Canadians are flocking to US border cities to take advantage of a travel loophole – and it’s creating lucrative opportunities on both sides of the closed border

Welcome to Canada sign
A “Welcome to Canada” sign at the US-Canada border.

  • Canadian tourists are driving up business in US border towns to avoid strict quarantines in Canada.
  • Those arriving in Canada by land can save as much as $2,000 (Canadian) by not having to quarantine in a hotel.
  • Transportation firms in cities like Buffalo, New York, are reaping the benefits with costly fares.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Canadian tourists are once again stimulating the economies of American border cities and bringing back the “Buffalo shuffle” despite the border between the two countries remaining closed to non-essential travel.

Transportation companies in Buffalo, New York, are experiencing a long-awaited boom in business by catering to Canadians heading north, CBC is reporting, and the reason is a loophole that allows them to avoid mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantines when arriving back home.

Recently enacted travel restrictions in Canada require that residents returning by air quarantine in a hotel at their expense, up to $2,000 (Canadian), according to CBC. Canadians traveling across the land border, however, need only submit to a home quarantine while undergoing extensive testing for the coronavirus, in addition to providing a recent negative test to border guards.

Buffalo is one outpost that’s seen an uptick in Canadian visitors, but not directly from Canada. Visitors from the north have been arriving by air from parts of the US and making the last stretch of their journey home by land, crossing the world’s longest border by car.

One transportation company, Buffalo Limousine, told CBC that it transports an average of 50 Canadians per day and business has increased by 50%. The pandemic nearly decimated the company, along with countless businesses that relied on Canadian customers.

A Buffalo Limousine trip from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport across the border to Fort Erie, Ontario costs around $120 one-way for the 17-mile trip, CBC said.

Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York
The Peace Bridge connects Buffalo, New York with Fort Erie, Ontario.

Public transportation options before the pandemic included Megabus Canada and Amtrak, which took passengers from Buffalo to Toronto with stops along the way. Both have stopped cross-border services during the pandemic, according to their websites.

Reviving the Buffalo shuffle

Prior to the pandemic, America’s neighbor to the north was more than willing to cross the southern border to save on everything from gasoline to airfare. Canadian visa holders also frequently visited the now-closed Consulate General of Canada in downtown Buffalo in order to apply for certain extensions that could only be done outside of the country, a trip known as the Buffalo shuffle.

But the US-Canada land border has been closed to non-essential travel since March as part of a mutual agreement between governments to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The US and Mexico have a similar agreement, though Americans can cross into Mexico with abandon thanks to the Latin American country’s lax entry and exit rules.

Ironically, US border restrictions prevent Canadians that aren’t also American citizens from entering by land so flying is the only option for many to enter the Land of the Free. A winter visitor to the US, for example, would have to fly from Canada to the US and then fly to a border town like Buffalo to drive back in to avoid quarantine.

The rules have created another niche industry in Canada that supplies short, cross-border flights so Canadians can take advantage of the loophole. CBC reported in February that many Canadians continued to flock to the US even after their government had enacted stricter travel restrictions, and one company even started offering international helicopter flights.

Great Lakes Helicopters operates 28-mile flights from St. Catharines, Ontario, near Niagara Falls to Buffalo, which costs $1,500 (Canadian) plus tax, according to its website. Canadians can even drive to St. Catharines and have the company ship their cars across the border – cross-border trucking has not stopped during the pandemic – for between $700 and $1,600 (Canadian), depending on the size of the car.

Robinson R44 Helicopter
A Robinson R44 helicopter similar to the one used by Great Lakes Helicopters.

But temporarily gone are the days of Canadians driving across the border to an airport like Buffalo-Niagara International, Ogdensburg International, or Bellingham International, to avoid paying the high taxes levied on international flights from Canada to the US. Major airlines have largely pulled out of border airports during the pandemic, as a result of the border closure.

Allegiant Air packed up from Ogdensburg, New York, billed as an alternative to Canada’s capital of Ottawa just 60 miles to the north, according to 7 News. Plattsburgh International Airport in New York, an alternate to nearby Montreal, and Niagara Falls International Airport, an alternate to nearby Toronto, also saw some flights disappear during the pandemic, according to the Press-Republican and the Buffalo News.

