What's great about being Canadian
13 important things to know before vacationing in Canada
Information and travel tips for your Canada vacation ... from a Canadian!
So you're going to Canada, eh? Excellent! Whether you're on your first vacation in Canada or just visiting the United States, there are a few things you should know before traveling to Canada. That's why we decided to share some helpful tips with you!
We wouldn't say our travel blog specializes in Canada, but we've written quite a few articles about the country. After all, half of Penguin and Pia (Eric) is a real Canadian!
Lisa lived in Canada for a few months thanks to her Working Holiday Visa and this post is full of things she would like to know before heading to the land of the maple leaf! So, here is our list of things to know before visiting Canada!
By the way, if you are traveling to Canada you should think of one Take out international health insurance. Your blue EU health card is not valid in Canada.
In the past we both used World Nomads and it was super easy. Here you can see how much insurance would cost for your trip! Ready? Let's go to Canada!
General information about Canada
Canada is in North America. What surprises some is that Canada is the second largest country in the world.
The capital is Ottawa - sometimes people think it is Toronto, as this is the largest city in the country with around 5.5 million people (in the greater Toronto area).
Other major cities are Halifax in Nova Scotia, Montreal in Quebec, Calgary in Alberta, and Vancouver in British Columbia.
- Canada has a population of approximately 36 million people. Interesting fact: Canada has roughly the same population as the state of California.
- The country is huge, but well over 80% of the population live within 160 km of the US border.
- There are two official languages in the country - English and French. French is mainly spoken in the province of Quebec and some parts of the east coast, while English is the main language in the rest of the country.
- Canada is a very multicultural country and Toronto is consistently referred to as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world.
- There are 10 provinces and 3 territories.
- There are 5 large time zones and a time zone that differs only half an hour and only exists in a small area.
Visa information for Canada
Some nationalities (including Germans and Austrians) can travel to Canada “visa-free”. Important: That doesn't mean you can enter Canada just like that!
Despite "visa-free" travel tourists from European countries need an eTAif they arrive by plane - and that is the case with most tourists.
ETA stands for Electronic Travel Authority. It will ON-LINEfor 7 Canadian dollars requested. You will then receive a number that will be linked to your passport.
You have to fill out a few simple questions as "pre-screening" and you should then receive your eTA confirmation relatively quickly. It only took a few minutes for Lisa.
You will receive a confirmation email with your eTA number that you Not have to print out. However, keep this number in a safe place as you may need it again in the future.
Warning: There are some Visa companies that charge insane amounts to apply for the Canadian eTA. Here is the Government of Canada official eTA website. It costs around 7 Canadian dollars. It shouldn't cost $ 39 CAD or € 39 like we've seen on some Visa provider websites.
If your passport does not allow "visa-free" entry into Canada, you will need to apply for a tourist visa. You can find more information about applying for a tourist visa for Canada here.
A (super) short history lesson on Canada
Canada was originally settled by our indigenous peoples (First Nation, Metis and Inuit) before European explorers arrived (mostly French and British).
Wars were waged between the British and French colonies in Canada, and then in 1812 the Americans were fought. We actually burned the White House down - true story.
The remaining colonies (mainly British, but also French-speaking Quebec) gained independence from Great Britain in 1867. Canada celebrated its 150th birthday in 2017.
Prejudice against Canadians
Not all Canadians are lumberjacks, fur traders, fishermen, or hockey players. Although we really love hockey - more precisely "ice hockey".
The rest of the world usually says "ice hockey" because there are often more than one type of hockey in other countries - mostly field hockey.
Not every Canadian knows every other Canadian - remember, there are 36 million of us. We don't all drink maple syrup from the bottle (although Eric has done this one time or another).
We are friendly and usually very polite. In general, if you ask for directions or need something, people are ready to help you.
Canadians are patriotic, not nationalistic. It means we are proud to be Canadians, but we don't believe Canadians are better than other people.
Pay and tip
Money in Canada is known for looking like Monopoly money. This is because the money is now plastic and each bill is a different color.
This is very different from US banknotes, which are all green and made from a mixture of cotton and paper. With Canadian money, you can quickly see how much money you have.
You can receive Canadian dollars (CAD) in 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 dollar bills. Then there are coins, which can be dollars and cents - and yes, they have funny names.
A 1 dollar coin is golden, shows a loon (the bird) on it and is called "Loonie". A 2 dollar coin is two-colored, shows polar bears and is called "Toonie". The next coin is 25 cents - called "Quarter", 10 cents - called "Dime", 5 cents - called "Nickel".
