules.

If you don’t follow the rules, it could get expensive. A handful of hikers and a couple touring around Ontario were fined between $1,000 to $1,200 CDN each (still hefty once converted to USD, about $737 and $858 respectively).

The Mounties could also impound vehicles and send people to a special quarantine hotel on their own dime.

“We did see an increase in the number of US travelers coming through and making stops and not following the direction of Canada Border Service Agency which in and of itself is not acceptable,” says Fontaine. Issuing a flurry of tickets seems to have helped reduce “the number of instances where American travelers have tried to bend the rules.”

In the last few weeks, the Mounties have taken calls from concerned citizens and at least one hotel in Banff reporting Americans out and about.

In one case it was Canadians driving a rental car that had US plates. In another it was an American who had been living in Banff prior to the pandemic.

“I think the traveling public are concerned about where everyone’s coming from these days,” says Reeder, of TAIT. “If you’re coming over from stateside right now, for completely discretionary, non-essential travel, everyone becomes a bit more curious as to why you might be in town.”

But Reeder gives rogue travelers the benefit of the doubt. “I think there could be some people that blindly feel that because they’ve done the right thing in their home state or province, that provides clearance for them to come in unchecked into other areas.”