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Compare COVID tests for travel

Not sure when and where to get a COVID test in Canada? Here’s what you need to know.

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There are several different forms of COVID testing that you can get in Canada for a number of different reasons.

Find out more about the 3 main types of COVID tests available and decide which one might make the most sense for your personal situation. You can also learn more about when you might need a COVID test for travel to and from Canada.

Where can I get a COVID test in Canada?

You can get a COVID-19 test at a number of different places in Canada. These include provincial COVID-19 test sites, private labs, doctor’s offices and pharmacies. You may also be able to test for COVID-19 at work or school if your institution has proper authorization to administer rapid COVID-19 tests.

The place you choose to use to test for COVID-19 will depend on factors such as what type of test you want, how quickly you need the results and how long you’re willing to wait for an appointment. You may also choose to administer a test at home with a self-testing kit.

At a glance: Examples of where to get a COVID test in Canada

Where can I get tested?How it worksSample providerType of test usedTime to process results
COVID-19 test sitesYou get swabbed on site and your samples are sent off to a lab for COVID-19 testing.Pop-up sites operated by your provinceMolecular or nucleic acid-based testing (PCR tests)1-2 days
Private labsYou get swabbed or give blood on site and your samples are sent off to a lab for testing.LifeLabs, Dynacare or Switch HealthNucleic acid-based testing (PCR tests) or serology-based testing1-2 days
Doctor’s office or pharmacyYou get tested for COVID-19 at your doctor’s office or pharmacy and they will give you the results within the hour.Shoppers Drug Mart COVID-19 testing or at your local doctor’s officeAntigen-based testing (rapid COVID-19 test)Usually under an hour
Rapid COVID-19 test sites for school or workYou get tested for COVID-19 at businesses, schools and organizations that have been authorized to administer tests.Authorized schools or workplaces that have requested rapid testing suppliesAntigen-based testing (rapid COVID-19 test)Usually under an hour
Self-administered testYou test yourself at home without the supervision of a healthcare professional.Self-testing kits can be purchased online or through a drug storeAntigen-based testing (rapid COVID-19 test)Varies

How much does a COVID test cost?

The cost to test for COVID-19 will usually vary based on why you need the test done.

  • Tests for people with COVID symptoms are free. These tests are performed to see if you need to self-isolate, and they are typically carried out at a doctor’s office, private lab or COVID-19 test site set up by your province.
  • Tests for close contact with a COVID-19 case are free. These tests are for people who have been in close contact with COVID-19 cases. They aim to identify asymptomatic COVID-19 cases before the infection can spread. They are often carried out at doctor’s offices, private labs or COVID-19 test sites.
  • Tests for employees or students are free. These tests are usually administered by large institutions to help identify cases quickly to limit spread. Your institution will notify you if regular testing is a condition of being present at your workplace or campus.
  • COVID-19 tests for travel cost $40 to $200 on average. These tests are usually administered by private labs or pharmacies (for example, Shoppers Drug Mart COVID-19 testing). You can also self-administer a COVID-19 test for international travel though your results may not be admissible without validation from a medical professional.

COVID self-testing kits in Canada

COVID-19 self-testing kits are usually antigen-based testing kits that can be used at home. With most providers, you simply purchase a kit and set an appointment with a health specialist to collect your sample. You then send the sample to the company so that it can be processed.

You may also be able to test for COVID-19 at home if you’re able to process your samples yourself. However, these tests may give false positive or negative results, which means the results are often not eligible if you need them for travel purposes.

Examples of COVID self-testing kits in Canada

There are several different forms of COVID-19 tests you can order to do at home. Below are some examples of popular tests and retailers that sell them.

