American Express -- American Express offers travel services, including check cashing and trip planning, through a number of affiliated agencies in the region. Call tel. 800/221-7282 for the nearest location.
Area Codes -- The area code for New Brunswick is tel. 506; the area code for Newfoundland and Labrador is tel. 709; and the area code for both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island is tel. 902.
Automobile Organizations -- The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) extends all member benefits, including discounts, maps, and emergency road service, to U.S. AAA cardholders. If you're a AAA member, bring your membership card on your trip. For information about joining CAA, call the eastern provinces office in Saint John at tel. 800/561-8807 or 506/634-1400; the association's website is located at www.caa.ca. For emergency road service in a pinch, call CAA's hotline at tel. 800/222-4357 (or tel. *222 from some cellphones).
Business Hours -- Business hours in eastern Canada are generally similar to what you'd find in the United States. Most offices are open from 8 or 9am to 5 or 6pm Monday through Friday and are closed on weekends. Boutiques and souvenir shops typically open up around 10am and stay open until 6pm or so, often later during the peak tourist season. Hours vary widely for general merchandise and grocery stores. In general, you can expect early and late hours in the larger cities (even 24-hr. groceries are cropping up), more limited hours in the smaller towns and villages. Most general merchandise stores are closed on Sundays.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age is 19 years in all provinces. Restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages are said to be "licensed." If you want to tipple with dinner, look for a sign or ask whether the establishment is licensed. Do not drink and drive; Canadian law takes drunken driving very seriously, and you could do hard time. Also, don't let anyone carry open containers of alcohol in your car, and don't bring them into any public area that isn't properly zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot.
Elcctricity -- Canada uses the same electrical current as the United States, 110-115 volts (60 cycles), 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 are difficult to find, so bring one with you.
If you're coming from Europe, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Embassies & Consulates -- All foreign embassies in Canada are in Ottawa, the national capital. The U.S. embassy is at 490 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, ON K1N 1G8 (tel. 613/688-5335). The Australian High Commission is at 50 O'Connor St., Room 710, Ottawa, ON K1P 6L2 (tel. 613/236-0841). The British High Commission is at 80 Elgin St., Ottawa, ON K1P 5K7 (tel. 613/237-1530). The Irish Embassy is at 130 Albert St., Suite 1105, Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4 (tel. 613/233-6281). The New Zealand High Commission is at 99 Bank St., Suite 727, Ottawa, ON K1P 6G3 (tel. 613/238-5991). The South African High Commission is at 15 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, ON K1M 1M8 (tel. 613/744-0330). If you're in the Maritimes and need help on the spot, there's also a U.S. Consulate General in Purdy's Wharf Tower 2, Suite 904, 1969 Upper Water St., Halifax, NS B3J 3R7 (tel. 902/429-2480).
Emergencies -- For fire, police, and ambulance, find any phone and dial tel. 911. If this fails, dial 0 (zero) and report an emergency.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- American drivers tend to get excited about the price of gasoline when they first cross the border into Canada, thinking it to be very cheap. It is not. Gasoline is priced by the liter here, not the gallon, and it's actually more expensive than it is in the United States. My quick and dirty guide? Multiply the price per liter on the sign by 3 to get a good idea of what gas is costing you per gallon in U.S. dollars.
Holidays -- The national holidays in Canada are celebrated from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans; for the traveler, this means all government offices and banks will be closed at these times. (Shops remain open on some but not all national holidays.) National holidays here include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Victoria Day (the third Monday in May, always 1 week before Memorial Day in the United States), Canada Day (July 1; this is a biggie -- expect fireworks), Labour Day (first Monday in September, same as in the U.S.), Thanksgiving (mid-October; the same as Columbus Day weekend in the United States), Remembrance Day (November 11), Christmas Day (December 25), and Boxing Day (December 26).
Locally observed provincial holidays include a civic holiday (August 2) in Nova Scotia; New Brunswick Day (the first Monday in August); and several holidays in Newfoundland and Labrador, including St. George's Day (April 26), Discovery Day (nearest Monday to June 24, for John Cabot's "discovery" of Canada), and Orangeman's Day (July 12). Check out the proceedings.
Acadian pockets of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Prince Edward Island also celebrate St. Jean Baptiste Day (June 24), which was actually pagan in origin (for the summer solstice, known in Europe as midsummer's night) but has since become associated with Catholic, Québecois, and Franco culture. Expect tons of Franco fun on this day -- and remember that the festivities actually begin the day before Jean Baptiste Day, on June 23.
Insurance -- I always recommend carrying some form of travel insurance, no matter how rudimentary, even when traveling to a place as incredibly safe as eastern Canada. The cost of this insurance varies widely depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but you can usually expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the total cost of the trip itself. Make sure it covers against "carrier default" for your specific travel provider. And be aware that if a U.S. airline goes bust mid-trip, a federal law requires other carriers to take you to your destination (on a space-available basis) for a fee of no more than US$25, provided you rebook within 60 days of the cancellation.
