|If you're visiting
Canada for the first time or the tenth time you should
always ensure you know the essentials. While Canada isn't
very restrictive in its requirements for visitors there
are still stipulations that you must be aware of. If you
have a good look through our visitors' guide, it should
enlighten you, and help make your visit as pleasant as
Note: It might not be a bad idea to print this out and take it on your trip, unless of course you plan to back pack with your computer.
Canada has accommodations to fit every need or budget, from some of the world's finest hotels to youth hostels where you might have to find a space on the floor for your sleeping bag. If you care to rough it, there's no end of possibilities from mountain huts to organized camping to a rocky outcropping on one of Canada's most isolated lakes.
Canadian appliances run on 120 Volts at 60 Hertz. Our plugs and receptacles are different from those in European countries. Ours use two prongs or preferable three pronged plugs (the third being a ground which is round and located in the middle and lower than the the other two) plugs with the two main blades in parallel. One of the main blades may have a slightly wider blade which connects to the hot lead (but the receptacles will still accommodate the older plugs with equal size blades). You can purchase adapters from stores specializing in travel gear and accessories.
Canada has a handful of large banks and smaller trusts. You can generally count on the banks to be open between 10am and 3am on the weekdays. There are variations. Consult their web sites or contact them for particulars. Bank branches are plentiful in major urban areas but you may have trouble finding a particular institution in smaller centers.
ATMs (bank machines) are dedicated to particular banks but usually accept Cirrus, Interac and Plus transactions. The machines are available almost everywhere except in more isolated areas rural areas.
Canada is a very large country and its climate reflects this. One constant is derived from our latitude. Above the fifty fifth parallel don't expect anything tropical but don't discount the possibility of extreme heat in the summer either. As a general rule the most southerly areas (our most populated areas) of our country experience warm summers starting in May or June and continuing into early September. Through spring and fall the weather is usually moderate but can and does change rapidly. There are of course a lot of factors which effect the weather not the least of which is elevation. Mountainous areas of the country can experience snow at any time of year, so be prepared.
As you move north in Canada the climate understandably becomes more severe with glaciation persisting into the lower elevations above the 60th parallel. In the east, the Maritimes have the moderating effects of the ocean combined but also suffer its frequent storms. Through Quebec and Ontario hot summers contrast with cold winters with the exception of the Niagara peninsula which is more moderate at any time of year. Through the prairies the weather can sustain even greater extremes but with the blessing of far lower humidity to extend the comfort zone. The Rockies have warm summers but winter conditions can set in at any time at the high elevations. Of course the winters are typical of mountainous areas at this latitude and you can expect lots of snow. British Columbia's interior can be really extreme with a moderate degree of desertification. In contrast the lower coastal areas reap the benefit of the Japanese current which helps to ensure a very moderate climate often without snow (we said without snow, not without precipitation) throughout the winter at the lower elevations. Be advised: as you move even a short distance inland mountain conditions prevail.
The key to our weather is simple - assume nothing, expect anything and come prepared. Of course don't fall pray to silly stereo types either. Our government doesn't meet in igloos, at least not in the summer months!
Most Canadian businesses accept major credit cards with the use of Master Card, Visa, American Express and Diners Club being the most popular. ATMs (bank machines) usually accept Cirrus, Interac and Plus transactions and the machines are available most everywhere except in the more rural areas of the country. Canada does not use smart cards yet, but some pilot projects are expected next year.
Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar, which is broken down into one hundred cents. Our bills are in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 etc. The coinage consists of pennies (one cent), nickels (five cents), dimes (ten cents), quarters (twenty five cents), dollars (dollar coin, often referred to as a loonie), and two dollar coin (or twoonie).
For very rough comparison purposes the Canadian dollar is worth approximately 2/3 of an American dollar (0.66 cents US or 1.5 Canadian for 1 American but this can change rapidly. The Canadian dollar is worth approximately 0.95% of a Eurodollar, so you can quickly convert one to one to get a rough estimate.
