indicatorThe Owl

COVID cancels most cross-border road trips

The number of Americans driving into Canada has plummeted, going from about 1.1 million in May 2019 to just 44,200 in May 2020

By ATB Economics 11 June 2020 1 min read

Official efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 combined with voluntary changes in behaviour have essentially halted recreational travel between Canada and the United States.

On March 18, Canada and the U.S. agreed to close the border to all non-essential discretionary travel as of March 21. Commercial traffic (including for work or study) was still allowed as well as the movement of essential workers. The agreement is set to expire on June 21, but it may be extended.

New Statistics Canada data* on the number of U.S. and Canadian residents crossing the border by automobile from the U.S. point to the magnitude of the changes brought on by the travel restrictions.

In May 2019, almost 2.2 million Canadians drove back to Canada from the U.S. compared to just 113,500 in May 2020—a drop of 95 per cent. Alberta saw a similar decrease, with return crossings going from 36,800 to just 2,400 (-93 per cent).

The number of Americans driving into Canada also plummeted, going from about 1.1 million in May 2019 to just 44,200 in May 2020 (-96 per cent). The flow into Alberta went from 14,000 to 1,800 (-87 per cent).

The reasons for these trips vary, but taking a vacation, visiting family and shopping are typical. That the usual spike in cross border trips over the Victoria Day and Memorial Day weekends did not occur this year highlights the negative impact of the border’s closure on hotels, restaurants, recreation areas and other businesses on both sides of the border.

Some of the damage to the tourism sector may have been offset by cross-border travelers spending their tourist dollars at home in April and May, but other COVID-19 containment efforts likely limited this effect.


*The data are for cross-border travel by automobile through the 111 land ports equipped with the automated Integrated Primary Inspection Line system and capture approximately 80 per cent of cross-border automobile traffic between Canada and the United States.

On March 18, 2020 Canada and the U.S. agreed to close the border to all non-essential discretionary travel

On March 18, 2020 Canada and the U.S. agreed to close the border to all non-essential discretionary travel


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