After nearly 20 months of restrictions on nonessential travel along the United States land borders, Mariano Gomez is ready to be welcomed back in the country.
The Culiacán, Mexico resident used to be a frequent traveler, driving nearly 1,100 miles every two months to visit his 24-year-old daughter, Cristina, at school in Tuscon. But when the United States land borders shut down all nonessential travel in March 2020, Gomez was suddenly cut off from visiting.
Video chats through Whatsapp helped, but Gomez said it wasn't the same.
"When the borders were closed, it was – wow," Gomez said. "You can feel the pain in the soul. It's kind of difficult to explain. You have part of yourself in some other place far away from you."
Gomez's daughter has since moved back to the states, but Gomez is relieved that he won't have to worry about border restrictions for nonessential travel much longer. Starting in "early November," the U.S. is set to reopen its land borders to vaccinated foreign nationals.
Foreign nationals across Mexico and Canada have already started to make plans to visit the U.S. again, whether it's for a quick shopping trip or to reunite with loved ones.
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Families, friends get ready to reunite
Driving across the Canada-U.S. border to get to law school was part of Daria Mukhina’s daily routine before the borders closed. When COVID-19 hit, everything from classes to her graduation ceremony went virtual.
“That was a bit of a harsh thing that happened,” she said. “I worked so hard for three years, and you don't get to even celebrate at the end.”
While it's too late to plan a graduation ceremony, Mukhina and her husband plan to host a vow renewal ceremony with friends and family from the U.S. and Canada once restrictions ease on both sides of the border. The couple had wanted to have a big wedding last year but scaled it down once they realized border restrictions would prevent 30% of their guest list from attending. Canada has since opened its land borders to vaccinated U.S. travelers.
“We're very excited that we have the opportunity to do that now,” Mukhina said. "(Now) all of our friends and family can be there and witness it.”
► US vaccine mandate for travel: Foreign travelers with COVID-19 vaccines approved by FDA, WHO can enter the US
The vow renewals aren't set to take place until next year, but Mukhina plans to visit friends and family in the states this fall.
“I think that precautions in place should help keep everyone safe and help life resume to a little bit more of normalcy," she said.
Residents in the U.S., Mexico and Canada have expressed excitement for the new travel policy on social media.
I have been waiting for this! 🥳🥳🥳
I will finally travel and visit friends in the USA! 😁😁😁 https://t.co/KF8cs7pwPP
— CG | Eddy México (@EddyMexico007) October 13, 2021
My parents can finally visit me :)
"US to reopen borders to vaccinated visitors from Canada and Mexico in November" https://t.co/UYwPeF7eXA
— Tanya Fendler (@SciFendler) October 13, 2021
My family in Mexico has not been able to crossover in over a year due to the Covid restrictions, knowing that limitation will be lifted in November is so comforting 💓
— Sierra (@sierra_parris) October 13, 2021
Shoppers coming to the states
It's not yet clear when the new travel policy will go into place, but Heather Jones already knows what one of her first stops will be on her next trip to the U.S.: Dunkin.
The Massachusetts-based chain isn't available in Toronto, and Jones has been missing its caramel-flavored iced coffee and vanilla donut with sprinkles.
“I feel like I'm betraying Canada by not liking Tim Hortons as much as Dunkin,” she said. “I definitely have the intention of going over to get some of that (soon)."
Catherine Simard, who lives near the U.S. border in Ontario, also plans to visit restaurants and shops in the states soon. She's a fan of Target and Five Below, and has missed the prices and brand variety U.S. box stores offer.
“We have about three different types of Oreos. You guys have 5 million,” Simard said.
Her one caveat for U.S. shopping: she’ll only go to stores that enforce a mask mandate.
“I really don't think it's safe (without one),” she said. “Personally, I have medical issues that would be dangerous with COVID. … I’m still being careful.”
As long the stores are taking COVID-19 precautions, Simard said she's excited to get back for some Christmas shopping in mid-November.
“I love the decorating section (at Target), and my youngest son loves those cereals – Fruity Pebbles and Coco Puffs. We don’t have them here. Typically I put some in his stockings, so there are traditions around this too.”
A 'vital' market
The additional spending dollars from tourists like Simard could be a boon for the U.S. economy. The U.S. Travel Association released a statement Wednesday that said the closed land borders cost the U.S. economy nearly $700 million per month.
“The full reopening of international travel to the United States to fully vaccinated individuals is overdue and will provide a jolt to the U.S. economy, travel businesses large and small, and to destinations across America,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in the statement.
Those spending dollars are especially important in cities near the border, according to J. Felipe Garcia, Executive Vice President of Visit Tucson. He said local stores welcome business from Mexican tourists.
"Every single person (in the community) benefits from those visits because they're paying sales tax," Garcia said. "For us, it's vital that we have that Mexico market. So these last 20 months have been just really complex."
In Nogales, Arizona, travel restrictions forced about 40 retail businesses to close on the main strip in the city of 20,000 people, said Jessy Fontes, board member of the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce. In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people.
“Along the border, we’re like more of one community than two different communities,” she said.
Contributing: Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tourists from Canada, Mexico excited to shop, see friends in the US