Canada is the world's second largest country by area, behind Russia. Nicknamed the Great White North, Canada is renowned for its vast untouched landscape, and its multicultural heritage. While much of Canada consists of forests, it also has more lakes than any other country, the Rocky Mountains, the Prairies, and a sparsely populated archipelago extending into the Arctic.
Visiting Canada all in one trip is a massive undertaking. Over 7,200 km (4,475 mi) separate St. John's, Newfoundland from Victoria, British Columbia (about the same distance separating London and Riyadh, or Tokyo and Kolkata). To drive from one end of the country could take 7–10 days or more (and that assumes you're not stopping to sight see on the way). A flight from Toronto to Vancouver takes over 4 hours. When speaking of specific destinations within Canada, it's better to consider its distinct regions:
|Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island)|
This region prides itself on its history, particularly that of the formation of Canada as a sovereign state. Atlantic Canada is well-known for unique accents, the origin of Acadian culture, natural beauty (particularly around coastal areas), the historic beauty of Halifax and St. John's, and a huge fishing and shipping industry. It is also home to the distinctive culture of Newfoundland and Labrador, which was simultaneously the first part of what is now Canada to be explored by Europeans and the last part to join the confederation.
Quebec is the only province with a French-speaking majority, having been settled as part of the New France colony. The region is culturally distinct from the rest of Canada, and is known for its cultural landscape, such as Quebec City's Winter Festival, Montreal's classic architecture, and maple syrup and poutine (two staples of Canadian cuisine). Montreal is also a prominent global francophone city, though through centuries of influence from both the British and the French, it is also very much a bilingual city, and its inhabitants have developed a self-proclaimed distinct sense of identity.
Canada's most populous province is geographically vast, allowing for endless activities to partake in. Toronto, Canada's largest city, is eclectic, multicultural, and vibrant with 140 unique neighbourhoods. Ottawa is Canada's charming, bilingual capital and features an array of art galleries and museums that showcase Canada's past and present. Farther south is Niagara Falls and the north is home to the untapped natural beauty of the Muskoka and beyond. All these things and more highlight Ontario as what is considered quintessentially Canadian by outsiders.
|Prairies (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan)|
Known for their vast open spaces and plentiful resources, the Canadian Prairies are a dynamic set of provinces with some of the most stunning natural beauty in the world. The region is rich in geographic variety, from rolling hills and canola farm fields in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to forests rich in diversity and the rather unique rock formations of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. This region is also one of the fastest growing in Canada, and is well-known for mountain resorts like Banff and Jasper. The major cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg are modern cities with massive rodeos, museums, and stunning architecture.
|British Columbia |
Vancouver is the heart of British Columbia. It is known as one of the most liberal and culturally diverse cities in North America with everything from world-class skiing to nude beaches. Travelling outside Vancouver, one finds Victoria, provincial capital with a bustling downtown and stunning legislature grounds; the Okanagan, which is home to wineries, graceful mountains, and resorts; and retirement villages. Get lost in the vastness of mountains, lakes, and other natural wonders. The province also has the mildest winters in Canada on average (though often cloudy), especially in coastal regions, making it popular with Canadians who are less enthusiastic about winter.
|The North (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon)|
The territories are some of the most remote regions on Earth and constitute most of Canada's landmass. Though more known for their unique fauna and landscapes, the Territories also have some interesting human settlements, including Dawson City, a city that looks nearly untouched from the gold rush of 1898, and Iqaluit, Canada's newest territorial capital, which is home to some interestingly adaptive architecture to the harsh climate of the North.
There are many cities in Canada, all of which are distinctive, welcoming to tourists, and well worth visiting, including
- 1 Ottawa — Canada's national capital, this city is home to national government monuments like Parliament Hill, many major museums like the National Gallery, cool urban neighbourhoods like the ByWard Market, and great old architecture.
- 2 Calgary — A boom-town without a doubt, Calgary is a major Canadian financial city, but for non-business travellers, it offers the world-class Calgary Zoo, the Calgary Tower, the Calgary Stampede, Glenbow Museum, shopping at Chinook Mall and Atlantic Ave, and is only a short distance from the recreation of the Rockies.
- 3 Halifax — home to the second largest natural harbour in the world is rich in history with architecture dating back from English colonialism. See fortress Citadel hill, Canadian museum of the Atlantic, and the active night life where everything is a short walk away.
- 4 Montreal — Once Canada's largest metropolis, Montreal is the core of North America's Francophone culture (you can still get by with English) and is home to some of the finest galleries, museums, venues, and festivals in the country along with great shopping on streets like Sainte-Catherine and Saint-Denis. Don't miss Mount Royal, either.
- 5 Quebec City — The Province of Quebec's capital, founded 1608, well known for its quaint old city, its grand winter festival and gorgeous architecture like the Château Frontenac.
- 6 Toronto — The largest city in Canada, fourth-largest in North America, Toronto is the media, entertainment, business, economic and cultural capital of Canada. Toronto is well known for famous landmarks like the CN Tower, but also has many great museums, theatres, sports venues, shopping districts, entertainment districts, beaches, and recreational parks.
- 7 Vancouver — One of the most densely populated cities in Canada, Vancouver is a city of steel and glass condominiums and outstanding natural beauty. It is unique in that it is a city where one can ski and sit on the beach in the same 24 hours. The city was also the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and is frequently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world.
- 8 Whitehorse — Midpoint of the Alaska Highway, gateway to the outdoor activities of Canada's far north.
- 9 Winnipeg — This city is near the heart of the continent and has a rich French-Canadian and First Nations culture, along with well preserved blocks of historic commercial buildings, renowned arts and culture, and the vibrancy of the Forks.
See the Canada section of the UNESCO World Heritage List, as well as list of Canadian National Parks, for a sample of Canada's natural and cultural attractions, but be aware also that many important natural areas are outside of the federal parks, often of land owned by one of the provincial governments, usually called "provincial parks".
Of particular fame are:
- The mostly unspoiled wilderness and dramatic vistas of the Rocky Mountains, in particular:
- The Inside Passage sea voyage (by ferry or cruise ship) between the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and the North and Central Coast of British Columbia (an extension of the Alaska Marine Highway), for whale watching, iceberg spotting, and coastal scenery.
- Ontario's "cottage county", where there are many lakeside second houses for rent, in particular:
- The low mountains and fishing villages of the east coast, for example:
|Currency||Canadian dollar (CAD)|
|Population||35.7 million (2015)|
|Electricity||120 volt / 60 hertz (NEMA 1-15, NEMA 5-15)|
|Time zone||UTC−07:00 to Atlantic Time Zone and Newfoundland Time Zone, Central Time Zone, Mountain Time Zone, Pacific Time Zone, Eastern Time Zone|
|edit on Wikidata|
Canada is a land of vast distances and rich natural beauty. Canada's economic, cultural, linguistic and social characteristics closely resemble its neighbour to the south, the United States, but there are significant differences as well, particularly in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. For one thing, over 20% of Canadians (mostly, but by no means all, in Quebec) speak French as a first language. There's also a significant and growing number of Spanish speakers in Toronto and Montreal, but it's a small percentage compared to the United States. Also, while Canada has somewhat more land than the US, it has only about a tenth the population, most of them living within 200 km of the US-Canada border. Large areas further north are quite sparsely populated and some is nearly uninhabited wilderness. For a comparison of population that surprises many: There are more African Americans living in the US than there are Canadian citizens.
Though a medium sized country by its population (34 million), Canada has earned respect on the international stage and is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest, least corrupt and most livable nations on earth.
The main wave of prehistoric settlers that came into the Americas from Northeast Asia via Alaska are thought to have arrived around 15,000 years ago, although the first migrants may have arrived around 30,000 years back and the last about 5,000. The main current theory as to the expansion of the prehistoric settlers is a southward migration along the coast with branching populations moving east and, later on, north. By this theory, the longest established cultures are the Pacific Coast tribes and the most recently established are the Arctic cultures.
The first confirmed European contact with Canada was just after 1000CE: Vikings under Leif Erikson certainly reached Newfoundland and there are some controversial indications that they also sailed far up the St Lawrence and south along what is now the US coast. The next confirmed group were the Portuguese who had fishing outposts along the Atlantic coast by the early 1500s. However, neither group built permanent settlements. The Viking attempt at a settlement, L'anse Aux Meadows, was abandoned after a few years and only rediscovered in 1960. There are unconfirmed claims of several other European groups reaching Canada earlier, notably including the Irish Saint Brendan in the 6th century.
More permanent settlements were subsequently founded by the English and the French. John Cabot, an Italian working for the English, seems to have reached Newfoundland in about 1497, but the records are neither clear nor complete. The French explorer Jacques Cartier landed on the Gaspé Peninsula in 1534 and claimed it for King Francis I of France. French fishing fleets began to sail to the Atlantic coast, where they traded with the indigenous people. Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 as the first permanent settlement in New France.
The English explorer Humphrey Gilbert landed at St John's, Newfoundland and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1583 as the first English colony in North America. Under King James I, the English established more settlements in Newfoundland, from which they eventually moved on to establish the colony of Virginia further south in what is now the United States of America.
The British took Quebec in 1759 during the Seven Years' War. The most important battlefield of that war in Canada is on the Plains of Abraham just outside the old city walls; it is now one of Quebec City's tourist attractions. At the end of that war in 1763, the French ceded most of their colonies in continental North America to the British, though the British agreed to permit the continued official usage of the French language and legal system in the ceded colonies, and French continues to be the dominant language in Quebec province to this day. Following the British victory, New France was split into the colonies of Upper Canada (later Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Under the French, most of what is now Atlantic Canada was called Acadie. The British expelled many of the French settlers and most of them went to Louisiana, where the region in which most of them settled is referred to as Acadiana; the term "Cajun" is an English corruption of the word Acadien. Some of them would later return to the region and settle in New Brunswick.
After the American War of Independence, during which the thirteen colonies became independent from the British as the United States of America, there was considerable migration to Canada by people who wanted to remain part of the British Empire. They are known in Canada as United Empire Loyalists, though Americans might call them Tory traitors. Some of the Loyalists were of African descent, many of them former slaves who had been granted their freedom in exchange for service for the British or escapees from owners aligned with the U.S. government. Some of them or their descendants later moved to England or what is today Sierra Leone, but there are still Afro-Canadians who can trace their heritage to Black Loyalists. Other substantial waves of immigration were ex-soldiers, mostly Scots, after the Napoleonic wars and many Irish from about the time of the Potato Famine onward.
The British and Americans fought a war in 1812 in which invasions were launched across the U.S.-Canada border in both directions. Some of the hotter heads on both sides had quite ambitious goals — drive the British out of North America entirely and annex Canada into the US, or reverse the effects of the American Revolution a few decades earlier and bring the U.S. back into the Empire. Neither side got anywhere near achieving such goals, and both ideas were thoroughly discredited by the end of the war. The U.S. national anthem was written about one of the battles in this war. Americans consider the war a draw, since no boundaries changed as a result. Canadians don't necessarily see it that way as fending off a large-scale U.S. annexation of Canadian territory, particularly on the valuable Niagara Peninsula, is heralded as a historic British-Canadian military victory.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834, but would remain legal in much of the U.S. until 1865, after the end of the American Civil War. The 1850 introduction of the U.S. Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law which angered abolitionist northern states by allowing black people to be abducted by slave-catchers and forcibly returned to slavery in the south, led to the establishment of an Underground Railroad of disparate routes leading north to freedom in Canada, mainly the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and Halifax in Nova Scotia. Canada never had any large scale African descendant slave population, but descendants of Underground Railroad refugees and "Black Loyalists" (African Americans who fought for England during the American Revolution) continue to live in Canada, albeit in much smaller numbers than American blacks.
The British established their first colony on the Pacific coast of Canada in 1849, when Vancouver Island was chartered with Fort Victoria as its capital. The colony of British Columbia was established in 1858, and the two were merged in 1866.
The colonies of Upper Canada (Anglophone Ontario), Lower Canada (Francophone Quebec), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick federated to from the self-governing Dominion of Canada in 1867, with each former colony becoming a province. The federation was greatly expanded in 1870. A huge territory called Rupert's Land — all the land whose rivers drain into Hudson's Bay, much of Canada and parts of a few US states — was granted by the British crown to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. In 1870, the newly formed dominion purchased it. That more than doubled the sizes of existing provinces Ontario and Quebec and led to the creation of new provinces. Manitoba was created in 1870, British Columbia joined in 1871, Prince Edward Island joined in 1873, and Saskatchewan and Alberta were created in 1905. In 1949, the former Dominion of Newfoundland became the final province to join the Canadian federation. Canada's newest territory, Nunavut, was created in 1999 from part of the existing Northwest Territories.
Canada's relationship with the UK is complex, and Canada's independence from the UK has been achieved over time. It was the British parliament's British North America Act in 1867 that established the country and the British monarch is still King or Queen of Canada, with a Governor General representing him or her in the country. Until the 1960s all the Governors-General were all British noblemen; since then, they have all been Canadians. However, the real governing power is Parliament: changes in 1931 which made Canada more-or-less fully independent of the United Kingdom. In World War I, there were Canadian regiments in the British Army under British generals, but by World War II there was a Canadian Army with its own generals; Canadians and Newfoundlanders made significant contributions in both wars.
Canada's relationship with the US is also complex. In general, the two nations are friendly and there is a great deal of trade and tourism in both directions. Many Canadians migrate to the US for work opportunities — Hollywood has thousands — and some Americans come north. The first big wave was Empire Loyalists during or after the American Revolution; later there were Underground Railroad passengers, draft dodgers during the Vietnam War, and others. The two countries have not been to war since 1814 and are proud to have "the world's longest undefended border", but there have been tensions and even threats. In the 1840s the slogan "Fifty-four-forty or fight" was used in American elections, asserting a claim to about half of what is now British Columbia; the boundary was eventually set by negotiation at 49 °N, several hundred miles south of 54°40'. The bellicose attitude of many Americans on that issue was in part connected to the contemporary Mexican-American War which was seen as a blatant land grab of pro-slavery forces at the time and the unwillingness of the federal government to assert a claim over Northern lands as aggressively as over Southern lands was seen as yet another sign for the federal government being controlled by Southern interests. Actual animosity towards Canada or the British played a marginal role in this jingoistic fervor. Canada and the US have been allies in a number of wars, notably both World Wars, Korea, Afghanistan, the first Iraq War and the current campaign against Da'esh (ISIS). However, Canada stayed out of some American wars, notably Vietnam and the second Iraq War.
