Next to the mainland USA and Japan, Canada is the third largest exporter of visitors to the Hawaiian Islands. But while Hawaii has opened its arms to Canucks, the Canadian Government has imposed restrictions on all U.S. travel, including Hawaii, despite the 50th state having exponentially fewer COVID cases and a far better vaccination rate. When you consider the fact that air travel has proven to be much safer (there have been no notable in-flight transmissions) than any visit to Costco, it’s getting harder to justify the rationale as we enter the summer season.
The good news, is that because of NAFTA, the Canadian government has not outright banned air travel to/from the state. They are doing their best however, to make the trip to paradise as hard as possible, even for those coming on business. While Hawaii has justifiably maintained its negative COVID test requirement (taken 72-hours prior to arrival), Canada has pushed things into the extreme. Before returning to Canada, travelers must receive a negative test 72-hours before boarding the plane at HNL. That’s fair. But then, upon arrival on Canadian soil, travelers must take a second test at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), before being ushered into a designated, non-refundable pre-paid quarantine hotel. For 3-days these arrivals must await their negative test result. Once the second negative test is confirmed, travelers must then head home for an additional 11-days despite already having two negative test results. But that’s not all. On day-8 of the quarantine, travelers are required to perform an at-home test while on a virtual in-person session with a provincial health practitioner. Logic may dictate that after receiving a third negative test, that one would be free to go. Nope. Instead, you must still complete the full 14-days.
Admittedly this all sounds terrible, but we’re here to let you know that it’s not as challenging as your local media would have you think. We have sent someone from our editorial staff, who just so happens to split time between Canada and Hawaii, to do the deed and report on the findings. The intent is to help those in desperate need of Aloha navigate the red tape imposed by the Maple Leaf’s powers-that-be.
Note: Every island has its own set of rules, so for the purposes of this article we will focus on Oahu, which is open to transpacific visitors.
Tips to Traveling to Hawaii Amidst the Canadian Government’s USA Travel Restrictions
PART I: COMING TO HAWAII
Book Your Flight
Before scheduling your pre-Hawaii COVID test you must prove that you have booked a flight to Hawaii, so book it. At press, neither Air Canada (AC) or West Jet offers direct flights from YVR (where you must enter the U.S. from) to Honolulu International Airport (HNL), but AC has a code-share partnership in place with United Airlines (UA) that has a brief 2-hour layover in San Francisco (SFO) for your departure and your return. SFO is a great airport with lots of dining options, so the 2-hours is a breeze. Book your AC/UA code-share flight directly through Air Canada. Contrary to belief, you do not need to jump through hoops to make your reservation. It’s as easy as it ever was. Once you’ve booked your flight, go ahead and book your Oahu hotel. While we recommend a number of properties, during this time we suggest the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani for reasons which we will explain below in PART II.
Create Your Hawaii Safe Travels Account
The State of Hawaii requires all travelers to set-up a Hawaii Safe Travels account. Sign up here, and then follow the steps to register your up and coming trip.
Where to Get Your COVID Test
Hawaii Safe Travels has partnered with a number of Canada-based healthcare providers. The test cost ranges from $250-300 depending on where you go. Since you invariably need to leave from YVR (no matter where in Canada you’re starting from) we recommend CarePoint clinic which is located at Joyce Skytrain Station. They are friendly, accommodating, and assure you that you will receive your results online (via email) well before your flight. Book your pre-travel appointment here. Once you receive your test, upload the negative results to the trip that you just registered on the Hawaii Safe Travels app. This will generate a QR code (required for entry at HNL) which will be emailed to you as soon as you’ve uploaded your test result.
Print and Fill Out the Passenger Disclosure and Attestation Form Before Going to the Airport
Confident and armed with your golden ticket to Hawaii (the QR code) you’re all set to hit the airport (YVR, etc.) for the first leg of your flight to SFO. Before boarding, you must show AC check-in personnel that you have filled out the “PASSENGER DISCLOSURE AND ATTESTATION TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” document that the airline emailed you days before. If you forget, they will provide the form for you at check-in, but it’s best to get it done beforehand. It’s a simple document that requires little more than your initials.
Going Through U.S. Customs
U.S. customs at YVR has been especially friendly (and expectedly thorough) of late. Like with anyone that depends upon the travel industry for income, they want too want see a return to Canada-US travel. Let them know that you’re headed to Hawaii for mixed business and pleasure. You are considering buying property on the islands after all. Once through, you’re all set for your flight to SFO.
You have approximately 2-hours to kill. About 15-minutes of that time will be spent at a designated UA kiosk that is delightfully adorned by faux Hawaiian leis, a mural of Oahu, and a pair of surfboards. This will be near your gate. Walk up to the reception area, where staff will scan your Hawaii Safe Travels QR code and give you a bracelet to wear. This bracelet is all you need to whisk through arrivals at HNL. With it on, you’re now guaranteed entry into Hawaii and can relax and enjoy your 5-hour flight.