It's highly advisable to exchange some currency before you enter the country. Never be caught without at least a small reserve of Canadian dollars or travellers' cheques since there is no guarantee that you'll find an exchange center in every area, or that if you do it will be open. It also a good idea to keep some of your own country's currency handy for your return home.
Americans visiting Canada are required to produce proof of their citizenship. If you're visiting from another country other than the United States, you'll need a valid passport and you may need to produce other information and documents. The best approach you might take is to contact the Canadian embassy in your own country or Canadian customs and immigration in Canada.
You are restricted to 40oz of liqour or 24 12oz bottles of beer when entering the country. There is also a restriction in respect to tobacco (contact Canadian Customs). You must be 18 yrs or older to qualify for any of these exemptions.
Canada is far more restrictive in respect to fire arms than the United States so you're advised to inquire before your visit.
In many urban centers you can get emergency assistance by dialing 911. Failing this call the operator by dialing 0.
Air Search and Rescue 1
More and more the prospect exists that the costs of a search and rescue operation may, at least partially, be borne by the distressed party. Exercise caution when venturing into the wilderness, be prepared and don't overstep your level of experience or judgement. On the other hand don't delay a rescue because of a fear of incurring cost. There is no limit to the value of human life.
Travelers often overlook a country's holiday periods and may suffer major inconvenience for this small oversight. Canadians have a number of national holidays along with a few provincial variations. In either case you can expect businesses and government agencies to be shut down. The following should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Be advised that for some holidays the actual day taken off may be moved for convenience (Canadians' not yours). Holidays by month:
January 1st, New Years
Holidays by occasion:
Bankers Holiday - first
Monday near August 4th (Ontario)
Another rule of thumb. The peak season for vacationers in Canada is the month of July into August. The last two weeks in July is an especially busy time on the highways. The area you are considering and the activity you are planning may also be key factors. All schools are let out by the end of June.
The so called "March break" for schools in the winter months has been staggered depending on the school. The timing seems to have no rhythm nor reason. To further complicate things the schools in the U.S. also have a winter break which may or may not correspond to their Canadian counterparts. Be aware that ski areas and other winter sport locales may be excessively crowded during the latter part of February and into the end of March.
Looking for some solitude, think early spring and of course the fall. You should, of course, pay particular attention to the weather which is more unpredictable at these times. In the spring you may have to consider the bugs.
Canada has two official languages and federal agencies will be happy to serve you in either. While the majority of Canadians are English speaking, the province of Quebec is predominantly French as are parts of New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba.
Each of Canada's provinces sets its own rules regarding liqour. Quebec is the most liberal of the provinces allowing the sale of beer and spirits every day of the week. Ontario doesn't allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Some provinces allow supermarkets and corner stores (Depanneurs in Quebec) to sell beer and wine but restrict the sale of spirits to government run stores. You can of course have a drink with a meal in a restaurant during normal operating hours in most provinces. Ice is readily available at most corner stores and beer can usually be purchased cold. Remember Canada has severe penalties for drinking and driving.
Within areas of the northern territories there may be complete a complete ban on the use of alcohol. Please respect this.
Canada uses the metric system. If you're not familiar with our system of measure, have a look at the following conversion charts.
From the Metric System
Canada currently charges forty seven cents to mail a letter within Canada and fifty-seven cents from Canada to the United states. Foreign rates are dependent on the destination.
Canada has an excellent medical system with all of the newest tools, techniques and procedures. Visitors to Canada must have their own health insurance, which you should ensure covers you outside your country. You can also look into the purchase of travel insurance from your travel agent.
Domestic pets entering Canada with their owners must be accompanied by vaccination certificates from a licensed veterinarian. Check with customs and immigration for the exact details.
Canada has a goods and services tax (GST) of 7% along with a provincial tax which varies by province. Provinces rates are usually in the range of 6 to 8% over and above the federal tax. Alberta is the glaring exception with no provincial sales tax at all. Visitors can apply for a rebate (within 60 days) on the GST tax for most articles purchased within Canada. Forms are available at your port of entry or from Revenue Canada.