Canadians sometimes cash in on events in the US. Canada's only involvement in the Civil War was selling supplies to the North, and Canada was the main source for smuggled booze during prohibition.
Canada and particularly Newfoundland also played an important role in the history of transatlantic aviation. Gander was one of the closest points in North America that was fog free most of the year where an airport could be built and it turned into a frequent refueling stop before planes gained enough range to cross the Atlantic nonstop. During the Cold War, defections sometimes happened during those refueling stops. While its European equivalent Shannon is still the second biggest airport in Ireland, Gander has since lost most of its importance but briefly came to the centre of the world's attention when after 9/11 countless flights that could not enter US airspace were diverted there and the locals took in stranded visitors from all over the world giving a piece of positive news to report on a generally depressing newsday.
In 1982, the UK passed the Canada Act, with Canada simultaneously passing the Constitution Act, ending any residual power the British parliament may have had to pass laws for Canada.
Quebec has twice had a referendum on the question of leaving Canada, the first time in 1980 with an almost 60-40 "no" vote and the second time in 1995 with an extremely narrow "no" vote of 50.58% to 49.42%. Quebec separatism is no longer a pressing issue, but it does come up from time to time, as do grumblings of other provinces - particularly the Maritimes and the Western provinces - about being left out or ignored by federal policy.
Canada has a federal system of government, consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Laws vary slightly from province to province, though they are for the most part fairly uniform.
At the federal level, the Canadian parliament is based on the British Westminster system, with a lower House of Commons that is popularly elected by the people, and an upper Senate that is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is typically the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. Each province has its own provincial government and legislature, based on the same system but without a senate. The premier serves as the head of the provincial government.
The executive branch is the Cabinet, which is headed by the Prime Minister, who appoints his Cabinet ministers from among the members of the House of Commons, and occasionally from the Senate. The Supreme Court of Canada heads the judicial branch, and has served as the highest court of appeal since taking over that role from the UK Privy Council in 1949.
Queen Elizabeth II remains the nominal head of state, with an appointed governor-general as her representative in Canada and a lieutenant-governor in each province. This is a constitutional monarchy; the roles of the Queen and her representatives are largely ceremonial, with the prime minister wielding the most authority in government.
The Canadian constitution defines certain areas of exclusively provincial jurisdiction. For example, each province sets its own drinking age, minimum wage, sales tax, labour regulations, and administers its own roads, health care and education systems. Two of the three territories' legislative assemblies (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) are non-partisan – no political parties are represented and instead, all candidates run as independents in their constituency.
There are five parties in the federal parliament (as of Dec 2019): the Conservative Party (right of centre), the Liberal Party (left of centre), the New Democratic Party (left), and the Green Party are nationally represented, while the Bloc Québécois is a regional party that promotes the independence of Quebec from Canada. Only the Conservatives and the Liberals have ever formed the national government, though the NDP have governed various provinces. While minority governments are somewhat common, coalition governments are almost unheard of and usually elections result in an outright majority of the seats for one party, even if this party only gained somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the popular vote. For most of its history since Confederation, Canada has been governed by the Liberal Party, which former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien referred to as "Canada's natural governing party." After a Conservative government served from 2006 to 2015, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau (son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, another Liberal prime minister) returned to government in 2015.
While Canada does not have the equivalent of "red states" and "blue states" as the US, there are some marked preferences for particular parties by province that have been relatively stable. The current Liberal government, for example, won no seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 2019 elections as about two-thirds of voters in those provinces voted Conservative.
Domestically, Canada has displayed success in negotiating compromises among its own culturally and linguistically varied population, a difficult task considering that language, culture, and even history vary significantly throughout the country. In contrast to the United States' traditional image of itself as a melting pot (now falling out of use), Canada prefers to consider and define itself as a mosaic of cultures and peoples. Canadians are used to living and interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis and will usually be quite friendly and understanding if approached in public. The country is largely urban-based and is home to a diverse population (less so in rural areas). As is common with any neighbouring nations, there is some rivalry between Americans and Canadians, which may be more evident in Canada than the United States. Consequently, if you are obviously an American visitor, a minority of Canadians may make comments that could offend you. However, if you aren't "in your face" about you being American and don't negatively compare Canada to the US the worst you will probably hear are some good-natured jokes.
The Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming first proposed time zones for the entire world in 1876, and Canada, being a continental country, is covered coast to coast with several zones.
- GMT −8 Pacific Time (Yukon, British Columbia)
- GMT −7 Mountain Time (Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut)
- GMT −6 Central Time (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, portions of northwestern Ontario, Nunavut)
- GMT −5 Eastern Time (Ontario, Quebec, Nunavut)
- GMT −4 Atlantic Time (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, portions of Labrador and eastern Quebec)
- GMT −3.5 Newfoundland Time (Newfoundland and a few Labrador points on the Strait of Belle Isle)
Daylight saving time, when clocks are moved forward by one hour, is observed in most of the country (except Saskatchewan) from 2AM on the second Sunday in March until 2AM on the second Sunday in November; during this time, for example, British Columbia uses GMT −7 while Alberta has GMT −6.
Anglophone Canada mostly uses the 12-hour clock system, but the 24-hour clock is generally used in francophone Canada. The 24-hour notation is also often used in English in such contexts as train and airline schedules.
Units of measure
- See also: Metric and Imperial equivalents
Canada's official measurement system is metric, but many Anglophone Canadians still use the imperial system for many things in colloquial usage. One of the most common holdovers from the imperial system is the use of feet and inches for measurement of short distances and heights, and especially the use of pounds for masses, even among younger Canadians and Francophones, though these measurements will be recorded in metric units on official documents. In Quebec and other Francophone communities, Imperial units are referred to by their French names. Feet become pieds, inches become pouces and pounds become livres. Older Canadians might still use the term 'mile' when referring to informal distances. Fahrenheit temperatures are only used when referring to water in pools and hot tubs, and for oven temperatures. Air temperature, both inside and outside is almost exclusively reported in Celsius. All weather forecasts will be in °C, centimetres of snow and millimetres of rain. Similarly, all road signs will use metric units, meaning that speed limits will be given in km/h and distances will be given in km. "Gallons", "quarts", "pints" and "fluid ounces" in Canada are generally used to refer to the British and not the American versions of those units.
- See also: Winter in North America
Trying to distill the climate of Canada into an easy-to-understand statement is impossible, given the vast area and diverse geography within the country, but "Frozen North" would be a reasonable first approximation. In most places, winters are harsh, on par with Russia. The most populated region, southern Ontario has a less severe climate, similar to the bordering regions of the mid-western and northeastern United States. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is just south of the Arctic Circle and remains very cold except for the months of July and August, when the July average maximum is only 12°C (54°F). On the other hand, the coastline of British Columbia is very mild for its latitude, remaining above freezing for most of winter, yet it is not far away from some of the largest mountain glaciers on the continent.
Most of the large Canadian urban areas are within 200 km (125 mi) of Canada's border with the United States (Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax and St. John's being notable exceptions). Visitors to most cities will most likely not have to endure the weather that accompanies a trip to more remote northern or mountainous areas often pictured on postcards of Canada. Summers in the most populated parts of Canada are generally short and hot. Summer temperatures over 35°C (95°F) are not unusual in Southern Ontario, the southern Prairies and the southern Interior of BC, with Osoyoos being the hot-spot of Canada for average daily maximums. Toronto's climate is only slightly cooler than many of the larger cities in the northeastern United States, and summers in the southern parts of Ontario, Quebec (including Montreal) and Manitoba are often hot and humid. In contrast, humidity is often low in the western interior during the summer, even during hot weather, and more cooling occurs at night. In the winter, eastern Canada, particularly Atlantic Canada, is sometimes subject to inclement weather systems entering from the US, bringing snow, high wind, rain, sleet, and temperatures in their wake of under −10°C (14°F).
Many inland cities, especially those in the Prairies, experience extreme temperature fluctuations, sometimes very rapidly. Owing to a dry climate (more arid west than east on the southern Prairies), bright sunshine hours are plentiful in the 2,300–2,600 annual hours range.
Winnipeg has hot summers with bouts of aggressive humidity, yet experiences very cold winters where temperatures around −40°C (−40°F) are not uncommon. The official hottest temperature in Canada ever recorded was in southern Saskatchewan, at 45°C (113°F), while the coldest was in Snag, Yukon −63°C (−81°F). Summer storms in the Prairies and Ontario can be violent and sometimes unleash strong damaging winds, hail, and rarely, tornadoes. On the west coast of British Columbia, Vancouver and Victoria are far more temperate and get very little snow, average low wind speeds and seldom experience temperatures below 0°C or above 27°C (32–80°F) but receive high rainfall amounts in winter then in turn dry, sunny, pleasant summers.
The average temperature is typically colder in Canada than in the US and Western Europe as a whole, so bring a warm jacket if visiting between October and April, and earlier and later than this if visiting hilly/mountainous terrain or Northern areas. For most of the country, daytime highs in the summer are generally well above 15 °C (60 °F) and usually into the 20s–30s°C (70s–100s°F) range.
Canada recognizes and celebrates the following national holidays (some provinces may have minor differences):
- New Year's Day — 1 January
- Family Day — 3rd Monday in February (not observed in all provinces, known as Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, Islander Day in PEI)
- Good Friday — Friday before Easter (a few institutions also close on Easter Monday)
- Easter Sunday — late March or early April, first Sunday after first full moon after the spring equinox
- Victoria Day—Last Monday in May before 25 May (known as Fêtes des Patriotes in Québec; always one week before the US Memorial Day)
- St. Jean Baptiste Day (Québec) — 24 June (also known as Fête Nationale)
- Canada Day— 1 July
- Civic Holiday — first Monday in August (only applies in some provinces, under different names; not in Québec)
- Labour Day — first Monday in September
- Thanksgiving—Second Monday in October (the same day as the US holiday of Columbus Day)
- Remembrance Day —11 November (bank holiday only; the same day as the US Veterans Day)
- Christmas Day — 25 December
- Boxing Day—26 December
Canada's Labour Day is not celebrated on 1 May, as in much of the world, but on the first Monday in September (the same day as the US celebrates its Labor Day).
Bilingualism and politics
Although most Canadians are monolingual, one place where you can see Canada's official bilingualism on display is in Parliament, as MPs have the right to address the House in either English or French. This bilingualism is also on display during election season, as all the major parties' prime ministerial candidates are expected to debate in both French and English on television, making bilingualism almost essential if one has aspirations for high office.
English and French are the only two official languages in Canada at the national level, though many other languages are spoken among immigrants or Canada's native peoples. All communications and services provided by the federal government are required by law to be available in both official languages. However, individual provinces are free to decide which languages they wish to adopt as official languages at the provincial level, meaning that offices of the provincial governments may not necessarily offer services in both languages (e.g. British Columbia only offers services in English, while Quebec only offers services in French). Most Canadians are functionally monolingual, although some parts of the country have both English and French speakers. Over a quarter of Canadians are bilingual or multilingual. A majority of Montrealers and Gatinois, as well as about 40% of Ottawans, are at least conversationally bilingual. New Brunswick is officially bilingual as roughly one third of the province speak French as their first language, mostly in Northern New Brunswick.
English is the dominant language in all regions except Québec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. However, there are numerous francophone communities scattered around the country, such as:
- the national capital region around Ottawa, and various towns between Ottawa and Montréal
- some parts of eastern and northern Ontario,
- the city of Winnipeg (particularly St. Boniface) and areas to the south,
- the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood in Edmonton, and several surrounding communities,
- a few parts of the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada, scattered across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island).
Likewise, there are anglophone communities in Québec, such as the on-island western suburbs of Montreal. Most Francophones outside of Québec are bilingual, as are most Anglophones living in Québec.
Canadian English uses a mixture of British and American spellings, often with US vocabulary ("gas" instead of "petrol") and UK spelling (a "meter" is a measuring instrument, a "metre" is a unit of length). Some British terms not usually understood in the United States are widely used in Canada. Certain words, as well as the letter "z", follow British instead of American pronunciations, but the accents of Canadians and Americans are nonetheless quite similar. The standard Canadian accent differs from the standard American (Midwest) accent being smoother, less nasal and faster-paced (common phrases that are normally two words are pronounced as though there is no space between them) and is virtually identical to the West Coast American accent. Canadian English also tends to have a stronger French influence than other varieties of English, and Canadians are also more likely than other English speakers to pronounce loan words from French according to their original French pronunciation.
Atlantic Canada has the greatest variety of regional accents in English-speaking North America, largely as a result of the isolated nature of the fishing communities along the Atlantic coastline prior to the advent of modern telecommunications and transportation. A visitor to the Atlantic provinces may have some difficulty understanding strong local accents rich in maritime slang and idiom, particularly in rural areas. From Ontario westward, the accent of English Canadians is more or less the same from one region to another and is akin to that spoken in northern US border states.
English-speaking Canadians are generally not required to take French after their first year of high school, and thus most English-speaking Canadians outside Quebec cannot speak French unless they are closely related to someone who does, or have chosen to continue French studies out of personal or professional interest. Ottawa is an exception as French is needed in many civil service jobs. Education in other languages (such as Spanish, German, and Japanese) is offered, although only a small minority of students take these courses, and those that do rarely progress past the basics. As Canada is a popular destination for migrants from all over the world, you will often hear different languages being spoken in Canada's major cities, and you will often find neighbourhoods or suburbs whose primary language is that of their respective immigrant communities. Most immigrants learn English or French in addition to speaking their native tongue with family and friends.
In Quebec, one can usually get by with English in Montreal, Gatineau, on-the-beaten-path areas of Quebec City, and a few traditionally Anglophone rural areas such as the Lower North Shore, Chaleur Bay, and some areas along the U.S. border. However, elsewhere in the province, knowledge of French ranges from very useful to downright essential. Even if you're just passing through, it pays to know at least enough French to read road signs (this is especially true if you're planning to venture off the autoroutes onto country roads). It may also be useful to know at least a few basic French phrases in the larger cities, where some attempt by travellers to communicate in French is often appreciated. The varieties of French spoken in Québec and the Acadian regions differ in accent and vocabulary from each other and from European French. Some Franco-Europeans have difficulty understanding Canadian French. Nevertheless, all Francophone Canadians learn standard French in school, so they will generally be able to speak standard French if required.
Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are home to large Chinese migrant populations, and Cantonese is widely spoken in the Chinatowns in these cities. Due to migration from mainland China, and the increasing prominence of China's rising tourism industry, Mandarin is becoming increasingly more widely spoken. Other Chinese dialects are also spoken, but less common.
There are also dozens of aboriginal languages spoken by many Canadians of aboriginal descent. In Nunavut more than half the population speaks Inuktitut, a traditional language of the Inuit, with a significant minority speaking Inuinnaqtun. Nevertheless, most of these people speak English or French as well, so learning these languages is generally not a necessity to communicate, though it would certainly impress your hosts.
Two sign languages are predominant in Canada. American Sign Language, or ASL, is used in Anglophone Canada; Quebec Sign Language, or LSQ, is used in Francophone Canada. While the two are distinct languages, they share a degree of mutual intelligibility. Both are part of the French Sign Language family, and LSQ is believed to be a mix of French Sign Language and ASL.
Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa to visit Canada for a stay of (generally) up to six months, provided no work or study is undertaken and the traveller holds a passport valid for six months beyond their intended date of departure:
Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cayman Islands, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Falkland Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hong Kong (BNO Passport or SAR Passport), Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel (National Passport holders only), Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montserrat, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Poland, Portugal, Romania (biometric passports only), Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, St. Helena, Sweden, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan (must be ordinary passport including ID card number), Turks and Caicos Islands, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom (including British (Overseas) Citizens that are re-admissible to the United Kingdom), United States and Vatican City.
See this page for more information: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/visit-canada/entry-requirements-country.html
A visa exemption also applies to individuals holding nationalities that are not specified above if they are in possession of a US Green Card or can provide other evidence of permanent residence in the United States. Persons who do not require a visa and who are entering for any reason other than tourism must have a letter of invitation from the individual, business, or organization that they are visiting (information about letters of invitation and what information they need to contain).
Foreigners entering Canada visa-free by plane are required to obtain an eTA (electronic Travel Authorization) in order to be allowed on the plane. The eTA is issued by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and is similar to the US ESTA, but the fee is lower at $7 and is valid for as long as the passport or for a maximum of five years. US citizens (but not permanent residents) and French citizens of Saint Pierre and Miquelon are exempt from this. The eTA is not required if you are entering by land or sea.
Canada is quite strict about admitting anyone with a criminal record, and even people who would otherwise not need a visa may be denied entry or may need additional paperwork if they have a record, no matter how long ago or minor it may be. Even a drunk driving conviction counts, because that is considered a criminal offence under Canadian law. Anybody with a criminal record, including US citizens, should contact a Canadian diplomatic mission for advice before making travel plans. See Traveling with a criminal history#Canada.
All others will be required to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa to enter the country. This can be done at the applicants' nearest Canadian Visa Office. Applicants are required to submit, as part of their application:
- A valid travel document (such as a passport)
- Two properly-formatted, passport-sized photos for all applicants
- The application fee (the fee per person is $75 for a single entry visa, $150 for a multiple entry visa or $400 for a family (multiple or single entry)
- Reservation confirmation (for tourists) or letter of invitation (for everybody else).
- Proof that you have enough money for your visit to Canada. The amount of money may vary, depending on the circumstances for your visit, how long you will stay and whether you will stay in a hotel, or with friends or relatives. You can get more information from the visa office.
- Other documents as required. These documents could be identification cards, proof of employment, or a proposed itinerary. Check the website of the visa office responsible for the country or region where you live for more information.
If you plan to visit the United States and do not travel outside the borders of the US, you can use your single entry visa to re-enter as long as the visa has not passed its expiry date.
Working while in the country is forbidden without a work permit, although Canada does have several temporary work permits for youth from specific countries. See "Work" below.
Quebec has been given limited autonomy in the selection of immigrants by the federal government. While its immigration rules differ slightly from the rest of Canada, these rule differences do not affect short-term visitors (such as tourists and business travellers) who do not plan to work or immigrate.
United States citizens travelling by land (vehicle, rail, boat or foot) to Canada need only proof of citizenship and identification for short-term visits. In addition to a passport, a number of other documents may also be used to cross the border:
- United States Passport Card (issued by the Department of State)
- Enhanced Drivers License or Non-Driver Photo ID card (issued by Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington State)
- Enhanced Tribal ID Card
- Trusted Traveler Cards issued by the US Department of Homeland Security for the Canadian Border (NEXUS and FAST).
Prior to 2009, it was possible to travel across the US-Canada border with just a birth certificate or a driver's licence. Birth certificates are still acceptable to enter Canada, but United States Customs and Border Protection stopped accepting birth certificates when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) went into effect. This is because many (especially older) certificates are little more than a typewritten piece of carbon paper with no security. If you try to re-enter the United States with your birth certificate, you will eventually be let in, but only after significant delays while CBP verifies the information on it with the issuing department. You may also be fined or prosecuted for non-compliance, although anything more than a written warning is unlikely for a first time violator.
Residents of Greenland, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States also benefit from arrangements where applications for work and study permits can be made upon arrival in Canada at the Immigration Office at the port of entry without the need for an advance Temporary Resident Visa or advance application at a consulate. However, all the paperwork normally needed for such a permit has to be submitted at the port of entry as it would at a consulate, including a letter of introduction/invitation, the appropriate paperwork issued by the institution/employer, and the appropriate fees.
- See also: Avoiding travel through Canada
Similar to the US, Canada also requires entry formalities even if you are transferring between two international flights at the same airport. The exception to this is if you are connecting from another international flight to a US-bound flight (but not vice versa) at an airport with US border pre-clearance, and if the connection is made in the same terminal. If you are not eligible for a visa waiver to enter Canada, then in general you will need to apply for a free-of-charge transit visa to transit through Canada. While Canada's visa policy is in general somewhat more relaxed than the US, making it a popular route for people who wish to avoid transiting through the US, Canada's rules on criminal inadmissibility are even more strict than that of the US. In other words, if you have a criminal record, or even a drunk-driving conviction, it is likely that you will be refused immigration clearance to transit through Canada and should plan alternative routes.
Canada has very strict biosecurity laws. Similar to the United States, Australia and New Zealand, all food items being brought into Canada must be declared to customs on arrival and inspected. Failure to declare any food items could lead to a hefty fine, even if the items are permitted.
Canadian drug laws are considerably stricter than American ones, and attempting to bring illicit drugs into Canada is a very serious offence which carries a heavy jail term with it. In particular, while medicinal marijuana is legal in much of the US, it is illegal to attempt to bring marijuana into Canada, even if you have a prescription and even though recreational use of cannabis is legal in Canada - see the government's Cannabis and International Travel page for details.
It is illegal to bring firearms and explosives across the border into Canada without declaring them, with proper paperwork, to customs. Anyone under 18 years of age cannot legally bring a firearm into Canada at all. For details, see the Canada Border Services Agency's Import and Export a Firearm or Weapon into Canada page for firearms and the Natural Resources Canada Importing, Exporting and Transporting-in-Transit pages for ammunition.
Although there is no restriction on the amount of money that can be brought into or out of Canada, customs requires you to declare if you are carrying $10,000 (Canadian) or more, or its equivalent in foreign currency. Failure to declare could lead to prosecution and possible seizure of the cash.
From the United States
If you are a US citizen or permanent resident and travel to Canada frequently, consider applying for a NEXUS card. NEXUS allows pre-approved, low risk travellers to use expedited inspection lanes both into Canada and the United States at many land crossings with minimal questioning. You can also utilize kiosks to make your customs declaration and clear the border at major international airports if you opt for an iris scan. The application fee is $50 and requires being legally admissible to both nations, a thorough background investigation, credit check, fingerprinting and an interview with both US Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency.
Participants in other DHS trusted traveller programs such as Global Entry (expedited clearance at airports), SENTRI (expedited US-Mexico border clearance) and FAST (for truck drivers) cannot utilize NEXUS lanes into Canada, although are allowed to use their Global Entry, SENTRI, or FAST card as a travel document denoting identity and citizenship. Additionally, these cards can be used in NEXUS lanes entering the United States.
If you are travelling to Canada from the United States and you are not a permanent resident of either country you need to be careful to satisfy the US authorities on any subsequent trip that you have not exceeded their limits on stays in North America. Your time in Canada counts towards your maximum allowed United States stay if you are returning to the US prior to your departure from North America.
- If you are returning to the US in this trip, keep your visa documents. Do not hand over your US visa or visa waiver card (I-94 or I-94W) to border control. You can enter the US multiple times during the time allocated to your visa (for Western tourists, normally 90 days), but you need to have the immigration document as well to validate the visa. If you come back from the US without that document, you will not only have to apply again for a visa or visa waiver but also will also need to satisfy US immigration of the validity of your trip (meaning to show them that you will not intend on immigrating there).
- If your default US time is going to run out while you are in Canada, and you want to return to the US direct from Canada, you need to apply for a US visa with a longer time period (e.g. B-1/B-2, or a C-1 transit visa) before your first trip through the US. For example, if you are going to stay in Canada for six months, and you transit through the US on a visa waiver, then the US will regard your six months in Canada as not allowing you to return to the US without leaving North America first, as you have stayed more than 90 days in North America in total. In this scenario, you have not done anything wrong by visiting the US and then staying in Canada for a long time, simply that the US will not allow you to return directly from Canada, you have to reset their clock by leaving North America. Visa waiver travellers may be able to avoid this by returning their I-94W (green) form to their airline upon departing the US, or to the Canadian immigration inspector if entering Canada by land; since the US has no outbound immigration check, it's up to the traveller to remember this.
- If you are intending to leave North America entirely without returning to the US on this trip, return any visa documents at the time of leaving the US for Canada. This means handing over your I-94 or I-94W card to airline staff at the check-in counter if departing by air, or to the Canadian immigration inspector if departing by land. If you do not, you will need to prove to the US that you didn't overstay to be admitted on future trips (the US CBP website has information on how to correct this mistake).
If you leave Canada to briefly visit the United States and wish to re-enter Canada in a short period of time, you generally may do so without getting a new Canadian visa as long as you return within the initial period authorised by the immigration officer or have a valid temporary residence permit authorising you to re-enter, and you do not leave US soil before returning to Canada (i.e. not even during a cruise which begins and ends at a US point but crosses international waters in-between). If you leave US soil for a third country for any reason on a single-entry Canadian visa, you will have to apply for a new visa before re-entering Canada.
Canada's main international airports are located in Toronto (YYZ IATA), Vancouver (YVR IATA) and Montreal (YUL IATA). Many other cities have international airports as well, with the following being of particular use to visitors: Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, St. John's, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Victoria and Quebec City.
Flag carrier Air Canada and WestJet are the country's only national air carriers, covering the entire country and international destinations. There are also regional domestic airlines, and charter airlines serving mainly international destinations.
Luggage allowance for flights to or from Canada usually operates on a piece-wise in addition to the weight system even for foreign carriers. This means that you are allowed a limited number of bags to check-in where each bag should not exceed certain linear dimensions (computed by adding the length, width and height of the bags). The exact restrictions on weight, linear dimension and number of baggage allowed are determined by the carrier you are flying with and the class of service you are travelling in, usually individual bags may be up to 23 kg (50 lb) if travelling in economy class.
If you are flying across the border from the United States, Air Canada and all US-based carriers (Alaska, American, Delta, and United) charge checked bag fees. Typically $25 for a single bag of up to 23 kg (50 pounds), and $35–50 for a second bag, unless you have elite status, are travelling in First or Business class, or qualify for a fee waiver (e.g. US military personnel). If you are flying to the US from a major airport, you will typically clear US customs and immigration at the Canadian airport before departure; make sure you give yourself ample time to complete all these procedures
Canada has a land border with only one country – the United States. There are two land borders, Canada's southern border with the 48 contiguous states and another between Western Canada and Alaska. See the from the United States subsection for more information on what to do when leaving the US.
You might also enter the country by road from the United States through one of many border crossing points. The same rules will apply here, but if your case is not straightforward, expect to be delayed, as the officials here (especially in more rural areas) see fewer non-US travellers than at the airports. Also expect delays during holiday periods, as border crossings can become clogged with traffic.
After crossing the border into Canada, road signs change into metric units; distances are in kilometres and speed limits in km per hour. One mile is 1.609 km so multiply what you see on the road signs by 5/8 to get its approximate equivalent in miles e.g. 40 km ≈ 25 miles and 100 km/h ≈ 62.5 mph. If you are driving a US-model vehicle into Canada, the speedometer will usually have US units on top or outward while metric units are below or inward. If only US units are displayed, there will usually be a switch allowing you to change the speedometer to metric units; check your owner's manual to find where it is.
As of 2013, drivers of US registered vehicles in Canada are no longer required to carry a separate Canadian insurance document. It is your responsibility as the driver to ensure that your US policy will cover you in Canada and meets the minimum coverage level of the provinces you'll be driving in. C$200,000 liability coverage is the standard requirement in all provinces apart from Nova Scotia which sets the minimum at C$500,000, by contrast, most US states have statutory minimums of US$50,000 or less. Most American insurers will cover you fully in Canada although some require advanced notification and/or payment of an additional premium. Call your agent prior to any cross-border car trips to discuss requirements and procedures.
Via Rail is Canada's national passenger rail service. The US counterpart, Amtrak, provides connecting rail services to Toronto from New York via Niagara Falls; Montreal from New York and Vancouver from Seattle via Bellingham. Their trains are an inexpensive way to get into Canada, as tickets start from as low as US$43 return between Seattle and Vancouver.
Not many take the train as a regular means of inter-city transportation. Most simply drive to where they want to go if the distance is short (which in Canada can still mean hundreds of kilometres!), or fly if distances are long.
Important: If you're travelling cross-border on Amtrak services, you must have your tickets validated prior to boarding. Pick up your tickets from the window (not the Quick-Trak kiosk) and show your passport or travel document to the agent (your travel document information is sent ahead of time on a manifest to border services to facilitate crossing procedures). Some stations, such as New York City, have a dedicated window for international passengers.
As of 2017, Hostelling International members are eligible at 12.5% discount from Via Rail.
Greyhound Canada serves Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, with connecting service to regional lines and US Greyhound coaches.
