Compared to the United States, some medical care in Canada is available about 30 to 60 percent cheaper. Medical tourism firms help visitors to obtain medical care such as cosmetic surgery and joint replacement in major cities including Vancouver and Montreal. After their treatments, patients can enjoy a vacation and relax in a cabin in the Canadian Rockies, explore colourful Montreal, or other activities.
You are unlikely to face health problems here that you wouldn't face in any other western industrialized country despite claims of long waiting lists and inferior care, which often varies by hospital and is usually exaggerated. Furthermore, the health care system is one of the best on the planet, and is very effective and widely accessible. In the past two summers, Canadians in some provinces Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have faced a few cases of West Nile virus, an occasionally fatal infection transmitted by mosquitoes. Also several diseases like whooping cough, diphtheria, and measles are common throughout Canada. Visitors should note that, while Canada has universal health care for residents, health care is not free for visitors, therefore it is important to make sure you are covered by your insurance while traveling in Canada. It should also be noted that, while large hospitals in major cities can be very good, hospitals in mid-sized cities without a large medical school tend to be chronically underfunded and understaffed; hospitals in working class neighbourhoods of large cities tend to suffer from the same problems.
Be aware that most Canadian provinces have banned all indoor smoking in public places and near entrances. Some bans include areas such as bus shelters and outdoor patios. See Smoking.
Of course, there is always the postal system. While its delivery times can be hit or miss as quick as the next day in the same city to two weeks across country, Canada Post's domestic rates and service are more expensive 85 Canadian cents for domestic letter than its American counterpart's. International parcel postal services can be costly. Sending a parcel from Canada to the United States is generally more expensive than sending the same parcel to Canada from the United States, although, strangely enough, sending a parcel within Canada will often be more expensive than sending the same one to the United States. Ordering items online is generally prohibitively expensive for this very reason; a handful of hardcover books, for instance, may cost hundreds of dollars to ship. Postal offices are usually marked by the red and white Canada Post markings. Some drug stores, such as the Shopper's Drug Mart chain, Jean Coutu, Uniprix, etc., feature smaller outlets with full service. Such outlets are often open later and on weekends, as opposed to the the standard M-F 9AM-5PM hours of the post offices.
gay and lesbian travellers
As mentioned above, Canada is very open to all forms of LGBT travelers, indeed Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are all famed for their LGBT communities. Smaller communities also tend to be open and liberal, although sometimes not to the same extent. Outside these Metropolitan areas, open displays of affection shouldn't generally present a problem, as always, use your discretion and common sense. Human Rights Codes protect against discrimination in all areas; including accommodation, access to health care and employment - should you encounter any negative responses, especially violent or threatening episodes immediately phone the police and they will be glad to help you. As mentioned before, Same-sex marriage is legal throughout Canada, which was one of the first countries in the world to do this.
There are many ways to access the Internet, including a number of terminals at most public libraries.
Most large and medium-sized towns will have Internet and gaming cafes.
Wi-Fi access is common in cities and can be found at most coffee shops, public libraries, and some restaurants. Although some locations charge an excessive fee for its use, others provide free WiFI, including Blenz coffee houses, McDonalds, Second Cup, Tim Horton's, and Starbucks. Note that purchasing the establishment's product is expected, even if they are charging for internet access. Buying a small coffee or tea typically meets this requirement. Most airports and certain VIA Rail stations also offer free Wi-Fi in passenger areas. See wififreespot.com for a partial listing of establishments offering free WiFi.
It is worth noting that if you are staying at a private residence, please be considerate and go easy on your usage. Unlike most other countries, Canada's fixed-line internet plans prescribe a data allowance e.g. 40GB, 80GB, 100GB. The amount your hosts pay a month will depend on the amount of data they wish to subscribe to and they will pay additional charges if they exceed their allowance or wish to do so. A $48/month plan will get 40GB of internet.
