Area Codes -- The telephone area code for all of Vancouver Island, including Victoria and most of British Columbia, is 250. For Vancouver and the greater Vancouver area, including Squamish and Whistler, it's 604.
ATMS & Banks -- You’ll find 24-hour PLUS and Cirrus bank machines just about anywhere you need to be—shopping areas, bars, nightclubs, sports arenas, and, of course, banks. The major Canadian banks include BMO Bank of Montreal, CIBC, HSBC, RBC Royal Bank, Scotiabank, and TD Canada Trust. Remember that if you withdraw money from a bank that is not your own, it will likely charge you an additional fee.
Business Hours -- Business hours vary greatly, especially in Vancouver, so it’s best to check ahead with the establishment you want to visit. Most shops are open 10am to 6pm, with late openings on Thursdays and Fridays. Some, however, are open 24 hours; others only open certain days. Restaurants are open for lunch between 11:30am and 2pm, then close until 5pm when they open to serve dinner until midnight; however, chains and hotel restaurant will stay open most of the day, while smaller places will not open for lunch on Saturdays and may not open at all on Sundays and Mondays, unless they offer brunch.
Child Care -- If you need to rent cribs, car seats, playpens, or other baby accessories, Wee Travel (tel. 604/222-4722; www.weetravel.ca) delivers them right to your hotel or the airport.
Customs -- You’ll pass through Canadian Customs upon arrival and U.S. Customs if you are traveling through the U.S. on your departure. Remember that you will need a passport to enter Canada. Also, there are restrictions on alcohol, plant materials, cash, gifts, cigarettes, certain foodstuffs, and pets coming into Canada, so if you have any concerns or questions, check with Canada Border Services (tel. 800/461-9999; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
Dentists -- Most major hotels have a dentist on call. Vancouver Centre Dental Clinic (Vancouver Centre Mall, 1B11–650 W. Georgia St.; tel. 604/682-1601; www.vancouverdentalclinic.com) is another option. You must make an appointment. The clinic is open Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5pm (Wed until 6pm) and Friday 8:30am to 2pm.
Doctors -- Hotels usually have a doctor on call. Ultima Medicentre (Bentall Centre, 1055 Dunsmuir St.; tel. 604/683-8138; www.ultimamedicentre.ca) is a drop-in clinic open Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm. Care Point Medical Centers have a number of clinics, including one downtown (1175 Denman St.; tel. 604/681-5338; www.cbi.ca), open Monday through Wednesday 8:30am to 9pm, Thursday to Saturday 9am to 9pm, and Sunday 9am to 8pm.
Disabeled Travelers -- Both Vancouver and Victoria have made it a priority to be as accessible as possible for people with disabilities. Indeed, the publication “We’re Accessible,” a newsletter for travelers with disabilities, called Vancouver “the most accessible city in the world.” Except perhaps in some of the oldest neighborhoods, you can find wheelchair-accessible entrances, ramps, and walkways throughout both cities, as well as beeping signals for the visually impaired. Buses and transit stations almost always have lifts for wheelchairs. All public spaces, including restaurants, must offer wheelchair-accessible restrooms, and most hotels also have specially equipped rooms for those in wheelchairs, as well as visual smoke alarms for the hearing impaired. For more information, visit the Government of Canada site www.accesstotravel.gc.ca. In addition, both Tourism Vancouver (www.tourismvancouver.com/vancouver/accessible-vancouver) and Tourism Victoria (www.tourismvictoria.com/plan/travel-tips/special-needs) have resources for travelers with disabilities.
Drinking Laws -- British Columbia’s antiquated liquor laws are undergoing a massive and keenly anticipated overhaul, so much could change in the future. Currently beer, wine, and spirits are sold in government liquor stores and a handful of private liquor or artisan-producer stores. However, in summer 2014, some farmers’ markets began sampling and selling alcohol; within a year or two, alcohol will also likely be available in grocery stores. What will not change is the legal drinking age—19—and the blood-alcohol limit for driving—0.05 mg per 100 mL, or about one drink.
Drug Stores -- The two main drug store chains in Western Canada are Shoppers Drug Mart and BC’s own London Drugs, although some supermarkets and mass retailers also have pharmacies, and there are smaller, independent drug stores as well. For a 24-hour pharmacy in downtown Vancouver, try the Shoppers Drug Mart at 1125 Davie St., tel. 604/669-2424; in Victoria, go to the Shoppers at 3511 Blanshard St., tel. 250/475-7572.
Electricity -- As in the U.S., electric current is 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220 to 240 volts to 110 to 120 volts are difficult to find in North America, so bring one with you. Plugs have two flat prongs, so you may need an adapter as well. Many electronics such as laptops and tablets are fine with the voltage change, but check with the manufacturer beforehand just to make sure.
Embassies & Consulates -- If you lose your passport or run into any other difficulties, contact your embassy or consulate for help. Here are some of the main Vancouver addresses; check the Yellow Pages for other countries.
