Traveling to a new country for the first time means that you should prepare for your trip and learn as much as you can about your new destination and Canada is no exception. Canada does share a border with the United States of America but there are a lot of things in which the two countries are different. From general information and travel requirements to stereotypes and travel hacks, in this article, we’ll share everything you need to know before traveling to Canada! So whether you’re visiting Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or anywhere in between, here’s how to make the most out of your first visit to the land of Ice and Maple Syrup!
General information about traveling to Canada
- Canada is the second biggest country in the world by area but it has only 37 million people (roughly equal to the population of California).
- Roughly 85% of Canada’s population lives within 200 kilometers away from the US border. This means most of Canada’s territory is uninhabited.
- Canada has two official languages; English and French (in the Province of Quebec).
- Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world and Toronto (Canada’s largest city) is arguably the most ethnically diverse city on the planet.
- There are 6 different time zones in Canada.
- The currency used is the Canadian dollar even though US dollars are accepted in some towns near the border.
What about the visa requirements?
Most countries’ residents require a visa to enter Canada. There are some countries whose residents can enter Canada with only an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation). You can check whether your country is on this list here. If you’re traveling to Canada from a country that’s not on this list, you will need to obtain a visa. So, it’s probably a good idea to read about Canada’s entry requirements.
What’s the weather like in Canada?
The landscape of Canada is diverse and you can find different climates in different parts of the country throughout the year. However, one thing is inevitable- the cold. Even the warmest cities in Canada get relatively cold during winters and most of the country is covered in snow and ice during this time of the year. Hence, snowstorms, road closures, and avalanches aren’t uncommon. Be aware of this if you’re planning to visit Canada in the winter. Summers are relatively warm and humid but if you want to do some trekking or stay in the mountains, you can expect chilly weather even in the summers.
Canada is huge
Many people look at Canada’s population and underestimate the country’s size and this is a big mistake. Canada is the second-largest country in the world, only behind Russia. The country consists of 10 provinces and traveling between them can take a lot of time. So, unless you have at least a few weeks to explore, don’t think that you can travel around the country. If you have less time, it’s probably better to stick to one province or one city and its surroundings.
Tipping culture in Canada
Just like in the US, tipping in Canada is expected in industries such as tourism, hospitality, and services. Tips aren’t included in the bill, so you have to add it yourself. The standard practice is between 15% and 20% of the total bill. However, unlike in the US, people working in hospitality receive a decent minimum wage and don’t rely on tips to earn a living.
You can see the Northern Lights
If you want to see the Northern Lights, Canada offers a lot of options. There are a lot of places around the country where you can see the spectacular Aurora Borealis. To increase your chances to see the Northern Lights, head to Nunavut, The Yukon, or the Northwest Territories.
Canadians are very polite
You’ve probably seen some memes about how polite Canadians are. Actually, most of them are true. Canadians are very friendly and helpful. And yes, they do say ‘sorry’ a lot but that’s just a part of their kindness. If you ever are in need of assistance, whether for directions or something else, don’t hesitate to ask a local.
Public Transport in Canada
Regional public transport in Canada isn’t nearly as good as the one in Europe but this is mainly because of the country’s huge area. However, local public transport in the main cities is superb with metro and buses being able to take you practically anywhere in the city.
However, outside the big cities like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec, getting to the more remote parts of the country can be challenging. ViaRail, the national train company does offer some options but train travel in Canada can be expensive. That’s why perhaps the most feasible option for traveling around Canada as a tourist is renting a car.
Renting a car in Canada
Canadians drive on the ride side of the road and use the metric system when it comes to driving. Gasoline is measured in liters and distances in kilometers. The speed limit on most major highways is 100 kilometers per hour but you can get away with driving with 110-120 km/hr. If you want to rent a car, you’ll find all major rental car brands but in my opinion, the best option is to compare car rentals from all major providers on AutoEurope. This way, you’ll always choose the best deal and save big when renting a car in Canada.