Many routes connect major Canadian and American cities including Montreal – New York City which is operated by New York Trailways and Vancouver–Seattle operated by Greyhound (USA). The Toronto to New York City route (via Buffalo) is operated by a number of bus companies: Greyhound and Trailways for traditional service, and Megabus (Coach Canada) on the discount side. There are also many local bus companies throughout Canada.
Effective October 31, 2018, Greyhound Canada terminated all bus service in Northern Ontario (north-west of Sudbury) and all of Western Canada (Prairies and British Columbia). This did not affect the Vancouver-Seattle service operated by Greyhound (USA).
Several cruise lines run cruises between the eastern United States and Halifax. Most freight routes run to Montreal on the east coast and Vancouver on the west coast. International passengers will be required to pass through customs in their port of arrival.
Ferries enter British Columbia from Alaska and Washington. Alaska Marine Highway serves Prince Rupert, whereas Washington State Ferries serves Sidney (near Victoria) through the San Juan islands. Black Ball runs a car ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles; tourist-oriented passenger-only ferries run from Victoria to points in Washington.
A car ferry in Sonra, Ontario serves Marine City, Michigan (midway between Windsor-Detroit and Sarnia-Port Huron). A truck ferry joins Windsor-Detroit, primarily to carry dangerous goods prohibited on the Ambassador Bridge. A small car ferry operates from Pelee Island and Kingsville (Ontario) to Sandusky, Ohio when ice and weather allows. A small car ferry operates seasonally between Wolfe Island, Ontario (near Kingston) and Cape Vincent, NY.
A ferry runs seasonally (May 1-end Oct) between Yarmouth and Portland (Maine).
Cruising on small craft is also an option to reach Canada from Saint Pierre and Miquelon or from US border towns on the Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence Seaway, New Brunswick's St. Clair River and on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The master of small craft arriving in Canada must contact Customs at +1-888-CANPASS (226-7277) before passengers disembark from the boat.
Canada is huge – the second largest country in the world by land area after Russia; this means that you will need several days to appreciate even a part of the country. The distances involved will boggle many travellers, though perhaps not those from other large countries.
The distance from St. John's, Newfoundland to Vancouver (over 5,000 km or 3,000 miles as the crow flies) is considerably more than from London to any major European city, including Moscow, and somewhat more than from New Delhi to either Beijing or Istanbul.
The span of Canada's population is actually very small, however: 90% of Canada's population resides within 160 km of the southern border with the United States, and 57% of Canadians reside south of the parallel on which Seattle resides. As such, getting around in Canada is almost completely restricted to the southern "Canadian corridor", and travelling to Northern Canada often requires flying there.
The best way to get around the country is by air. Air Canada is the main national carrier, and has by far the largest network and most frequent schedules. For travel between major centres, WestJet offers competitive fares. Because of protectionism policies favouring Canadian carriers and high taxes, fares tend to be more expensive than flying similar distances in the United States, Australia or China, and sometimes, transiting in the US could be cheaper than a direct domestic flight. Most major airports are served by public transit. This consists of trains and feeder buses running at peak frequencies ranging from five to fifteen minutes or less (Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa). Service may be spotty or non-existent late at night or on weekends if you are outside the major centres. To travel to the city centre/downtown, one or more connections are required in all cities except Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Ottawa, making a taxi or shuttle a better idea for large groups or those with a lot of luggage.
Domestic flights in Canada are generally similar to those in the US in terms of service levels; airlines charge economy class passengers for meals and check-in baggage, and these are only included in the ticket price for business class passengers.
- See also: General aviation
Float planes, lake to lake in northern Canada is another way to travel. It's possible to do this for free. You can Air Hitch above the Arctic Circle by flying out of any of the airports, but the trick is getting access to pilots. This can be easier at the Abbotsford Air Show, near Vancouver, Canada, in the summer.
When you get further north, above Prince George say, you'll need to hook up with pilots, often delivering mail lake to lake. Often there are general store and post office type places near the lakes. Many air hitchers catch up with the pilots when they stop for a meal or coffee as one does with truck drivers. In the major and regional airports, one can catch the pilots going in or out of the Environment Canada weather offices.
Air courier travel is a dying phenomenon. It was once common to deliver urgent documents and parcels more quickly by using the checked baggage allocation of a passenger ticket on frequently-travelled routes (such as Paris to Montréal); as checked baggage must have a corresponding passenger, the seat would be offered with carry-on luggage only to a traveller at a reduced rate. With rare exception, any time advantage has been eliminated by airlines improving their cargo operations and by major parcel carriers (such as FedEx and UPS) moving the bulk of their cargo on their own aircraft.
If one accepts work in Canada’s high north, many employers will pay one's passage. Because it pays so well and there is little work in places like Newfoundland, many Canadians commute from the Atlantic provinces to well- paid jobs in Northern Canada and Alberta.
Travel by intercity coach is available between most major cities in Canada. Service is best in the densely packed Windsor-Quebec corridor between Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. Service in this corridor is provided by a number of companies:
- Megabus (Coach Canada): Toronto – Kingston - Montreal
- Greyhound: Toronto – Ottawa, Montreal – Ottawa, and routes between Toronto and southwestern Ontario
- Orleans Express: Montreal – Quebec City
Since the discontinuation of Greyhound's Western Canada service, a cross-Canada bus trip is essentially impossible.
There are bus services in the most populated parts of eastern Canada, but service through northern Ontario to Winnipeg is provided on daytime runs by Kasper Bus from White River, requiring an overnight layover Thunder Bay. There is no carrier offering westbound service from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan (as of January 2019). Rider Express offers a Regina-Saskatoon-Edmonton service, and a daily Calgary-Vancouver run.
- See also: Driving in Canada
Many travellers to Canada rent a car. Although somewhat expensive if you are travelling alone, this can be an economically reasonable alternative if you are sharing the costs with others. However, there are many limitations and drawbacks on car rentals in Canada, including:
- There can be very high surcharges associated with dropping off the car at a different location than where it was picked up.
- Unlimited kilometres are usually offered for the province you rent it in only. As soon as you enter another province, even for a few kilometres, your entire trip gets limited (mostly to 200 km a day).
- Driving is usually permitted on paved roads only.
- There are no manual transmission rental cars available in Canada.
In some cases, frugal travellers may be able to "earn" budget automobile travel by delivering a car across Canada. The option is not common. Nor does it offer the opportunity to spend much time stopping along the way. However, it can be a cheap way to cross Canada while seeing the interior. Canada Drive Away and Hit the Road are options.
Traffic moves on the right in Canada with most cars being left-hand-drive (as in the USA and France).
Driving within Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto is not always practical; these cities are densely populated and parking can be difficult to find and/or expensive. All three cities provide extensive public transit, so it may be better to park in a central location, or at your hotel or lodging, then use public transit. You can usually obtain maps of the public transit systems at airports, subway kiosks, and train stations. Outside those cities, public transport tends to be unreliable or non-existent, so a car is almost essential just to get around at all.
Gasoline in 2016 was $1.00-1.40 per litre in most Canadian cities. Debit and credit cards without the "chip and PIN" are not recognized at the pumps, although most companies accept the cards if they are brought inside to the cashier.
In general, foreign visitors are allowed to drive using their foreign licence for up to 90 days if their licence is in English or French, after which they have to obtain a Canadian licence from the province or territory they are residing in. Foreign licences in other languages must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP). Most foreigners are required to take a written and practical test before they can get a Canadian licence, though individual provinces may have reciprocal agreements that exempt some foreigners from testing requirements; check with the relevant provincial government to be sure. Licensing laws and road rules vary slightly from province to province.
Many jurisdictions also have red light and speed cameras that issue fines via mail to the car's registered owner, again via licence plate when the car is automatically photographed running (disobeying) a red traffic light or going above the speed limit. The above warning regarding rental agency policies applies to these as well. As the ticket is sent to the vehicle owner (not the driver) long after the alleged offence, it is difficult or impossible to obtain due process or a fair trial, making these traps a lucrative source of revenue for local and provincial governments.
If you are set on a road trip, an alternative to car rental is to rent an RV (motorhome or campervan). This gives you the flexibility to explore Canada at your own pace and is ideal if your trip is geared around an appreciation of Canada's natural environment. Costs can also be lower than combining car rental with hotels.
Passenger rail service in Canada, although safe and comfortable, is often an expensive, slow and inconvenient alternative to other types of transport. The corridor between Windsor and Quebec City is an exception to this generalization. The routes outside of this corridor are either the single day trains in Ontario and Quebec or the four multi day trains outside of the Central provinces. The approximately three-day train ride between Toronto and Vancouver called The Canadian is the most famous, and VIA's flagship train, which passes through the splendour of the Canadian prairies and the Rocky Mountains, with domed observation cars to allow passengers to take in the magnificent views. The Ocean, a two day train trip that passes from Montreal to Halifax, passes through the Canadian Maritimes and provides excellent ocean views in its journey in Northern New Brunswick. The Winnipeg-Churchill route takes two days to travel to the shores of Hudson Bay and is the only passenger train service to Northern Canada. In British Columbia, The Skeena travels from Jasper to Prince Rupert over the course of 2 days and provides some of the best scenery aboard any VIA train. However, this train overnights in Prince George and a ticket does not include accommodation in the town. Additionally, the route travels along a heavily trafficked rail route, so expect multiple delays along the way. Unlike in Europe or East Asia, Canada does not have high-speed rail lines, and the Canadian railway network is primarily used for freight transport. Although passenger trains legally have right of way on the rails, VIA trains are significantly smaller than freight trains and as such will always yield to passing freight trains. VIA travels on Canadian National owned trackage exclusively: As a result, VIA trains do not travel through Regina-Calgary-Banff as this track is owned by Canadian Pacific Rail.
Make arrangements ahead of time to get lower fares. Via Rail is the main Canadian passenger rail company and often has 50% off sales or last minute discounts. Tickets in coach are often reasonably priced and competitive with equivalent plane tickets, however these tickets do not include food and drink on board, requiring coach passengers to pay in the service cars. Sleeper tickets, though significantly more expensive, include food in the prices and allow other privileges exclusive to such passengers.
Some tourist trains can also get you from A to B but their focus is mostly on sightseeing, not transportation and they are usually much more expensive than a plane, car or bus trip would be. The Rocky Mountaineer is the most well known and travels from Calgary to Vancouver along the historic Canadian Pacific Railway. However, this train is not a viable inter-city train as tickets are very expensive and oriented towards sight seeing tourists exclusively.
Canada can be a great place for hitchhiking, and is still done by younger travellers strapped for cash, or seeking adventure. It's most common in the far western provinces, although popularity is decreasing. Hitchhiking in the urban areas of Southern Ontario and Montréal is not a sure thing as many drivers will not pick up hitchhikers in these regions.
In heavily populated areas such as the Windsor-Quebec corridor, the main route used to be a road that went through every town as the main street. A freeway was built in the 1960s, leaving three options – hitchhike on the old road (slower, and more difficult as most of the remaining traffic is local), stand on the shoulder of the freeway (which is illegal, but not uncommon) or stand at the on-ramp and hope someone getting on at that crossroads is going your way. In less-populated areas (such as the vast stretches of Trans-Canada Highway across northern Ontario), the surface road remains the only highway, giving pedestrians (and hitchhikers) unfettered access at any point.
The small town of Wawa in Northern Ontario was famous in the 1960s and 70s as a place where westbound hitchhikers became stranded, sometimes for days. It might still be wise not to accept a ride that only goes to Wawa; look for one that goes through to Thunder Bay. More generally, look for lifts going to decent-sized towns rather than ones that will drop you in the middle of nowhere. This makes it easier to find your next lift, or food and lodging, and reduces risks of dangerous animals or being caught without shelter in nasty weather.
Hitchhiking in winter is best avoided (except as a last resort) as darkness falls early and drivers cannot see you easily in snowstorms or hazardous weather conditions.
As anywhere in the world, hitch-hiking carries risks.
By ride sharing
Ride sharing is increasing in popularity among users of Internet website Craigslist and dedicated ridesharing sites such as Kangaride, LiftSurfer and RideshareOnline. This method of transport works best between major centres, for example, Toronto-Montreal or Vancouver-Calgary. Generally anything along the Trans-Canada Highway corridor (Victoria, Vancouver, Banff, Canmore, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, St Johns, Halifax, PEI) should be no problem if your dates are flexible. Allo-Stop offers intercity carpool service in Québec but is not licensed to operate in other provinces.
Some tourist destinations, especially those popular with young people, can be accessed via rideshare, for example: Vancouver-Whistler or Calgary-Banff. People sharing a ride will usually be expected to pay for their fair share of the fuel cost, and may also be asked to do some of the driving on long hauls.
For best results be sure to post a request listing, and start checking for offer listings at least one week prior to your anticipated ride date. Backpacker's hostel notice boards are also a good resource for ride sharing.
Like hitchhiking, some common sense and discretion is advisable.
The Trans Canada Trail covers 21,500 km of a planned 34,000 km route stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and to the Arctic Ocean.
Canada is a nation with many places of interest all across the country. Each province and territory is unique with each one containing its own special attractions.
North American wildlife can be found all across the country.
British Columbia has much to offer including Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), an ecologist's paradise of pristine wilderness, and Vancouver Island. In the interior of the province, the towering Western Cordillera and Western Rocky Mountains provide stunning scenery and two of the famous Rocky Mountain National Parks, Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park. South-Central British Columbia is famous for the Okanagan, nationally renowned for its year-round mild climate and fine wineries. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Canada is to be found all across British Columbia, both at established resorts or backcountry. BC has the greatest number of provincial parks in the country, and many are visited by fewer than 1,000 a year.
The Canadian Territories, though often expensive to reach, provide the natural tourist the least touched natural areas in the country. In Yukon, you have the majestic Northern Mountains, such as in Kluane National Park, and the relatively unknown Tombstone Territorial Park. While the Northwest Territories are relatively unknown to many adventurers, they are the real "fisherman's paradise", with thousands of untouched lakes loaded with big game fish, including the mighty sturgeon. The NWT also possesses highly esteemed national parks such as Nahanni National Park Reserve and the more remote Aulavik National Park, as well as the northern part of Wood Buffalo National Park. Nunavut has some of the most beautiful untouched Arctic land in the world, tucked away in hard to reach corners like Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island.