English and French are the only two official languages in Canada. All communications and services provided from the federal government are available in both languages. Most Canadians are functionally monolingual, although some parts of the country have both English and French speakers. Over a quarter of Canadians are bilingual or multilingual. Many people in Montreal, Ottawa, and Quebec City are at least conversationally bilingual.
English is the dominant language in all provinces except Québec, where French is dominant and actively promoted as the main language. However, there are numerous francophone communities scattered around the country, such as:
the national capital region around Ottawa,
some parts of eastern and northern Ontario,
the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg and towns in southeastern Manitoba,
the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood in Edmonton, and several surrounding communities,
many parts of the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada, scattered across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the French Shores of Newfoundland).
Likewise, there are anglophone communities in Québec, such as some of the western suburbs of Montreal.
Canadian English uses a mixture of British and American spellings, and many British terms not usually understood and employed in the United States are more likely to be understood in Canada. Certain words also follow British instead of American pronunciations, but the accents of Anglo-Canadians and Midwestern/Northeastern Americans are nonetheless still quite similar.
Atlantic Canada is reported to have the greatest variety of regional accents in English-speaking North America, largely as a result of the isolated nature of the fishing communities along the Atlantic coastline prior to the advent of modern telecommunications and transportation. A visitor to the Atlantic provinces may have some difficulty understanding strong local accents rich in maritime slang and idiom, particularly in rural areas. From Ontario westward, the accent of English Canadians is more or less the same from one region to another and is akin to that spoken by those in northern US border states.
English-speaking Canadians are generally not required to take French after their first year of high school, and thus many citizens outside of Québec do not speak or use French unless they are closely related to someone who does, or have chosen to continue French studies out of personal or professional interest. Education in many other languages is available, such as Spanish, German, Japanese, etc. However, these are rarely taken. Most immigrants learn English or French in addition to speaking their native tongue with family and friends.
In Québec, one can get by with English in the major cities and tourist destinations, but some knowledge of French is useful for reading road signs as well as travels off the beaten path, and almost essential in many rural areas. It may also be useful to know at least a few basic French phrases in the larger cities, where some attempt by travellers to communicate in French is often appreciated. The French spoken in Québec and the Acadian regions Southern Gaspe and Northern New Brunswick differs in accent and vocabulary from European French, although if you speak European French you will get by with few problems.
Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are home to large Chinese migrant populations, and Cantonese is commonly spoken in the Chinatowns in these cities.
There are also dozens of aboriginal languages spoken by Canadians of aboriginal descent. Almost all first nations inhabitants that speak their native communities tongue are still bi-lingual in either English or French depending on what province you are in. In Nunavut more than half the population speaks Inuktitut, the traditional language of the Inuit.
Two sign languages are predominant in Canada. American Sign Language, or ASL, is used in Anglophone Canada; Québec Sign Language, or LSQ, is used in Francophone Canada. While the two are distinct languages, they share a degree of mutual intelligibility. Both are part of the French Sign Language family, and LSQ is believed to be a mix of French Sign Language and ASL.
See also: French phrasebook
The terms "aboriginal" "autochtones" in French or "indigenous" are commonly used to refer to the cultural groups that existed in present-day Canada before the arrival of Europeans. These umbrella terms are used to refer to other sets of cultural groups. Although terminology and distinctions among groups are not well understood even by many Canadians, a basic familiarity is essential for accurate and respectful understanding. The term Inuit refers to the indigenous people of the northern regions of Canada, the United States, and Greenland. The once-common term "Eskimo" is at best outdated and at worse, a racial slur. The term Metis pronounced MAY-tee is usually used by people who consider themselves to be both indigenous Canadians and descendants of mixed aboriginal and European heritage. The term First Nations refers to indigenous Canadians who do not identify themselves as either Inuit or Metis. Terms like "Indian" and "native" are controversial and it is safer to avoid their use as they may be considered racial slurs. However, they are still used in some government titles and people of these groups may also use these terms to refer to themselves or each other.
