COVID-19: Impact to Travel Between the United States, Canada, and Mexico

March 25, 2020

Recent updates include temporary travel restrictions for land ports of entry to the United States, temporary restrictions on nonessential travel to Canada, and similar restrictions on entry into Mexico. These restrictions may be expanded at any time.

Temporary Travel Restrictions for Land Ports of Entry to the United States from Canada and Mexico

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that beginning March 20, 2020, through April 20, 2020, travel through land ports of entry and ferry terminals, including passenger rail along the US-Canada border and the US-Mexico border will be limited to “essential travel” only.

This restriction currently does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Those who have travelled to any of the countries covered by the temporary coronavirus (COVID-19)-related bans such as China, Iran, and the 26 European countries, in the 14 days before their scheduled arrival in the United States will not be allowed admission.

“Essential travel” includes the following:

  • US citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States
  • Individuals traveling for medical purposes (e.g., to receive medical treatment in the United States)
  • Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions
  • Individuals traveling to work in the United States (e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Canada in furtherance of such work)
  • Individuals traveling for emergency response and public health purposes (e.g., government officials or emergency responders entering the United States to support federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial government efforts to respond to COVID–19 or other emergencies);
  • Individuals engaged in lawful cross border trade (e.g., truck drivers supporting the movement of cargo between the United States and Canada)
  • Individuals engaged in official government travel or diplomatic travel
  • Members of the US Armed Forces, and the spouses and children of members of the US Armed Forces, returning to the United States
  • Individuals engaged in military related travel or operations

Individuals traveling for tourism purposes will be denied entry into the United States during this period. Supply chains, including trucking, will not be impacted by this new measure. As the situation evolves daily, employers are strongly encouraged to make immediate arrangements related to cross-border travel.

Temporary Restrictions for Entry into Canada

Due to the mutual determination that nonessential travel (such as tourism or shopping) between the United States and Canada poses additional risk of transmission and spread of COVID-19, the Canadian government has closed its air and land borders to all foreign nationals.

Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, student permit holders (as well as prospective students who have been approved for a study permit), and work permit holders, as well as any immediate family members[1] of the same are allowed to return to Canada by air or via United States or Canada border. Foreign nationals traveling from the United States who have been in the United States for at least 14 days will be able to enter Canada. Any passenger showing symptoms of the virus will not be permitted to board an airplane to Canada.

Family members do not need to be traveling together. However, the immediate family members traveling separately from the Canadian citizen/permanent resident, student or work permit holder, will have to be prepared to show evidence of the family relationship. In case of a common-law spouse, documentary evidence will need to show that the common-law spouse and the principal have lived together for at least one year.

All eligible entrants into Canada (by air and land) will be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

Those who hold work permit approvals and will be entering Canada will have a waiting period of 14 days before they can receive their Social Insurance Numbers (SIN).

Intermittent travelers between the United States and Canada will be subject to imposed self-quarantine. Therefore, it is highly recommended that intermittent travelers who are currently in Canada and whose presence is required for business purposes remain in Canada.

Travelers entering on work permit approvals will bear the burden of evidencing to the Canada Border Services Agency officer the true business need:

  • Flagpoling: the Canadian government is strongly discouraging flagpoling until further notice. Work permit holders whose permits expire within the next six months are encouraged to file their extension applications online inland.
  • Business visitors: more than ever, business visitors should carry backpocket letters that clearly outline the legitimacy of their business visit, including a detailed description of the intended business activities, evidence that the host company in Canada is still operating under the current circumstances, and dates of the visit.
  • The validity of LMIA approvals has been extended to nine months instead of six.
  • Remote work for temporary foreign workers that would normally not be permissible should not be an issue at this time.
  • All US visa services continue to be suspended throughout Canada.

Temporary Restrictions for Entry into Mexico

The definition of essential travel has been agreed upon and is in effect for travel to Mexico. Hence individuals traveling for work will likely not be barred from entry to Mexico. We await guidance from the Mexico Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will update as information is released.

While individuals traveling to work in the United States, Canada, and Mexico appear to be considered by definition “essential,” employers should reach out to their Morgan Lewis contact to check on whether the particular port of entry will allow entry for business travelers and work permit holders and/or processing for visa applications. Travelers should expect delays and inconsistent application of the travel suspension by port of entry officials. Employees may be required to shelter in place until the travel restrictions are lifted and will need to ensure compliance with relevant immigration laws.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Washington, DC
Shannon A. Donnelly
Eleanor Pelta
Eric S. Bord

Laura C. Garvin

[1] Immediate family members include the following: spouses, common-law spouses, dependent children (under the age of 22), parents/step-parents, or guardians/tutors of Canadian children. Parents/step-parents or their spouse or common-law partners’ parent or step-parent, and guardians/tutors. This definition is a bit broader than the definition of a family member in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.