From grandparents waiting to hold new babies for the first time to holiday travelers desperate to enjoy a summer vacation, Americans lined up in their cars at 26 border crossings between the U.S. and Canada on Monday, as Canada finally opened to fully vaccinated American tourists for non-essential travel for the first time since March 2020. The U.S. border remains closed to vaccinated Canadians until at least August 21, however.
U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents must be both fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19 within three days to get across the border.
The news could not come soon enough for the operators of the duty free border stores along both sides of the border, many of which had to close down completely as the cross-border traffic halted for 16 months. Even crossings that were open to “essential traffic” saw business plummet as much as 95%.
While it is too early to determine how many leisure travelers have crossed at this time—most will not be able to shop in the duty free stores until they return to the U.S.
Best sales day since pandemic
Mike Maskery, Manager/Liquor & Tobacco Category Manager at Ambassador Bridge Duty Free Store, told TMI that he saw a lot of cars coming into Canada all day Monday and Tuesday, “I’m assuming that they are staying in Canada for a few days, and they are not day trippers. We’ll probably see them towards the end of the week, or the weekend,” he noted.
Even as he waits for the return U.S.-bound travelers, Maskery reports that Monday was the store’s best sales day since the pandemic began, mostly due to regular customers who were not able to visit the store for the past 16 months.
“We carry some brands of spirits that are not available in the U.S. and think these customers came over just to shop in our store,” he said. “Our store has an ongoing promotion where we will reimburse our customers if they get charged U.S. Customs duty if they buy over the duty free limit. The duty is actually very minimal.”
By Tuesday, sales were back to the pandemic level, however, he said.
Denis Vinette of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) told USAToday that the agency expects a 10% to 25% increase in vehicles trying to cross the border once restrictions eased Monday, which would be just 20% or so of pre-pandemic levels.
Despite lower traffic than in pre-pandemic days, long delays were reported at some land border crossings on Monday, as officials checked vaccination documentation.
Wait times to enter Canada varied widely by location.
According to the CBSA website, TMI found that by 5 pm EDT on Monday most border crossings had little or no delay for commercial traffic, but the Fort Frances, Ontario, and International Falls, Minnesota, crossing had a seven-hour delay for passenger cars.
Twelve of the 26 crossings on the website showed no delays, and another five crossings had delays between five and 30 minutes, including such major sites as the Peace Bridge (9 minutes) and the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel (25 minutes).
A few others, including Sault St. Marie, saw delays of around two hours. Several crossings in Ontario and New Brunswick – between the states of New York and Maine – had waits of three hours.
TMI will have more information on the impact of the opening of the border on Canada’s duty free stores next week.
In a note of caution, Canada’s partial reopening comes just as new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States hit a six-month high.