Australia: 2050-1075 W. Georgia St.; tel. 604/684-1177; www.canada.embassy.gov.au
Ireland: 210–837 Beatty St.; tel. 604/683-9233; www.embassyofireland.ca
New Zealand: 2250-1050 Pender St.; tel. 604/684-7388; www.nzembassy.com
United Kingdom: 800–1111 Melville St.; tel. 604/683-4421; ww2.britainincanada.org
United States: 1075 W. Pender St.; tel. 604/685-4311; www.vancouver.usconsulate.gov
Emergencies -- Dial tel. 911 for fire, police, ambulance, and poison control. This is a free call.
Hospitals -- St. Paul’s Hospital (1081 Burrard St.; tel. 604/682-2344) is the closest facility to downtown and the West End. West Side Vancouver hospitals include Vancouver General Hospital (855 W. 12th Ave.; tel. 604/875-4111) and BC Children’s Hospital (4480 Oak St.; tel. 604/875-2345). In North Vancouver, there’s Lions Gate Hospital (231 E. 15th St.; tel. 604/988-3131).
Hotlines -- Emergency numbers include the Crisis Centre (tel. 604/872-3311), Rape Crisis Centre (tel. 604/255-6228), Rape Relief (tel. 604/872-8212), BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (tel. 604/682-5050), Crime Stoppers (tel. 800/222-8477), and SPCA animal emergency (tel. 604/879-3571).
Family Travel -- Vancouver and Victoria are two of the most child-friendly cosmopolitan cities in the world. In addition to the standard attractions and sights, you’ll find a lot of free, adventurous, outdoor activities that both you and your kids will enjoy
Health -- Medical standards in Canada are very high, so should you fall ill during your visit, you will be in good hands. If you need a doctor, your hotel can help you find a reliable one. You will not have to undergo a credit check before being treated, unless you visit a private clinic rather than a public hospital, although some procedures—such as MRIs—may not be covered by your insurance. In all cases, make sure your travel insurance is up to date and that you are aware of what, exactly, it covers. Also, keep in mind that prescription drugs can be significantly less expensive in Canada. In addition, those with food allergies and aversions will be pleased to know that both Vancouver and Victoria are world leaders in accommodating dietary restrictions. And the tap water is perfectly safe to drink in B.C.; in fact, it’s some of the cleanest, tastiest drinking water around.
Insurance -- For information on traveler’s insurance, trip cancelation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Internet Access -- Increasingly, free Wi-Fi is becoming available almost everywhere from coffee shops to hotels to public parks to the airport. The exception is some of the higher-end hotels, which still charge a substantial daily Internet fee or provide basic access for free, but charge for faster speeds and bigger bandwidths. In addition, some hotels will loan out tablets during your visit, and almost all of them will have a business center with Internet access.
Legal Aid -- In case of trouble with the authorities, international visitors should call their embassy or consulate. If you are accused of a serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer.
LGBT Travelers -- Since 2003, when British Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, Vancouver and Victoria have become favored sites for gay and lesbian weddings and elopements. Even before that, though, these hip, friendly, and open-minded cities were popular destinations for LGBT visitors—Vancouver especially has a thriving gay community and hosts one of the world’s biggest and most exuberant Pride weeks, which includes a parade that attracts more than 650,000 spectators (www.vancouverpride.ca).
Luggage Storage & Lockers -- Lockers are available at the main Vancouver railway station (which is also the main bus depot), Pacific Central Station, 1150 Station St., near Main Street and Terminal Avenue (tel. 604/661-0328).
Mail & Postage -- The Vancouver Main Post Office is located at 349 W. Georgia St.; in Victoria, it’s at 706 Yates St. For other locations, many of which are within other retail locations, look for a “Postal Services” sign. At press time, letters and postcards up to 30 grams cost C65ce to mail within Canada, C$1.10 to mail to the U.S., and C$1.85 for overseas airmail service. For more information, call tel. 866/606-6301 or visit www.canadapost.ca.
Mobile Phones -- Canada is part of the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use. GSM phones function with a removable plastic SIM card, encoded with your phone number and account information. If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone, you can make and receive calls across Canada. Just call your wireless operator and ask for “international roaming” to be activated on your account. (Many U.S. cellphones are already equipped with this capability and need no further modification to operate in Canada.) To save money on roaming charges, you can also unlock your phone and buy a prepaid Canadian SIM card.
Money & Costs -- Until recently, the Canadian dollar was enjoying an extended period of economic strength. In recent months, though, its value has fallen against other currencies, driving up prices for many goods and services. Vancouver especially is an expensive city, with some of the highest living costs in the world. Still, you can often find special discounts for children and seniors, as well as plenty of free things to do.
