Area Codes -- The area code for Vancouver and the surrounding area is 604; for Victoria and the rest of the B.C., it's 250. In Alberta, the area code for Calgary and Banff is 403, while the area code for Edmonton and Jasper is 780.
Automobile Organizations -- Members of the American Automobile Association (AAA) should remember to take their membership cards since the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA; tel. 800/222-4357; www.caa.ca) extends privileges to them in Canada.
Business Hours -- Standard business hours in Canada are similar to those in the U.S., usually 10am to 6pm. It is common for stores to be closed on Sundays, particularly outside of the larger cities and major tourist areas.
Drinking Laws -- In British Columbia, all beer, wine, and spirits are sold only in government liquor stores, which keep restricted hours and charge extortionate prices. Alberta's liquor laws more resemble those in the United States, and the minimum drinking age there is 18 (in British Columbia, it's 19), though you still need to go to liquor stores for all forms of alcohol, including beer and wine.
Proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it's always a good idea to bring ID when you go out.
Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. Don't even think about driving while intoxicated.
Electricity -- Canada uses the same plug configuration and 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles) as the U.S., compared to 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220-240 volts to 110-120 volts can be difficult to find in the United States and Canada, so bring one with you.
Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are in Ottawa, the national capital; the U.S. Embassy is at 490 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, ON K1N 1G8 (tel. 613/688-5335; http://ottawa.usembassy.gov). You'll find U.S. consulates in Alberta at 615 Macleod Trail SE, 10th Floor, Calgary (tel. 403/266-8962), and in British Columbia at Mezzanine, 1095 W. Pender St., Vancouver (tel. 604/685-4311). Visit the American Citizen Information Services website (www.amcits.com) for further U.S. consular services information.
There's a British consulate general at 777 Bay St., Ste. 2800, Toronto, ON M5G 2G2 (tel. 416/593-1290; for more information see http://ukincanada.fco.gov.uk/en), and an Australian consulate general at 175 Bloor St. E., Ste. 1100, South Tower, Toronto, ON M4W 3R8 (tel. 416/323-1155; for more information visit www.ahc-ottawa.org).
Emergencies -- Dial tel. 911 for emergencies.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Gas sells by the liter and pumps for anywhere from about C85¢ to C$1.10 per liter, or about C$3.80 to C$4.30 per U.S. gallon. (Note that the term "gallon" in Canada usually refers to the imperial gallon, which amounts to about 1.2 U.S. gal.) Gasoline prices vary from region to region.
Holidays -- Most banks, government offices, post offices, and many stores, restaurants, and museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day), Good Friday, Easter, the Monday on or before May 24 (Victoria Day), July 1 (Canada Day), the first Monday in September (Labour Day), the second Monday in October (Thanksgiving), November 11 (Remembrance Day), and December 25 and 26 (Christmas and Boxing Day).
Travelers should note that most Canadians consider their high summer season to run between Victoria Day (a week before Memorial Day in the U.S.) and Labour Day (the same date as in the U.S.). Seasonal destinations often close the weekend before Canadian Thanksgiving, in early October.
Language -- English is spoken throughout B.C. and the Canadian Rockies.
Legal Aid -- If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting your embassy or consulate.
Mail -- Standard mail in Canada is carried by Canada Post (tel. 800/267-1177 in Canada, or 416/979-8822 in the U.S.; www.canadapost.ca). At press time, it costs C57¢ to send a first-class letter or postcard within Canada and C$1.03 to send a first-class letter or postcard from Canada to the United States. First-class airmail service to other countries is C$1.73 for the first 30 grams (1 oz.). Rates go up frequently. If you put a return address on your letter, make sure it's Canadian; otherwise, leave it without.
Police -- To contact the police in an emergency, dial tel. 911.
Smoking -- Canada is considered to be at the forefront of anti-smoking legislation. Eleven of the country's 13 provinces and territories have now passed smoking bans prohibiting cigarettes in the workplace and public buildings, bars, and restaurants. In Alberta, no smoking is allowed in public places and workplaces where minors are allowed. Casinos, bingo halls, and bars don't fall under these restrictions. In B.C., you can't smoke in public places like restaurants, bars, bingo halls, bowling alleys, and casinos. Restaurant and bar owners may construct open smoking rooms where staff may volunteer to serve. Traveling smokers should be aware that in B.C., it is illegal to light a cigarette in a motor vehicle in the presence of a person under the age of 16.
Taxes -- Throughout Canada, you will be charged a federal goods and service tax (GST), a 5% tax on virtually all goods and services. In all provinces except Alberta, there is an additional provincial sales tax added to purchases and financial transactions. British Columbia levies a "harmonized" federal and provincial 12% tax on purchases and services.
All provinces and some municipalities levy a hotel room tax (5% in Alberta; 8% in B.C.).
Some hotels and shops include the GST in their prices; others add it on separately. When included, the tax accounts for the odd hotel rates, such as C$96.05 per day, that you may find on your final bill.
As of 2007, the Canadian government no longer offers GST or HST rebates of hotel bills or the cost of goods you've purchased in Canada.
Telephones -- The Canadian phone system is exactly the same as the 10-digit system in the United States. Many stores sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50; for international visitors these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public pay phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards. Local calls made from pay phones in most locales cost C50¢. Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone.
For calls within Canada to the United States, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling. The country code from Canada to the U.K. is 44; Australia is 61; the country code for New Zealand is 64.
Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are toll-free. However, calls to area codes 700 and 900 (chat lines, bulletin boards, "dating" services, and so on) can be very expensive -- usually a charge of C$3 or more per minute, and they sometimes have minimum charges that can run as high as C$15 or more.
For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0, then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.
Time -- Most of British Columbia is in the Pacific Time zone, 3 hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time. A sliver of British Columbia, stretching from Golden down to Cranbrook, and all of Alberta are on Mountain Time, an hour later than the rest of the province. So when it's noon in New York City, it's 9am in Victoria and 10am in Calgary. Each year, on the second Sunday in March, daylight saving time comes into effect in most of Canada, and clocks are advanced by 1 hour. On the first Sunday in November, Canada reverts to standard time.
Tipping -- The rules for tipping in Canada parallel those in the United States.
In hotels, tip bellhops at least C$1 per bag (C$2-C$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff C$1 to C$2 per day (more if you've left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant C$1 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants C$1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants C$1 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 10% to 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least C$1 per bag (C$2-C$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
Toilets -- You won't find public toilets or "washrooms" on the streets in most Canadian cities, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their washrooms for patrons.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.