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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 testing travel costs for Canadians

Even fully vaccinated travellers will need to drop hundreds of dollars on testing.
While there are great deals on flights outside of Canada, you'll want to consider the coronavirus-related travel costs before you pack your suitcase. 

While you might see some incredible deals on flights outside of Canada right now, you'll want to consider the coronavirus-related travel costs before you pack your suitcase. 

Aside from robust travel insurance, you should be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars on pre-flight COVID-19 tests. All Canadians five years of age or older must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test to return to the country. This rule applies to fully vaccinated individuals, too. Screening tests for work or travel are not covered by public health services. 

But it's not just re-entry to Canada that residents need to be concerned about. Most countries around the world require travellers to present a negative test result, regardless of vaccination status, in order to enter the country. While the rules vary around the world, it is generally safe to assume there will be a testing requirement. 

Canadians returning home have one other option in lieu of a negative result, however. They can provide proof of a previous positive test result taken between 14 and 180 days. The proof of the positive result must be from an accepted type of molecular test.

COVID-19 testing for Canadians 

PCR is the gold standard used in Canada and abroad to diagnose active COVID-19 infection in patients with symptoms.

These tests are considered acceptable molecular tests:

  • PCR - Polymerase chain reaction
  • Nucleic acid test (NAT) or Nucleic acid amplification test (NAATs)
  • Reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP)

If you're flying to Canada, you must take a molecular test within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of your flight to Canada.

Airlines will refuse boarding to travellers who are unable to provide a valid negative molecular test result or proof of a previous positive test result taken between 14 and 180 days that include:

  • If you have a connecting flight:
    • the test must be conducted within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of your last direct flight to Canada
    • you may need to schedule the test in your transit city

Due to overwhelming demand, many labs cannot guarantee a turnaround time for test results. Some testing locations may offer a "rush" option, but if the test results do not arrive on time you won't be permitted to travel. 

Metro Vancouver medical clinics offering COVID-19 travel testing

Iridia Medical, located at 1755 West Broadway in Vancouver, offers a variety of testing options for travellers and businesses, as well as people who want to know if they previously had the virus. Their travel rapid antigen test costs $126 and provides results in a mere 20 minutes. This type of test will not meet the entry requirements for many countries, however. Positive results will require a PCR test to be completed (at no additional charge). 

Most countries require a negative result from an RT-PCR NAAT test for travel, which Iridia offers for $194.25. While it takes 10 minutes to administer, results are typically processed within 20 to 30 hours. That said, the company does not guarantee when travellers will receive their results from an accredited lab.

Travellers heading to Hawaii may only receive "Hawaii-Specific documentation" if they are flying with WestJet and Air Canada; these two airlines are the only Canadian Trusted Partners of the State of Hawaii. 

Ultima Medical offers the COVID-19 RT-PCR NAAT test for travel at several locations across the Lower Mainland, including a popular clinic at the Vancouver International Airport. Travellers in the Lower Mainland will play $250 plus GST for the test while people in the Interior or on Vancouver Island pay $300 plus GST (due to the courier costs). The lab will process tests as they receive them.

Additionally, a signed requisition for an antibody test costs $50 plus GST. This service is only available at the airport. 

Lifelabs offers a number of options for testing in Shopping Drug Mart locations across the Lower Mainland. Customers must complete their FlyClear order applications online prior to visiting the locations or make an appointment.

The PCR / NAAT SWAB testing for active infection costs $150 plus tax. 

Rockdoc Vancouver Testing Centre is located at 6218 East Boulevard and offers several options for travellers who plan ahead or those who are pressed for time. For those planning in advance, the clinic will provide results from the COVID-19 RT-PCR travel test the following day for $194.24 including tax. 

For travellers who can't afford to obtain overnight results, Rockdoc also offers COVID-19 RT-PCR test results on the same day for $367.49. 

Travellers may also get the rapid antigen test for $110.24 but this test may not meet the travel requirements of the destinations they're visiting. 

For people visiting Hawaii, the company offers next-day turnaround results for $194.24 flying with Air Canada, WestJet or United Airlines (in partnership with Air Canada). 

When travellers are booking their tests overseas, costs will vary dramatically. In England, for example, next-day RT PCR results from Stansted Airport by test provider Randox cost £55, while 12-hour results cost £65 and three-hour results cost £90.

In other words, a person travelling to England and returning to Canada can expect to pay upwards of $300 with their testing requirements. 

Coronavirus: What Canadians should do before they travel 

Many countries around the world now allow fully vaccinated Canadians to skip quarantine but some are entertaining the idea of implementing an expiration date on when travellers received their vaccines.

Currently, the Government of Canada states that you should avoid all travel outside of the country until further notice due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

If you do plan to travel, make sure you check the Travel Advice and Advisories page for your destination twice: once when you are planning your trip, and again shortly before you leave.

Find out more information about international and domestic travel for B.C. residents