Tourism related to aboriginal culture is a complex issue. Tourists may be welcomed in some communities as visitors or guests and as a possible source of revenue. Other communities may not wish to have their heritage or identities be considered a tourist attraction. Issues around the sale of aboriginal-made products or those inspired by aboriginal cultures particularly by or for the benefit of non-aboriginal people is equally complex. As always, respect for local people and their wishes should always take precedence over tourists' interests in experiences or souvenirs.
Canadians take pride in their nation's reputation for being accepting, progressive and culturally diverse. Actions that are openly racist, sexist, or homophobic are generally not socially or legally tolerated. Comments or assumptions about someone's cultural background eg based on looks, dress, behaviour, accent, etc are generally unwelcome or offensive.
Despite many cultural similarities to the United States, Canadians are proud of their distinct national, historic, and cultural identity. Conversations about the similarities or distinctions between Canadians and people south of the border should be approached with caution, and using the term "American" to refer to or include Canadians would be considered factually inaccurate "I'm not American, I'm Canadian." and irritating. When necessary, the term "North American" would be more commonly used. Americans may be surprised by opinions held toward their country's policies, though most Canadians tend to distinguish between the American government and its citizens.
While not likely to cause real offence, the learning curve for Canada's political culture can be very steep, and discussions about regional or linguistic politics should also be approached with caution.
When travelling in Quebec, note that some typically French-speaking residents would consider being a Québecer or Quebecker or, in French, Québecois(e) their national identity. These individuals may not consider themselves Canadian at all, or they may consider this a secondary affiliation. Note also that French speakers outside of Quebec do not tend to identify with the province at all.
When entering a private home in Canada it is usually expected that you take off your shoes, or at least attempt to do so.
Safety in Canada is not usually a problem, and some basic common sense will go a long way. Even in the largest cities, violent crime is not a serious problem, and very few people are ever armed, especially when compared to the United States. Violent crime needn't worry the average traveler, as it is generally confined to particular neighbourhoods and is rarely a random crime. Drug-related crimes also happen. Street battles between gangs happen rarely but have made national headlines, these outbreaks of violence usually happen in bunches over a given area because of a turf war or drug supply shortage. Overall crime rates in Canadian cities remain low compared to most similar sized urban areas in the United States and much of the rest of the world though violent crime rates are slightly higher than most western European cities. Crime is higher in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Recently there have been several high-profile shootings in public/tourist areas - i.e. the June 2012 shootings at Toronto's Eaton's Centre and HUB Mall in Edmonton; the fact these incidents are so heavily covered by the media is related to the fact that they are considered very rare events.
illicit drug use
Marijuana use is illegal in Canada with exception to medical marijuana. The current government of Canada has moved to legalize marijuana, but this has not happened yet .Under the present Liberal government the tide is turning toward looser penalties for drug offences.
Because of its popularity, easy availability and allowances for "medical purposes", many visitors believe that its use is legal, and indeed punishment for the possession of small amounts of marijuana is less heavy for Canadian citizens than in the US. however, being found in possession of marijuana or other controlled substances can result in deportation for people visiting Canada from other countries.
Driving while impaired by drugs including marijuana and even legal "drowsy" drugs is a criminal offence and is treated similarly to driving under the influence of alcohol, with severe penalties. Do not attempt to drive while under the influence of drugs; visitors can expect to be deported after serving jail time or paying very large fines.
Be advised that unlike many other countries, Khat is illegal in Canada, and will get you arrested and deported if you try to pack it in your luggage and get caught by customs.
