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Travel between Canada and other countries, December 2020

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Released: 2021-02-23


Travellers to Canada from both the United States and overseas countries were down 93.0% compared with December 2019. Similarly, the number of Canadian residents returning from abroad was down 91.3% year over year.

Despite an advisory against non-essential travel outside Canada and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for Canadians returning from abroad, over 170,700 Canadians flew home from abroad in December, up by one-third (+33.7%) from November.

The year in review

Following three consecutive years of positive growth, international travel to and from Canada declined from 96.8 million travellers in 2019 to 25.9 million in 2020.

Travellers from both the United States (-84.0% to 4.0 million) and overseas countries (-85.6% to 1.1 million) were down significantly from 2019. Similarly, the number of Canadian residents returning from abroad was down sharply (-74.0% to 14.6 million) year over year.

After the implementation of border restrictions to combat COVID-19 in March 2020, the impact on international travel was immediate, with the number of international travellers falling to a record low 614,000 in April, down 92.0% from the same month a year earlier. While travel has edged up each month since this low, it remained far below 2019 levels.

The impact of closures and restrictions was greater on some types of travel than on others. For example, non-residents and returning Canadians, who comprised just over three-quarters (76.1%) of all international arrivals to Canada in 2020, fell by 77.8% year over year to 19.7 million in 2020.

In comparison, with some travel deemed essential, the number of "other travellers," including non-resident and Canadian crews, as well as truck drivers, declined by one-quarter (-24.8%) from 2019 to 6.2 million in 2020. More information on international travel in 2020 can be found in the study "Crossing the border during the pandemic, 2020 in review."

Travel restrictions continue

Restrictions on non-essential travel to and from Canada that initially took effect in mid-March were in place for almost 10 months in 2020. In December, restrictions on non-essential travel into Canada remained, as did the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for Canadians returning from abroad.

With the resurgence of the pandemic affecting many parts of the world, restrictions were tightened and further extended into 2021.

Overseas travel to Canada remains low

The number of travellers from overseas (countries other than the United States) to Canada declined 91.8% year over year to 40,400 in December.

Travel originating from Europe (-91.5%) and Asia (-90.4%), Canada's largest markets, was down significantly compared with the same month in 2019. Travel from other major markets also remained low throughout December.

Ontario (-203,600), British Columbia (-143,000) and Quebec (-84,700) had the largest absolute year-over-year declines in the number of overseas travellers in December.

Fewer Americans crossing into Canada

In December, US residents took 113,900 trips to Canada, down 93.3% from the same month a year earlier. The number of US residents arriving by plane declined 95.0% year over year to 20,700 in December.

Car arrivals dropped 92.4% year over year to 92,200 in December. Over two-thirds (63,400) of these car trips involved a same-day return, while overnight car arrivals (28,900) were down 95.0% from December 2019.

While every province reported fewer arrivals from the United States in December, Ontario (-857,600) had the largest absolute decline, followed by British Columbia (-400,900) and Quebec (-196,200).

US visits by Canadians remain low

Canadian residents made 271,100 return trips from the United States in December, down 92.0% from December 2019.

Car arrivals, which accounted for about three-quarters of these trips, fell 91.5% year over year to 207,100. Of these, 177,200 were same-day trips, down 89.8%.

Meanwhile, air arrivals were down 92.7% year over year to 62,500. Despite provincial measures in effect, including health screenings and quarantine, the number of Canadians returning from the United States by plane increased 14.7% from November to 54,500.

Monthly increase in Canadians returning from overseas

In December, 108,300 Canadian residents returned home from travel overseas, up 47.8% from November but down 89.1% from December 2019.

  Note to readers

Statistics Canada's Frontier Counts program uses administrative data from the Canada Border Services Agency on all international travellers who have been cleared for entry or re-entry into Canada. This includes residents of Canada, the United States and overseas countries.

Since April 2020, releases have been based on seasonally unadjusted data to emphasize the change in actual volumes. However, seasonally adjusted data are available in some tables. With the unusually low travel volumes reported since April, future revisions to seasonally adjusted data for 2020 are expected to be larger than usual and may impact monthly movements in the series.

Seasonally adjusted data for 2019 and from January to November 2020 have been revised.

For information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonally adjusted data – Frequently asked questions.

Overseas countries refer to countries other than the United States.

A Canadian resident traveller is a Canadian resident who has travelled outside Canada for a period of less than 12 months.

A non-resident traveller is a resident of a country other than Canada who is travelling to Canada for a period of less than 12 months.

An overnight traveller or tourist is a traveller whose trip includes one or more nights' stay.


The December 2020 issue of International Travel, Advance Information, Vol. 36, no. 12 (Catalogue number66-001-P), is now available.

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