What It’s Like To Travel In British Columbia Right Now

It didn’t take long into my 10-day trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, to realize that traveling to Canada and traveling in Canada are two entirely different experiences in the time of COVID-19.

Because, while the process to get into Canada turned out to be a bit complex, traveling within British Columbia again was pure enjoyment.

Vancouver Island - Victoria Fisherman's Wharf
Victoria Fisherman’s Wharf on Vancouver Island (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

During my long-awaited visit to Canada from my home in Arizona in September 2021, I spent my days reveling in the big ocean views bordered by Vancouver’s shining skyline, strolling along the city’s seaside paths during blue-sky days and warm evenings, and dining on fresh and succulent seafood on gorgeous Vancouver Island.

Although a number of COVID restrictions were in effect, that did not seem to deter business in British Columbia’s restaurants, shops, and light rail. Everywhere I went, restaurants were full, stores were bustling, and public transportation was running frequently.

Yes, it was great to be back in Canada’s lovely west coast province of British Columbia once again. And for me, that opportunity more than made up for the multi-step process that I had to go through to get into Canada.

Gastown Steam Clock in Downtown Vancouver.
Downtown Vancouver (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

Canada’s Entry Requirements

I knew going in that the Canadian COVID-19 requirements would be somewhat stringent. When Canada opened up its border to U.S. travelers again in August 2021, it was exclusively for fully vaccinated travelers who had tested negative for COVID within the past 72 hours.

Even with the restrictions, I was motivated. Because of the long-term closure of the U.S./Canada border for COVID in 2020 and 2021, this would be my first time seeing my son and daughter-in-law, who live in Vancouver, in more than a year and a half, and I was determined to make it happen as soon as the border opened.

Although I had the vaccination requirement covered with the Moderna vaccine that I had received back in February 2021, I encountered a glitch in the COVID testing requirement when I mistakenly scheduled a test that was an antigen COVID test and not the PCR (molecular) test required by Canada. That mistake had me scrambling to find a PCR test at the last minute, and I ended up scheduling a test at an express testing site at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport at a cost of $250.

Thankfully, my result was again negative, and I was ready to submit my COVID data.

My takeaway on testing: Be sure to confirm that you’re getting the PCR (molecular) COVID test when traveling to Canada. The type of test matters.

ArriveCAN App

Canada requires international visitors to submit pre-travel information in an online format, and I found that process to be fairly simple and straightforward. I used the ArriveCAN app on my iPhone, and I was prompted smoothly through a series of questions about my vaccination status, COVID testing results, and basic travel information. It took me about 15 minutes to complete.

Almost immediately, I received an email notification with a receipt reference code. Note that it pays to keep that reference code handy because I was asked to show it numerous times as I was checking in for my flight, as well as when I arrived in Canada.

Pro Tip: You might also be required to submit pre-flight COVID information to your airline. United Airlines notified me by email a few days before my flight that I needed to be travel ready. That verification process was similar to the ArriveCan process.

Vancouver International Airport
Cindy Barks

Arriving In Canada

When I arrived at Vancouver International Airport, I went through the usual customs process, using a convenient computerized kiosk to enter all of my information and be photographed.

After I moved on to show all of my documentation to a Canadian customs agent, I expected to be cleared to leave the airport. But I learned I had one more COVID hurdle to cross. The agent informed me that I had been randomly selected to be tested for COVID-19 again before I could leave the airport.

After leaving customs, I was directed to a testing intake counter, where a health official took down my information again and asked to see my verification documents. I was also asked about my quarantine plans should I test positive. The agent informed me that I would later be notified by email of my COVID status, and he gave me a code to access the email.

I was then directed to a long corridor of COVID testers and had another COVID test — my third in three days.

By the next morning, I had the emailed test results — negative for COVID again!

Masks Are Required Indoors

It was immediately apparent to me that Canadians take COVID restrictions seriously, and virtually everyone seemed to be complying with British Columbia’s mask requirements. As I rode the train, browsed in the shops, and dined out in restaurants, I didn’t notice anyone flouting the restrictions.

For me, that universal compliance lent an air of confidence about entering public spaces.

A few days before my arrival on Sept. 4, British Columbia had restored rules requiring that face masks be worn in public interior spaces, including public transit, stores, and Uber vehicles.

Masks are also required in restaurants, except when you are at your table. Hosts remind customers of the rules upon entering, and many restaurants and shops also provide hand sanitizer at the entrances alongside signs asking customers to sanitize before entering.

Vancouver Waterfront - Fairmont Waterfront
Cindy Barks

Hotels were equally diligent. When I checked in at the beautiful Fairmont Waterfront, I was politely informed about all of the COVID requirements, including the mask requirements (everywhere except your room) and the policy on housekeeping (provided only if you request it).

I was happy to learn that all of the services were open at the Fairmont Waterfront, including the restaurants, health club, and the cool rooftop pool (with no need for a reservation).

Volleyball on Vancouver Kitsilano Beach.
Vancouver Kitsilano Beach (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

Masks were not required outdoors during my visit, and I noticed that most people were not wearing them while walking on sidewalks or in parks, although some were.

Shoppers collect fresh produce at Granville Island Public Market
Cindy Barks

Restaurants Are Fully Back In Business

Despite the COVID rules, Canadians were out in force during my visit. On my first weekend in Vancouver, my son and daughter-in-law and I visited the bustling Granville Island, where crowds were heavy but not overwhelming inside the popular Public Market. Most of the shops were open, and there were lines of people waiting at popular spots like Lee’s Donuts, Popina Canteen, and Longliner Seafood.

We also waited in line to get into restaurants in popular Vancouver neighborhoods like Yaletown and Kitsilano. From my observation, almost all restaurants and bars were open for business.

Boarding the Helijet helicopter on a blue sky day.
Cindy Barks

Transportation Is Up And Running

Vancouver’s super-efficient SkyTrain was also running frequently and full of passengers, as was the city’s bus system.

Ariel view of a pathway with blooming flowers at Butchart Gardens on a rainy day.
Butchart Gardens (Photo Credit: Cindy Barks)

And when we traveled to Vancouver Island by the speedy Helijet service, the helicopter was at full capacity (with everyone masked up). There were also crowds on the quaint streets of Victoria, as well as at the iconic Butchart Gardens.

Overall, it appeared to me that British Columbia is fully back in business. And people I encountered throughout my visit were quick to express their hopes that the continued diligence with the COVID protocol would allow things to stay that way.

Pro Tip: About a week into my visit, on September 13, a new provincial health order went into effect in British Columbia requiring proof of vaccination to access some events, services, and businesses. The easiest way for Americans to show the required proof is by carrying a copy of your CDC vaccine card and government-issued identification, preferably a passport.

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