Needless to say, under no circumstances should you attempt to bring any amount of anything that even resembles a controlled substance into the United States from Canada, or visa versa. This definitely includes marijuana. Penalties in the U.S. for smuggling even small amounts of drugs are more severe than in Canada, with prison sentences being 20 years to life for trafficking.
hate speech & discrimination
Canada is a very multicultural society, and the majority of Canadians are open minded and accepting. Thus, it is very unlikely to meet ridicule in major urban centres on the basis of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, as most Canadians from major urban centres have encountered every type of person imaginable. Certainly, if racial minorities do encounter discrimination, it almost never results in violence, and when it does the police are generally very tough on assaults against racial & sexual minorities. Canada was one of the first countries in the world to legalize gay marriage on a country-wide basis, and consequently many Canadians are very accepting of the LGBT community. In big cities, especially Toronto and Montreal, it is not uncommon to see two men or women kissing or holding hands in public, and most Canadians will not be bothered by, or even interested in, this. Canada is known around the world as being one the most gay-friendly countries, and many Canadians are very proud of this.
Hate speech that incites violence is illegal in Canada and can lead to prosecution, jail time and deportation.
Canadians take drunk driving very seriously, and it is a social taboo to drink and drive. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is also punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada and can involve lengthy jail time, particularly for repeat offenders. If you "blow over" the legal limit of blood alcohol content BAC on a roadside Breathalyser machine test, you will be arrested and spend at least a few hours in jail. Being convicted for driving under the influence DUI will almost certainly mean the end of your trip to Canada, a criminal record, and you being barred from re-entering Canada for at least 5 years. 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood 0.08% is the legal limit for a criminal conviction. Many jurisdictions call for fines, license suspension and vehicle impoundment at 40mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood 0.04%, or if the officer reasonably believes you are too intoxicated to drive. Note this difference; while having a BAC of 0.03% when tested at a police checkpoint 'Checkstop' or 'ride-stop', which is designed to catch drunk drivers will not result in arrest, having the same BAC after being pulled over for driving erratically, or after getting involved in an accident may result in being charged with DUI.
Those crossing the land border into Canada from the USA or visa versa while driving under the influence could get arrested by the Border Services Officers and be subject to lengthy interrogation in addition to the above punishments
Refusing a Breathalyzer test is also a Criminal Code offense, and will result in the same penalties as had you blown over. If a police officer demands that you supply a breath sample, your best option is to take your chances with the machine.
Police in Canada are almost always hardworking, honest, and trustworthy individuals. If you ever encounter any problems during your stay, even if it's as simple as being lost, approaching a police officer is a good idea.
There are three main types of police forces in Canada: federal, provincial and municipal. The federal police force is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police RCMP or "Mounties", with a widespread presence in all parts of the country other than Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland & Labrador, which maintain their own provincial police forces. These are the Ontario Provincial Police OPP, the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. All the other provinces and territories contract their provincial duties to the RCMP.
In their capacity as a federal police force, RCMP officers typically wear regular police uniforms and drive police cruisers while performing their duties. However, a minority of RCMP officers may appear in their iconic red dress uniform in tourist areas, and for official functions such as parades. Some RCMP officers participate in elaborate ceremonies such as the Musical Ride horse show. While wearing their full dress uniform, their main function is to promote the image of Canada and Canadian Mounties. RCMP officers in full dress are generally not tasked with investigating crime or enforcing law, although they are still police officers and can perform arrests. In some tourist regions, such as Ottawa, both types of RCMP officers are commonly encountered. This dual-role and dual-appearance of the RCMP, both as federal police, and as a tourist attraction, may create confusion among tourists as to the function of the RCMP. Keep in mind that all RCMP officers are police officers, and have a duty to enforce the law.
Cities, towns and regions often have their own police forces, with the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal forces being three of the largest. Some cities also have special transit police who have full police powers. Some quasi-government agencies, such as universities and power utilities also employ private special police. The Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway each have their own police force.
Canadian Forces Military Police can be found at military bases and other defence-related government facilities.
All three types of police forces can enforce any type of law, be it federal, provincial or municipal. Their jurisdiction overlaps, with the RCMP being able to arrest anywhere in Canada, the OPP and municipal police officers being able to arrest anywhere within their own province. Powers of arrest for Federal, Provincial and municipal police agencies in Canada exist for officers both on, and off duty.