What to Do on Oahu
You’re now on Oahu and all pre-travel stress is far behind you. While you still have to wear masks indoors (for now) everything feels normal. For the uninitiated, normal in Hawaii is pure magic. For the next one to two-weeks (or more) try you’re best to make your way through these activities and attractions. We want you to get the most of your time in the Aloha State – you’ve certainly earned it!
PART II: RETURNING TO CANADA
Where to Get Your Pre-Departure COVID Test
Not that you want to leave Hawaii, but you won’t be able to board your flight back to Canada without a negative COVID test, taken 72-hours prior to your flight. This is why we recommend staying at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani hotel in the heart of Waikiki. The Doctors of Waikiki medical clinic is conveniently located within the resort. 3-days prior to leaving, simply walk-in (no appointment needed) and get tested. It costs $300 USD, but the results will be in-hand within 20-minutes.
Note: This is the last time you have to pay for a COVID test. There is no additional charge for the following tests in Canada. These costs have been worked into your quarantine hotel reservation. Most people are not aware of this.
Book Your Quarantine Hotel
Your travel insurance may cover you for expenses related to an unexpected positive COVID test result, but it won’t cover the cost of the pre-paid non-refundable quarantine hotel in Vancouver. So if you test positive before your flight back to Canada you will have to stay in Hawaii until you have medical clearance. If you already booked your quarantine hotel in Canada you would be on the hook for that expense. For this reason, we recommend waiting until you have received your test result in Hawaii. Don’t worry, there are plenty of rooms available at the quarantine hotels in Vancouver. Book with the Executive Hotel at YVR as it’s nearby the airport, and more affordable than most other options without sacrificing space, comfort, and service.
Complete Your ArriveCAN Profile
Returning travelers must enter their information into the ArriveCAN app within 72-hours before their arrival to Canada from Hawaii. Download the app here and follow the steps. It’s easy.
Back at YVR
The flights from SFO to YVR remain fairly empty. Kick back and enjoy!
There is no need to discuss boarding your flight back to Canada at HNL, nor the layover at SFO. As long as you have your negative test and have completed your ArriveCAN profile you’ll have no issues. Once back on Canadian soil at YVR things get a little more interesting. After clearing customs and gathering your baggage you will enter into a makeshift zone where you will register to receive your YVR COVID test. You’ve already done the test twice by this point, so there are no surprises. The process is completed in about 15-minutes. They will collect your contact information and provide you with an at-home test kit, which as mentioned above you will use on day-8 of your quarantine back at home. From here, you are directed to the waiting area where you will catch your shuttle to your designated hotel.
3-Days at the Quarantine Hotel
The Executive quarantine suite comes with a lanai and sunny sky view, weather permitting
The 3-day quarantine hotel isn’t as intimidating as the media makes it out to be. Executive Hotels’ staff is friendly, accommodating, and informative. At the Executive Hotel YVR the quarantine suites are comfortable, spacious, and generally upscale. They even give you a room with a sun-facing lanai so that you can maintain your Hawaiian tan while reading a good book. They provide you with 3-meals per day (included in the price) but you are also free order-in. Staff will bring up food or Amazon deliveries, and whatever else you can order with a few taps of your smartphone. Just consider the 3-day stay to be an extension of your Hawaiian vacation. It gives you lots of time to refresh from your long flight/s and shake all of the sand out of your clothes and luggage.
There’s only one kicker. You are free to leave to do the rest of your quarantine as soon as you receive your YVR COVID test result. It doesn’t take the full 3-days like the media would have you to think. Nearly everyone gets theirs back within 24-hours. However, you cannot refund the remaining portion of your stay. So why go home? You’ve paid for it, so soak up the cushy bed, three square meals, and enjoy yourself before heading home to deal with life’s responsibilities while sticking out the remaining 11 days of your quarantine.
Food delivery 3-times per day
Breakfast delivery. Not exactly IHOP (or Cafe Morey’s) but it’ll do.
PART III: PARTING THOUGHTS – IS IT WORTH IT?
You’ve added up the cost of two COVID tests and a 3-day stay in a Vancouver quarantine hotel. That’s roughly $1600 per person. That seems like a lot to tack onto the usual expense. For most, being able to take that long overdue trip to Hawaii (even if for business) makes it all worth it. It is! That said, some of you are on a tight budget. The good news, is that hotels are significantly cheaper in Hawaii right now. Properties that normally go for $200-250/night such as the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and the Queen Kapiolani Hotel are offering a number of unbeatable specials that are as low as $99/night. Sign-up (via their websites) with these and other preferred hotels to receive these special offers via email and you can take full advantage of “Welcome Back” deals. When you consider the savings, it almost balances out what you are spending for the COVID tests and quarantine hotel.
We look forward to seeing friendly Canadians return to Hawaii. And as it turns out, you don’t have to wait to make it happen. It takes some extra effort, but it’s ultimately worthwhile. Have questions about the process above? Message us via Facebook and we’ll be happy to answer them for you.