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Visiting Canada | A Brief Guide

Canada offers a wide variety of adventures for every kind of traveler. There’s something there for everyone, whether visitors love fine dining, outdoor action, refined cultural experiences, and more. In fact, there’s no reason not to plan a trip to Canada today.

Travelers who haven’t visited Canada before, or those who are returning after a long time away, can use the hints and tips below to make the most of their trip. That way, they’ll be able to get the most out of their time in Canada.

What to Expect: Entering the Country

Most travelers will either need a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) in order to even board a flight to Canada. The document they need is based on their country of origin, so each traveler will need to make sure that they have the right paperwork well before it’s time to leave.

Travelers who are eligible for an ETA need to apply for this online before their trip. All they need to do is enter some basic information, pay a small fee, and the document is usually approved within a few minutes. Once approved, this document is valid for up to 5 years or until the traveler’s current passport expires.

Travel regulations regarding COVID-19 change regularly. Visitors to Canada will need to ensure that they are in compliance with the country’s current expectations for travelers from their country of origin. They will need to have this in order before they board their flight to Canada.

What to Expect: Travel

Canada is massive. While most of the population lives within just a few hundred miles of the border with the United States, the distances between cities is enormous. For travelers who want to go farther north, not only are distances long but roads can become difficult once they get outside heavily trafficked areas.

Buses offer another option for traveling between cities, and some even go into national parks and to other sites. However, the buses will only get travelers so far. For those who truly want to get off the beaten path, vehicle rental will soon become essential.

Unless visitors are taking a tour, the best way to travel in rural areas is to rent a car. Traffic is not any worse in Canadian cities than it is in the rest of the world, and people generally follow the traffic rules. On the open road, travel is much like it is in the United States or Europe. In fact, drivers may be more polite and obliging in Canada than they are in other places.

Flying between cities can be the best way to move about the country, unless travelers are ready to spend days on the highway. There are also a number of train options, from basic coach to luxury liner. Travelers may need to plan far in advance if they want to take one of these options, depending on when and where they want to travel.

Within individual cities, most public transportation systems are solid and will get travelers where they need to go. Taxis and Ubers are also available, and generally drivers can be trusted to be honest and straightforward in their pricing.

What to Expect: Lodging

Travelers can find any type of lodging that they want or require in Canada. The country offers everything from basic hostel rooms to luxurious mountain resorts, and anything in between. Visitors should schedule their lodging ahead of time so they can be sure that they will have a place to stay in Canada. This is especially true in areas around national parks, which can get very busy, or rural areas, where available accommodations may be limited.

Lodging in much of Canada is not inexpensive. Visitors should plan to spend a significant amount of their travel budget on accommodations, unless they are planning to stay with friends or relatives or only stay in hostels.

What to Expect: Weather

The southern parts of Canada are temperate May - October, though even then they may be cooler than what travelers from some locations expect for a summertime experience. Additionally, the coast of British Columbia benefits from Pacific Ocean breezes, which give it a more moderate temperature than the rest of the country year-round.

The farther north travelers get, the colder it will get. The same is true for the mountains: the higher the elevation, the cooler it will be. Travelers should bring layers so they can be prepared for all weather. If they are traveling to higher elevations, going farther north, or traveling in the winter, they will want to bring a full set of winter gear (coat, hat, gloves, scarf, etc.) with them on their trip.

Visitors should be prepared for cold weather no matter when they visit Canada. While it is extremely unlikely during the summer, Canadian weather is known for changing rapidly and without warning. It’s better to be prepared than to be caught without the necessary clothing.

What to Expect: Safety

Canada is very safe, but petty crime still exists. Travelers should make sure they protect their belongings at all times, but especially in city centers. Passports should be safely locked in hotel safes, along with any other valuables. Luggage should stay out of sight, especially designer bags or anything that might indicate that an item is of particular value.

Many experienced travelers recommend travel insurance when in Canada. While healthcare there is free for citizens, it can be expensive to get treatment as a visitor. It’s much easier to pay a few dollars for travel coverage than it is to get hit with a huge bill later on!

There are bad areas of town in every city and Canada is no different. Visitors who are unsure where it is and is not safe to go should talk to their hotel concierge or host before they venture out into the city on their own.

Travelers should not venture into the wilds of Canada without a guide unless they are experienced outdoorsmen who know what they are doing and how to survive if they get stuck. There are a vast number of guide companies willing to take tourists out, and they can also keep them alive and well if something bad happens during the trip.

What to Expect: Social

Canadians are not unfriendly, but they are generally more reserved than visitors expect them to be. They are also unfailingly polite, even when they are annoyed, and expect the same from those around them. Visitors may here, “Sorry” more in Canada than they ever have before.

Canadians may participate in more small talk than travelers are used to. Chatting is generally seen as polite and as a way to acknowledge other people and their presence in a way that is not invasive or threatening. Travelers who are comfortable with this can learn a lot just from asking questions wherever they go.

Avoid rude behavior, like cutting in lines or getting extremely drunk in a public place. It’s also best to avoid screaming or even talking loudly. Most Canadians are happy to help tourists who are lost or confused, as long as they ask nicely and do not demand aid or loudly bemoan their condition. 

Just because Canadians don’t confront people doesn’t mean they aren’t frustrated or annoyed. Rude or suspicious behavior will garner the same feelings as it does around the world, even if it doesn’t get expressed as often in Canada.

Canadian Cultural Tips

Here are a few more things that travelers should know before they visit Canada.

  • The locals love Tim Horton’s. This coffee-and-donut shop is a great way to get a cheap caffeine fix and a solid donut, too. It’s cheaper than Starbucks and many locals swear that they like it better, too!

  • Animal awareness is essential in Canada. When on an open road or in a national park, there could be wildlife anywhere. Travelers need to be ready to deal with bears, avoid animals that try to cross the road in front of them, and more.

  • Visitors to Quebec should learn a little French. While most people in Quebec speak both French and English, knowing a few words of French will help endear travelers to people in this part of Canada. Even basic phrases can help travelers make friends.

  • Check out the national parks. Canada has a vast and gorgeous array of national parks. While getting to these means getting out of town, it’s worth the effort. The scenery is unparalleled and going allows travelers to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, at least for a little while.

  • Tip well. People in service, food, hospitality, or tourism expect tips for service. The standard percentage is usually 15-20%, though service folks in city centers may expect more for exceptional service.

  • Sales tax is high. In most locations, visitors and locals alike will pay both a federal tax percentage and a local tax percentage. This can add as much as 15% to the price of goods and services, and it takes some travelers by surprise.

  • Canada uses the metric system, which can surprise visitors from the United States. This is particularly true when it comes to speed limits, which may seem higher but actually be lower. Visitors can search online for the conversions they need so they can fully understand the numbers they are looking at.

  • Honor indigenous cultures. Canada is taking steps to uphold their indigenous cultures and visitors can do the same. Take time during a trip to Canada to learn about the original cultures of the country and their history with the Europeans who came after them.

Visit Canada Today!

Now that travelers are armed with these tips, it’s time to start planning for Canada. Before long, travelers can arrive at their destination and experience the trip they’ve always dreamed about. There’s no reason not to start designing that vacation now!

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