Trip-cancellation insurance might also be a good idea. This form of insurance can help you retrieve your money if you need to back out of a trip or depart early -- or if your travel outfitter suddenly goes bankrupt. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and State Department advisories. The latest news in trip-cancellation insurance is the availability of "any reason" cancellation coverage -- which costs more but covers cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion.
There's also lost-luggage insurance. On international flights (including U.S. portions of international trips), baggage coverage is limited to approximately US$9 per pound, up to about US$635 per checked bag. If you plan to check items more valuable than what's covered by the standard liability, see if your homeowner's policy covers your valuables, or get baggage insurance as part of your comprehensive travel-insurance package. If your luggage is lost, immediately file a lost-luggage claim at the airport, detailing the luggage contents. Most airlines require that you report delayed, damaged, or lost baggage within 4 hours of arrival. The airlines are required to deliver luggage, once found, directly to your house or destination free of charge.
For more information about travel insurance, trip cancelation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling visit the Frommer's website at www.frommers.com/planning.
Language -- Canada has two official languages, English and French. As such, you'll see signs and tourist materials in both languages throughout the four Atlantic provinces. English is universally understood and primarily used throughout Atlantic Canada, except perhaps in a few Franco villages.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two.
Visa's emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309.
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).
Mail -- Canadian cities and towns of a decent size have at least one post office apiece. At press time, first-class postage rates for a normal-sized letter sent from Canada were C54¢ to Canada, C98¢ to the United States, and C$1.65 to any other country in the world. Postcards cost less; packages and express services cost more, sometimes considerably more. Remember that you will need to fill out a customs form, and possibly pay duty taxes, if you're mailing something of value back home from Canada. For full information on rates and postal requirements, go to www.canadapost.ca.
Express parcel services are also readily available in eastern Canada, including FedEx (www.fedex.ca), UPS (www.ups.ca), and DHL (www.dhl.ca). Package rates vary considerably according to the item being mailed, depending on such factors as distance to the destination, weight, and how quickly you want the item to arrive. Consult the websites of the carrier for specific shipping rates.
Always include zip codes when mailing anything to the U.S. If you don't know the relevant zip code, visit the postal service online at www.usps.com/zip4 to look it up.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Publishers in the major cities of the province -- including Halifax, Saint John, Fredericton, Charlottetown, and St. John's -- all produce very decent daily newspapers filled with information about goings-on around the town and province. Most also maintain websites, so you can scout out happenings before your departure. Canada's two national newspapers -- The Globe and Mail and the National Post -- are also widely available in most cities and many larger towns. U.S. papers such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times can be found in larger cities, but you shouldn't count on it. When available, they often sell out early. Newsmagazines such as Time and Newsweek are not difficult to find on newsstands.
Passports -- Consult our website, www.frommers.com/planning, for some important information on how to obtain a passport. Or contact the following agencies:
Residents of Australia -- Contact the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
Residents of Canada -- Contact the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
Residents of Ireland -- Contact the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh).
Residents of New Zealand -- Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.
Residents of the United Kingdom -- Visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.
For Residents of the United States -- To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website (www.state.gov) or call the National Passport Information Center's toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.
Police -- For police, dial tel. 911. If this fails, dial 0 (zero) and report an emergency.
Smoking -- Smoking is now banned from all public places in eastern Canada, although that is a fairly recent change. Prince Edward Island banned the practice first, in 2003; New Brunswick followed a year later; and Newfoundland followed in 2005. Nova Scotia banned public smoking only in 2006 -- but with a minimum fine for smoking of C$2,000. (Bars and restaurants in Nova Scotia, however, can maintain smoking rooms, so long as they are completely separated from other public spaces and very well ventilated.)
The minimum legal age to purchase tobacco in Canada is 18. However, some provinces -- including all the Maritime Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador) -- have raised that age locally to 19.
Taxes -- Canada's high taxes offset some of the advantages you gain when paying in Canadian dollars. Three of the four Maritime Provinces -- New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland -- use the so-called HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). HST combines provincial and federal sales taxes into one flat 13% tax charged on all goods and services. Local cities sometimes apply an additional tax for hotels. On Prince Edward Island, it's different: The national sales tax (5.5%, called GST on your bill) is folded into the hefty PEI provincial tax of 10% -- the highest in Canada -- for a 15.5% total tax on most items (including a tax on the federal sales tax). Footwear, clothing, books, and groceries are exempt from the 10% PEI portion of that tax, however.
Until very recently, non-Canadians could apply for a refund of their entire HST (or the GST only, on Prince Edward Island) upon leaving the country. That is no longer true: Canada's legislature made the Visitor Rebate Program go poof in 2007. Tear up those rebate forms. However, very importantly, those who tour eastern Canada on a tour package can reclaim part of Canada's taxes. Confused? You're not the only one. The website www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca/visitors has more answers on Canada's national and provincial taxes.
