Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar symbol: $ proper abbreviation is CAD, commonly referred to simply as a "dollar", "loonie" or "buck" slang. One dollar $ consists of 100 cents ¢. In the 1970s, the Canadian dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar, but it slipped to about 66 cents U.S. by the mid-1990s. Currency traders made jokes about the "Hudson's Bay Peso". As of July 2015, the Canadian dollar is roughly at $1.30 per one U.S. dollar.
Canadian coins are of 1¢ penny; phased out, but still accepted as legal tender, 5¢ nickel, 10¢ dime, 25¢ quarter, $1 loonie and $2 toonie. The penny, nickel, dime, and quarter roughly match their U.S. counterparts in size, shape, and colour, but not in metallic composition. Canadian notes come in $5 blue, $10 purple, $20 green, $50 red and $100 brown denominations. Although it remains legal tender, banks have been taking them out of circulation in favour of plastic bills.
In comparison to the United States, Canada is more expensive with some things fast food, certain groceries, apparel, etc. costing ~25-50% more than what they would in the United States, due to higher sales taxes see below, higher tariffs on certain goods, and the cost of importing certain goods from the US, among other reasons.
In general, you should focus on buying brands or specific goods that are available only in Canada or are manufactured there e.g., Canadian souvenirs. International tourists visiting the US and Canada on the same itinerary should plan to do most of their shopping in the US, where they can get much more for their money. For most international tourists, it makes sense to splurge in Canada only if they can't or don't want to enter the US.
Be aware that Canada sells fuel gasoline, diesel, etc. in liters, as opposed to gallons. Alcohol and cigarettes are much more expensive in Canada than in the US, due to higher taxes on these goods There are now many microbreweries across the country, many with restaurants and pubs on premises; some of these are permitted to sell beer and cider on site.
Bargaining is extremely rare in ordinary retail shopping in Canada and attempts to talk a retail worker down in price will result in nothing besides testing the employee's patience. This is rarely a problem, as most retailers in Canada price their items fairly and do not look to extort their customers due to the highly competitive market and well-off economy. For larger-ticket items, especially high-end electronics and vehicles, many employees work on commission, so bargaining is sometimes possible for these items, and sales-people may offer you a lower price than what is ticketed right from the get-go. Some large retail stores will offer you a discount if you can prove to them that one of their competitors is selling the same product for a lower price. However, in certain establishments such as flea markets, antique stores, farmer's markets, etc, you may be able to negotiate a lower price, although it is, again, often unnecessary to put forth the effort.
The banking system is well developed, safe and technologically advanced. ATM usage in Canada is very high. There is a safe and widespread network of bank machines ATMs where you may be able to use your bank card to withdraw money directly from your account at home, but the fees involved can be more than for credit cards. If possible, try to use chartered bank ATM machines as the fees are often cheaper than the independent ATM machines. All Canadian banking institutions are members of the Interac international financial transaction network. Most retailers and restaurants/bars allow purchases by ATM card through Interac, even if they do not accept major credit cards, and many Canadians rarely use cash at all, prefering electronic forms of payment. Other ATM networks, including PLUS are widely supported and will be indicated on the ATM screen.
Many large US retail chains such as Walmart, Costco, and Best Buy are also found throughout Canada, and the country's shopping malls feature dozens of US and European boutique chains. However, for many decades, Sears was the only major US department store that had a major Canadian presence; after several years of planning, US luxury department store Nordstrom finally opened its first Canadian stores in 2015. The dominant Canadian department store companies are Hudson's Bay, Holt Renfrew, and La Maison Simons.
The dominant Canadian pharmacy chain is Shoppers Drug Mart; the big three US pharmacies Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens do not operate in Canada.
Many US retail chains have attempted to enter the Canadian market, but ultimately exited after they were chewed up and spat out by ferocious local competitors. The latest examples of this are Target closed all stores in 2015 and Safeway sold all stores to Sobeys in 2013.
Like the US, Canada's supermarket chains operate under multiple legacy brands specific to particular regions and market segments. The major supermarket operators are Sobeys, Loblaw, Metro, and Jim Pattison, but they operate under many different local brands.
