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US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

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Englewood, Ohio
posts: 1,680
reviews: 62
US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

Planning a short ski trip to Whistler. Plan to use credit card as much as I can, but where cash is needed, can I used US Dollars, or am I going to have to get Canadian currency? Thank you.

Destination Expert
for Vancouver
posts: 2,657
1. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

Here we go again..........

West Grey, Ontario
Destination Expert
for Toronto, TripAdvisor Support
posts: 57,210
reviews: 71
2. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

Hi swdke;

Would you and your neighbours appreciate it if I visited Englewood, Ohio using Canadian cash ?

Canada is not a “third world developing country”, where US dollars are preferred. When a Canadian business accepts US cash it is actually a hassle for them, as they will have to pay to exchange it at their bank.

To be respectful to your host country, when in Rome...

Many businesses will accept American currency as a courtesy to American tourists. Businesses that choose to accept US dollars set their own exchange rate, so you may find the rate different from store to store, and the rate will NOT be in your favour. You will receive your change in Canadian funds. Coins, as a general rule, are accepted at face value…at par.

Automated equipment, i.e. vending machines, public transit machines, parking meters, etc - basically anything where you insert coins / bills... will only accept Canadian currency.

Most places will take credit cards, however there may be fees over and above the exchange rate charged by the credit card issuer. Some credit cards have a Foreign Usage Fee tacked on for usage outside of the issuing country. Check with your card issuer for exact details.

You could always use your bank card to withdraw money from an ATM. Check with your bank to find which Canadian banks they have an agreement with and then utilize that Canadian bank’s ATM for the fewest / cheapest fees & surcharges.

For some money saving tips, have a look at the traveller article “Canada – Banks & Money” here on TA.


Thanks for asking in advance !

Best Regards

Toronto, Canada
posts: 6,855
3. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

Thanks for asking about this. Many Canadian merchants will take US dollars -- the rate is set by the individual merchant and will vary from very good (for a merchant who's essentially giving US visitors an extra discount) to very poor (for a merchant who's happy to take advantage of people unfamiliar with exchanging money). In all cases you'd get any change in Canadian currency.

But aside from the deal you get, spending US cash at stores and restaurants in Canada can be perceived as disrespectful by some people. Unlike developing countries where US dollars are sometimes preferred to local currency, here getting receiving US cash is a burden for merchants: they have to track US currency separately and ultimately pay the costs of exchanging it. That's why most on this forum will encourage you, if paying in cash, to use only Canadian dollars as a gesture of respect when visiting a foreign country with its own currency.

There are several different ways to convert your money. The simple rule on exchanging money is that it's never free, but some ways are better than others.

Your plans to use your credit card as much as possible make a lot of sense, as it will give you access to an extremely good exchange rate. Similarly, the best way to get Canadian cash is to withdraw directly from your US account using your bank card in an ATM at any major Canadian bank. (Just don't make a lot of small withdrawals, because the ATM fees add up that way. Get a few hundred dollars at a time.) flyerguide.com/wiki/index.php/Credit/Debit/A… has fee details for many popular cards.

Getting Canadian cash before you leave home sounds like a good idea, but most US banks offer poor exchange rates to their customers with a 5%-8% markup being typical. Changing US cash into Canadian cash at a currency exchange kiosk is a bit risky unless you have a local recommendation or know the current rate -- some kiosks give excellent rates (a 2%-4% markup) but others are tourist traps that take a 10% cut or more. Canadian banks are a safer bet: some will exchange US cash with a 3%-5% markup, though others have restrictions or fees if you don't have an account.

Destination Expert
for Seattle
posts: 15,403
reviews: 84
4. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

I don't think anyone is asking or intentionally being 'disrespectful' when asking this questions. I deal with American tourists in Canada all summer long. In many tourist cities such as Whistler American $$ will be accepted but you won't get the best rate. I'd use an ATM or get a Chase or Capitol one credit card that doesn't charge any markup. Most CC will charge about 3%.

If your going to be there for a few days your going to need Cdn currency anyway, so just get some but in a pinch you most likely woud be able to use US $

Jasper, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jasper, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies
posts: 12,762
reviews: 86
5. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

david, it's not that Americans are being deliberately disrespectful when they use US money here in Canada, but what people are hinting at here is that this is how it is perceived by many Canadians, especially those working in tourism. This question pops up in the various forums all across Canada *extremely* frequently (and is second in the list of "Top Question" on the right side of this forum's page), and reinforces the negative stereotypes of American tourists (sorry, swdke... this isn't aimed at you personally!) although in most cases, the Canadian at the till will be too polite to let on anything of the sort.... or they are happy to pocket the approx. 5 - 10% additional they'll make off the sale.