It’s worth noting that the C$1 and C$2 bills have been replaced by coins known, respectively, as the “loonie” (because it has the bird known as a loon on one side) and the “toonie,” because it’s worth two loonies. It’s wise to carry a few—you’ll need them for parking meters, tips, and incidentals. Aside from that, credit and debit cards are widely accepted, though additional charges are often added when you use them. Most establishments will also accept American currency, but stores and restaurants typically offer poor exchange rates. Withdrawing cash from an ATM usually gives you the best exchange rate. For the most up-to-the-minute rates, consult www.xe.com.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The two local daily papers are the broadsheet “Vancouver Sun” (www.vancouversun.com) and the tabloid “Province” (www.theprovince.com). Also check out the free weeklies, “Georgia Straight” (www.straight.com), and “The West Ender” (www.wevancouver.com).
Packing Tips -- No matter what time of year you travel to Vancouver and Victoria, you will want to pack layers, comfortable walking shoes, and rain gear, including a waterproof jacket and umbrella. For more helpful information on packing, go to www.frommers.com and follow the links to the “Packing Tips” section of the website.
Passports -- All international travelers entering Canada are required to carry a valid passport. U.S. citizens who are members of NEXUS or FAST programs and are entering Canada by land or sea may use their membership cards as proof of identity instead.
Pharmacies -- Shopper’s Drug Mart (1125 Davie St.; tel. 604/669-2424) is open 24 hours. Several Safeway supermarket pharmacies are open late; the one on Robson and Denman streets is open until midnight.
Police -- Dial tel. 911 for fire, police, ambulance, and poison control. This is a free call. For non-emergencies, the Vancouver City Police can be reached at tel. 604/717-3321.
Post Office -- The main post office (349 W. Georgia St., at Homer St.; tel. 866/607-6301) is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5:30pm. You’ll also find post office outlets in some Shopper’s Drug Mart and 7-Eleven stores with longer open hours than the main post office.
Safety -- Overall, Vancouver is a safe city, and Victoria is even safer. But it is worth noting that in recent years Vancouver has seen a spate of targeted, gang-related shootings, some of which have hit high-end downtown restaurants. A bigger problem for most visitors is property crime and theft. Never leave valuable items on view in your parked car, and take care with handbags, cameras, wallets, and the like, especially in crowded areas.
It’s also worth noting that, because of the mild climate and various social issues, both cities have large populations of homeless, so you can expect plenty of panhandlers in touristy areas. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside especially is a troubled, drug-riddled neighborhood that borders two of the city’s trendiest areas, Gastown and Chinatown. Avoid the DTES if you can, especially at night, and if you somehow find yourself at the corner of Hastings and Main, exercise all possible caution.
Senior Travel -- Thanks to their mild weather, Vancouver and Victoria have become havens for older Canadians, as well as senior travelers. Senior travelers often qualify for discounts at hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Discount transit passes are also available.
Smoking -- Smoking is prohibited in all public areas, including restaurants, bars, and clubs, as well as public transportation. Many hotels are now entirely smoke-free. In September 2010, a ban was also instituted on smoking in public parks, including Stanley Park, and beaches.
Student Travel -- Obtain an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) and you will be eligible for a variety of discounts on accommodation, transportation, goods, and services. Visit isiccanada.ca for details.
Students will also find inexpensive accommodation at youth hostels run by Hostelling International in Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, and Tofino. For membership information, visit the Hostelling International websites at www.hiusa.org and www.hihostels.ca.
Travel CUTS (tel. 800/667-2887; www.travelcuts.com) is a great source for inexpensive accommodation, transportation, advice, and more for students and young travellers in general.
Taxes -- After a brief and controversial period under a harmonized sales tax (HST), B.C. has returned to its old system of a 5 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) plus a 7 percent Provincial Sales Tax (PST). Most goods and many services carry both taxes, but some only carry the GST and sometimes the PST is higher than 7 percent, so don’t be surprised if you encounter confusion at the till.
Most accommodations charge an 8 percent PST on top of the GST, as well as a Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) of up to 2 percent. Food at restaurants carries only the 5 percent GST, but alcoholic beverages come with a hefty 10 percent PST on top of the GST. And no, there is no tax rebate program for visitors.
Tipping -- Service is rarely included in your bill, so expect to tip in restaurants and hotels just as you would in the U.S. In general, follow these guidelines:
In hotels, tip bellhops at least C$1 per bag, more if you have a lot of luggage or are staying in a high-end property. Leave the chamber staff at least C$2 a day, more if you are staying in a posh hotel or you have left behind a big mess. Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service, and tip the valet-parking attendant C$2 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15 percent to 20 percent of the check, tip coatroom attendants C$2 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants C$2 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15 percent 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 percent to 20 percent.
Toilets -- You won’t find public toilets on the streets in either Vancouver or Victoria, or at least not any you would want to use, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Note that Canadians typically call these facilities “washrooms” rather than “restrooms.”
Visitor Information -- Contact Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre (200 Burrard St., Plaza Level; tel. 604/683-2000; www.tourismvancouver.com); for Victoria, contact Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre (812 Wharf St.; tel. 800/663-3883 or 250/953-2033; www.tourismvictoria.com)
For information about travel and accommodations elsewhere in the province, contact Destination British Columbia (tel. 800/435-5622; www.hellobc.com).