OTTAWA—Upon learning the U.S. intends to reopen land border crossings in early November to fully vaccinated travelers from Canada and Mexico, Emily Pearce started planning a visit to the nearest Target store, located in upstate New York.
The Ottawa resident said for months she has been eyeing a pair of wicker nightstands that the retailer sells. Target doesn’t ship to Canada, and she can’t find anything comparable in Canada at the same price point.
Shopping trips, family reunions and vacations are back on the agenda for Canadians like Ms. Pearce now that the U.S. will allow nonessential trips by fully vaccinated travelers at crossing points along the 5,500-mile border. Local U.S. business groups believe lifting the travel restrictions will ease some of the financial burden the pandemic has imposed.
The U.S. has permitted Canadian tourists to enter the country by air, as long as they have proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken during the three days before their travel. Canadians haven’t been allowed to cross the land border for nonessential purposes. Canadian data from 2019, before the pandemic, indicate roughly three-quarters of Canadian visits to the U.S., or 32 million trips, were by car.
Ms. Pearce, who works in the agrifood industry, has traveled to the U.S. via plane for business. “I found it hard to pack a side table or a nightstand in a carry-on suitcase,” she said, adding she’s assembling a list of other goods—such as cosmetics and clothing—she anticipates picking up while in the States.
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The bulk of Canada’s population lives within driving distance of a U.S. border crossing. According to the most recent census data from Statistics Canada, roughly two-thirds of the country’s 38 million residents live within 60 miles of the land border.
Covid-19 rules have fueled frustrations and heartbreak among Canadians with family, friends and property on the other side of the border—especially after Canada opened its land borders to vaccinated U.S. tourists beginning in early August. The U.S. didn’t reciprocate.
Devon Weber moved with her son and Canadian husband in February last year to Montreal, believing drives to visit her family in New York City would be common. That was before both countries shut their land borders to tourists in March 2020.
Ms. Weber, a U.S. citizen, made the drive only once, this past June, with her toddler to visit her brother, whom she hadn’t seen in 16 months. Her husband stayed back due to border restrictions. Joining them by air wasn’t an option, she said, due to unease about potentially contracting Covid-19 at the airport or on a plane.
“Driving solo for eight hours with a toddler is a lot,” she said. Now, she is relieved her husband will be able to come along for the drive to New York for Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. “That is a huge sort of weight off my shoulders,” she said.
The U.S. Travel Association, a lobbying organization, estimates closed land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders have cost the U.S. tourism sector roughly $700 million a month. “The full reopening of international travel to the United States to fully vaccinated individuals is overdue and will provide a jolt to the U.S. economy, travel businesses large and small, and to destinations across America,” association Chief Executive
Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in northern New York state, said the easing of restrictions would help lift some of the emotional and financial strain among members.
“We cannot replace two lost summers or the long impact on families and business, but if this goes forward as indicated, we can share Christmas and welcome our Canadian travelers,” he said.
Under the Canadian government’s current rules, Canadian travelers will still need to show proof of a negative molecular Covid-19 test when they return to Canada.
The Biden administration has yet to provide a firm date as to when land crossings can start. U.S. officials said Tuesday the rule change would come into effect in early November, and is meant to coincide with new policies pertaining to air travel. Last month, the White House said it would ease a series of Covid-19 travel bans while requiring foreign nationals, including Canadians and Mexicans, to be fully vaccinated to fly into the country. At the time, officials didn’t provide any guidance on the land border.
Canada’s minister in charge of border security, Bill Blair, said he welcomed the U.S. easing of land border restrictions, and pledged to work with Washington to slow the spread of Covid-19 across the continent.
Gina Larson, who lives in Kenora, in northwestern Ontario, said she plans to drive across the border to see her American husband, Kirk Larson, at the home they share in Minnesota once the land border reopens. He has visited her in Canada since fall 2019, she said, but she hasn’t been to their Minnesota home.
“As soon as it opens it will be nice to get down there,” she said, adding she hopes to spend Thanksgiving in Minnesota. “It’s too bad it took so long to do it.”
Natalie Ward, an American citizen living in Ottawa, said she won’t face a dilemma she was dreading on Christmas this year—whether to spend Dec. 25 with her husband in the Canadian capital, or with her family in Ogdensburg, N.Y., about 60 miles away across the St. Lawrence River. Her husband, a Canadian citizen, couldn’t cross into the U.S., and Ms. Ward said health reasons prevented her immediate family from traveling.
“It’s a terrible kind of choice to have to make,” Ms. Ward said of the situation.
Martin Firestone, president of travel insurance brokerage Travel Secure Inc. in Toronto, said his office received more than 100 calls and emails on Wednesday, mostly from Canadian snowbirds making plans to drive across the border when the new policy takes effect.
He said Canadian travelers are still waiting to hear the exact date the land border will reopen, which vaccines will be accepted, and whether the U.S. will accept those who received mixed vaccine doses, as many Canadians did.
Biden administration officials said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would issue guidance for foreign nationals who have received two doses of different Covid-19 vaccines.
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