But Southwest Airlines is preparing for the eventual easing of border restrictions and announced service to Bellingham, Washington, slated to launch sometime in 2021. Bellingham is just south of Vancouver and could attract British Columbia residents seeking to head to points south on the cheap.

Canadians seem eager to flee to the US by any means necessary, in contrast to the pandemic’s peak when Americans were shunned from Canada. Cars with American license plates in Canada were keyed and even flipped by some locals.

The US is vastly outperforming Canada in vaccinations per 100 people, according to the New York Times, and the mutual decision to keep the border closed will ultimately depend on how comfortable Ottawa is in allowing cross-border travel along its southern frontier once more.

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Iceland is officially opening to vaccinated American tourists and its national airline is rushing to launch cheap flights from the US to attract visitors

Iceland is opening to vaccinated American tourists.

  • Icelandair is rebuilding its US route network as Iceland opens to vaccinated tourists.
  • Regular flights to Boston, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C. are scheduled for May.
  • Americans need only their paper vaccination card to enter the country.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The summer of vaccinated travel now includes Iceland as a potential destination for Americans.

Starting April 6, vaccinated travelers from the US will be allowed into Iceland with just their paper vaccination certificate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the first European country to open its doors to Americans with no testing or quarantine required for visitors upon arrival, creating a potential boom for tourism and the country’s national airline.

Icelandair is already ramping up its US network by resuming regular service to five American cities in May, in addition to its current service to Boston. New York, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C. are slated to be the first to receive the non-stop flights again after a nearly year-long pause for many.

Birna Osk Einarsdottir, Icelandair’s chief commercial officer, is “optimistic,” that the airline will return to its full slate of planned US destinations for 2021 in June, just in time for the summer travel season. Service to Portland, Oregon has already been scheduled for July 1, and flights to destinations including Orlando, Florida are planned for the summer.

“The plan is, of course, to return to full strength as soon as possible in the US, our largest market, but realistically, it might take 2-3 years for the route network to be back to 2019 size,” Einarsdottir told Insider.

Pent-up demand also isn’t driving up Icelandair’s prices too high as the country reopens. A new fare sale is promising round-trip prices as low as $349 in a bid to quickly drum up tourism. The airline is also waiving change fees to give flyers greater flexibility when traveling.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Iceland doesn’t currently require a “vaccine passport” for travel and travelers can enter with just their paper vaccination certificates. But some of Icelandair’s destination countries, including those in the EU, have expressed a desire to implement the standardized protocol and the airline is ready to begin accepting them.

“It would be extremely good for travel to restart if we could join forces in that and find a common mechanism for this,” Einarsdottir said.

The word is out about Iceland and its flag carrier isn’t the only airline trying to get tourists to visit the Land of Fire and Ice. Delta Air Lines is similarly restarting Iceland services on the heels of the country’s reopening. Existing routes to Reykjavik from New York and Minneapolis are scheduled to resume in May, along with a new route from Boston.

American travelers have successfully been entering the country since March 18, when Iceland first began accepting inculcated visitors. Andy Luten, one of the first American tourists to enter Iceland under the new rules, told Insider in March that entering the country was surprisingly easy, despite the ongoing pandemic.

But while vaccinated American visitors can visit with ease, Iceland won’t be the stepping stone to mainland Europe as it once was. American citizens without residency or citizenship in a Schengen Area country won’t be allowed to travel further into Europe than Iceland, at least until the US and European Union ease their mutual travel restrictions

“Until then – welcome to Iceland!” Einarsdottir said.

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Icelandair is warning travelers they can’t use the country as a backdoor into Europe

Europe is not open to Americans.

  • Iceland is opening to vaccinated American tourists, one of the first European countries to do so.
  • Americans without residency in the Schengen Area, however, can’t travel onward to Europe.
  • Travel between Iceland and many European countries was once as easy as traveling between US states.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The nation of Iceland is opening to vaccinated American travelers but that’s as close to Western Europe as many US citizens will get, for now.

Icelandair, the country’s flag carrier airline, is warning Americans that they will not be allowed to fly the airline to other European nations from Iceland, even though Iceland is in the European free movement area known as the Schengen Area.

“Iceland is welcoming vaccinated visitors from outside the Schengen zone, but further travel from Iceland to the rest of Europe is currently not permitted for non-Schengen residents,” Icelandair’s website states.

