Area Codes -- The telephone area code for all of Vancouver Island, including Victoria and most of British Columbia, is 250.
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 -- Most stores and other businesses are generally open Monday through Saturday 10am–6pm. Some establishments are open later, as well as on Sundays, especially in summer. Restaurants may open only for dinner (starting at 5pm). Last call at the city’s bars and cocktail lounges is 2am.
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).
Disabled Travelers -- Both Vancouver and Victoria have made it a priority to be as accessible as possible for people with disabilities. 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, Tourism Victoria (www.tourismvictoria.com/plan/travel-tips/special-needs) has resources for travelers with disabilities.
Doctors & Dentists -- Most major hotels have a doctor and dentist on call. Victoria does not have any 24-hour dental or medical clinics, but it does have several hospitals for emergencies, including Royal Jubilee Hospital on Fort Street (tel. 250/370-8000). Some medical clinics do, however, have extended hours and accept walk-in patients, such as the Tillicum Mall Medical Clinic, which is open daily 9am to 9pm (3170 Tillicum Rd.; tel. 250/381-8112; www.tillicummedicalclinic.ca). Also in the Tillicum Mall, the Cresta Dental Centre (tel. 250/384-7711; www.crestadental.ca) is open 7 days a week, with extended hours Monday through Friday.
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 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 be 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.
Family Travel -- Victoria is one 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 -- Most hotels offer Internet access and it’s quite often free, at least in public areas. Many downtown cafes also offer free Wi-Fi, including the ubiquitous Starbucks chain. And the Greater Victoria Public Library (tel. 250/382-7241; www.gvpl.ca) also offers free Wi-Fi to the public at all its locations, including the main branch at 735 Broughton St.
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.
Mail & Postage -- The Victoria Main Post Office is located 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. 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.
Packing Tips -- No matter what time of year you travel to 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 -- For a 24-hour pharmacy, visit the Shoppers Drug Mart at 3511 Blanshard St. (tel. 250/475-7572; www1.shoppersdrugmart.ca).
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.
Safety -- Victoria is an exceptionally safe city, with few areas that are dangerous to explore after dark. That said, pickpockets follow wherever crowds gather, so remain alert and watch your possessions. Also, a fair number of panhandlers and homeless people tend to congregate on Douglas Street. They are rarely dangerous, but they can be unpredictable, so just be aware of your surroundings at all times.
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 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).
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.