Alberta is one of the most geographically diverse provinces in all of Canada, with the world-famous Rocky Mountains in the west, the "greatest outdoor show on earth" in Calgary (the Calgary Stampede), West Edmonton Mall in Alberta's capital, the arid badlands near Drumheller, and the wild frontiers of Alberta's northern forests. Calgary and Edmonton are both world class cities and offer a wide array of museums and sights to see. Alberta is home to world famous Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and possesses many provincial parks such as the provincial park in Kananaskis Country.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba are generally considered the "fly over" provinces of Canada with little to see. However, travelers to these two provinces will actually find quite a bit to see. Saskatchewan is notorious for how flat it is, however this can a surprising sight to those accustomed to seeing the farmlands of Ontario and Quebec because of the lack of trees and the abundance of grain elevators. Grasslands National Park remains one of the few untouched prairie landscapes and provides much to do within a weekend trip. Regina and Saskatoon are the two big cities and, although much smaller than Calgary or Toronto, provide all of the amenities common to any major city. Northern Saskatchewan remains largely untouched by people and has become a paddling and fishing destination for many from around the world. Manitoba's geography is similar to that of Saskatchewan, with a largely flat terrain and a sparesly populated northern boreal forest. Riding Mountain National Park provides visitors with stunning natural scenery and Wapusk National Park on the shores of Hudson Bay is the denning grounds for the majority of Canada's polar bear population. Winnipeg is the biggest city in Manitoba and offers many amenities of a major city. Being the first major city of Western Canada, Winnipeg is rich in history and a history tourist will find plenty to see in and around the city. Churchill is famous as a destination for nature photographers as polar bears are frequently seen in the town, so much so that the town has its own Polar Bear Patrol and made it illegal to lock your car and house doors in the case someone needs to flee an attacking polar bear. For fans of snakes, Manitoba possesses a natural secret in the Narcisse Snake Dens, recognized as the site with the greatest concentration of snakes on the face of the Earth. Every spring, red sided garter snakes make their way from their winter dens to this location to take part in a breeding frenzy.
Ontario and Quebec include the beaten-path Windsor-Quebec corridor through the country's two largest metropolises, Toronto and Montreal; both also contain huge rural expanses and many remote points where there simply is no road. As the national capital, Ottawa-Gatineau has an unparalleled array of museums. Quebec City (1608) and Montréal (1640) are famous for their old towns and architecture, with old Québec City retaining original "walled city" fortifications of yesteryear.
Pioneer villages and historic sites in many provinces recall the everyday life of early colonists before the introduction of machine power. The memory of the United Empire Loyalist exodus and the War of 1812 lives on in many Ontario and New Brunswick border communities. Atlantic Canada has preserved much of its Acadian heritage.
The three Maritime Provinces are a hidden gem to travelers to Canada as many visitors pass over the Maritimes towards the Mountains of the west. Nova Scotia treasures its maritime legacy with a famous lighthouse perched atop the rocky shoreline of Peggys Cove, historic shipyards at Lunenburg and a seaside fortress the size of a small colonial village at Louisbourg. In the north of the province is Cape Breton Island, which is home to the world famous Cabot Trail, and the scenic shores of Bras d'Or Lake. The sandy beaches of Prince Edward Island gain immediate recognition by literary travellers seeking the birthplace of Anne of Green Gables, and many are delighted to visit the Parks Canada Green Gables Historic Site where the site has been turned into a living replica of the famous story. Though reffered to as the "drive thru province" because of the misheld belief that there is little to see, New Brunswick has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the region. The Appalachian mountains in the North provide visitors with pristine wilderness scenery and the Fundy Shores, especially in Fundy National Park, showcase the highest tides in the world. The St. John River Valley provides those looking to take the scenic route with a royal treat, as one can drive the length of the river valley from Edmunston to St. John.
The coasts of Newfoundland are dotted with tiny fishing villages known as "outports" and four UNESCO World Heritage sites - Gros Morne National Park, Mistaken Point, the Anse-aux-Meadows Viking archaeological site on the Great Northern Peninsula and a Basque whaling camp at Red Bay, Labrador.
- Ice hockey - The national sport of Canada, where it is known as just "hockey", and perhaps the one unifying factor between English and French Canadians. The top professional league in the sport is the National Hockey League (NHL), which Canada shares with the United States. Seven of the 31 teams in the NHL are based in Canada, in the cities of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver respectively, and even though the last time a Canadian team won the NHL was in 1993, a considerable part (or even most) of the players in any given NHL team, including those based in the United States, are Canadians. The season finale is known as the Stanley Cup, which consists of a series of games played between the two finalists in May and June to determine the NHL champion.
- In men's and women's international competition, Canadian teams usually do well; the men have won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics nine times. Women's hockey has only been at the Olympics since 1998 and the record so far is USA, four straight for Canada then USA again in 2018; the rivalry is one of the most intense in any sport.
- Canadian football - Very similar to American football played south of the border, though with rule differences that are more than trivial, making them distinct codes. In Canada, the term "football" usually refers to Canadian football, while association football is known as "soccer". The top tier professional tournament is the Canadian Football League (CFL), which has nine teams, with the season finale to decide the champion being the Grey Cup.
- Basketball - Canada has a long association with basketball; James Naismith, the sport's inventor, was a Canadian from Almonte, Ontario. One of the teams in the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA), the Toronto Raptors, is based in Canada. Canada is in the midst of a basketball frenzy as the Raptors won the NBA Finals for the first time in 2019.
- Soccer – As for association football, the sport is becoming increasingly popular in Canada's major cities. Canada's three largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) all have teams in the U.S.-based Major League Soccer, where those three teams compete with 21 more from the U.S.. In 2019, the country launched its own Canadian Premier League, which shares top-flight status within Canada with MLS. The CPL has seven teams, only one of which shares its market with MLS (the Toronto-area Regional Municipality of York). Canada has no top-tier women's league; Canadian national team members play in the National Women's Soccer League in the U.S.
Canada is a country with a rich cultural heritage. In Canada, festivals and events are held annually to celebrate the multicultural landscape of this great nation. Each festival represents a single cultural facet belonging to the diverse population of Canada. These festivals are easily identified by season.
In some parts of the country, April and May mark the beginning of Canadian music festival season. Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories celebrates spring with the Cariblues Festival, Halifax showcases chamber music with the Scotia Festival of Music and Ottawa highlights concerts, flowers and history at the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Canada is also renowned the world over for its theatre festivals such as the Stratford Festival in beautiful Stratford Ontario and the Shaw Festival in scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake, both of which begin at this time and continue through to the fall. There are also a number of children's festivals including the Calgary International Children's Festival and the annual Saskatchewan International Film Festival for Young People.
June 21 to July 1 marks 10 days of celebrations in Canada. The festivities begin on 21 June with National Aboriginal Day and celebrations across the country continue on 24 June with Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, in honour of the patron saint of French Canadians, on 27 June with Canadian Multiculturalism Day, and culminate with Canada Day with parties everywhere on 1 July.
In addition, there are many musical and cultural summer festivals taking place across the country. Here is just a taste: Yellowknife’s Summer Solstice Festival, Calgary’s Reggaefest, Windsor's International Freedom Festival (with Detroit), the Calgary Stampede, Winnipeg’s Folklorama, Toronto’s Caribana, Les Francofolies de Montreal, as well as Montreal's Jazz and Comedy festivals, New Brunswick’s Festival acadien de Caraquet, London's Rib-fest, Bayfest in Sarnia, the Jazz and Blues Festival in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Collingwood, Ontario. Edmonton is also known as the "Festival City" due to the large number of festivals (such as North America's largest Fringe Theatre festival).
The autumn (fall) is traditionally a time for literary festivals and film festivals. Lovers of the written and spoken word may like the Trois-Rivières’ bilingual Festival International de la Poésie, Halifax’s Atlantic Canada Storytelling Festival, and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. Film lovers can choose from the Toronto International Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, the Atlantic Film Festival, and St. John's International Women's Film Festival in Newfoundland, among many others.
Kitchener-Waterloo hosts the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside Bavaria. This nine-day festival features numerous cultural and entertainment activities. Many local venues are converted into Biergartens (Beer Gardens) and take on Germanic names for the duration of the festival. Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest attracts over 700,000 visitors annually.
Fall is also a time for families to enjoy the autumn splendour of nature in fall festivals or in simple activities where one enjoys the beautiful countryside.
Winter is the time when Canadians and their families take to the slopes and hit the ice at ski resorts and community hockey rinks across the country. Canada’s world-famous winter festivals take place in late January and February including Carnaval de Québec in Quebec City and Winterlude/Bal de neige in Ottawa and Gatineau. There are also winter events that pay homage to Canada’s hardy pioneers such as the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg and the Yukon Sourdough Rendez-vous Festival set in Whitehorse.
In Calgary, the month of January is devoted to showcasing challenging national and international theatre, dance, and music in The High Performance Rodeo, one of Canada’s leading festivals of new and experimental theatre.
Especially popular in British Columbia and Alberta, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are practiced and enjoyed regularly during the winter. British Columbia and Alberta are home to many of the world's top ski resorts, including Whistler Blackcomb (a two-hour drive from Vancouver). Skiing in the Banff and Jasper National Parks (130 km from Calgary and 370 km from Edmonton, respectively) is also popular. Canadians love to go ice skating, and during the winter, park trails scattered across the country are flooded with water to let skaters take their sport outdoors.
Exchange rates for Canadian dollar
As of 02 January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar (symbol: $, ISO currency code: CAD), commonly referred to as a "buck" (slang), "loonie" (nickname for the $1 coin, now also a slang term for the currency), or in Quebec, un piastre. The Canadian dollar is considered to be one of the world's major currencies, and is widely available at banks and money changers throughout the world. You can assume that any "$" sign you see while in Canada (and in this article) refers to Canadian dollars unless it includes other initials (eg. "US$" for U.S. dollars).
One dollar consists of 100 cents (¢). Canadian coins are 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter), $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie). The 1¢ coin (penny) has been eliminated. The nickel, dime, and quarter are silver in colour; the loonie is gold-coloured, and the toonie has a bimetallic design that is gold-coloured in the centre and silver-coloured on the outer part making it look a bit like a two-euro coin. The dime is the smallest; the others increase in size in order of denomination. Canadian notes (or "bills") come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red) and $100 (brown) denominations. New bills are made from a polymer; old paper notes (including the obsolete $1 [green/black] and $2 [terra-cotta] bills) no longer circulate but are still considered legal tender.
The nickel, dime, and quarter roughly match their US counterparts in size, shape, and colour, but not in metallic composition. Therefore American coins are often accepted at par in Canada, and vice-versa (at least by humans; machines are more discriminating).
Increases in oil prices tend to increase the value of the Canadian dollar relative to its US counterpart. During the 1970s Arab-US oil embargo, the Canadian dollar was worth more than the US dollar; it slipped to about 66 cents US by the mid-1990s, recovering as oil prices rose after the turn of the millennium. During the US sub-prime mortgage collapse, the US dollar again dropped below its Canadian counterpart. Since then, the Canadian dollar has been trading slightly to somewhat below the US dollar; as of mid-2018, it's worth around 75 US cents.
Because of the historical strength of the US dollar compared to the Canadian dollar, goods have a higher dollar price in Canada than equivalent goods south of the border. When the Canadian dollar is high, Canadians living near the border flock to the US to make major purchases cheaply. The reverse effect when the US dollar is high is less pronounced and more focused on tourism than on retail.
Tipping in Canada is similar to that in the United States due to the close cultural nature of the two countries but tends to be somewhat lower because of higher minimum wages. Restaurant wait staff in Canada typically receive about 10-15% on the before-tax total. Tipping is not appropriate in cafeterias, fast food establishments and takeaway stands; one is not normally expected to tip hotel chambermaids. Once Canada's double-digit sales taxes and a tip are factored into the cost of a restaurant meal, the tab may often be 25% or more above the price indicated on the menu.
Some provinces (including Quebec and Ontario) allow employers to pay lower minimum wages to workers who would reasonably be expected to be receiving tips. As well, often a bar or restaurant will try to tack on a 15-18% tip themselves, so large groups and clients paying by credit card should check to see whether their bill already includes a "service charge" before giving twice.
Bargaining is extremely rare in ordinary retail shopping in Canada and attempts to talk a retail worker down in price will result in nothing (besides testing the employee's patience). This is rarely a problem, as most retailers in Canada price their items fairly and do not look to extort their customers due to the highly competitive market and well-off economy. For larger-ticket items, especially high-end electronics and vehicles, many employees work on commission, so bargaining is possible for these items, and sales-people may offer you a lower price than what is ticketed right from the start. Some large retail stores will offer you a discount if you can prove to them that one of their competitors is selling the same product for a lower price. However, in certain establishments such as flea markets, antique stores, farmer's markets, etc., you may be able to negotiate a lower price, although it is, again, often unnecessary to put forth the effort.
Price-matching in Canada is common among large retail stores, though Wal-mart is the only store which advertises such. If you bring a competitor's flier into a store, and it advertises a lower price than the store you're in, they may discount the product's price to match. It may also be possible to ask for a "cash discount" for large purchases such as electronics, which can be helpful if the after-tax price of a good is larger than the cash you're carrying. Some vendors are willing to forgive you if you're under a dollar short, though this only common in convenience stores and other small franchises.
In all cities and towns, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. In addition, some retailers in Canada will accept US currency either at par or at slightly reduced value. All Canadian banks provide currency exchange at the daily market value. In some areas, private exchange bureaus will give better exchange rates and lower fees than banks. So if you have time during your travels to look one up, it might save you some money on the exchange both when you arrive and before you leave, because Canadian dollars may not be worth as much in your home country, particularly the coin.
Private businesses are under no obligation to exchange currency at international rates. Even in the most rural areas, converting between Canadian and American dollars should not pose a problem, although travellers expecting to convert other currencies at a Canadian bank may need to be patient. Most tourist destinations will accept American dollars at a posted exchange rate somewhat below the official rate (usually about 10-15 cents lower). This is particularly true of regions that rely on tourism as a cornerstone of their local economy.
As Canadian banks cash Canadian dollar travellers' cheques free of charge, most businesses will do the same. This makes travellers' cheques a safe and convenient way to carry money in Canada.
Many businesses across Canada accept US currency based on their own exchange rate for general purchases. Bills are taken with the current exchange rate. US and Canadian coins, however, are similar in size, so they are used interchangeably; it is not uncommon (but becoming more so) for change to be given in a mix of Canadian and US coins. Almost all automatic vending machines will reject US coins.
Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being accepted in most places, American Express somewhat less frequently and Diners Club only in the more upscale restaurants and hotels. Discover is usually accepted at places geared towards Americans such as hotels and car rental agencies. UnionPay and JCB cards are sometimes accepted in larger stores and tourist areas. Also, due to alliances between card issuers, UnionPay is accepted at all places that accept Discover (also true in the US), and JCB is accepted at all places that accept American Express (Canada only). Generally, using a credit card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically at the prevailing daily rate.
You may find that bill totals are quoted to you rounded to the nearest 5 cents (due to the removal of the penny from circulation), but the amount charged to your credit card will be the original un-rounded amount.
Electronic banking and purchasing
The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. ATM usage in Canada is very high. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines (ATMs) where you may be able to use your bank card to withdraw money directly from your account at home, but the fees involved can be more than for credit cards. If possible, try to use chartered bank ATM machines as the fees are often cheaper than the independent ATM machines.
All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac domestic financial transaction network. Most retailers, restaurants and bars allow purchases by ATM card through Interac, even if they do not accept major credit cards, and many Canadians rarely use cash at all, preferring electronic forms of payment.
Other ATM networks are widely (but not universally) supported. In general, institutions which issue Visa (RBC, TD, CIBC, BNS, Desjardins) honour PLUS ATM cards while institutions which issue Mastercard (BMO, many credit unions) honour that company's ATM cards (Cirrus or Maestro).
The "big five" retail banks in Canada are the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank), Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Bank of Montreal (BMO) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).
Until 2007, travellers to Canada could claim back their GST on leaving the country, but this is no longer possible.
You will almost always pay more than the prices displayed because prices usually exclude sales taxes. So, don't get your loonie ready when you go to the cashier in a thrift shop, because the till roll may well show $1.13. With the cash price rounded to the nearest nickel ($0.05), now that the penny is no longer in circulation, you'll have to stump up $1.15 in cash!
Taxes will be added on top of the displayed price at the cashier. Exceptions, where the displayed price includes all applicable taxes, are motor vehicle fuels (the amount you pay is as it appears on the pump), parking fees, and vending machines.
A national Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 5% is applied to most items and services. In addition to the GST, most provinces charge an additional Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on purchases of goods. Ontario and the four Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) have joined or "harmonized" the PST and GST. In these provinces, instead of being charged two separate taxes on a purchase, consumers will see one tax called the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). In Quebec, the PST is known as TVQ (taxe de vente du Québec) and the GST as TPS (taxe sur les produits et services).
While the GST and PST or HST are charged on most goods and services, some items are exempt from taxation. While this list can vary by province and tax, some common examples are: basic groceries (not prepared), prescription drugs, residential housing, medical and dental services, educational services and certain childcare services. The list of exempt items for GST/HST is typically shorter than that for PST in provinces where the provincial exemption list is separate.
The sales tax rates (as of 2017) are:
- Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon – no PST, GST only (5% total)
- British Columbia – adds 7% PST and 5% GST (total 12%)
- Manitoba – adds 8% PST and 5% GST (total 13%)
- Ontario – adds 13% to taxable purchases as HST (13% total)
- Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia – add 15% to taxable purchases as HST (15% total)
- Quebec – adds 9.975% to taxable purchases plus 5% GST (14.975% total)
- Saskatchewan – adds 5% to taxable purchases plus 5% GST (10% total)
Additional taxes have been placed on some goods (such as alcohol and gasoline) and vary by province; however, these taxes are usually included in the displayed price of the good. The displayed pump price for fuel includes all taxes.
In addition, some cities in Canada charge an additional city tax. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a noted example that charges an additional 2% city tax on top of the HST, bringing the total sales tax in Halifax to 17%.
English Canadians may be mystified if you ask where you can get Canadian food. English Canadian cuisine varies radically from region to region. Some specialties include maple syrup, Nanaimo bars (chocolate-topped no-bake squares with custard or vanilla butter filling and crumb base), butter tarts (tarts made with butter, sugar, and eggs), beaver tails (fried dough topped with icing sugar), fiddleheads (curled heads of young ferns), peameal bacon (a type of back bacon made from lean boneless pork loin, trimmed fine, wet cured, and rolled in cornmeal; eaten at breakfast with eggs or for lunch as a sandwich), and Halifax donairs (sliced beef meatloaf wrapped in pitas and garnished with onions, tomatoes, and a sweet condensed milk sauce). They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. In other respects, English Canadian cuisine is similar to that of the northern United States. Canadians may be unaware that they even have national dishes, especially in the more urbanized areas; that said, there is a rising trend among Canadian chefs and restaurateurs to offer locally produced ingredients, and most major cities have bistros that specialize in local and national cuisine. These specialties may even include game meat dishes, such as caribou, grouse, moose, venison, or wild turkey prepared in a variety of European styles.
French Canadian cuisine is distinctive and includes such specialties as tourtière, a meat pie dish that dates back to the founding of Quebec in the 1600s, cipaille (meat and vegetable pie), cretons (mince of pork drippings), ragoût de pattes (pigs' feet stew), plorine (pork pie), oreilles de Christ (fried larding bacon), poutine, a dish consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy (its popularity has spread across the country and can be found from coast to coast), croquignoles (home-made doughnuts cooked in shortening), tarte à la farlouche (pie made of raisins, flour and molasses), tarte au sucre (sugar pie), and numerous cheeses and maple syrup products. In Acadian regions, available dishes will differ, and include poulet tricot, and poutine râpée (a potato dumpling with meat inside). Staples include baked beans, peas and ham. French-Canadian cuisine also incorporates elements of the cuisines of English-speaking North America, and, unsurprisingly, France.
The indigenous peoples of Canada have their own distinctive cuisines, though these have not caught on with the majority of Canadians due to the use of exotic ingredients (eg. bannock, bison, deer, muktuk), and you will often have to travel to their respective areas in order to sample these. Nevertheless, indigenous restaurants are also becoming more common in the cities.
One peculiar tradition that you may notice in nearly every small town is the Chinese-Canadian restaurant. A lot of the reason for this is the role Chinese immigration played historically in the early settlement of Canada, particularly in the building of the trans-continental railway. These establishments sell the usual fast food Chinese cuisine. American visitors will find this cuisine familiar, as it developed in parallel with a virtually identical version in the States. In Toronto and Vancouver, two large centres of Chinese immigration, one can find authentic Chinese cuisine that rivals that of Hong Kong and Shanghai. In Toronto, visit the Chinatown area of Spadina-Dundas; if north of the city, consider a visit to the Markham area, which has had seen an influx of newer Chinese immigrants. Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver is regarded as one of the best places in the world for Cantonese food due to the large number of immigrants from Hong Kong.
Montreal is well known for its Central and Eastern European Jewish specialties, including local varieties of bagels and smoked meat. In the prairie provinces, you can find great Ukrainian food, such as perogies, due to large numbers of Ukrainian immigrants.
If you are more adventurous, in the larger cities especially, you will find a great variety of ethnic tastes from all over Europe, Asia and elsewhere. You can find just about any taste and style of food in Canada, from a 20-oz T-Bone with all the trimmings to Japanese sushi (indeed, much of the salmon used in sushi in Japan comes from Canada). Consult local travel brochures upon arrival. They can be found at almost any hotel and are free at any provincial or municipal tourist information centre.
Americans will find many of their types of cuisine and brands with subtle differences, and many products unique to Canada, such as brands of chocolate bars and the wide availability of authentic maple syrup.
The drinking age in Canada varies from province to province. In Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec the age is 18, while in the rest of the provinces and territories it is 19. Acceptable forms of ID include a Canadian driver's licence, a passport or a non-driver provincial identification card. Foreign driver's licences may not be accepted, the main exceptions being U.S. licences, so bring your passport with you if you want to drink. A peculiarity of many Canadian provinces is that liquor and beer can only be sold in licensed stores. In some provinces, supermarkets may sell only beer and wine, and many will not sell alcohol at all. Supermarkets in some provinces may have their own liquor store nearby. Prices may seem high to Americans from certain states; bringing alcohol into Canada (up to 1L of hard liquor, 1.5L of wine, or a 24 pack of beer), is advisable. American cigarettes are also quite popular to bring in as they are not sold in Canada.
Canadian mass-market beers (e.g., Molson's, Labatt's) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol content of 4% to 6%. This alcohol level may be higher than popular beers in the US or Great Britain. Like most mass-market beers, they are not very distinctive (although Americans will notice that some beers made by these companies are not sold in the States), however, Canadian beer drinkers do support local brewers. There has been a major increase in the number and the quality of beers from micro-breweries. Although many of these beers are only available near where they are produced, many mid-scale to top-end bars carry locally brewed beers. Many cities have brew pubs, which brew and serve their own beers, often with a full kitchen backing the bar. These spots offer a great chance to sample different beers and to enjoy food selected to complement the beers.
The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Niagara Region in Ontario and the Okanagan in British Columbia. Other wine-producing areas include the shores of Lake Erie, Georgian Bay (Beaver River Valley) and Prince Edward County in Ontario, and the Similkameen valley, southern Fraser River valley, southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. There are also small scale productions of wine in southern Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan.
Ice wine, a (very) sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes is a Canadian specialty, with products made by Inniskillin vinery in particular found at airport duty-free stores around the world. In contrast to most other wine-producing regions in the world, Canada, particularly the Niagara Region, consistently undergoes freezing in winter and has become the world's largest ice wine producer. However, due to the tiny yields (5-10% compared to normal wine), it's relatively expensive, with half-bottles (375 mL/13 fl oz) starting at $50. Canadian ice wine is somewhat sweeter than German varieties.
Canada is famous in other countries for its distinctive rye whiskey, a beverage commonly appreciated by Canadians. Popular brands include Canadian Club, Wisers, and Crown Royal. In addition to the plentiful selection of inexpensive blended ryes, you may find it worth exploring the premium blended and unblended ryes available at most liquor stores. One of the most-recognized unblended ryes is Alberta Premium, which has been recognized as the "Canadian Whiskey of the Year" by famed whiskey writer Jim Murray.
Canada also makes a small number of distinctive liqueurs. One of the most well-known, and a fine beverage for winter drinking, is Yukon Jack, a whiskey-based liqueur with citrus overtones. It's the Canadian equivalent of the USA's Southern Comfort, which has a similar flavour but is based on corn whiskey (bourbon) rather than rye.
Cape Breton Island is home to North America's first (and Canada's only) single malt whiskey.
You can find most nonalcoholic beverages you would find in any other country. Carbonated beverages (referred to as "pop", "soda" and "soft drinks" in different regions) are very popular. Coffee is a very popular beverage in Canada, usually drunk with breakfast or through the morning. Tim Hortons is the most ubiquitous and popular coffee shop in the country. Starbucks is also quite popular in most mid and large-sized cities. Other national chains such as Second Cup, Timothy's, mmmuffins, and Country Style, Coffee Time are found all over Canada. Tea is available in most coffee shops, with most shops carrying at least half dozen varieties (black, green, mint, etc.)
Accommodations in Canada vary substantially in price depending on time and place. In most cities and many tourist areas, expect to pay upwards of $100 or more for a good hotel room. If inquiring always ask if taxes are included; they most often are not, and can often add 15% to the cost once local, provincial and federal levies are taken into account.
Hotels play an integral part in Canadian history, with some of the country's most well-known landmarks being hotels. The Canadian Railway Hotels are a series of grand hotels that were constructed in major cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, St. John's and Halifax) in the early 1900s. Most of these are still standing and owned by corporations such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The Grand Railway Hotels are all four star franchises, with prices ranging from $150–400 a night depending on the city and the size of the room. These hotels are architecturally stunning and sumptuously decorated, and in addition to being exceptional places to stay, are tourist attractions in their own right. Even if you are not staying in a Grand Railway hotel, it would be more than worthwhile to explore the main lobby or dine at the hotel restaurant.
In rural areas, motels (short for "motor hotel") are small, simple hotels where you might pay as little as $40–60 for a night's accommodation (especially in the offseason). These are diminishing in number as international chains have largely saturated the low-end of the market with economy, limited service hotels along major freeways. Most villages have B&B (bed and breakfast), people's homes with suites for guests which are as distinctive in personality as their owners. Prices vary widely – anywhere from $45 a night to $140 a night – including a breakfast of some kind in the morning. Try bbcanada.com for listings.
Other options include cottage rentals on the lakes and in the countryside and apartment rentals in the cities. Prices compare to hotels and motels and this type of lodging provides some comfort of home while you are travelling.
Youth hostels are a good choice, offering lodging in shared dorms ($20–40) or private rooms ($45–80). Some useful resources are Hostelling International Canada/, Backpackers Hostels Canada ands SameSun Backpacker Lodge. Most hostels in Canada meet very high standards.
Some universities will rent their dormitory ( more commonly called "residence" or "res") rooms in the academic off-season - May-August. Check university websites for more information.
A few hunting or fishing outfitters rent cabins or lodges, primitive rooms which provide access to some out of the way, off the grid lakeside rural location.
Finally, there is a large number of campgrounds in Canada. These range from privately owned R.V. parks to the publicly operated campgrounds in national and provincial parks, and are almost always well-kept and generally very beautiful. Almost every town and city will have at least one campground but, given Canada's climate, these operations are inherently seasonal.
- See also: Studying abroad#Canada
All foreigners require a study permit to study in Canada, in addition to any necessary visas. Enrolling in an academic programme on a tourist visa is illegal. There are exceptions to this rule for short-term (less than six months) students and minors who are present in Canada with a parent who is authorised to study or work.
As a bilingual country, Canada has both English and French-language universities (and a few bilingual universities such as the University of Ottawa) which, while not as famous as those of its southern neighbour, are generally well-regarded and draw students from far and wide. Some of these universities also conduct intensive language courses for foreigners who wish to improve their English or French.
Canada is generally a good place to work. The minimum wage varies by province, from $10.85/hour in Nova Scotia to $14.00/hour in Ontario. As with most of the developed world, the economy is shifting from one dominated by manufacturing to one dominated by services. Thus, factory and manufacturing work is becoming scarcer every year and is highly sought, with most factories requiring a high school education or trade certificate. Minimum wage jobs are becoming more common every year, however with the housing market booming there is still a fair number of good construction jobs to be had. Hiring practices are similar to those in the US.