There are some exceptions as Croatia remains open to Americans the arrive with a negative COVID-19 test, according to the US Embassy in Croatia, and Malta will let in Americans that have spent at least two weeks in an approved country, according to the US Embassy in Malta, of which Iceland is one.

The Schengen Area is the reason travelers can move between most European countries without going through border checks each time. Similar to going from state to state in the US, a traveler could theoretically drive from Portugal to Estonia’s border with Russia and not have to produce a passport when crossing the multiple national borders along the way.

Countries can, however, temporarily enact border controls in response to extraordinary circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic saw temporary border controls enacted across the continent as nations went under lockdown.

Iceland’s membership in Schengen has greatly benefited transatlantic travelers by reducing the time spent at passport control upon arrival in mainland Europe. Travelers from North America clear passport control at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport when bound for another Schengen country and their next flight is treated as a domestic flight.

So for vaccinated travelers wondering if they can enter Europe from Iceland, the answer is no. At least for now, Europe is largely closed to Americans as America is to Europeans.

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One of the first American tourists back in Iceland reveals what he went through to enter the country under its new entry rules for vaccinated travelers

Iceland is open to vaccinated Americans.

  • Iceland is now letting in vaccinated Americans as of March 18, and all that’s required is the paper card.
  • Andy Luten was one of the first American tourists to visit Iceland in over a year.
  • Luten described entering the country as “nonchalant” as he easily cleared Icelandic border control.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Just 45 minutes after he heard the news that Iceland was opening to Americans, Andy Luten had a ticket booked on one of the next flights to Reykjavik.

Iceland became one of the first European countries to open to US tourists when on March 18 it began allowing vaccinated travelers to enter the country. The rules, at first, were murky and many weren’t sure if the paper Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card given to Americans would be accepted as proof of vaccination to enter Iceland under the new rules.

But Luten took a microscope to the rules and was confident enough in its wording to book his last-minute ticket. The pandemic had largely grounded Luten, a client management director in the financial services industry and founder of Andy’s Travel Blog, who had been known for his sporadic trips to distant locales on short notice.

“I’m the guy who, once, I was making plans with some friends for a Friday night in like 2016 or something and well, the plans changed so, I’m going to Hong Kong,” Luten told Insider.

Luten hadn’t seriously considered international travel during the pandemic despite the options open to him and other Americans. A Texas resident, nearby Mexico had stayed open during the pandemic and even European countries like Croatia and Serbia had been letting in Americans.

“I love Croatia but for some reason, Iceland just felt right,” Luten said, noting his feel test had deterred him from booking international trips during the pandemic.

The first stop on Luten’s Icelandic adventure was Boston, where Icelandair has consolidated its US operations with two flights per week. All three major US international airlines and Icelandair had offered non-stop flights to Iceland from cities across the US before the pandemic, including Luten’s hometown of Dallas, but those had been scrapped once the borders closed.

Checking in at Boston Logan International Airport was the first hurdle Luten had to clear. “I went to Logan and checked in with the [Icelandair agent] and when he was like ‘what’s your documentation getting you to Iceland,’ I just held up the CDC card,” Luten said.

It was the first time the agent had seen an American traveling with just the paper card. Icelandair couldn’t give Luten a definitive answer on whether the country would accept the card, with the agent simply stating, “as far as I know, it’s going to work.”

The first hurdle complete, Luten boarded the Boeing 767-300ER bound for the Land of Fire Ice and settled in for the quick five-hour journey to Europe, the first transatlantic journey he’d taken in over a year. Even if he didn’t get into Iceland, Luten explained, he’d at least have a story to tell about how he got kicked out of the country.

“The beautiful part about being a writer is that nothing really ends with you because you get to write about it,” Luten said, paraphrasing writer David Sedaris. “And I thought to myself, ‘if this works out, I’m going to end up in Iceland. If it doesn’t work out, I’m going to end up with a really good story.'”

Luten’s flight mate happened to be a former Icelandair executive that was similarly traveling with a CDC vaccination card. “You’ll be fine,” he told Luten.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Landing at Keflavik International Airport, 30 miles from Reykjavik, was pretty routine, according to Luten, who had been to Iceland twice prior. Despite being a major transatlantic transit hub between North America and Europe, the airport is quite easy to navigate even for a first-time visitor.

