Planning a trip to Canada this winter? Here are a few things to know before you set off:
1. You may need a visa or eTA.
Before you even think about visiting Canada, you need to get a visa or electronic travel authorsation in place. If you arrive in Canada without the correct visa or authorisation in place they can put you straight back on a plane home again. Canada is part of the Commonwealth, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need a visa or electronic travel authorisation (eTA) to travel there. The good news is that a Canada visa is usually not required for tourism. An eTA Canada is fairly straightforward to purchase; you can apply and pay online, and then you can rest assured you are covered. This is much easier than applying for a visa, which involves selecting the right option from a list, each of which has different requirements and stipulations attached. With an eTA visa you can stay in Canada for six months maximum, which suits most people’s requirements. You will need to purchase your eTA visa in advance; since November 2016 it has been an entry requirement for all visitors without a visa who are not from the USA. The eTA is electronically linked to your passport, and is valid for up to 5 years, or until your passport expires. Once you have a valid eTA you can travel to Canada as many times as you want for short stays within the 5-year period it is valid. Once you are in Canada you don’t need any separate visas or authorisations to travel between territories and provinces.
2. Canada is enormous.
Living in the UK, prettymuch everywhere is within a drivable distance; it takes around 4 hours to drive from London to Manchester. Canada on the other hand, is massive – with lots of space in between towns and cities. In fact, it’s 41 times bigger than the UK and spans 6 time zones. It’s made up of 10 provinces and 3 territories To drive from Toronto to Vancouver would take you about 4 days. If you’re planning to visit more than one place in Canada, plan carefully to make the best use of your time.
3. It is COLD.
Here in the UK we complain about the cold once the temperature drops below around 5 degrees – but in Canada, 5 decrees is considered a warm day in the winter months! It’s not unusual to experience temperatures of minus twenty or even minus thirty degrees or colder. The lowest recorded temperature in Canada was minus 63 degrees in 1947. If you’re travelling to Canada in the winter, make sure you pack lots of warm layers, gloves, hats… you get the idea!
4. Try out Tim Hortons
I don’t think Tim Hortons is really a thing outside of Canada, but in Canada it is the main place to buy coffee… and doughnuts! Almost every town in Canada has a Tim Hortons, even if it’s really small. The chain is named after a Canadian hockey player (hockey is a big deal in Canada) and visiting one of these is arguably the most Canadian thing you could do while visiting.
5. There are two official languages in Canada
About 20% of Canadians speak French as their first language; it’s the dominant language across Quebec and the ofifical language of the province. That said, the dialect and accent are very different from the kind of French one learns in school or even hears in Paris streets. As well as English and French you may also hear people speaking other languages and dialects – but the majority of people speak English.
6. Tipping is similar to the USA
Here in the UK we don’t really do a lot of tipping, except perhaps in a restaurant. In Canada, you are generally expected to give a tip when receiving any service – be that from a waiter or waitress, a taxi driver, a hairdresser or a hotel employee. As a general rule, you should tip around 15% to 20%.
7. Sales taxes are added to your bill
This can come as a surprise if you’re not expecting it, but Canada adds a federal sales tax to all goods and services. Unlike here in the UK where it is included in the price you see, in Canada it is usually added at the point of sale. As well as this, most provinces have their own tax. This means that depending on where you are in Canada, your bill might have up to an extra 15% added to it. This is added to anything you buy in a shop, but also to hotel bills, restaurant bills or online purchases.
8. Customer service in Canada is really good
Coming from a country where shop assistants can often behave as if you’ve interrupted their conversation with a friend, it can be surprising to come across the irrepressably polite and helpful staff in Canadian shops. Everyone knows that Canadians have a reputation for being overly polite, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that customer service is so good. As well as being very friendly and helpful, shops and restaurants are often open for longer and cater to a wider variety of tastes and preferences than you might expect
9. You will need health insurance in Canada
Canada has an enviable healthcare system, but it’s only for Canadians. If you need medical attention while in Canada and don’t have adequate health insurance, you might find that you end up with a big bill. It’s worth double checking your travel insurance before you travel, to ensure it covers medical expenses.
10. The legal drinking age in Canada is either 18 or 19
The legal drinking age depends on which province you are in. It’s also worth noting that alcohol is not usually available in supermarkets as it is in the UK; instead you buy it from dedicated liquor stores. If you are near the border with the US, where the legal drinking age is 21, you will probably encounter several young Americans who have crossed the border just to get a drink!