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How COVID-19 Is Impacting Canada-U.S. Border Crossings

March 24, 2020

At midnight on Friday, March 20, 2020, Canada and the United States imposed border restrictions on all non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border in response to the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. The restrictions are temporary in nature and will remain in place initially until midnight on April 20, 2020, and could be extended or rescinded before that time by both parties.
Below is a summary of the essential features of the revised customs procedures affecting the importation of goods, as well as information on travel restrictions.

  • Commerce, trade and supply chains. Travel restrictions will not apply to commerce or trade, and the trade restrictions will not affect cross-border supply chains between Canada and the U.S. The travel restrictions do not also apply to air, freight rail or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada.

  • Trucking. The Canadian government has stated that trucking will not be affected by travel restrictions. However, truck drivers may be asked about travel to COVID-19 affected areas and subject to increased health questioning. To ensure admissibility into Canada and assist border officers, employers should provide letters on company letterhead confirming employment in essential trade services, while advising drivers to carry their passports, enhanced commercial drivers’ licences, customs documentation and copies of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Prime Minister Trudeau’s Statement (CBSA) statements.

  • CBSA border operations. As a result of the federal government’s work-from-home policies implemented in response to COVID-19, most CBSA personnel and support staff, except Border Services Officers, are working remotely. However, the CBSA advises that the border remains open and commercial operations are “business as usual.” In addition, the CBSA is striving to maintain its service standards for processing B2 filings, especially those requesting relief in the form of refunds or drawbacks.

  • Deadlines for correcting entries following a customs audit. On March 18, the CBSA issued Customs Notice 20-09, announcing that the 90-day deadline for submitting correcting entries following a customs audit will automatically be extended to 120 days.

  • Penalties for late accounting. On March 19, the CBSA issued Customs Notice 20-10, announcing a 45-business-day grace period for late accounting penalties. Under the Accounting for Imported Goods and Payment of Duties Regulations, importers are required to submit accounting declarations for imported goods released on minimum documentation within the required timeframes. Late accounting penalties are assessed where those timelines are not met. The 45-business-day grace period will apply to transactions released between March 11, 2020, to May 24, 2020, inclusively.

  • Optional or discretionary travel. The temporary restrictions on travel across the Canada-U.S. border mean that travellers will no longer be permitted to cross the border for optional or discretionary reasons, such as recreation, tourism, entertainment, cultural events or other non-essential reasons. Canadian and American citizens and permanent residents currently visiting the other country may still cross the border to return home.

  • Essential work and business travel. All essential work and business travel will continue unimpeded. Individuals crossing the border to go to work or for other essential services, such as medical care, will not be impacted. Further guidance on essential work and business travel has yet to be issued. However, draft guidelines indicate that students who hold valid visas, temporary foreign workers, individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel in furtherance of such work, truck drivers and others engaged in lawful cross-border trade, and any healthy people with valid work responsibilities, including health-care providers and critical infrastructure workers, will be permitted to cross the border.

The travel restrictions are the first restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border since the border was closed following the events of September 11, 2001. Since that closure, Canada and the U.S. established three trade programs that allow companies to register with both governments and establish that they have legitimate reasons to continue to cross the border during emergencies requiring restricted travel: 

  • The U.S. Customs – Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)

  • Partners in Protection (PIP)

  • Free and Secure Trade (FAST)

It is unclear what role these programs will have under the new travel restrictions. However, membership in these programs may assist companies in ensuring their cross-border activities will be unaffected by the new travel restrictions.
If you would like to learn more about the travel restrictions affecting individuals, tailored immigration and/or employment advice should be sought.

For further information, please contact:

Greg Kanargelidis       +1-416-863-4306
Brady Gordon              +1-604-631-5255
Philippe Dubois           +1-514-982-4290
or any other member of our International Trade group.

Please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre to learn more about how COVID-19 may impact your business.