I think part of the reason we Canadians take Americans' apparent hesitancy to exchange their greenbacks for loonies so negatively is that even though we are the US's largest trading partner (which many Americans are not aware of), and millions of Canadians visit the US every year, it is almost unheard of for American merchants to "return the favour" and accept Canadian currency down there. Many Canadians visiting the US have had the experience of having Canadian coins almost thrown back at them when they inadvertently were mixed in with American coins as payment, as if they were transit tokens or something (not to mention the frequent "cracks" about our colourful bills as "funny money".)

By the way, swdke, US coins are accepted here just like Canadian ones - you won't get any exchange on them. However, they do not always work in vending machines, parking meters etc.

Canadian/American relations are complicated... we are neighbours and share a lot of history and family ties; our cultures have many similarities (but many differences too), but we Canadians sometimes feel under-appreciated and taken for granted. Using our currency when you visit our country is appreciated, as a gesture of respect and an acknowledgement of our differences and of the fact that we are another country, not just another large US state to the north.

Vancouver, Canada
Destination Expert
for Vancouver
posts: 36,053
reviews: 54
6. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

I don't think Americans are being intentionally disrespectful either. But I do wonder why they sometimes consider this an option in Canada when they certainly would not in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Switzerland or Australia. Each is a sovereign country with its own laws, politics, currency and cultural differences. I think it's being overlooked in that regard that seems "disrespectful." And I have had a $5 Canadian bill thrown back at me when I mistakenly used it upon arrival in the States. Had forgotten to change my cash over on the plane.

Edited: 4:13 pm, February 06, 2012
Vancouver, Canada
posts: 1,183
reviews: 44
7. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

It's changing though. The Bay no longer accepts U.S. currency.

Vancouver, Canada
posts: 3,049
reviews: 41
8. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

I had a Canadian penny pushed back at me with a rude comment at a store in Washington state a while back. To this day, I don't know how it surfaced in my change because I keep the currencies strictly segregated. I didn't say anything in response, but in our numerous trips down there over the years, I have never bought anything again at that store. (I may go in to look to see what new merchandise is available, but I always go somewhere else to buy it.)

Toronto, Canada
posts: 6,855
9. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

This topic gets touchy. I tried to choose my words carefully in my reply #2 above. If the impression it gave doesn't match the intentions I'm about to explain, please let me know.

I think those who take the time to ask about or look into this before their trip _have_ demonstrated a desire to respect local customs. They just don't know what those customs are -- that's why they're here. I understand the frustration some Canadians have based on past experience, but I think it's unfair to apply that to all Americans.

It's also possible to overstate the case in a way that may be less than welcoming to first-time visitors. The US Dollar is, after all, the world's reserve currency and is the most widely accepted money there is. It's the currency roughly analgous to the English language. It is reasonable to wonder if you can spend USD in Vancouver for the same reason most of us would expect our English to help us get by in tourist venues worldwide. And I don't think the problem is that Americans think Canada is a third world developing country -- it's that they may not know expecting their US dollars to be highly-prized carries a "developing country" connotation.

Having lived in both countries, I'm well aware of that most Americans don't know Canada that well. But I think Canadians sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that being constantly exposed to the United States is the same thing as understanding it.

With apologies to the posters who raised these points, I'd like to argue with some of the claims above. Yes, Canada is the United States' largest trading partner, but there's a good reason it doesn't resonate with them the same way it matters to us: the United States does not have a foreign trade-oriented economy, and most US jobs and many companies are focused exclusively on internal markets. (Being their largest trading partner is like being the best restaurant on the block for a family that usually eats at home.) Also, those unsure what money can be spent in Vancouver have probably never been to Venice, as Americans simply aren't as widely travelled (for similar reasons as with trade -- the US offers a huge range of places to visit, with almost any climate or scenery you could wish for). Indeed, while I don't have stats for this, I'm pretty sure those working in American service jobs rejecting Canadian cash are significantly less well-travelled than their Canadian retail counterparts.

All in all, I don't think we can ask any more than for people to be curious about the differences between the two countries and willing travel to see for themselves.

Edited: 10:37 pm, February 06, 2012
Destination Expert
for Seattle
posts: 15,403
reviews: 84
10. Re: US Dollars, or will I need to get Canadian currency?

I totally understand the issues. I'm dual citizen Cdn and US and while I work in Canada I live in Seattle. While I have a US bank acct in Canada the constant converting of Cdn dollars to US Dollars takes a big chunk of my income. I would understand the constant dealing with exchange rates etc. I think there is a difference when someone says they are just going to take a cab to the cruise dock and wants to know about $$ vs someone coming to visit for a week or so. It wasn't so long ago that Cdn retailers had a little sign on their registers with a CDN and USA flag and the current exchange rate offered if you wished to pay with US Dollars. Seems like I still see them around but it was an active promotion in BC at least to encourage Americans to come and spend $$.

All the points are well taken.