Travel to Canada: The Ultimate Guide

Samuel Clennett

Canada has a fantastic balance of modern cosmopolitan cities and wild rugged natural scenery - with the bonus of English being spoken almost everywhere, making getting around simple enough. You’ll be welcomed whether you want to ski or trek, sample the region’s finest wines, or go spotting some of Canada’s amazing wildlife.

A trip to Canada could involve dozens of different activities - but you’ll need to think about the best way to pay for them, to make your money go further. We’ll cover the basics of travel in Canada in this guide, and also touch on a smart way to save money on currency conversion and fees using the Wise borderless account and linked Mastercard. Ready to get started?

Do your research

If you’re headed to Canada, you’re in for a great time. You’ll get the most out of your visit if you do some thorough research in advance - after all, you’re travelling over 14,000 kilometers just to get there, so you want to pack in as much as possible.

For some inspiration head over to the official Canada tourism website, where you’ll find handy planning tools including advice and ideas by theme and location¹.

Look out for practical advice related to your trip too. At the very least, you’ll need to work out the best way to get to your hotel once you arrive, and you might want to book some tours and trips in advance if you’re going to be in a busier area or are visiting in peak season. Weather in Canada can be extreme, so before you pack you’ll need to check out the predicted and likely temperatures for wherever you’re headed.

It’s always worth keeping an eye on official advice regarding your destination, too. Get advice on safety and visas on the Canada page of the Smart Traveller website - an Australian government supported resource to help travellers all around the world².

How to get the most for your money

Canada isn’t a cheap destination. No matter whether you’re heading for a luxury city break, or backpacking on a budget, you’ll want to make sure you don’t waste cash on excessive fees and charges.

Know your exchange rate

A good way to make sure you’re getting a good deal is to keep a close eye on the exchange rate from Australian to Canadian dollars.

Get an online currency converter or app which shows the mid-market rate for the currency pairing, and use this to compare the rates you’re given when exchanging currency.

You might well find the rate you’re offered is not as good as the one showing on your app or Google. That’s because providers often add a markup to the mid-market rate to boost their profits. This is another fee you pay - but it’s not always transparent and can mean your currency conversion costs more than you expect.

Avoid currency markups with a Wise borderless account and card. More on that later.

Look for hidden costs

It’s a smart idea to travel with several different ways of accessing your money - which probably means you’ll have your cards with you as well as cash. Read the terms of your accounts before you travel, to make sure you’re aware of the charges your own bank may add for using your credit or debit card overseas.

There may be flat fees added to spending and withdrawals, a percentage margin of 2% - 3% added to each transaction - or both - and can these costs can quickly mount up.

Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)

You might never have heard of DCC but if you’ve ever used your card overseas you’ve probably come across it without even knowing.

DCC is where you’re asked if you want to pay in your home currency - Australian dollars - instead of the local currency - Canadian dollars - when you’re abroad. It can happen when paying with your card in a store, or at an ATM. Choosing your home currency sounds simple, but it’s expensive.

To get the best exchange rate and lowest fees you should always pay in the local currency - in Canada and anywhere else you travel.

Get a specialist account for your travels

Ditch many of the costs and inconveniences of managing your money abroad, with a Wise borderless account.

You can hold, send and receive dozens of different foreign currencies and spend or withdraw local cash easily using the Wise borderless Mastercard. Just top up your account in dollars, and switch to the currency you need using the mid-market exchange rate. There are no hidden fees, just a transparent charge for the conversion - meaning you avoid foreign transaction fees.

Things to be aware of

The Australian government recommends you exercise normal safety precautions when visiting Canada. Crime levels are similar to at home, so you’ll need to look after your belongings as you would anywhere else - watching your bags in busy places and removing valuables from vehicles for example. And as with anywhere else, there will be neighbourhoods in cities which are more dangerous than others - exercise caution especially after dark.

There are a few other rules to think about when you visit Canada. Some laws are subject to variations based on the province you’re in. Legal drinking ages may be different for example, so check out the details for your destination. It’s also legal in much of Canada to use mariujana. However, it’s not legal to export the drug - so don’t try.

If you need help when travelling, the Australian consular service is there for you. Check out the information about their support services, as well as relevant fact sheets and contact information, available on the Smart Traveller website³.

Get to know the Visa situation

Australian citizens don’t need a visa to enter Canada - however, you’ll need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) if you’re flying to Canada. If you’re driving over the US border or arriving by boat, you don’t need to do this⁴.

