Throughout this book, unless otherwise stated, all prices, including dining and lodging, are given in Canadian dollars.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave home. ATMs are available in most bank and credit-union branches across British Columbia, as well as in many convenience stores, malls, and gas stations. Major banks include RBC Royal Bank, BMO Bank of Montreal, TD Bank Financial Group, HSBC, Scotiabank, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Prices here are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Visa and MasterCard are universal throughout British Columbia. Diners Club, also known as En Route, is less widely accepted. Discover is little known in Canada outside major hotel chains, and many small retailers are reluctant to accept American Express cards because of the high fees charged.
It's a good idea to inform your credit card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit card company might put a hold on your card, owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, because MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in U.S. dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 4% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Dynamic Currency Conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in U.S. dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do give you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn't an option.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 800/869–3016; 905/474–0870; www.americanexpress.com.
Diners Club. 866/890–9552; 514/881–3735; www.dinersclub.com.
MasterCard. 800/627–8372; 636/722–7111; www.mastercard.ca.
Visa. 800/847–2911; 303/967–1096; www.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
The units of currency in Canada are the Canadian dollar (C$) and the cent, in almost the same denominations as U.S. currency ($5, $10, $20, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, etc.). The C$1 and C$2 bill have been replaced by C$1 and C$2 coins—known as a "loonie," because of the loon that appears on the coin, and a "toonie," respectively. As of 2013, Canada phased out its one-cent coin.
U.S. dollars are accepted in much of Canada (especially in communities near the border), but you won't get the exchange rate offered at banks. ATMs are ubiquitous in Vancouver and Victoria, and credit cards are accepted virtually everywhere.