We used to have 1 cent and it was called "Penny" but they were discontinued in 2012 because they were basically useless.
There is one other thing you should know - price rounding. Because we have discontinued the penny, when paying in cash it can happen that it is rounded up or down to the next 5-cent interval.
If you pay by card, the exact amount will be charged. So don't be surprised if your coffee at Tim Hortons costs 3 cents more when the cashier picks you up!
In Canada, tips are expected when there is service. Generally, the tip is 15% of the bill, but it is not uncommon for a tip to be 20% for great or outstanding service.
Sometimes when you eat as part of a larger group (usually 6 or more people) the tip can be added automatically. If you're not sure if that's the case, just check with your waiter.
Even if the service is poor, you would still tip a small amount - maybe 10%. Not tipping at all can be considered impolite.
When you're in a bar, tipping is also recommended, but it certainly depends on the atmosphere and type of bar. If you order a beer and pay with cash, you can leave a coin (loonie or toonie) there as a thank you for a quick, friendly service.
Plugs and Electronics in Canada
In Canada we use the North American plug. This is the two-pronged style like in the United States. Sometimes there is a third prong and that is for "grounding".
If you If you are traveling from Europe to Canada, you will need to bring an adapter for your electrical appliances, so that they fit into Canadian sockets.
In Canada there is a 120 volt voltage in sockets, which you can also find in cafes, airports and USB chargers in more and more long-distance buses. Nowadays, a wide variety of electrical appliances can handle different voltages.
However, if you plug a European device that normally runs on 230 or 240 volts into a lower voltage Canadian outlet, it may not work as well / at full power.
Be sure to check the label of your electronics beforehand to see which voltage is supported!
If your electronics are not compatible with a 120-volt plug, then you will need to purchase both a voltage converter and an adapter. Most of the time, however, this is no longer an issue.
You can find a good adapter here. It even has USB ports for charging smaller electronic devices (cameras, cell phones, etc.).
Weather and climate
Canadian weather can be very different. No seriously. Canada is so big that the climate and weather will vary depending on where you are and what time of year you are.
Ontario, for example, has four distinct seasons - and the temperature can range from -30 degrees Celsius in winter to +35 degrees Celsius in summer.
Ontario is also notorious for having wet summer heat as opposed to dry summers. This means that even in the shade you will still sweat!
The west coast - such as Vancouver - has a maritime climate similar to that of the UK. Summers never get too hot, winters don't get snowy. It rains a lot in Vancouver in the winter months from November to April.
In the Rocky Mountains, summer can be hot and winter can bring a lot of snow. Atlantic Canada (the east coast) enjoys ocean breezes and sunny summers but brutal winters.
The climate and the weather are very different. Find out the exact climate of your destination in advance so that you can prepare well for the weather conditions.
Public transportation in Canada
The biggest difference between Canada and Europe is that Canada does not use public transport (especially regional trains) in the same way. That's partly because the country is so big and things are very far apart.
Canadian cities usually have a subway and bus system that is pretty good for getting from A to B within the city. This is the case, for example, in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, etc. Outside the cities it is a little more difficult.
As I said, Canada is big. The suburbs can often reach far out into the country. And between different cities there are often large areas of farmland, forest or other landscapes. What we want to say: You need a car to cover longer distances. You can compare rental car prices here.
There are some regional trains - but these only run in the outskirts of larger cities to bring people into or out of the cities (e.g. in Toronto). They don't take you anywhere else, and they don't cover the whole country.
We also have regional buses (Greyhound, Ontario GO Bus, etc.), but they only run certain routes. Fares are cheap, but in general, locals often rely on their cars.
We have a national train system (ViaRail) that crosses the country. However, it can be very expensive to take the train. Even short journeys between Toronto and Montreal (around 5 hours by train) can cost hundreds of dollars.
As a visitor, the rental car and the gasoline price will often be cheaper than the train. And you can stop along the way if you want to see something else. More on this below!
National languages English and French
If you travel to Canada for the first time, you will quickly find that we have two official languages: English and French. That means there are certain places where you don't need both languages.
For example, you would basically never speak French in Toronto, and in parts of rural Québec you will find few people who speak mostly English. Montreal is a bilingual city and you get along well with English.
If you're from abroad and speak English and another language that isn't French, there's a good chance you'll find someone who speaks that language too - especially in cities like Toronto. It's not uncommon to hear multiple languages in a Toronto cafe.
Once we met a woman and her two children who spoke German in a café in our neighborhood in Toronto. When one of the children dropped something, Lisa helped out and spoke in German. The woman was super surprised and happy to hear German from a stranger.