It’s worth noting that your eTA may be refused if you have a criminal conviction - and it is not in itself a guarantee that you can enter Canada. Instead, the border officers may ask to see further paperwork and will want to know your travel plans, before they actually allow you into the country. Check out all the details online, to make sure you’re prepared⁵.

Accommodation in Canada

You’ll need to book in advance if you’re headed to Canada during peak seasons - and it’s worth checking out accommodation options if you’re planning on travelling the more rural areas, too. There’s no guarantee you’ll run across a motel or other place to stay, so some advance research is essential.

That said, in most towns you’ll find a range of options from hostels to high end hotels, with camping available in the countryside, as well as in some urban campgrounds. The Rough Guide recommends you consider the following prices when budgeting your trip⁶:

  • Basic low end hotel - $65 - $80
  • Mid range hotel - $110
  • High end hotel - $150 and upwards
  • Motel - $75 - $100+ depending on location
  • Bed and Breakfast - $85 and upwards
  • Campground - range of pricing from $5 a night to much more for a pitch with amenities in a popular destination

Getting around in Canada⁷

Major cities in Canada are covered by their own networks of public bus, ferry, subway or a combination of these and other options. Or choose a taxi or Uber if you want the convenience and don’t mind the extra cost. Uber is available in a growing number of cities in Canada, but it’s not universal, so do check for your destination if that’s your preferred choice.

That said, if you’re in Canada to see a range of cities and get out into the open countryside, you’ll probably be best off with your own wheels. Canada is a huge country, and although internal flights are convenient, they can be expensive. Trains are also available, but can also be slow and pricey. If you don’t want to drive, charter buses are the other common choice for getting around - book online or with an agent.

Driving is convenient and there is a good road network. However, conditions can be harsh and changeable, so always check out the weather before you head off, and carry emergency supplies.

Sights to see

Canada has much to offer, from interesting and vibrant cities, to world famous nature which can be enjoyed hiking or biking during the milder months - or boot up and get out there for some adrenaline pumping winter sports.

Your trip will be unique to you, so researching your options is key - here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

  • Visit Toronto, and if you have a head for heights, go to the CN Tower where you can edge walk outside of the building, over 350 meters above street level⁸
  • Get out on the water in Newfoundland and Labrador, to spot icebergs, birds and over 20 species of whale⁹
  • View the majestic Niagara Falls, and take time to head to Niagara-on-the-Lake - one of Canada’s best food and wine destinations¹⁰
  • Plan any one of a number of city breaks, around shopping, festivals, eating and cultural activities
  • Hike in Nova Scotia - get skis or snowshoes if you fancy a winter walk along the spectacular coastline¹¹

Tips for a great trip

Ready to get planning? Here are a few more tips to consider before you jet off to Canada.

  • Roaming internet coverage isn’t great, and prepaid cards aren’t popular with locals - so you may need to hunt for a good SIM card when you arrive. PC Mobile is recommended for cost and coverage¹²
  • Many of the outdoor activities Canada is famous for are inherently dangerous - make sure you have good insurance if you’re there to ski for example, and take sensible precautions no matter what you’re up to
  • If you’re driving, carry food, water, blankets and emergency supplies in case you run into bad weather on the road. Check if you need snow tyres
  • Canada has a fantastic medical service - but it’s costly. Make sure you have good insurance which covers all the activities you plan to do
  • Use the government’s Smart Traveller website for up to date travel information for Canada, as well as a wide range of travel support and resources¹³

Canada has so much to offer, you don’t want to run out of money while you’re having the time of your life. Get a Wise borderless account and linked Mastercard to manage your money conveniently, and cut the costs of currency exchange and overseas spending.

Sources:

  1. https://caen-keepexploring.canada.travel/
  2. https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations/americas/canada
  3. https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/i-need-urgent-help#ineedhelp
  4. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/visit-canada/eta/facts.html
  5. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/visit-canada/entry-requirements-country.html
  6. https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/north-america/canada/accommodation/
  7. https://thecanadaguide.com/places/canadian-tourism/
  8. https://www.cntower.ca/en-ca/plan-your-visit/attractions/edgewalk/edgewalk-overview.html?pmo=TO
  9. https://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/things-to-do/whale-watching
  10. https://caen-keepexploring.canada.travel/what-to-do/vibrant-cities
  11. https://caen-keepexploring.canada.travel/things-to-do/best-winter-hikes-nova-scotia
  12. https://toomanyadapters.com/buying-sim-card-canada/
  13. https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

All sources accurate as of 14 Jan 2020


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