Following the lead of his Icelandic speaking flight mate, Luten was guided to the line for vaccinated travelers and the only thing standing between him and Iceland was a border officer. Luten approached the desk and handed over his passport, vaccination card, and the barcode from a pre-registration that’s now required to enter Iceland.

Within minutes, Luten was granted access to the country, and going through passport control was easier than he could’ve expected with no vaccine passport required.

“It was the most nonchalant thing ever,” Luten said, “nobody asked me a single thing about anything.”

Once he was in the country, Luten didn’t have to submit to any additional testing or quarantine. The vaccination certificate was his golden ticket to explore Iceland.

Luten soon discovered that he had visited at the perfect time as a volcano erupted on the island shortly after his arrival. All the natural attractions that were once plagued by tourists were also empty, allowing Luten to chase Icelandic waterfalls at his leisure.

“From a tourism standpoint, there has never been a better time to go to Iceland than right now,” Luten said.

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It’s not just Ted Cruz, Americans have been escaping to Mexico since the beginning of pandemic – here’s why

Cancun, Mexico is one of the few international tourist destinations still open to Americans.

  • Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was embroiled in a scandal last week after fleeing the cold for Cancun, Mexico.
  • Americans have been flying to Mexico during the pandemic thanks to cheap flights and lax entry requirements. 
  • A negative COVID-19 test is not required to enter Mexico but the CDC requires one to enter the US.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Ted Cruz made headlines last week when the junior senator from Texas was spotted flying to Cancun, Mexico, while his home state was battling a crippling winter storm. 

A quick weekend trip with family and friends quickly became a political scandal as Cruz had planned to stay abroad for multiple days instead of returning right back to Texas, where millions of his constituents struggled without power and water. The senator promptly changed his flight and returned home after being discovered. But Cruz was not the first American seeking to escape the harsh realities of daily life during the pandemic by traveling to Mexico, and he won’t be the last. 

US citizens flying south of the border for vacation has been a common practice since the early days of the health crisis, despite all the warnings against non-essential travel. 

One of the few countries open to Americans

The onset of the pandemic saw most nations take the drastic step of closing their borders to the world, with countless remaining closed today. As of late November, an Insider investigation found that less than 100 countries had reopened their borders to Americans and some had instituted strict parameters for travelers, including a negative COVID-19 test taken before departure and upon arrival.

But even as the US, Mexico, and Canada agreed to close their shared land borders to non-essential travel at the pandemic’s peak, a loophole continues to allow air travelers to cross both borders. Travelers arriving in Canada are faced with a quarantine and testing requirement while those bound for Mexico do not have to endure either, opening travel opportunities to the latter. 

For the most part, Americans never experienced a lack of air travel options to Mexico even as the pandemic shuttered countless global air links and the land border remained closed throughout. 

No COVID-19 testing required

Traveling to Mexico during the pandemic is actually easier than traveling between some American states. In New York, for example, most arriving travelers must produce a recent negative COVID-19 test to avoid the state’s mandatory quarantine, with National Guardsmen even patrolling some New York airports and stopping passengers at their arrival gate to ensure compliance. 

No such arrangement exists in Mexico, a country largely dependent on American tourism for revenue. Health screenings may be performed upon arrival in certain circumstances, according to the US Embassy in Mexico, but Americans need not produce a negative test as a prerequisite for entry into Mexico. 

Ryan Ewing, the founder and president of the aviation news website AirlineGeeks, traveled to Mexico twice during the pandemic with no issues getting in or out. 

“Mexico was a safe vacation spot for me,” Ewing, who flew to Mexico in July and December, told Insider. “Access was easy and straightforward with a small health form to fill out and no additional quarantine measures, unlike some U.S. states which require stringent testing measures.”

The US Embassy says the additional health checks may include a temperature screening and passengers showing symptoms may be required to quarantine. 

Cheap flights galore

Air travel has seen a drop in demand that rivals the worst economic periods in American history, leading to some seriously low prices for airfare. Those needing to take to the skies have likely been paying some of the lowest rates in their lifetime on normally expensive routes, especially those to Mexico. 