Many tour operators offer their events in different languages and many attractions or museums have several languages available. If you are not sure, you can check the attraction's website beforehand.
Rent a car and drive a car in Canada
In Canada they drive Cars on the rightas in Germany too. We use an odd mix of the metric system and the imperial system, however when it comes to driving, everything is metric (like in Germany).
We measure gasoline in liters and distances in kilometers. The maximum speed on most major roads is 100 km / h, but the usual driving speed is between 110 and 120 km / h.
The speed limit may be set on country roads 80 km / h or sometimes even 60 km / h while streets in cities and smaller neighborhoods have a speed limit of 40 km / h or 25 km / h have near schools.
Just watch out for the signs. It's usually pretty clear what the speed limit is.
Canada has all the major rental car brands such as Enterprise, Budget, Hertz or Avis. The minimum age for renting a car varies from province to province, but is usually between 21 and 25 years.
Cars are rented quite frequently and you can find rental car companies at airports and in many of the larger centers. Sometimes even smaller cities have a car depot for pick-up and drop-off. If you want to rent a car in Canada, you can compare the prices of different providers here.
In general, Canada is a very safe country. The country is politically stable and Canadians enjoy many freedoms. Even so, you should always take the usual precautionary measures when traveling. Pickpocketing can occur in larger cities.
Driving in Canada is also very safe - some cities have more aggressive drivers (Montreal), but it's not too bad. Once you're in the country, you'll drive for ages and have roads with a lot less traffic jams.
If you're driving, you should know how to change your spare tire and have the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) number on hand in case you ever need roadside assistance.
Dangerous wildlife (like grizzly bears) is abundant in the mountains and inland (especially in national parks in western Canada). Canada, in general, is filled with beautiful hiking trails through many remote areas that can be dangerous if you're not prepared for the terrain and climate.
Water is another big thing in Canada as there are so many lakes, rivers, and waterways. Boating safety (canoeing, kayaking, motor boating and water sports) is important and you should only be on the water with the right equipment.
In nature, waterways, dams and waterfalls must be respected. In winter, keep an eye out for signs or ask locals about ice on lakes and waterways. Even if ice cream looks like it's frozen and thick, you never know how thick it actually is!
There are many different sayings, phrases, and terms you may want to know before traveling to Canada. That way, you will be prepared for some conversations and situations.
One of the words that Canadians actually say a lot is "eh". Eh is used at the end of a sentence to emphasize emphasis, agreement, or a question or opinion.
For example, you could say to someone, “The Leafs [Toronto Maple Leafs] had quite the game last night, eh?” With the “eh” the person is asking for confirmation and / or your opinion on what you thought of the game.
Some other Canadian slang words you may encounter while traveling to Canada are as follows:
- Clicks - short for kilometers. "The park entrance is just about 2 clicks down the road".
- Timmies - short for Tim Hortons. This is a very Canadian brand and a popular donut / coffee shop.
- Double Double - a coffee ordered with two cream and two sugars from Tim Hortons.
- Timbit - a small donut ball from Tim Hortons. They are really good - grab a "10 Pack of Timbits"
- Toque - is a winter hat with a bobble (or not). You could also call it a "beanie" ... but it's a toque.
- Pop - is the word for soda or soft drinks. Pepsi is pop. Sprite is pop. Fanta? This is pop.
Cultural peculiarities - small talk and "Sorry!"
One of the things that surprised Lisa (as a German) in Canada was the amount of small talk that takes place. Well, it's not that Canadians can't shut up - but we speak a little more than Germans.
Standing in line for food, on the subway, waiting for the ATM, ... - people tend to chat!
People can be particularly talkative at the cash register or at the gas station. So, if you want to know what the locals are like - don't hesitate to start a conversation if you think the situation allows. You never know what you will find out!
Another thing you'll find out is that Canadians keep apologizing - all the time. We tend to apologize often - and for things that are not even our fault.
When you accidentally bump into someone, it's typical for both people to apologize, regardless of who was to blame! People even sometimes bump into a bar stool or other object and instinctively say "Sorry". Seriously.
Canadians are not always really sorry - "Sorry" in this case often means something like: "I am aware that other people exist in the community around me". It's more of a collectivist thing.
And there you have it - our guide to things to know about Canada before your first trip to Canada.
Of course we couldn't go into every aspect of your Canada vacation, but we did our best to provide you with useful information.
In another post we will write about interesting Canada itineraries to help you plan your itinerary. Canada is a beautiful country with a lot to discover.
As always, happy waddling!
If you're looking for more travel tips and information about Canada, the following blog posts may help you:
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