Before travelling, it is useful to have some basic information on your destination. Provincial and territorial agencies can provide material covering every aspect of tourism in their region, allowing you to plan accordingly. We’ve compiled our own list of tips— consider this Canada 101, a primer to help you prep for your trip.
ENTERING THE COUNTRY
First impressions count, so the Canada Border Services Agency makes entering the country comparatively easy. Vacationing citizens of Britain and most EU or Commonwealth countries need only a valid passport and Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). Visas aren’t required; however, a return ticket and proof of sufficient funds may be requested. American citizens travelling between the U.S. and Canada must produce a passport or other WHTI-compliant document, such as a NEXUS card (www.cbp.gov/travel). If in doubt, consult Citizenship and Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca).
There are no limitations on what personal effects can be brought into Canada. Gifts must be valued at $60 or less each. Duty-free limits for adults are 1.5 l (53 imp. oz.) of wine, 1.14 l (40 imp. oz.) of spirits or 8.5 l (287 imp. oz.) of beer or ale. Adults may also bring up to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 200 g (7 oz.) of tobacco or 200 tobacco sticks.
The use of firearms is strictly controlled, and the buying or selling of illicit drugs is severely dealt with. When travelling, prescription medications should be kept in original containers in case customs officials want to see them. In the interest of public health, restrictions are also placed on the importation of animals, plants and foods (www.inspection.gc.ca ).
Flights operated by Air Canada (www. aircanada.ca) and carriers like West Jet (www.westjet.com) or Porter (www. flyporter.com) link many Canadian cities. In some airports, a departure tax is levied on top of taxes included in your ticket price. The national train system, VIA Rail, offers cross-country service, with connections to certain U.S. cities (www.viarail.ca). Inter-city bus service is also available in some areas through companies such as Greyhound (www.greyhound.ca). Civic buses provide public transit in many communities; Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montréal, moreover, have excellent subway and local rail systems. Taxi service has been a foundation in cities and municipalities for many years, however, upstart Uber is available in some major cities. For many travellers, though, driving is the preferred way to go.
The cornerstone of the national road network is the Trans-Canada Highway, which stretches 8,030 km (4,990 mi.) from Victoria, B.C., to St. John’s, Newfoundland, with ferries covering coastal waters at each end. Canadians drive on the right and follow rules similar to those in Britain and the U.S. At intersections you may turn right on a red light if the way is clear and unless posted otherwise (except on the Island of Montréal). Speed limits, stated in kilometres, vary but are usually around 100 to 110 km/h (62 to 68 mph) on highways and 50 to 60 km/h (31 to 37 mph) in urban areas. Radar detectors are illegal in most locales. Seat belts are compulsory, and children weighing less than 18 kg (40 lb.) must be in child restraint seats. Every province and territory, save for Nunavut, forbids using hand-held electronic devices when driving. Permissible blood alcohol limits vary, but drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced nationwide.
British and U.S. driver’s licences are valid in Canada for up to three months. Car rental companies are found at airports and in many municipalities. International lyobserved age limits apply, and drivers should present an acceptable credit card.
All motorists must have accident liability insurance. Americans driving across the border should obtain a Canadian Nonresident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Card, commonly known as a yellow card (available from their insurer in the U.S. only) before leaving. Drivers should also bring their vehicle registration card, a letter of permission from the registered owner or a rental company contract stipulating permission for use in Canada.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Even in Canada’s largest cities it is generally safe to walk the streets and use public transportation at night. Nevertheless, prudent visitors will let common sense be their guide and take the usual precautions. Belongings left in parked cars should be stowed out of sight. Purses and wallets are best kept beneath outer clothing; passports and other valuables stored in a hotel safe. To avoid unnecessary grief if theft occurs, keep a list of credit card and other important numbers in a secure place.
In the event of illness or accident, it is reassuring to know that Canada’s health services rank among the world’s finest.
