Prices for goods and services are comparable between Canada and the U.S. -- particularly now that the Canadian dollar has been close to par with its U.S. counterpart for a number of years. On a day-to-day basis, traveling in Canada will cost about the same as traveling in the U.S., as long as restraint is used when making hotel and dining selections. European travelers will find that Canadian prices for comparable goods and services are generally lower than those in their home countries.
Canadian currency is counted in dollars and cents, just like the currency system in the U.S. However, in addition to pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, there are one- and two-dollar coins (there are no one- or two-dollar bills). Dollar coins are bronze-plated coins and bear the picture of a loon -- hence their nickname, "loonies." There's also a two-toned $2 coin, which is sometimes referred to as a "toonie." Paper currency begins with $5 bills.
Exchanging currency is pretty straightforward, particularly if you are changing U.S. dollars into Canadian. Most banks on both sides of the border will exchange U.S. and Canadian currency, even if they don't normally advertise as foreign exchange services. However, the easiest way to procure Canadian currency is simply to withdraw money from an ATM.
Often, Canadian businesses will accept U.S. dollars in payment, making the currency value exchange, if any, at the till.
It's always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, and traveler's checks. You should also exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel before you leave home, or withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a "cash machine" or a "cashpoint." ATMs also offer the best exchange rates. Avoid exchanging money at commercial exchange bureaus and hotels, which often have the highest transaction fees.
The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe. Go to your bank card's website to find ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Credit cards are a safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs but high fees make credit card cash advances a pricey way to get cash. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).
Canadian businesses honor the same credit cards as in the U.S. and the U.K. Visa and MasterCard are the most common, though American Express is also normally accepted in hotels and restaurants catering to tourists. Discover and Diners Club cards are somewhat less frequently accepted.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/221-7282); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322) -- AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee (for checks up to $1,500) at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378; and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
Be sure to keep a record of the traveler's checks serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
All the above companies also offer traveler's checks denominated in Canadian dollars. If you are planning to use traveler's checks frequently while in Canada, there are advantages to buying them in Canadian dollars, as there is usually no fee to reimburse them, and they can be used like cash in most retail situations.
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.