Foreigners, including United States citizens, wishing to work in Canada are required to obtain a work permit in order to do so, unless they are already permanent residents of Canada. International students may work part-time for up to 20 hours per week on-campus, and those enrolled in Canadian degree programmes may work part-time off-campus provided it is stipulated in their visa. It is illegal for foreigners to work in Canada on a tourist visa, and doing so will result in you being deported and banned from re-entering.
Canadian visa rules include a category for people who can be self-employed in Canada. Artists, musicians and athletes or coaches who are "able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada" are eligible, but the bar is set rather high for them; for example, a coach with considerable experience of Olympic or professional sports will probably qualify but other experience may not count. Experienced farmers who want to buy and run a farm in Canada are also considered in this category and the bar is lower; if you have a decent business plan and enough money to get it started then you are quite likely to be admitted.
Once you have been given work authorization, you will need to obtain a Social Insurance Number (SIN) so your employer can report your wages to the government for tax purposes. Income tax in Canada is levied both at the federal and provincial levels, though with the exception of Quebec, the federal government collects income tax on behalf of the provinces, meaning that you do not have to file separate tax returns. Those who are based in Quebec will be required to file their federal and provincial tax returns separately.
Working Holiday Visas
A Working Holiday Visa (also referred to as an "International Experience Canada / Working Holiday Visa") enables young citizens from certain countries to spend 1 or 2 years in Canada and to legally gain employment while in the country. The eligibility and length of stay rules vary by nationality. The standard rule used to be that a 1-year stay would be issued to nationals of participating countries who were between 18–30 years of age, however some countries (Australia) now get a two-year visa, and applicants from some other countries can now apply up to age 35. Some countries' nationals (i.e. citizens of Mexico) need to be post-secondary students at the time the application is made.
The full official list of participating countries and their associated eligibility requirements is available on the Government of Canada's website for this program. As of June 2018 Canada had working holiday agreements with the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.
There are also "Young Professionals" and "International Co-op Internship" visas available to students who already have a job offer in Canada. Citizens of some countries listed above do not qualify for one or both of these visas, although citizens of Switzerland (who do not qualify for a "Working Holiday" visa) may qualify for both.
United States citizens can also participate in a Working Holiday program through SWAP without requiring a Temporary Resident Visa prior to entry, but the work permit is limited to six months and the program is limited to post-secondary students at the time of the application.
Safety in Canada is not usually a problem, and some basic common sense will go a long way. Even in the largest cities, violent crime is not a serious problem, and very few people are ever armed. Violent crime needn't worry the average traveller, as it is generally confined to particular neighbourhoods and is rarely a random crime. Overall crime rates in Canadian cities remain low compared to most similar sized urban areas in the United States and much of the rest of the world (though violent crime rates are higher than most western European cities). Crime is higher in overall in western provinces than in Eastern Canada, but is even higher in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. There have been several high-profile shootings in public/tourist areas; the fact these incidents are so heavily covered by the media is related to the fact that they are considered very rare events.
Police in Canada are usually hardworking, honest, and trustworthy individuals. If you ever encounter any problems during your stay, even if it's as simple as being lost, approaching a police officer is a good idea.
There are three main types of police forces in Canada: federal, provincial and municipal. The federal police force is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or "Mounties"), with a widespread presence in all parts of the country other than Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland & Labrador, which maintain their own provincial police forces. These are the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. All the other provinces and territories (and some rural portions of Newfoundland as well as Labrador) contract their provincial duties to the RCMP.
In their capacity as a federal police force, RCMP officers typically wear regular police uniforms and drive police cruisers while performing their duties. However, a minority of RCMP officers may appear in their iconic red dress uniform in tourist areas, and for official functions such as parades. Some RCMP officers participate in elaborate ceremonies such as the Musical Ride horse show. While wearing their full dress uniform, their main function is to promote the image of Canada and Canadian Mounties. RCMP officers in full dress are generally not tasked with investigating crime or enforcing the law, although they are still police officers and can perform arrests. In some tourist regions, such as Ottawa, both types of RCMP officers are commonly encountered. This dual-role and dual-appearance of the RCMP, both as federal police, and as a tourist attraction, may create confusion among tourists as to the function of the RCMP. All RCMP officers are police officers, and have a duty to enforce the law.
Cities, towns and regions often have their own police forces, with the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal forces being three of the largest. Some cities also have special transit police who have full police powers. Some quasi-government agencies, such as universities and power utilities also employ private special police. The Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway each have their own police force. Some First Nations reserves also have their own police force. Canadian Forces Military Police can be found at military bases and other defence-related government facilities.
All three types of police forces can enforce any type of law, be it federal, provincial or municipal. Their jurisdiction overlaps, with the RCMP being able to arrest anywhere in Canada, the OPP and municipal police officers being able to arrest anywhere within their own province. Powers of arrest for Federal, Provincial and municipal police agencies in Canada exist for officers both on, and off duty.
In the national capital region of Ottawa-Gatineau, one can encounter more police jurisdictions than in any other part of Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (both regular uniformed and full dress), the Ontario Provincial Police, the Ottawa police, the Sûreté du Québec, the Gatineau Police, Military Police, and OC Transpo Special Constables, all operate in the region, each with a different style of uniform and police cruiser.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to offer a bribe to a police officer, as this is a crime, and they will enforce laws against it.
If you are unfortunate enough to get your purse or wallet snatched, the local police will do whatever they can to help. Often, important identification is retrieved after thefts of this sort. In large cities, parked cars are sometimes targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, so try to avoid leaving any possessions in open view. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Take a picture of your licence plate and check that your plates are still in place before you go somewhere as some thieves will steal plates to avoid getting pulled over. Auto theft in Montreal, including theft of motor homes and recreational vehicles, may occur in patrolled and overtly secure parking lots and decks. Bike theft can be a common nuisance in metropolitan areas.
- See also: Cold weather
Canada is very prone to winter storms (including ice storms and blizzards) from November through March. In Eastern Canada, they are the most likely, but the occasional small one will pop up west of Northwest Ontario usually there it is wind-whipped snow that is the main hazard. Reduce speed, be conscious of other drivers, and pay attention. It's best to carry an emergency kit, in case you have no choice but to spend the night stuck in snow on the highway (yes, this does happen occasionally, especially in more isolated areas). If you are unfamiliar with winter driving and choose to visit Canada during the winter months, consider using another mode of transportation to travel within the country. While the vast majority of winter weather occurs during the winter months, some parts of Canada such as the Prairies, Labrador, Northern Canada, and mountain regions may experience severe, if brief, winter-like conditions at any time during the year.
If you are touring on foot, it is best to bundle up as much as possible in layers with heavy socks, thermal underwear and gloves; winter storms can bring with them extreme winds alongside frigid temperatures and frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes.
Firearms and weapons
Unlike the US, Canada has no constitutional rights relating to gun ownership. Possession, purchase, and use of any firearms requires proper licences for the weapons and the user, and is subject to federal laws. Firearms are classed (mainly based on barrel length) as non-restricted (subject to the least amount of training and licensing), restricted (more licensing and training required) and prohibited (not legally available). Most rifles and shotguns are non-restricted, as they are used extensively for hunting, on farms, or for protection in remote areas. Handguns or pistols are restricted weapons, but may be obtained and used legally with the proper licences. Generally the only people who carry handguns are Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Police, Border Services Officers, Wildlife Officers in most provinces, Sheriff's Officers in some provinces, private security guards who transport money, people who work in remote "wilderness" areas who are properly licensed, and sport shooters who specialize in pistol shooting. It is possible to import non-prohibited firearms such as most types of rifle and shotgun for sporting purposes like target shooting and hunting, and non-prohibited handguns for target shooting may also be imported with the correct paperwork. All firearms must be declared to customs on entry into Canada, even if unrestricted, and failing to do so is a criminal offence punishable by fines and imprisonment. Prohibited firearms will be seized at customs and destroyed. Travellers should check with the Canada Firearms Centre and the Canada Border Services Agency before importing firearms of any type before arrival.
It is unusual for civilians to be seen carrying weapons openly in urban areas. While not illegal, carrying a weapon openly will likely be treated as suspicious by the police and civilians.
Switchblades, butterfly knives, spring loaded blades and any other knife that opens automatically are classified as Prohibited and are illegal in Canada, as are Nunchucks, Tasers and other electric stun guns, most devices concealing knives, such as belt buckle knives and knife combs, and articles of clothing or jewellery designed to be used as weapons. Mace and pepper spray are also illegal unless sold specifically for use against animals.
Illicit drug use
Marijuana use is legal in Canada since October 17, 2018. Different provinces will have different rules about what is and is not legal with regards to the cultivation, sale, and use of recreational marijuana. Carrying marijuana across the international border, even between a legal US state and Canada, remains illegal. The maximum amount a person may carry with them in public is 1oz. The law on providing marijuana to minors remains extremely strict.
Driving while impaired by drugs (including marijuana and even legal "drowsy" drugs) is a criminal code offence and is treated in the same way as driving under the influence of alcohol, with severe penalties. Do not attempt to drive while high; visitors can expect to be deported after serving jail time or paying very large fines.
Khat is illegal in Canada, and will get you arrested and deported if you try to pack it in your luggage and get caught by customs.
Canadians take drunk driving very seriously, and it is a social taboo in most circles to drink and drive. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or marijuana is also punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada and can involve jail time, particularly for repeat offences. If you "blow over" the legal limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) on a roadside Breathalyzer machine test, you will be arrested and spend at least a few hours in jail. Being convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) will almost certainly mean the end of your trip to Canada, a criminal record and you being barred from re-entering Canada for at least 5 years. 80 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.08%) is the legal limit for a criminal conviction. Many jurisdictions call for fines, licence suspension and vehicle impoundment at 40 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.04%), or if the officer reasonably believes you are too intoxicated to drive. While having a BAC of 0.03% when tested at a police checkpoint ('Checkstop' or 'ride-stop', which is designed to catch drunk drivers) will not result in arrest, having the same BAC after being pulled over for driving erratically, or after getting involved in an accident may result in being charged with DUI.
Those crossing the land border into Canada from the USA while driving under the influence will get arrested by the Border Services Officers.
Refusing a breathalyzer test is also a Criminal Code offence, and will result in the same penalties as had you blown over. If a police officer demands that you supply a breath sample, your best option is to take your chances with the machine.
Hate speech and discrimination
Canada is a very multicultural society, and the vast majority of Canadians are open minded and accepting. Thus, it is unlikely to meet ridicule on the basis of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation — while this does happen on occasion, it's rare enough that such ridicule is aired as a local news story even in the largest cities.
Hate speech — communication that may incite violence toward an identifiable group — is illegal in Canada and can lead to prosecution, jail time, and deportation. Similarly, Canadian law also prohibits any form of discrimination in education and employment.
You are unlikely to face health problems here that you wouldn't face in any other western industrialized country (despite claims of inferior care, which often varies by hospital and is usually exaggerated). The health care system tends to be very effective and widely accessible. However, wait times for non-critical illnesses or injuries can take up to several hours in major cities like Toronto.
In the summers of the late 2000s/early 2010s, Canadians in some provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) have faced a few cases of West Nile virus, an occasionally fatal infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Some diseases like pneumonia, the flu/cold or whooping cough do occur in both rural and urban Canada. While Canada has universal health care for residents, health care is not free for visitors; therefore it is important to make sure you are covered by your insurance when travelling to Canada.
Most Canadian provinces have banned all indoor smoking in public places such as hospitals and schools and near entrances. Some bans include areas such as bus shelters and outdoor patios. See Smoking.
Canada has quite high standards for restaurant and grocer cleanliness. If there is a problem with the food you have bought, speak to the manager to report it. Getting sick from contaminated food is unlikely, but food poisoning in rural areas is not unheard of.
Health care in Canada is generally of a standard comparable to other Western nations. Almost all Canadian citizens and permanent residents receive health coverage from their provincial government, with reciprocal agreements between provinces providing Canada-wide coverage. Eligibility for health coverage for those on student or work visas varies by province, but no province offers coverage for visitors. Hospitals are generally owned by government agencies or non-profits, while doctors offices and smaller clinics are for-profit operations that directly bill the provincial health system.
Compared to the United States, medical care in Canada is about 30-60% less expensive. Medical tourism firms help visitors to obtain medical care such as cosmetic surgery and joint replacement in major cities including Vancouver and Montreal. After their treatments, patients can enjoy a vacation and relax in a cabin in the Canadian Rockies, explore colourful Montreal, or other activities.
While cheaper than the sticker price in the United States, health care in Canada can be very expensive for visitors. A minor trip to the emergency room can easily cost $1000, especially if an ambulance is involved. Visitors to Canada should carry international health insurance valid for the duration of their stay.
In remote areas, particularly communities without road access such as Churchill, serious medical and trauma patients may be evacuated to a major centre by air ambulance. The cost for the air ambulance alone can reach $10,000, and even those on provincial health plans may not be covered if out of their home province. Everyone, even Canadian residents going to remote or rural areas should ensure that they have sufficient insurance coverage for such an incident.
Clean, safe drinking water is available from the tap in all cities and towns across Canada. Bottled water is widely sold, but it is no better in quality than tap water.
For travel in the backcountry it is advisable to bring a water purification system, as there can be Giardia in open water sources such as lakes or rivers; this can cause gastrointestinal illness like diarrhea or vomiting. It can be avoided by either boiling your drinking water or using filter systems or tablets to disinfect the water before drinking.
Canada is very much a multicultural country, especially in the main cities. One survey found about 50% of the population of Toronto (the largest city) were born outside Canada, and another 20% or so had at least one parent born outside the country. Immigrants have come from all over the world, and many cities have whole districts dominated by specific immigrant groups, such as Chinatown, Little Italy and so on. Various writers have claimed that, in contrast to the American "melting pot", Canada aims at a "cultural mosaic".
It is also, in general, a tolerant society. There are laws against various sorts of discrimination and hate crimes, gay marriage is now legal, and half the cabinet is female. Most Canadians will treat open displays of racism, sexism, or homophobia with rather pointed scorn.
That said, not all Canadians are as tolerant as they might claim to be. There is a long history of racism, especially against the native peoples and various immigrant groups (Chinese and Irish in the 19th century, later mainly blacks and South Asians, today mainly Muslims).