What you see isn’t always what you pay
The prices listed in restaurant menus and supermarkets aren’t the same as the amount you actually have to pay. Canada adds a federal sales tax on all goods and services and some provinces even have their own tax! This means that you can expect the bill to be up to 15% higher than what’s listed. Furthermore, the tax refund program for tourists was shut down in the 2000s’ and all taxes paid in Canada stay in Canada.
Yes, they love hockey
Hockey in Canada isn’t just a sport; it’s a way of life. Hockey is on TV all the time, whether being an actual match or a commercial; you’d be surprised how Canadians can relate everything to this sport! A lot of people gather in big groups to watch hockey matches at their homes or in bars, and if you’re traveling to Canada, you should at least participate in one such gathering if you’re not able to see a hockey game live.
Yes, Maple Syrup is everywhere
Maple Syrup is another typical stereotype about Canada but the reality is maple syrup is everywhere and Canadians sure love it. There are so many different varieties of maple syrup and countless maple-syrup infused products and a lot of them are surprisingly delicious!
Which plugs do they use in Canada?
Canada uses the same plug system as the United States and the voltage is 120 volts. So, if you’re traveling from Europe, you need to bring a travel adapter and a converter for all of your devices that run on higher voltages.
Costs of traveling to Canada
Accommodation – On average, you’ll spend around $30 CAD (around $20 USD) for a dorm in a hostel and around $70 CAD for a budget hotel room. In larger cities, the prices can get even higher. You can find Airbnb properties around the country and you can easily find rooms for around $30 CAD per night and $80 CAD for entire apartments. If you like camping, there are a lot of camping sites around Canada, and most of them charge $10-$30 CAD per night for the most basic amenities.
Food – If you’re looking to save on food, head to sandwich shops and pubs. This way, you can find a lot of meal options for $10-$15 CAD per meal. An average meal at a restaurant will cost you between $25 and $40 CAD. Perhaps the most budget-friendly option is cooking your own food. This way, you shouldn’t be spending more than $90 CAD per week for three meals a day.
Sightseeing – Even though there are a lot of interesting museums and sights to see in the big cities, the best part of Canada is the outdoors which also happens to be free! Anyway, you should prepare a budget of at least $30 CAD per day for sightseeing and entertainment, around $20 CAD per day for public transport and at least $120 per ride for intercity transport.
Museums and historic monuments in Canada usually charge between $15 and $20 CAD for entrance while most trails charge $10-$15 CAD for trail permits. If you want to visit some nightclubs, expensive bars or casinos, you need to plan another $50-$100 per night but real cash online casinos are a good cheap alternative.
How to save money when traveling to Canada
Take advantage of free walking tours! Most major cities have them and it’s a great way to learn more about a new city and the local history
Use Couchsurfing. Canada isn’t a budget-friendly destination and when traveling here, every penny counts. Couchsurfing is a great way not only to save money but to learn about Canada from actual locals.
Use coupon sites. If you know where you’re going, keep checking sites like Groupon and Living Social. You can find a lot of great deals and save a lot of money by using them.
Plan more outdoor activities. As we mentioned above, outdoors are the best part of Canada and the more time you spend outdoors, the less money you’ll spend. It’s as simple as that.
Use ride-sharing and Megabus. If you’re traveling between different cities or provinces, keep an eye on websites that list people sharing their vehicles. Check out Craiglist listings, Kangaride, Couchsurfing, and dedicated Facebook groups. Alternatively, you can find tickets as cheap as $1-$2 if booked way in advance.
Refuel at native reserves. If you rent a car and drive around Canada, try to plan to stop only at native reserves. These are the cheapest places to buy gas in Canada because of the lower taxes.
Eat street. Most major cities have street food stalls where you can find hot dogs and sausages for as little as $2 CAD.
Book your accommodation in smaller towns or suburbs. You can save a lot by staying as far as possible from the city center. There are a lot of reasonably-priced accommodation options located in suburbs surrounding the big cities or small towns that are only a short bus ride away.