Most hospitals are publicly managed, their fees set by provincial authorities. Nonresidents hospitalized in Canada are charged a daily rate. These differ by province and can be cost prohibitive, so it is important to purchase travel health insurance before leaving home.
Canadians travelling domestically can typically rely on their provincial health coverage. All provinces and territories except Québec have a co-operative agreement allowing physicians to submit claims for services involving out-of-province residents to the local medical plan; these are then charged to that resident’s home plan. Residents who are required to pay for health services can submit receipts to their local ministry office for possible reimbursement. Services not covered while travelling out of province include ambulances and prescription drugs from pharmacies.
Buying supplementary medical insurance can alleviate these costs.
Canada’s paper currency comes in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1,000 dollar bills, which differ in colour but not size. Coins are in 5¢, 10¢ and 25¢ denominations; there are also $1 and $2 coins, dubbed the loonie and toonie. U.S. currency is widely accepted at the prevailing exchange rate, though you should expect to receive change in
Sales taxes are added to the price of virtually everything, including meals and lodgings. For starters, there is a federal 5 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST). Except in Alberta and the territories, there is also a provincial sales tax (PST), which is sometimes combined with the GST to create one Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). This means you’ll pay an extra 10-15 percent on top of most advertised purchase prices.
Automated teller machines (ATMs) that accept international debit cards are plentiful, and many are accessible around the clock. Just bear in mind that four-digit PIN codes are considered standard—if yours has more, change it before leaving home. To minimize transaction fees, choose an ATM affiliated with your home bank; users of Cirrus or PLUS networks can research locations on-line. Americans who’d rather pay by credit card should note that chip & PIN cards are commonplace here; however, transactions can often be processed using the old swipe and sign method, too.
Most communities have branches of major banks which are open, at minimum, from 10 to 3 on weekdays. Banks are closed on legal holidays, but exchange bureaus in cities, airports and at border crossings usually remain open. Museums and similar sites are typically open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; some close on Monday but have evening hours (and often reduced prices) once a week.
Store hours are generally 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, though these may be extended on Thursday and Friday nights; times vary on Sunday. Shopping centres are typically open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Supermarkets often have longer hours. Drugstores may remain open until midnight with some 24-hour locations, and convenience stores sometimes operate 24/7.
Canada’s liquor laws vary between provinces and territories, and liquor store hours vary accordingly. The sale of spirits, wines and beer in provinces differ, with most being sold in provincially-owned or supervised stores, as well as some available in private shops. In Alberta privately owned liquor stores are allowed to sell alcohol.
The Canadian telephone system is identical to the U.S. one and shares the same international country code (01). Telephone numbers have a 3-digit area code followed by the 7-digit local number. Toll-free numbers are prefixed by 1-800, 1-888, 1-877, 1-866, 1-855 or 1-844. For emergencies, dial 911; for directory assistance, dial 411; for the operator, dial 0.
Public phone booths, while increasingly rare, can be used for local or long-distance calls. The cost of the former is 50¢; you can pay for the latter with coins, a phone card and sometimes a credit card, or by reversing the charges. International visitors can typically use their own multiband cell phone but should be mindful of high roaming and data charges. One way to avoid these is to ask your provider to temporarily add Canadian access to your service plan before arriving. Renting a travel phone or bringing an “unlocked” cell phone and then buying a local SIM card are other alternatives.
On-line options such as Skype, Face Time or Whats App offer cheaper ways to keep in touch. Most hotels provide broadband connections or WiFi, at least in common areas. Many airports, bus and train stations, ferry terminals and libraries also offer WiFi; ditto for countless coffee shops and fast food franchises, including those ubiquitous Tim Hortons outlets. If you are bringing a phone charger, laptop, or any other electrical device, be advised that Canada (like the
U.S.) has a 110-V, 60-Hz current. To use 220-V British equipment, you’ll need a power converter plus a plug adaptor.
OTTAWA CONVENTION CENTRE • CTC
CANADIAN MUSEUM OF HISTORY • ON TOURISM