Telephones -- To make a reverse-charge or collect call, and for person-to-person calls, dial 0 plus the area code and number you want to reach; an operator should then come on the line, and you can specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.
For local directory assistance ("information") in Canada, dial tel. 411. For long-distance information, dial 1, the area code of the province you're seeking a number for, and then tel. 555-1212. These calls both cost money. Toll-free directory assistance, however, is free; dial tel. 800/555-1212.
Time -- Most of Atlantic Canada is on Atlantic Standard Time, 1 hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time (as observed in New England and the U.S. East Coast). The exceptions are Newfoundland and southeast Labrador, which are a half-hour ahead of Atlantic Standard Time.
Tipping -- As in the United States, tips provide a significant portion of the income for waiters, bellhops, and chambermaids. It's standard to leave 15% of the pre-sales tax total for basic service at a restaurant; more if the service is exceptional. In hotels, plan to tip bellhops around C$1 per bag (C$2-C$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and 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 roughly 15% of your 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%, depending on service.
Toilets -- Generally called "washrooms" in Canada, public bathrooms are typically abundant and clean. Many towns have a visitor information center, and most of these have washrooms for visitors. In larger cities, washrooms can be found in public buildings, major hotels, some larger shops, and restaurants.
Visas -- American travelers to Canada do not require visas and neither do residents of many other countries, including citizens of most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, and some present and former British territories in the Caribbean -- this includes anyone holding a green card in the U.S. or anyone who is a British overseas citizen of the U.K. Needless to say, bring your identification or the relevant paperwork on your trip. If you're still not sure about whether you will need a visa or not, consult the Canadian government's up-to-date listing of countries whose residents do need one at www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp.
Visitor Information -- It's well worth a toll-free call or postcard in advance of your trip to stock up on the free literature and maps that provincial authorities liberally bestow upon those considering a vacation in their province. Here's how to reach the official tourism folks who dispense these goodies:
- Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture & Heritage, World Trade Centre, 6th Floor, 1800 Argyle St. (P.O. Box 456) Halifax, NS B3J 2R5. tel. 800/565-0000 or 902/424-5000; email@example.com.
- New Brunswick Department of Tourism & Parks, P.O. Box 12345, Campbellton, NB E3N 3T6. tel. 800/561-0123; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tourism PEI, P.O. Box 2000, Charlottetown, PEI C1A 7N8. tel. 800/463-4734 or 902/368-4444; email@example.com.
* Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture & Recreation, P.O. Box 8700, St. John's, NL A1B 4J6. tel. 709/729-0862; firstname.lastname@example.org.
All four provinces staff helpful visitor centers at key access points, including the main roadways running into the provinces and their major cities. Expect cordial staff and exceptionally well-stocked racks overflowing with menus, brochures, and booklets. Excellent road maps are also available from all four provincial tourism authorities -- ask at the welcome centers. These maps are free except in Newfoundland, where the province has traditionally charged for them, though you can usually also obtain a Newfoundland map for free simply by phoning the province's tourism office in advance of your trip and requesting a visitor packet.
Staff at these centers provide a surplus of information on local attractions, and they can also fill you in on what's happening anywhere else in the province so that you can plan a few days in advance. If the staffers don't have the information you need at their fingertips, they'll often make phone calls and track it down for you.
The centers are most numerous in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island; New Brunswick's information centers are equally helpful, though not as numerous. Newfoundland's visitor centers -- with the exception of the modern information centers near the two main ferry terminals -- are typically less polished than in the other provinces, yet authorities have been successful in making improvements. Look in the regional chapters of this guide for addresses and phone numbers of the main visitor centers in each area.
All four provinces also publish free, magazine-size travel guides crammed with essential information on hotels, inns, campgrounds, and attractions. Nova Scotia's tome sets an international standard for high-quality information (and size), and the other provincial guides are excellent and unfailingly helpful, as well.
You can also go online to get information in advance. Here are a few places to start clicking:
- Nova Scotia's official website is a great whirlwind tour of accommodations and tourism sites; you can even download a bit of local music. It can be found at www.explorens.com or www.novascotia.com.
- Nova Scotia Provincial Parks' website provides basic, up-to-date information about its many excellent parks at www.parks.gov.ns.ca.
- The official New Brunswick tourism site offers a great place to start: www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.
- The official Prince Edward Island tourism information resource can be found at both www.gentleisland.com and www.peiplay.com.
- Newfoundland & Labrador's official website can be visited on the Internet at both www.gov.nl.ca/tourism and the unwieldy (but much easier to remember) alternative address www.newfoundlandlabrador.com.
- Finally, for information about travels in the region's national parks, a good first stop is the Parks Canada official website at www.pc.gc.ca.
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.