In the national capital region of Ottawa-Gatineau, one can encounter more police jurisdictions than in any other part of Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police both regular uniformed and full dress, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Ottawa police, the Sûreté du Québec, the Gatineau Police, Military Police, and OC Transpo Special Constables, all operate in the region, each with a different style of uniform and police cruiser.
Canada has quite high standards for restaurant and grocer cleanliness and such if there is a problem with the food you have bought then talk with the manager to report it. You will usually be compensated for the meal, and many managers appreciate patrons who are willing to come forth as opposed to staying silent about it as long as you aren't rude. Getting sick from contaminated food is unlikely.
firearms and weapons
Unlike the U.S., Canada has no constitutional rights relating to gun ownership. Possession, purchase, and use of any firearms requires proper licenses for the weapons and the user, and is subject to federal laws. Firearms are classed mainly based on barrel length as non-restricted subject to the least amount of training and licensing, restricted more licensing and training required and prohibited not legally available. Most rifles and shotguns are non-restricted, as they are used extensively for hunting, on farms, or for protection in remote areas. Handguns or pistols are restricted weapons, but may be obtained and used legally with the proper licenses. Generally the only people who carry handguns in public are Federal, Provincial, and Municipal Police, Border Services Officers, Wildlife Officers in most provinces, Sheriff's Officers in some provinces, private security guards who transport money and people who work in remote "wilderness" areas who are properly licensed. It is possible to import non-prohibited firearms such as most types of rifle and shotgun for sporting purposes like target shooting and hunting, and non-prohibited handguns for target shooting may also be imported with the correct paperwork. Prohibited firearms include fully automatic firearms, pistols with barrel length below 105 mm, and a long list of specific variants of firearms AK-47's, FN-FAL's. Prohibited firearms will be seized at customs and destroyed. Travellers should check with the Canada Firearms Centre (http://www.cfc-cafc.gc.ca...) and the Canada Border Services Agency (http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.c...) before importing firearms of any type before arrival.
Be aware that it is unusual for civilians to be seen openly carrying weapons in urban areas. While generally not illegal, openly carrying a weapon will likely be treated with suspicion by the police and civilians, as opposed to some areas of the US where it is more commonplace.
Switch blades, butterfly knives, spring loaded blades and any other knife that opens automatically are classified as Prohibited and are illegal in Canada. As are Nunchucks, Tasers and other electric stun guns, most devices concealing knives, such as belt buckle knives and knife combs, and articles of clothing or jewelry designed to be used as weapons. Mace and pepper spray is also illegal unless sold specifically for use against animals.
snatching of luggage
If you are unfortunate enough to get your purse or wallet snatched, the local police will do whatever they can to help. Often, important identification is retrieved after thefts of this sort. Visitors to large cities should be aware that parked cars are sometimes targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, so try to avoid leaving any possessions in open view. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Try to remember your license plate number and check that your plates are still in place before you go somewhere as some thieves will steal plates to avoid getting pulled over. Auto theft in Montreal, including theft of motor homes and recreational vehicles, may occur in patrolled and overtly secure parking lots and decks. Bike theft can be a common nuisance in metropolitan areas.
Prostitution is legal everywhere in Canada, but many of the activities surrounding it are not. It is illegal to sell sex near anywhere a person under 18 could reasonably be expected to be, to buy sexual services or communicate for the purpose of buying sexual services, to advertise someone else's sexual services and to operate a brothel. Prostitution is not considered to be a legitimate activity by many Canadians, who may believe it to be wholly illegal. Most will be taken aback if you ask where you can procure a prostitute.
Forest fires usually occur in summer and are possible across a wide swath of the country, most frequently in the western Provinces. Always check the news for info on forest fires and if you must go through them, be very cautious. Often the roads are impassable; alter travel plans accordingly and be prepared for evacuation if forest fires are on your doorstep.