As Scott Keyes, founder of the flight deal website Scott’s Cheap Flights, noted on Twitter, a last-minute flight from Cancun to Houston on United, the same routing and airline as Cruz, could be had for as little as $101 on the day of the senator’s return.

With rates like that, it’s no surprise that Cruz found himself without a complimentary upgrade to business class as a United Airlines elite status holder. 

Airlines have been shifting their focus to leisure destinations and have often been dropping the price of tickets to encourage travel, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against non-essential travel. Non-stop flights from New York to Cancun can be found for as low as $130 one-way and from Los Angeles as low as $106, at the time of writing. 

A breakdown of a similarly priced $102.11 fare from Cancun to Houston for February 22 on United shows the airline is only bringing in around $30 in airfare while the rest is taxes and fees that go to the US and Mexican governments. 

A United Airlines flight to Cancun, Mexico
A United Airlines flight to Cancun, Mexico.

What airlines lose in airfare, however, they hope to make up for by selling extras. The $102 basic economy fare doesn’t include items like checked baggage allowance, advance seat assignments, and other ancillary products that airlines want to sell as the revenue generated isn’t taxed. 

New CDC testing requirements force travelers to adjust plans

The CDC, however, began requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test for entry into the US in late January to prevent the importation of the virus from abroad. Inbound arrivals, including American citizens, now need to show they tested negative for the virus within the three calendar days leading up to their US-bound flight. 

The requirement has affected airlines flying to international leisure destinations, including Mexico.

“The demand trends have not really changed much in most places, including overseas,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, said in a recent earnings call in response to a question about the CDC’s order. “Where they have changed is in the Mexican beach resort destinations and certain Caribbean resort destinations.”

Some foreign resorts and hotels, as a result, now offer COVID-19 testing to help travelers easily secure a test in compliance with the new rules, as Insider’s Brittany Chang outlined in January

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Israel is freezing flights in and out of the country to slow the spread of COVID-19 strains

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, June 14, 2020. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting

  • Israel will ban inbound and outbound flights by foreign airlines to slow the spread of COVID-19 strains.
  • Haaretz reported the freeze will take effect early Tuesday morning and last until January 31. 
  • Emergency medical flights, firefighting planes, and legal travel will be permitted, according to the report.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Israel will ban foreign airlines from flying in and out of the country until January 31 to curtail the spread of new COVID-19 strains.

The country’s cabinet on Sunday approved plans to freeze flights starting at midnight between Monday and Tuesday, Haaretz reported Sunday. Flights leaving the country will only be approved in rare instances. Firefighting planes, emergency medical flights, and cargo aircraft won’t be affected by the policy. Domestic airlines will also face some new restrictions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the new travel policy, saying in a government meeting “no nation has done what we are about to do,” according to Haaretz.

“We are hermetically sealing the country,” he added.

Read more: More than 200 coronavirus vaccines are still in development as the initial vaccine rollout ramps up. Here’s how experts anticipate 2021 playing out.

While several countries have reinstated travel restrictions to slow the virus’s spread, Israel’s latest motion is among the strictest actions yet. Many countries are now requiring passengers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before flying internationally.

Flights leaving Israel for legal or medical reasons will be permitted, as will those for family funerals or relocations. Travel for personal or humanitarian needs will require approval by the government’s directors-general of health and transportation, Haaretz reported.

The flight halt also marks the first time that Jewish people won’t be able to immigrate to Israel unless it’s “a matter of life or death,” transportation minister Miri Regev reportedly said in the meeting.

The harsher travel restrictions come as new variants of COVID-19 rapidly spread around the world. A new, more contagious strain that originated in the United Kingdom has already affected several in Israel and could fuel a new wave of cases. The country’s Health Ministry said Saturday that six out of seven hospitalized pregnant women were found to have been infected with the UK strain.

Separately, one of Israel’s biggest health insurers recently warned of the variant’s spread. Leumit Health Maintenance Office CEO Haim Fernandes said last week that up to half of its tested members had caught the UK strain, Haaretz reported.

Israel reported 4,933 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Since the pandemic’s onset last year, the country has seen more than 4,300 virus-related deaths.

Read more: From abortion care to LGBTQ rights, here’s how Joe Biden is prepared to tear up Donald Trump’s restrictive gender policies

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