[READER QUESTION] Thoughts on PCR Tests on Arrival in Canada

There seems to be a lot of controversy regarding the PCR tests that airlines passengers must take on arrival in Canada. I was asked by one of our readers to share my thoughts on this matter. So here it is!

Arrival Testing Rules

First off, let’s go over some of the current rules and advisories in place, found on the Canadian government website:

  • COVID-19 – Global travel advisory
    • Effective December 15, 2021: Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada, regardless of your vaccination status. Omicron travel health notice
  • Who must take an arrival test if selected to do so upon arrival
    • Upon your entry to Canada by air or at a land border crossing, the border services officer may notify you that you have been randomly selected for a mandatory arrival test.
    • Requirements for children accompanying parents:
    • Fully vaccinated travellers are not exempt from mandatory randomized arrival testing.
  • Air travellers: register in advance for arrival testing
    • You may be required to get tested before exiting the airport. To speed you through the process, register in advance with the testing provider for the airport you will arrive at.


It was recently reported by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) that “About 1% of air travellers tested positive on arrival in December“. Due to the low positivity rate, airlines are seeking to end the mandatory COVID-19 testing of vaccinated passengers on arrival.

The idea is that passengers are already required to show proof of negative Covid-19 test results that was taken less than 72-hours prior to boarding their flight. In combination with a shortage of PCR tests for the rest of the country, there is an argument to be made that these valuable workers and resources should be re-allocated elsewhere in the country.


I am sure that if I asked 10 people their opinion on this matter, I will probably get 10 different opinions. I do believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so my thoughts are in no way an imposition on anyone. I always recommend to hear all sides of the story before drawing a conclusion. That being said, here are my thoughts.

I am in the view of keeping things as balanced and fair as possible for everyone. First off, I think that if someone is willing to travel at this point in time, they should have the right to do so, but at their own risk and expense. Since the rules are constantly changing at a moment’s notice, some of the risks include being stranded abroad for a period of time before being able to return to Canada. It also becomes an issue when Visas begin to expire, so travelers beware.

I do not believe that taxpayers should on the hook for paying for their PCR tests on arrival into Canada. Therefore, I believe that the current 72-hour negative test result requirement needs to stay in place, along with an additional 5-14 days of quarantining upon arrival (at a place of their choosing). I think the quarantine period is a fair compromise to having to take another test upon arrival. The quarantine period can depend on their vaccination status, which is why I put an interval. I would probably let the PHAC figure out how many days for each scenario.

I do believe that the PCR tests are better allocated elsewhere in the country. Even if they forced travelers to pay for the test, it is still a waste of resources. So it is not even about who should pay for the tests, it is more about allocating the workers and resources elsewhere to support the rest of the Canadian population.

At the end of the day, my approach does put more onus on the traveler to take necessary precautions. I think there is a fair balance between paying for a negative test result 72-hours prior to boarding, self-isolation at the place of their choosing and freedom to travel and return.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Please let us know in the comment section below!


  1. With all due respect, that is such a copout. Travelers are already paying for a test before they board. A second test is redundant and wasteful. But asking for vaccinated travelers to quarantine is not only impractical but silly considering the rate of transmission in the community is much higher than that of those arriving by air who have already been screened. Not your best analysis.

    1. Fair enough criticism. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think eventually we can drop the quarantine period, so this is a transition from dropping the mandatory testing upon arrival to quarantine only. There is already a current quarantine period while they await their test results anyway. Dropping both at the same time might not go well with everyone, which is why I said it was a compromise. Either way, I respect your opinion, you have a point.

  2. Drop the arrival testing since it is no longer relevant with community spread over 30%. The travellers have done enough already with theo outbound and inbound testing expenses/requirements along with being fully vaccinated.

  3. The current system is absurd. I was selected randomly on Monday and got my negative result an hour ago. I had to quarantine at home and had to avoid close contact with anyone other than those who had travelled with me – in this case my wife. However, she was not randomly selected, so she didn’t have to quarantine. Seems a but pointless for me to quarantine while still being allowed close contact with some who doesn’t quarantine.
    The system would work only if everyone were tested and had to quarantine until results come back. The current random selection system is absurd, and probably unconstitutional as it basically ends up being detention for days based on random selection.
    Also, we know how virulent omicron is, and we know 1-2% of travellers test positive. The massive lines at the airport for people waiting for the test are probably causing that small percentage of positive cases to spread the virus to other travellers who will then fan out across the country.
    Forcing everyone to quarantine would be ineffective since you’re just as likely to catch it at a major domestic airport as you would anywhere else in the world.
    The solution is to either massively increase resting capacity so everyone can be tested in a reasonable amount of time without compromising domestic testing, or just go back to no quarantine. Or maybe have a risk based approach that takes into account the rate of covid in the country you’re coming from as well as your vaccination status, including boosters, and then test and quarantine to riskiest 25% of travellers or whatever percent we have a reasonable ability to test.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you that random testing does seem pointless. All or nothing seems to make more sense.

  4. It’s not a random selection. I have travelled in and out of Canada multiple times throughout the pandemic… I prefer the arrival testing ANY day to forced quarantines. It gives peace of mind to having multiple confirmed negative tests. It also allows one to travel out of the country again if need be on short notice since they have a new valid negative PCR test. Coming back to Canada everyone always treats me bad so by having multiple negative tests no one can blame me for spreading COVID.

    1. The challenge I find with no quarantine is the incubation period. What if it was contracted during the flight or at the airport from people there, then arrival testing is useless too, especially considering passengers already got a negative test less than 72-hours prior.

      So it’s down to quarantine or none. But even if it there was no mandatory quarantine requirement, I think a few days discretionary honour system as a personal precaution would be appropriate in case symptoms come up. This would be the next step if mandatory quarantine is dropped.

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