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Leading indicator of cross-border traveller volume, April 2020

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Released: 2020-05-11

Highlights

Cross-border travel by automobile between the United States (US) and Canada remained at a near standstill in April, following a sharp decline in March.

The number of US travellers entering Canada by automobile through Integrated Primary Inspection Line (IPIL) land ports fell by nearly 97% from April 2019.

Similarly, in April 2020, the number of Canadians returning from the United States by automobile through these ports was down 95% compared with the same month in 2019.

The number of US and Canadian residents crossing the border from the United States by automobile dropped sharply in late March as a result of a 30-day restriction on all non-essential travel between the two countries, which took effect on March 21.

This travel ban was extended in late April as the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada increased sharply in March due to travel-related exposure.

Border restrictions flatten crossings

In April, there were steep declines in the number of US residents entering Canada by automobile through ports equipped with the automated IPIL system.

Restrictions of non-essential travel across the Canada-US border, that took effect in March, brought cross-border travel by automobile between the two countries to a near standstill.

On March 16, 2020, the Government of Canada announced it was closing its international border to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents, with certain exceptions that included American citizens.

As of March 21, 2020, a 30-day restriction was placed on all non-essential travel across the Canada-US border.

On April 18, 2020, the Government of Canada announced that the Canada-US border would remain closed to non-essential travel for another 30 days to contain the further spread of COVID-19.

Fewer Americans entering

Following the March 16 announcement, the number of US residents entering Canada by automobile declined sharply and paused for a short period just prior to the March 21 closure and remained at a virtual standstill through to the end of April.

In April 2020, the number of US residents entering Canada in US-licensed automobiles plunged 97% at 111 IPIL ports compared with April 2019. The largest absolute declines were recorded at IPIL ports in Ontario and British Columbia, which collectively accounted for about four-fifths (79%) of the total decline.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Residents of the United States entering Canada in automobiles licensed in the United States, March and April 2019 and 2020
Residents of the United States entering Canada in automobiles licensed in the United States, March and April 2019 and 2020

Number of returning Canadians dwindles

Over the same two-month period, the number of Canadian residents returning from the United States by automobile declined at a slower pace. After peaking following the March 16 announcement, the number of returning Canadian residents began a steep decline after the March 21 closure.

In April, there were 95% fewer Canadian residents returning from the United States in Canadian-licensed automobiles via 111 IPIL ports than during the same month in 2019. The largest year-over-year absolute declines were recorded in Ontario, where over one million fewer residents returned, and in British Columbia, where more than 500,000 fewer residents returned.

The IPIL data exclude automobile travellers who cross the border using a NEXUS card and at ports that are not equipped with the IPIL system. These counts also exclude US travellers in automobiles with Canadian licence plates and Canadian travellers in automobiles with US licence plates.

As such, the IPIL data only represent a subset of Canadian and US residents entering Canada by automobile. In 2019 for example, the 111 IPIL ports covered by this indicator captured approximately 80% of cross-border automobile traffic between Canada and the United States.

Infographic 2  Thumbnail for Infographic 2: Canadian residents returning from the United States in Canadian-licensed automobiles, March and April 2019 and 2020
Canadian residents returning from the United States in Canadian-licensed automobiles, March and April 2019 and 2020



  Note to readers

Data indicating cross-border travel by automobile through 111 land ports equipped with the automated Integrated Primary Inspection Line (IPIL) system are now available by the traveller's state or province of residence and by the province of entry into Canada. A traveller's state or province of residence is estimated from the licence plate of the automobile used to enter Canada.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) uses various data sources to collect information on travellers entering the country. One of the CBSA's sources, the IPIL system, yields data in an electronic format that requires less processing. These data account for the largest share of travellers entering Canada by automobile.

Starting with the October 2016 release, data are available in formats that provide more detail on the entries of persons from each US state. Monthly data in these new formats for the period starting in January 2015 are available upon request. Data on the number of Canadian residents returning from the United States were introduced in January 2018.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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