Other retail chains that are unique to Canada and not found anywhere else include Canadian Tire automotive/hardware, RONA hardware, Winners clothing, Mark's Work Wearhouse clothing, Urban Behavior clothing, West 49 clothing, Home Outfitters Home Goods, The Brick Furniture/Home Goods, Sport Chek sporting goods, Chapters bookstore, and Indigo Books and Music bookstore, among others.
No more GST rebatesUntil 2007, travellers to Canada could claim back their GST on leaving the country, but this is no longer possible.
Be aware that in contrast to other countries where what you see is what you pay and so called "hidden costs" are forbidden by law you will almost always pay more than the prices displayed, as listed prices usually exclude sales tax.
Taxes will be added on top of the displayed price at the cashier. Exceptions where the displayed price includes all applicable taxes are gasoline the amount you pay is as it appears on the pump, parking fees, liquor bought from liquor stores, some groceries, and medical services such as eye exams or dentistry.
A Federal Goods and Services Tax GST of 5% is applied to most items. In addition to the GST, all provinces except Alberta and Canada's 3 territories charge an additional Provincial Sales Tax PST on purchases. Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador have joined or "harmonized" the PST and GST. In these provinces, instead of being charged two separate taxes on a purchase, consumers will see one tax called the Harmonized Sales Tax HST.
While the GST and PST or HST are charged on most goods and services, some items are currently exempt from taxation. While this list can vary by province and tax, some common examples are: basic groceries not prepared foods, prescription drugs, residential housing, medical and dental services, educational services and certain childcare services.
The sales tax rates as of January 2014 are:
Alberta - no PST, GST only 5% total
British Columbia - 7% PST and 5% GST 12% total
Manitoba - 8% PST and 5% GST 13% total
New Brunswick - 13% HST 13% total
Newfoundland and Labrador - 13% HST13% total
Northwest Territories - no PST, GST only 5% total
Nova Scotia - 15% HST 15% total -- Previous provincial government promised to reduce the HST to 14%, but this is no longer planned.
Nunavut - no PST, GST only 5% total
Ontario - 13% HST 13% total
Prince Edward Island - 14% HST14% total
Quebec - 10% PST and 5% GST 15% total
Saskatchewan - 5% PST and 5% GST 10% total
Yukon - no PST, GST only 5% total
Additional taxes have been placed on some goods such as alcohol and gasoline and vary by province; however, these taxes are often included in the displayed price of the good.
In all cities and towns, it is possible to convert between Canadian dollars and most major currencies at many banks. In addition, many retailers in Canada will accept US currency either at par or at slightly reduced value, and many Canadian bank branches allow users to withdraw USD cash instead of CAD. All Canadian banks provide currency exchange at the daily market value. In some areas, private exchange bureaus will give better exchange rates and lower fees than banks, so if you have time during your travels to look one up. It might save you some money on the exchange both when you arrive and before you leave, because Canadian dollars may not be worth as much in your home country, particularly the coin.
Private businesses are under no obligation to exchange currency at international rates. Even in the most rural areas, converting between Canadian and American dollars should not pose a problem, although travelers expecting to convert other currencies at a Canadian bank may need to be patient. In fact, most tourist destinations will accept American dollars as such, and are most likely to give a very good exchange rate. This is particularly true of regions that rely on tourism as a cornerstone of their local economy.
As Canadian Banks cash Canadian dollar travellers cheques free of charge, almost all businesses will do the same. This makes travellers cheques a safe and convenient way to carry money in Canada.
Many businesses across Canada accept U.S. Currency based on their own exchange rate for general purchases. Bills are taken with the current exchange rate. U.S. and Canadian coins in denominations of 25, 10, 5, and 1 cents, however, are similar in size, so they are often mistakenly used interchangeably; it is quite common for change to be given in a mix of Canadian and US coins, and it is rare for a retail worker to reject U.S. coins in the above denominations. Almost all automatic vending machines will reject U.S. coins.
Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa and MasterCard being accepted in most places, and American Express somewhat less frequently and Diners Club only in the more upscale restaurants and hotels. Discover is usually accepted at places geared towards Americans such as hotels and car rental agencies. Generally, using a credit card also gets you a better exchange rate since your bank will convert the currency automatically at the prevailing daily rate.