Nucleic acid-based COVID-19 testing (PCR tests)

TestRetailerPriceSpeed of resultsValid for travel
Ichor COVID-19 PCR Saliva testRexall$199.991-2 days after sample is received at the labYes
PCR Swab Test (RT-PCR)Santé Medic$199.99Within 24 hoursYes

Antigen-based rapid COVID-19 tests

TestRetailerPriceSpeed of resultsValid for travel
Rapid antigen testSanté Medic$99.00Within 15 minutesOnly approved by some countries
BNTX rapid response antigen testRapid Test and Trace$13 per test + cost of appointmentWithin 3-5 daysOnly approved by some countries
Ellume COVID-19 Home TestEllume$50 or more + cost of appointmentWithin 3-5 daysOnly approved by some countries

Antibody testing

TestRetailerPriceSpeed of resultsValid for travel
Antibody testSanté Medic$179.00Within 24 hoursNot applicable
BNTX rapid response antibody testRapid Test and Trace$13 per test + cost of appointmentWithin 3-5 daysNot applicable

Types of COVID tests

There are 3 main types of COVID tests that you can use to determine the current or past presence of COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2). These include the following:

Nucleic acid-based testing (PCR tests)

Molecular or nucleic acid-based tests (also known as PCR tests) are the most accurate way to test for COVID-19 and are usually carried out by specialized laboratories.

  • How it works. It detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (RNA) in respiratory samples to determine if COVID-19 is present.
  • What it tests. It tests for a current COVID-19 infection (usually within 1-2 days).
  • How samples are collected. Samples are collected through a nose, throat or oral swab.
  • How long it takes. It usually takes 1-2 days to process the results.

Antigen-based testing (rapid tests)

Antigen tests are rapid COVID tests that produce quick results when you test for COVID-19 at doctor’s offices, pharmacies or in workplace/academic settings.

  • How it works. Samples are placed in an extraction buffer or reagent and tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2-specific virus proteins (also called antigens).
  • What it tests. It tests for a current COVID-19 infection (usually within 15 minutes).
  • How samples are collected. Samples are collected through a nose, throat or oral swab.
  • How long it takes. It usually takes 15 minutes to an hour to process the results.

Types of COVID tests: Nucleic acid-based (PCR) testing, Antigen-based (rapid) testing and Serology-based (antibody) testing.

COVID test for travel: Do I need a COVID test to enter Canada?

Find information about when and what type of COVID-19 test you might need to enter Canada below:

  • Who needs a COVID-19 test for travel? All travellers 5 years of age or older must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test and a quarantine plan to enter Canada (or a 14-day old positive test).
  • What type of test do I need? You must provide an accepted type of molecular test (PCR test) to enter Canada, even if you’re fully vaccinated. Antigen tests are not accepted.
  • How many tests do I need? All travellers need to take a pre-entry test. Unvaccinated travellers will also need to submit to an arrival and 8-day quarantine test.
  • What if I can’t supply a COVID-19 test at the airport? You may not be allowed to board your flight to Canada or you’ll be turned around at the border if you can’t show proof of an authorized pre-entry COVID-19 test. If you’re a Canadian citizen, you won’t be denied entry to Canada, but you may need to pay a fine.
  • How do I submit my information? All travellers must use the ArriveCAN app to submit contact information, travel details, vaccination status, test results and a quarantine plan to the Canadian government and travel authorities.

COVID test for travel: Do I need a COVID test to travel internationally?

Learn more about when you might need COVID-19 testing to travel internationally:

  • Who needs a COVID-19 test for travel? You’ll usually need a negative COVID-19 test result if you plan to travel internationally from Canada. You may also need to fulfill additional COVID-19 testing requirements of the country you wish to travel to upon arrival.
  • What type of test do I need? Most travellers must provide an accepted type of molecular/PCR test (including those who are fully vaccinated) if it’s required by the destination country. Antigen tests are only accepted in some countries and not others.
  • How many tests do I need? This will depend on where you travel to. Some countries don’t require you to show a negative result while others need results for unvaccinated travels. Some will need several tests as well as a quarantine for all travellers.
  • What if I don’t supply a COVID-19 test on arrival? You’ll likely be denied boarding on your flight to your destination country. You may also be fined or face other penalties for failing to show an appropriate test.

Interactive map: COVID-19 testing and quarantine procedures for various countries

Frequently asked questions

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