Canada has one of the best telephone systems in the world (honest). Pay phones are found in all but the most remote locations. The current charge for a local call from a pay phone is a quarter to 35 cents, while long distance charges vary according to distance and the length of the call. On private phones local calls are free but hotels generally charge you regardless.
Canadian phone numbers within the country consist of:
(area code) + three digit exchange + four digits
As an example if you want to contact us to tell us what a great web site we have you would dial:
within the same area code or
450 451 0884
outside the area code.
You would prefix the
country code if you were outside the North America.
Canada has five and a half time zones. From east to west there's Newfoundland, Atlantic, Eastern, Central, Rocky Mountain and Pacific time.
If it's 4:30pm in St. John's Newfoundland it will be 4:00pm in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 3:00pm in Toronto Ontario, 2:00pm in Regina, Saskatchewan and 12:00 noon in Vancouver on the west coast of British Columbia.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding this. Generally tipping is expected in restaurants, bars and hotels. Taxi drivers and airport shuttle drivers may not help you with your backpack if you forget them.
In Canada (some provinces more so than others) , people in these service industries look for between 10 to 15% of the bill (before taxes) if they have provided good service. Of course all of this is at your discretion but if you don't tip, don't be surprised if you have a hard time getting another pint.
Canada has a very good road system, most particularly in the south. Our national airlines service all the major centers. More remote points particularly in the north are serviced by small airlines or charters. The rail system isn't nearly as extensive as it once was (not a patch on most of the Euro system) and some major centers no longer have passenger service to the rest of the country (but the Canadian still plies the Rockies). We do have excellent ferry systems servicing each coast and spanning many points on major rivers. Some of Canada's regions, Labrador as an example, have a very limited road system and remote destinations will require the use of a float plane.
Canadians drive on the right hand side of the road, which is the same as in the US but the opposite of Britain. We use the metric system so you should make a point of familiarizing yourself with a few simple conversions. It might save you a traffic ticket.
miles (m) x 1.6 =
Some useful conversions if you're driving.
100km an hour = 60m
A journey of 100km will take approximately 1 hour of driving at 60m hour on a highway. Most city streets and service roads have speed limits of 50km hour, highways 90km hour, freeways 100km hour. School zones are usually posted at 30km hour.
Gas in Canada is sold by the litre (for quick conversion try 4 liters to the gallon).
American gallon x 3.8 =
Just to get a little sense of perspective:
Driving Montreal to Toronto at the speed limit will take 5 to 7 hours. A train from Toronto to Vancouver will take several days. A flight from Montreal to Vancouver will take approximately 5 hours. To fly from St. John's, Newfoundland to Vancouver will take 7 or 8 hours. Driving from one end of the country to the other can take a week of 12hr, or two to three weeks at a more leisurely (but not relaxed) pace.
Canada uses the metric system which measures temperature with the Celsius scale. To convert: Fahrenheit (F) (-32) x 5/9 = Celsius (C) Celsius (C) x 9/5 + 32 = Fahrenheit (F) Some examples of Celsius are: 40C ~ 104F In Canada, possible but not that likely! 35C ~ 95F Definitely time for sea kayaking but careful you'll burn. 30C ~ 86F Hot for backpacking; stay in the shade. 20C ~ 68F Time to find some single track. 10C ~ 50F Getting cool; great for a hike. 5C ~ 41F Chilly; get out the fleece. 0C ~ 32F Water freezes; watch for snow or ice. -5C ~ 23F Break out the snow board. -10C ~ 14F Bundle up for cross country. -20C ~ -4F Build a Quinzi. -30C ~ -22F Hope you've built a Quinzi. -40 ~ -40F Unless you're a mountaineer stay home. -50 ~ -58 Something akin to the top of Everest. Forget it!
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