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What It’s Like as a Canadian-American During the COVID Border Closure


August 13, 2021

This weekend, it’s my dad’s birthday. His health has rapidly deteriorated since the beginning of the pandemic and my heart breaks every single day that I can’t be there to help my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law.


Why can’t I be there? Well, I am a dual citizen–a Canadian living in the U.S.–and the border battle has me trapped.

Let me explain.

I grew up just outside of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the southernmost city in the country. Across the river is Detroit, Michigan, United States, and, as many people in border cities do, we spent a considerable amount of time there. My brother, dad and I all went to school in the States, my mom worked in Detroit for a period of time and just about every Sunday growing up, my parents and I would cross the border to go to car shows, shop and eat out.

I was living in Los Angeles when 9/11 shut down the international border for a few weeks. Some of my friends, who lived in Windsor but worked in Detroit, lost their jobs (this was way before remote work was a thing). But, the border soon opened and although restrictions were tighter, regular life resumed.

When COVID stopped the world in its tracks, we had no idea what we were in for. We had just celebrated my youngest’s 5th birthday with family and friends and were getting ready to take the girls to Copenhagen for spring break. My mom was scheduled to come over to watch our dog, as she often did for us. When the border shut down, we weren’t prepared for what was to come.

Quarantine Rules

My girls and I are all dual citizens of the U.S. and Canada, something that’s not uncommon where we live–even my oldest’s orthodontist is a dual citizen, having grown up not too far from me. So, technically, we had a right to be in both countries. But, with Canada’s strict two-week quarantine requirements away from anyone over the age of 65 (i.e. my parents), we just keep hoping that, on the 21st of each month when its leaders would re-evaluate the closure, they would decide to re-open.

Well, six months later, growing impatient at not seeing my family and my girls missing their grandparents, I started looking for quarantine locations. The problem? No one wanted to rent their Airbnbs to Americans because of the well-publicized death rates in the States and only two hotels would allow Americans–at a premium rate. I had heard stories of American’s cars getting keyed in Canada and the police called on them, so, honestly, I was terrified of putting myself and the girls in that situation.

When the girls’ school went virtual again at Halloween, I seized the opportunity to rent a vacation cottage from a family member of one of my daughter’s friends. Read all about the quarantine here. I spent A LOT of money, just for us to sit in a stranger’s house for two weeks in order to see my parents, brother and sister-in-law for a few days. But it was worth it to know that we were all healthy and COVID-free. It was just frustrating to know that Canadian friends of mine who were working in the States could come and go freely without quarantining and I spent a couple of grand and almost three weeks away from my husband (a non-Canadian citizen).

Changing Border Restrictions

In May, dad’s situation started to get worse, so I made plans to go, by myself. The rules had changed, yet again, so in addition to having a negative PCR test and quarantine plan, I was given two COVID test boxes at the border, told to make an appointment for tele-health so they could watch me administer the COVID test myself and then leave the package outside my door for an overnight delivery service to pick up. At this point, I was incredibly frustrated because that sure seemed like a lot of money spent by the Canadian government when not everyone over the age of 50 had access to vaccinations yet.

This time, fully vaccinated, I opted to stay in my parents’ finished basement. Without the kids, it didn’t really matter that I wouldn’t have access to the outside. My mom cooked meals and left them at the door and I just worked away downstairs.

After four or five days, though, the kids were missing me and my youngest got hurt playing at school, so I checked the requirements to leave and found that, as a dual citizen, I could leave quarantine at any time if I left by my own personal vehicle and exited the country immediately. That wasn’t too hard to do since my parents live seven minutes from the border.

So, I emailed and called the Canadian government 13 times to report that I’d left. And guess what? Two days after I returned to the U.S., they sent a government official to my parents’ house looking for me because I had missed a random check-in call. Yep. AFTER I reported (and border records showed) that I had left the country. Unreal.

So, the Border’s Open Now, Right?

Although everyone thinks, “Hey, the border’s open….you can go visit now,” it’s not that cut and dry. The U.S. hasn’t opened the land border yet to vaccinated Canadians (which absolutely boggles my mind), so my family can’t come here unless they want to spend thousands of dollars and a full day of air travel in order to get 52 MILES from their houses to ours.
American insurance is no longer covering PCR tests for travel, which we just found out late yesterday after hours of calls and stop-ins to five clinics, so a family of four has to pay close to $800 to go visit loved ones 45 minutes over the border (although Canadian friends here in the States: I just found a more affordable option, if you need it, but it’s a 72-hour turnaround, not 24).
For those who didn’t grow up in or who don’t live in a border city, you have no idea what life was like before COVID, so it’s easy for people to say, “Keep the border closed.” My parents would come over for lunch every Sunday. If one of the girls was sick and had to stay home, my mom would scoot over to watch them so my husband and I wouldn’t have to take PTO. Want to go out to celebrate dad’s birthday (which we were supposed to do this weekend)? No problem…which city do we want to celebrate in and we’ll meet up there?
I’m all for being safe and following the rules, but no one seems to know exactly what the rules are–especially when it comes to dual citizens and land borders–or when they’re going to change, and every time we get a step closer, something (like insane PCR fees) holds us back.
At this point, I’m about to fly my mom to another country to meet up with her there. I mean, it was 1,000x easier for my husband and I to go to Iceland in July than it is to get back to my home country, a short drive away. Even the PCR test in Iceland only cost us $50 and took, I kid you not, 77 seconds flat–I timed it.
Or, hey, if a Canadian school wants to hire my agency to do your marketing, at least I can get home since workers are allowed to come back and forth each day (we are NEXUS holders, too!).
This is a long rant, but if you’re able to see your family–take advantage of it. Imagine that they’re literally a 45-minute drive away, but you can’t see them, hug them or spend time with them–any of them. You can’t even drop off presents or cards (the last small box I sent home cost me $120 USD in duty and fees), drop off baked goods or just swing by to check on them. Your kids can’t see or hug (masked, of course) their grandparents or aunts and uncles. You can’t just stop in your favorite childhood restaurant for a comforting ice cream sundae during this stressful time.
Yes, it is SO important to stay safe and do your part, but for many of us, who are fortunate to still have parents living, every day we aren’t allowed to see them is a day wasted. So, please understand our sadness and even jealousy when you can have family gatherings and it’s not that easy for those of us separated by a border…

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