For months, Canadian snowbirds kept a close eye on the news, awaiting the announcement that came through on October 12—the U.S. border would reopen to non-essential travel on November 8. “I had been waiting on the go-ahead for a long time,” says Bob Ryall, a retiree who had spent every winter in Florida since 1995, until the border closure last year. “It was very strange, as well as frustrating.” But he’s headed back, planning on driving south within a week of the resumption.
Ryall will be joined by plenty more seeking sun, sand—and the open road—says Evan Rachovsky, director of research and communications for the Canadian Snowbird Association. “We estimate that approximately 90 percent of Canadian snowbirds will travel to the United States this season,” he says. Another snowbird survey showed that only about 30 percent travelled to the U.S. last year, when the only option for entry for non-essential reasons was to fly there, with some having their vehicles (including RVs) shipped across to meet them. And it’s not just retirees. A recent survey conducted by pollster Angus Reid Forum of 1,533 Canadians found that more than half (58 percent) plan to travel in the next 12 months.
But Rachovsky warns that people—including RVers—should pay close attention to the rules, which are different, depending on how you enter the country. For starters, those entering the United States in a vehicle won’t need a negative COVID test but are required to show proof of full vaccination with a jab recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). To the relief of many seeking to cross, American authorities recently updated their advice, recognizing the AstraZeneca vaccine as valid and acceptable for travel. (Distributed widely in Canada, it’s never been approved for use in the U.S.)
In addition, at least 3.9 million Canadians received two different shots, something uncommon and, for months, not recognized in the United States. As the inevitable reopening of the border approached, some feared that a significant portion of the population would be shut out. This prompted some provinces (including Quebec and British Columbia) to allow a third shot for those who needed it for travel. However, the CDC has now announced that mixed doses are okay, too—any combination of a vaccine approved either by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization (WHO) will work. And an important, additional note: if you’re flying south and renting an RV, you’ll also need a negative COVID test within three days of your departure flight.
You should get your vaccination records from provincial health authorities, and while they’re usually transmitted electronically, it’s helpful to have a paper copy printed out and carried in hand, should any technical problems arise along the way. Michelle Couch-Friedman adds one more very important point, that you must ensure that two weeks have passed since your jab, whether the second of a two-dose regimen (like Pfizer or Moderna) or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson. “Even with a vaccine card, a traveller can be rejected from entry if it has not been two weeks,” says Couch-Friedman, executive director of Elliott Advocacy, a US-based non-profit that provides travel advice to consumers.
Don’t overlook your insurance. Rachovsky advises that some policies place caps on the coverage provided for COVID-related emergencies. “Travellers shouldn’t avoid these policies,” he says, noting that it’s worthwhile to take your time and read the fine print. At a minimum, he says, a policy should provide $1 million USD in coverage. If you’re in doubt, start a conversation with your insurer about what’s included, and how much.
Beyond the paperwork, Couch-Friedman adds that those headed south may find a different world than their last visit. “There will be a bit of culture shock for Canadians driving from the border,” she says, noting that each state “is like a mini-country” when it comes to COVID. Some strictly enforce mask rules and other regulations, but many, including some of the sunniest, do not. There, “it may appear that the residents are unaware that we are in a global pandemic,” she adds, noting that you should consult the data-tracker on the CDC website in order to steer clear of COVID hotspots.
For Bob Ryall, he’s excited about returning, but plans on being very careful, choosing his outings carefully, and wearing his mask into restaurants and stores. “Definitely looking forward to going down again,” he says, looking forward to warm temperatures all winter long. “I won’t miss the weather, up here! And it will be good to see all my friends again.”
Article contributed by Tim Johnson
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