Fires in British Columbia are particularly vicious because of steep mountainous terrain. The combination of dry summers, dry lightning strikes and large forested sections are all factors. The province had serious issues with forest fires in the summers of 2003 and 2009, with many thousands having to be evacuated.
Canada is very prone to winter storms including ice storms and blizzards. Reduce speed, be conscious of other drivers, and pay attention. It's probably a good idea to carry an emergency kit in your car, in case you have no choice but to spend the night stuck in snow on the highway yes, this does happen occasionally, especially in more isolated areas. If you are unfamiliar with winter driving and choose to visit Canada during the winter months, consider using another mode of transportation to travel within the country. Make note that while the vast majority of winter weather occurs, naturally, during the winter months, some parts of Canada such as the prairie provinces and north and mountain regions may experience severe, if brief, winter-like conditions at any time during the year.
If you are touring on foot, it is best to bundle up as much as possible in layers with heavy socks, thermal underwear and gloves; winter storms can bring with them extreme winds alongside frigid temperatures and frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes.
The international country code for Canada is 1. Area codes and local phone numbers are basically the same as used in the United States. Three-digit area code, seven-digit local phone number. Some cities only require a seven-digit local phone number to place a call, but in most major cities you must use ten digit dialing even for local calls. For example, in Vancouver, if you look up the phone number for a business or friend across the street or across town as 987-6543, then you must dial 6049876543 to call it. This is a local call. Add the "1" if you are dialing a long distance call, or 16049876543. Knowing what constitutes a long distance call is part art, but if your number is for a place more than 50km away from your position, it most likely would be a long distance call. Always check area codes, some cities have more than one, such as Vancouver which could be 604 or 778.
Cell phones are widely used, but due to Canada's large size and relatively sparse population, many rural areas that are not adjacent to major travel corridors have no service.
Of the major national carriers, Bell Mobility and TELUS operate national CDMA networks and a more modern UMTS WDCMA/HSPDA network. Rogers Wireless operates a GSM network. All of these networks operate on the 850MHz/1900MHz bands and phones from outside North America are unlikely to work unless they are specifically marketed as World Phones, or Quad-Band. Note that quad-band/world phones may still not be compatible with Bell and TELUS's HSDPA network, but they should work on Rogers.
Both Rogers and TELUS operate separate discount brands using the same infrastructure as their main networks. For Rogers this is the Fido and Chatr services, and for TELUS it is Koodo Mobile. These brands typically aren't really much cheaper the parent company is obviously not going to undercut itself, but the plan options may be better suited for some people.
In addition to the major incumbent networks noted above there are several regional carriers and some new start-up carriers servicing limited geographical areas. One of these new carriers is Wind mobile, operating a 1700/2100MHz GSM network in a half dozen or so metropolitan areas.
All of the major national carriers offer pre-paid SIM cards with start-up packages in the range of $75 with a specified amount of airtime included. Prepaid plans usually have a per minute rate of $0.25, but many have "evenings and weekends" add-ons for around $30/month.
Visitors from outside North America will be surprised to learn that Canadian carriers charge for incoming calls, either by using a plan's included minutes, or at a rate of $0.25 to $0.35/minute. In addition, if you are outside of your phone number's local calling area when answering a call, you will be charged long distance on top of the air time charge. This means that answering an incoming call outside of the phone's local calling area can cost you up to $0.70/minute.
Internet via GSM is prohibitively expensive. Due to the nearly complete dominance of three companies, mobile rates in Canada are among the highest in the world. The Canadian government continually promises to open up the market and help smaller companies compete and continually fails to do so. However, the recent entry of WIND Mobile, a smaller player with substantial overseas ownership was recently approved and may signal a change in the official government stance.
If entering with an iPad, be aware that Bell and Telus will NOT offer local iPad plans without some form of Canadian ID.