The best option for obtaining local currency, no
matter where in the world you are travelling, is to
use an automatic teller machine. This assumes, of
course, that you have a bank account which is accessible
by ATM and that your card works in the country you
are visiting (see next question).
If you withdraw cash from your account using an ATM,
you will be given the amount you select in local currency,
which will be withdrawn from your bank account using
the best possible exchange rate, better than you will
get any other way. Your bank may add a service charge,
but you will almost always do better on this transaction
than by exchanging cash or travelers' cheques.
Any branch of any bank will exchange US cash or travellers'
checks. Many will exchange British pounds. For other
currencies, you may have to go to a central branch.
In some cities, there may be specialized foreign exchange
dealers. Note that banks tend to close early -- often
at 3 pm Mon-Thu, 5 or 6 pm Fridays, and many are closed
all day Saturdays.
Specialized foreign exchange businesses also operate
in major cities; rates and fees may vary so shop around
if you plan to use their services.
US cash is accepted at most stores but you won't
get a very good exchange rate. Remember that they're
doing you a favor by accepting it at all.
Q: Will my bank machine
(ATM) card work in Canada?
A: It will if your bank is on the Plus or Cirrus networks.
Almost all Canadian financial institutions have automatic
teller machines (ATMs), and you'll also find ATMs
located in large and small shopping centers, airports,
train stations, and even many gas stations and corner
Canadian financial institutions include banks, credit
unions, and trust companies. Each institution has
a brand name for its ATM service, such as Instabank,
Instant Teller, Cashstop, Green Machine, and so on.
You may hear about 'Interac'; this is the Canadian
domestic network for interbank electronic funds transfers,
which all Canadian banks are a member of. It does
not operate internationally and is of no use to visitors
from outside the country. Some bank staff are not
familiar with international services and will talk
only about Interac since it's all they know.
There are two international networks operating in
Canada: the Plus Network (allied with the Visa credit
card) and Cirrus (allied with MasterCard). All Canadian
financial institutions are members of one or the other;
the Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank are members of
both. Check with your home bank before you leave and
find out which network (if any) your card will operate
on. Your bank should have a book it can give you which
lists banks and bank machine locations worldwide on
the network which it is a member of.
PLUS network members in Canada include: Bank of Montreal,
Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Canada Trust, Canadian
Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Laurentian Bank,
Royal Bank, Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank, and caisses
populaires (francophone credit unions).
CIRRUS network members in Canada include: Bank of
Montreal, Credit Unions, National Bank, National Trust,
and Royal Bank.
Most of these institutions are major national organizations
with branches across the country. In Quebec the most
common financial institutions are the caisses populaires
Other banks, trust companies, and credit unions may
or may not be members of these networks.
You can look up ATM locations online: MasterCard
and Cirrus ATMs, VISA and Plus ATMs.
Q: Will my credit card
A: Do you have one of the following...?
Visa and MasterCard are both accepted almost anywhere.
American Express is less commonly used but is accepted
at larger stores and gas station chains. Discover
is not very common, but is accepted at large stores.
Q: Do I have to pay
A: Yes but you may be able to get a refund(Refund-
Only For Visitors only); keep your receipts.
Sales taxes vary from province to province. In most
provinces, most things that you buy have two point-of-sale
taxes on them: a 7% federal tax called the Goods and
Services Tax (GST) and a provincial sales tax (PST)
which varies from province to province. In most of
Canada, the PST and GST are calculated separately
on the base price of the item; in Quebec and Prince
Edward Island, the GST is added to the price of the
item, and then the PST is calculated on the total.
There is no PST in Alberta, the Yukon, or the Northwest
Territories. In Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New
Brunswick, you pay a single 15% tax (the Harmonized
Sales Tax, HST) instead of the GST and PST. (See the
Province GST PST HST
British Columbia 7% 7% No
Alberta 7% No No
Saskatchewan 7% 8% No
Manitoba 7% 7% No
Ontario 5% 8% No
Quebec 7% 6.5% (on top of GST) No
Prince Edward Island 7% 10% (on top of GST) No
Newfoundland No No 15%
Nova Scotia No No 15%
New Brunswick No No 15%
Yukon Territory 7% No No
Northwest Territories 7% No No
Some items (food at grocery stores, for example)
are not taxed. In some stores, the GST is already
included in the price tag, but most often it is added
at the point of sale. (You'll see square green signs
telling you one way or the other.) The PST is almost
always added at the cash register.
Visitors can get refunds on the GST and HST, as well
as the Quebec and Manitoba provincial sales taxes,
on certain items. In general, you can get taxes refunded
on anything you take home or have shipped home, and
on accommodations. Tax is not refunded on meals, even
if included in your hotel bill. You will have to send
in your original receipts and you won't get them back.
Credit card charge slips and photocopies of receipts
are not accepted.
You can get the complete information and application
forms at border-crossing points, most duty-free stores,
most tourist information centres, and online at Revenue
Canada's web site. You may be able to get your GST
back on the spot in cash at a Duty-Free store as you
leave the country (but not if you leave at an airport).