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Everything Alaska and Canadian Cruisers Need to Know About ArriveCAN

Melinda Crow

Last updated
Sep 26, 2022

Read time
7 min read

Editor's Note: As of October 1, 2022, ArriveCAN app usage will no longer be mandatory prior to entering Canada.

Cruising to Alaska or Canada this year? You'll need to notify the Public Health Agency of Canada prior to your arrival into Canada -- usually Victoria, British Columbia for voyages from Seattle, but also Vancouver for one-way southbound trips that begin in Seward and Whittier. Nova Scotia or New Brunswick is often the first port of call on Canadian/New England sailings.

The Public Health Agency of Canada -- or PHAC -- collects health data on everyone entering the country through a system called ArriveCAN, which became mandatory for travelers to complete prior to entry into the country beginning in November 2020. The app collects vaccination data, passport information, and arrival information like flight numbers.

Since cruise ships were not allowed into Canadian ports in 2020 or 2021, the process only began affecting cruise passengers in 2022. It all sounds like one more thing keeping you from your dream cruise, but filling out your ArriveCAN form is actually easy to manage. We've got all the ArriveCAN details you need for a smooth Alaska sailing. Here's what you need to know.

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ArriveCAN affects all Canada-bound travelers (even if you don’t plan to leave the ship)

If your ship docks in Canada, you must submit your details, either through the ArriveCAN mobile app, or online. It can be confusing to cruisers who plan to stay on the ship in Canadian ports and not go ashore at all. It would seem that if you don’t actually set foot on Canadian soil you shouldn't need to fill out the forms, but if you look at the "what if" scenarios it makes more sense. For example, what if you fall and break your ankle onboard the ship while it's docked in Canada? That could result in you having to disembark for medical treatment. The Canadian government is simply taking all the possible scenarios into consideration by requiring everyone onboard to complete the form before the ship sails.

The Timing for Completion of the ArriveCAN Questionnaire is Important

When to fill out the forms is a bit confusing because it depends on where your cruise begins. The rules divide travelers into two groups: those who sail from Canada and those who sail to Canada. Here are the important time frames you need to know for each.

Sailing from a Canadian port: You must complete and submit your ArriveCAN report within 72 hours of flying or driving into Canada. Your airline will verify that you filled out the form and are cleared to fly, and will typically ask you to provide your QR code the app generates before issuing your boarding pass. Your cruise ship may also want to see the QR code or printed form at embarkation.

Sailing from a U.S. port on a ship that will stop in Canada (either as a port of call or as the port of disembarkation): Your ArriveCAN report must be completed within 72 hours of embarking your ship (not your arrival in Canada). Your cruise ship will not allow you to board without verifying your completed forms and verifying your QR code. That way all the "what ifs" are covered throughout the cruise. On the first 2022 sailing of Quantum of the Seas, a passenger was airlifted from the ship by the Canadian Coast Guard for a medical emergency. That's a prime (and scary) example of why the form must be filled out before the cruise line will allow you to board the ship. Quantum’s passenger was taken to Canada almost a full day before the ship docked in Victoria.

Timing Examples: If your cruise is a round-trip sailing from Vancouver or if you're leaving from Montreal or Quebec for a Canada/New England cruise, you would complete your questionnaire 72 hours or less from the time your flight lands, as Canadian Customs and Border Protection will want to see your QR code upon arrival. If your cruise is round trip from Seattle or Boston, however, you complete your questions 72 hours or less from the time the ship leaves the U.S. -- even though you won’t be arriving in a Canadian port until six days later.

How to file your ArriveCAN report

The report can be filed using an app available on both Google Play for Android phones and the App Store for Apple phones. It can also be filled out on the ArriveCAN website. There is a "Save traveler" feature that allows you to enter basic information like name, date of birth, address, identification information (for both passport holders and for those cruising with verified IDs and birth certificates), as well as your uploaded proof of vaccination in advance. So, if you have a cruise booked already, you can do that part right away. The app also allows the upload of multiple family members into one app on one phone, as long as you will be checking in for the cruise (or flight) together.

Once you reach the 72-hour point, you return to the app or website to answer the remaining health and travel-related questions. At that point, you will need to know the sail date, your flight information if flying into Canada, the ship name, the port of call, and even a quarantine address should it become necessary. If your cruise ends in Canada, use a Canadian address where you would stay if needed. If your cruise does not end in Canada, choose "other" and use your cruise stateroom number.

You will have drop-down lists of ships and ports to choose from. Ships stopping in Victoria use the cruise pier at Ogden Point. Ships docking in Vancouver use the Canada Place Cruise Terminal. Smaller ports like Nanaimo and Prince Rupert bear the same name as the port city.

Perhaps the most important takeaway here is to install the app and create the traveler profiles at home when you have adequate time and Wi-Fi bandwidth to accomplish uploading documents. All of that is very hard to do on hotel Wi-Fi and almost impossible while standing in line at the cruise terminal. Ensure your phone is charged up and has sufficient battery power to load the app; you may also need to turn on your cellular data as well if there is no Wi-Fi capability. Consider taking a screenshot of your QR code (press the home and power buttons on an iPhone to do so) to have a QR code you can use offline.

If your travel plans include more than three days of non-Canadian travel prior to your cruise you may need to complete the final questions on the road. They do not need any uploads, making that part easier to do. It's probably still best not to wait until embarkation day, though, in case there are problems.

ArriveCAN is not optional. Failing to complete the required process can lead to fines and denial of boarding either flights, cruise, or both. We've seen it happen.

Step-by-step Instructions For Completing ArriveCAN

Step one: Understand the Canadian travel requirements for vaccines, masks, and testing at the time of your cruise. Like everything else, they are subject to frequent changes.

Step two: Install the ArriveCAN app on at least one smartphone in your travel party or visit the ArriveCAN website. Update it frequently, as the app is updated every time Canadian restrictions and regulations are modified.

Step three: Create traveler profiles, including uploads of identification and vaccine documents.

Step four: Get the appropriate testing prior to your flight or cruise to Canada.

Step five: Complete the final questions in the app or on the website 72 hours before you fly or drive to Canada or 72 hours before you board your ship in a U.S. port.

Step six: If possible, print the receipt with its QR code and the names of the travelers covered by the code. If you can't print a copy, take screen shots. Photos will be far easier to retrieve on your phone than the app version should Wi-Fi and cell service be spotty inside the terminal, which you should assume will happen.

Step seven: Enjoy your cruise to Alaska and Canada.

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