There is a large degree of regionalism in Canada. In particular, Quebec's somewhat strained relationship with the rest of Canada—the result of a still-active secession movement—may be a sensitive topic. Some Quebecois favour independence from Canada, while most Francophone communities outside Quebec, such as the Acadians in New Brunswick, are proud to be both Francophone and Canadian.
When entering a private home in Canada it is usually expected that you take off your shoes unless the host specifically tells you not to.
Canada is widely regarded as a very polite society, where apologizing, excusing and thanking is very common, even in large urban areas. Canadians follow a relatively standard "western" system of niceties and manners, closely akin to those of the United States.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Canada is very open to all forms of LGBT travellers. Same-sex marriage is recognized nationwide. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are all famed for their LGBT communities. Outside these metropolitan areas, open displays of affection shouldn't generally present a problem despite a more conservative outlook, although certain rural areas may be more problematic. As always, use your discretion.
Human Rights Codes protect against discrimination in all areas, including accommodation, access to health care and employment – should you encounter any negative responses, especially violent or threatening episodes, the police will be glad to help you.
The terms "Indigenous," or "Aboriginal" ("Autochtones" in French) are used as catch-all terms for all Indigenous people in Canada. There are approximately 1.4 million Indigenous people in Canada belonging to numerous distinct nations, cultures and traditions and language groups. There are generally divided into three distinct legal groups:
The First Nations people are those who were historically referred to as "Indians," a term now considered offensive. Their traditions, languages, history, and way of life vary based on background and location, and there are over 600 federally recognized First Nations in Canada.
The Métis (pronounced MAY-tee) are descendants of European (mostly French) fur traders and Indigenous women. Found mostly in the Prairies and especially Manitoba, they have their own distinct culture and history. In the late 19th century, they rose in two rebellions led by Louis Riel (the closest thing to a civil war Canada has experienced) but they were defeated and Riel hanged, an event which sparked tensions between French- and English-speaking Canadians.
The Inuit (singular: Inuk) are the smallest group, found mostly in Nunavut, with smaller populations in Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories. Historically they were known as "Eskimos", but this term is offensive in Canada and should never be used. While the term "Inuit" legally refers to all of these people, the Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories consider themselves a distinct people. The Inuit should not be confused with their relatively southern neighbours in Quebec and Labrador the Innu, who are First Nations.
The terms "Indigenous people" (noun) and "Indigenous" (adjective) is generally considered the preferable term throughout Canada, though many Indigenous people would prefer to be referred to by their specific ethnic nation (for example "Cree," "Métis," or Inuvialuit").
While a growing number of Indigenous people live in major cities, there are many rural communities scattered throughout Canada that are majority Indigenous, most obviously First Nations reserves, which is an area legally set aside for members of that particular band or nation. Facilities for visitors in these communities vary widely, and as with visiting any community, knowing what is offered to visitors before you go, and respecting those who live there is important. There are also an increasing number of reserves in urban areas, though they are typically indistinguishable from the city around them to the casual observer.
All of the Indigenous groups (First Nations, Métis, Inuit) suffered wide-spread discrimination and forced assimilation in the past, often sanctioned by the government and administered by the Catholic church and government agents. There remains a lot of mistrust between the Indigenous Groups and the government on environmental policies, resource management and treaties that were established more than 100 years ago with vague wordings that are left open to interpretations, which lead to drawn-out court challenges, and on education because of residential school system that amounts to cultural genocide. Moreover, non-Indigenous population still carry negative stereotypes towards Indigenous people. Be mindful that they grew up in an education system full of systemic bias that did not provide adequate funding or support for success in the community due to inter-generational trauma. Don't forget that they are the first group that settled in North America. They often have time-tested traditional knowledge that are passed down through generations and offers insights that non-Indigenous people are not aware of.
There has been significant growth in Indigenous ecotourism and cultural tourism. The Aboriginal Tourism council publishes a listing by province.
Modern Canada is largely a secular society, and people who go to church regularly are in the minority. Most Canadians are tolerant towards people of all faiths, and wearing religious clothing in public rarely poses a problem. Nevertheless, attempting to proselytise would generally be regarded as rude. Things are, however, considerably stricter in Quebec, where people are fiercely protective of the French model of laïcité; you will be expected to confine your religion to your private life, and avoid displaying any overt indications of religiosity in public (such as wearing religious clothing) unless you are at your place of worship.
The communication infrastructure of Canada is typical of any first-world, developed, industrialized country.
Canada is part of the North American Numbering Plan (along with the US and most of the Caribbean) and uses the country code +1. Area codes and local phone numbers follow the same format as the United States: 1 — three digit area code — seven-digit local phone number. The leading '1' is omitted when making local landline calls and optional on local mobile calls. For long-distance calls, dial the entire number including the '1'.
Due to inefficient allocation policies for local numbers, most areas (including remote places like James Bay) now have multiple overlapping area codes. This requires the dialling of all ten digits for even the most trivial of local calls. In the rare areas which still have just one area code (a physically large but sparsely populated corner of northwestern Ontario and the three Arctic territories), only seven digits are required.
Canada draws its toll-free numbers from a shared pool based in the US. These are dialled using the full eleven-digit international format:
+1-800-234-5678. Mobile numbers are normally allocated from the same local area codes as landlines; the recipient of the call pays airtime.
The prefix to make an outbound international call from North America is 011-. This prefix does not apply to countries which share the Canadian +1 prefix, such as the US.
A few payphones exist in high-traffic locations such as shopping malls, supermarkets and local or intercity transport stations; these can call toll-free numbers (+1-800 and its overlays) for free and make fifty-cent local calls, but coin-paid long distance from incumbent carriers is prohibitively expensive at nearly $5 for the first minutes for the most trivial of trunk calls. A few telephone booths are operated by obscure competing firms, where the local price is the same but long distance is typically a slightly less painful $1 per three-minute interval. Most coin phones block incoming calls. Typically, Canadians avoid coin-paid trunk calls by using prepaid cards or have stopped using telephone booths in favour of mobile telephones or (where wi-fi is available) voice over IP.
Unbundled Internet telephony typically costs one or two cents a minute, although some carriers may sell for less.
Canada is one of the few countries (along with China, Hong Kong and USA) where mobile users must pay to receive calls. Cellular telephones occupy the same local geographic area codes as landlines; all numbers are portable. Answering an incoming call while outside of the phone's local calling area incurs both airtime and long distance.
Three carriers (Bell, Telus and Rogers) control 97% of the market, using multiple brands (Fido and Chatr are Rogers, Koodo and Public Mobile are Telus, Virgin and Lucky Mobile are Bell) to give an illusion of competition while Canadians continue to pay rates among the highest in the world.
Coverage is good in cities and on busy transportation corridors, but non-existent in many remote areas. Some points on the Trans-Canada Highway have no signal at all. In the high Arctic, mobile phones only work in a small area around the territorial capitals.
There are a few regional carriers; MTS in Manitoba, SaskTel in Saskatchewan and Vidéotron in Québec (including Ottawa-Hull), and Freedom Mobile in the Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Victoria, and Vancouver regions.
The three majors operate UMTS (WCDMA/HSPA) on the North American 850 MHz/1900 MHz frequency bands (which do not match standard frequencies in Europe), offering LTE in a few large cities. Analogue mobile (AMPS) and 2G CDMA have been shut down; GSM remains available on Rogers (but was never supported by Bell or Telus). Freedom Mobile operates a limited footprint in a half dozen metropolitan areas on non-standard frequencies (a 1700/2100 MHz AWS/UMTS network and Band 66 LTE network) as well as a more limited network on more standard frequencies (Band 7 LTE in city centers, Band 4 and Band 13 LTE in most of its coverage area).
Various "virtual mobile" operators buy access to the three majors to resell phones (or SIM cards) under their own brands; Loblaws' "PC Mobile" prepaid uses Bell's network, while ZtarMobile ("7-Eleven", "Quickie" and "Petro-Canada") uses Rogers.
Anyone may acquire a Canadian prepaid mobile number; even clearly fictional persons (such as "Pierre Poutine, rue des Séparatistes, Joliette") have been subscribed prepaid, no questions asked. All you need is to provide your name and a physical address in Canada. Mobile data tends to be expensive on a lot of these plans (a dime a megabyte is typical, with a $2/day minimum for data on PC Mobile or $10/month minimum on Petro-Canada) and prepaid mobile long distance costs up to 40 cents/minute in addition to the 20-25 cent/minute local airtime charge. Budget brands of the big 3 (Chatr, Public Mobile, Lucky Mobile), offer nationwide voice, text, and data at reasonable (for Canada) rates (unlimited nationwide talk and text with 4.5GB data for $40, 6GB data for $45, and 8GB data for $50) so long as you are willing to accept slower data (these three brands all limit speeds to 3Mbps). These budget brands of the big 3 all charge $10 for SIM cards on top of the plan you choose (Public Mobile will sometimes have "flash sales" on weekends where the SIM card fee is waived, and if you can find a referral phone number to provide at sign-up, then your account starts off with a bonus $10 credit that you can use for add-ons like international long distance minutes, US roaming allowances, or towards your next month of usage).
Some carriers provide postpaid mobiles to non-resident Americans if a Canadian address of some sort is provided and a credit card is pre-authorized for bill payment. For iPad-style tablets, another option is a prepaid Visa or MasterCard from a supermarket or post office, which can be registered to any random Canadian address (avoid Vanilla-branded cards, which only allow registration of a postal code) and used to obtain 30-day data service passes from Bell (which requires a Visa/MasterCard with a Canadian address to activate, even though it is prepaid). Activation is done on the device itself; provide billing details, then select a plan: typically $35 for 5GB, with one or two smaller options available.
Fido, Virgin Mobile and Koodo offer better pricing on postpaid than prepaid; Fido charges $30 for 1GB on their prepaid service, for instance. Freedom offers exactly the same plans to prepaid and postpaid users, and for very heavy data users within its coverage area, is the best deal (10GB home network + 500MB domestic roaming data-only for $50 or with unlimited nationwide talk and text for $60).
Most mobile telephones in Canada are sold by carriers (or their resellers), though Canadian law now requires them to sell their phones unlocked. A small number of computer or electronics stores (such as Factory Direct and Canada Computers in Ontario) offer carrier-neutral, factory-unlocked devices at premium cost. (Check compatibility; a GSM-only device will only work with Rogers, a device on the wrong frequencies won't work at all.) Carriers are also now required to provide unlock codes for previously locked phones free of charge.
Prepaid plans typically do not allow roaming internationally. As most plans which allow roaming charge inflated prices (typically $1.50/minute on the three majors and $0.50/minute on Freedom), it's best to disable roaming from the phone's menus when using a Canadian handset near the US border to avoid a costly surprise. If you don't want to be caught by surprise, Lucky Mobile, as well as prepaid providers not owned by the big three, do not roam at all, while Public Mobile and Koodo prepaid only allow US roaming usage with an add-on; if your phone connects to a US network, you get a text message reminding you to purchase a roaming add-on to continue using your phone.
There are many ways to access the Internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries.
Most large and medium-sized towns will have Internet and gaming cafés, although these are becoming less common as Wi-fi is widely available in public venues such as libraries, coffee shops and hotels in most cities.
Although some charge an excessive fee for its use, others provide free Wi-Fi, including Blenz coffee houses, McDonald's, Second Cup, most Tim Horton's and Starbucks locations. Purchasing the establishment's product is appreciated.
Most airports and certain Via Rail stations offer free Wi-Fi in passenger areas. Commercial mail receiving agents (such as the UPS Store) will rent computer time for a fee, as well as providing fax, copy, printing and shipping. Ontario offers free Wi-Fi at its ONroute highway 400/401 rest stops; Chapters/Indigo bookstores usually offer wi-fi for a fee (many include a Starbucks).
See wififreespot.com for a partial listing of establishments offering free Wi-Fi.
While its delivery times vary depending on shipping option and package/parcel size, Canada Post is very reliable. As of April 2014, it costs $1.05 to mail a domestic letter. International parcel postal services can be costly. Postal offices are usually marked by the red and white Canada Post markings. Some drug stores, including many in the Shoppers Drug Mart, IDA, Pharmaplus, Jean Coutu and Uniprix chains, feature smaller outlets with full service. Such outlets are often open later and on weekends, as opposed to the standard M-F 9AM-5PM hours of the post offices.
For inbound mail, "general delivery" (poste restante) is available for a fee at all main post offices, but not in retail postal outlets such as pharmacies. It is rarely used as it has no cost advantage over a PO box rental.
There are also courier services across the country, such as Purolator. The US-based UPS and FedEx also serve Canada. Some (but certainly not all) intercity bus companies will accept domestic parcels for delivery to other cities on the same bus line. Courier packages may not be sent to PO boxes or held as poste restante, but can be held by some commercial mail receiving agents for pickup.
Some postal outlets and commercial mail receiving agents offer fax transmission services, but availability may vary by location.
Canadian addresses generally follow the following format, which is very similar to the format used in the United States and Australia.
Name of recipient
House number and street name
(If needed) Suite or apartment or building number
City or town, two letter provincial abbreviation, postal code
In Canada, postal codes are alpha-numeric in this format: K1A 1A1.
- Canada's southern and northwestern neighbour, the United States, can become a side trip from Canada or even a major part of your vacation. In some places major Canadian and US cities are quite close and well connected by public transportation, for example Vancouver and Seattle or Windsor and Detroit. There are also dozens of places all along the border with a fair-sized town on either side. See the main article on the US for entry requirements – if you need a visa be sure to apply well in advance.
- Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are two relatively small islands off the coast of Newfoundland. Despite their small size and relative proximity to the Canadian coastline, they are overseas departments of France and a vestige of former extensive French colonies in North America. To step into this charming French seaside community, take the passenger ferry from Fortune, Newfoundland during the summer, or scheduled flights from Montreal, Halifax, and St. John's year round.
- Greenland, Canada's major eastern island neighbour, despite being separated by less than 50 km of water in some locations is not easily accessible from North America. Seasonal flights are available from Keflavík International Airport, Iceland (KEF IATA) and year-round via Copenhagen Airport (CPH IATA). Another, albeit more expensive, option is the summer cruise ships originating in both the US and Canada. Despite the relative difficulty of reaching Greenland, the untouched natural Arctic beauty of one of the most remote places on earth makes it well worth the effort.