Things you shouldn’t miss when traveling to Canada
Hit the slopes
The Canadian mountains are great for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and other winter sports. Some of the most famous winter destinations in Canada are Whistler, Banff, Mont Tremblant, Sunshine Village, etc.
See the diversity of Toronto
Toronto is one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in North America. There are a lot of interesting museums and galleries that you have to visit if you’re into art, history or both.
Visit Vancouver and Vancouver Island
And see why it’s one of the most popular local summer getaways! Go whale watching, have some tasty seafood, and see some of Vancouver’s most interesting landmarks, and take the iconic drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway.
Witness the Calgary Stampede
Every year in July, thousands of people come to Calgary to witness Canada’s largest rodeo festival. The festival is a great place to have fun, try some tasty local food, drink a lot of alcohol, and of course see some awesome rodeo exhibitions.
Canoe on mountain lakes
Canada’s national parks are some of the most pristine pieces of wilderness on our planet. And does it really get better than canoeing on pristine azure mountain lakes that reflect the majestic snow-capped mountains peeking from the horizon?
Taste local wine in Kelowna
If you want to avoid the cold weather as much as possible, a visit to Kelowna is highly recommended. Hot in the summer and relatively warm in the winter, Kelowna is home to some of the best vineyards in Canada and a great place to sample some of the finest Canadian wines.
Visit the Polar Bear Capital of The World
If you’re wondering where in the world is Churchill, you’re not alone. The city is practically in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t too much to do around. What makes this small town of 1,000 people so famous is the large population of polar bears that lives in the area surrounding the town. The only way to get there, however, is by train or plane as there aren’t any roads that lead to the city.
See the other side of the Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Canada. The town itself is very touristy and has close to zero authenticity but taking that sacrifice to see the mesmerizing falls is totally worth it.
There are plenty of choices on the Canadian side, where accommodations run the gamut from the Fallsview Hotel with stunning views of the falls right outside your window, to a number of very affordable options including campgrounds and RV parks.
Discover Nova scotia
Nova Scotia is home to some very friendly people (even for Canadian standards) and some of the most beautiful beaches in this part of the world. Yes, Canada has some nice beaches too!
Get off the beaten track and explore The Yukon and Nunavut
The Yukon and Nunavut are some of the most remote and most sparsely populated provinces in the world. Together, the two provinces cover an area of 2.6 million square kilometers (roughly the size of Kazakhstan) but are inhabited by only 70,000 people. Hardly anyone ever visits Nunavut or The Yukon and getting there isn’t easy and certainly isn’t cheap but if you’re a nature lover, you won’t find anything else like this region anywhere on the planet!
The best booking resources for your trip to Canada
Here are some of the companies I personally use when traveling to Canada. Hopefully, these tips can help you save on your next trip and make your whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
For the cheapest international flights to Canada, Air France has some amazing, or as they call them, ‘Oh-La-La deals’.
If you’re planning to rent a car in Canada, don’t forget to compare prices
before you book. AutoEurope offers a great way to do this and save up to 30% when renting a car in Canada.
If you’re looking for some great multi-day, all-inclusive tours, check out Intrepid
Travel. They have some nice small group tours that leave a minimal environmental footprint while allowing you to experience Canada at its finest. Just book and you don’t have to worry about anything else, including food, transport, and activities.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for some cheaper day tours or activities, check out GetYourGuide. They have a wide choice of affordable tours guided by local tourist guides.
If you want to save on accommodation in Canada, use my Booking discount voucher and save up to 15% on properties around the country.
Finally, don’t forget about travel insurance. Canada might have a great health system but it’s reserved for Canadians, not for you. And if God forbid something happens, you should be covered because medical bills can get very expensive! That’s why I always recommend World Nomads. They’re slightly more expensive than most travel insurance providers but they have you covered no matter what.
Are you thinking of traveling to Canada soon? Did you find these tips useful? Do you think we forgot to mention something important? Let us know in the comments!
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