Canada has its own currency—the Canadian dollar (CAD), also referred to as "the Loonie," in reference to the depiction of a loon on the one-dollar coin. Goods and services are for the most part purchased using Canadian dollars; however, U.S.dollars may also be accepted, mostly at border towns, duty-free shops, or major tourist attractions.
Places to Exchange Currency
If you want to have some currency in hand, then it would be best to find a bank or ATM to withdraw the local currency. ATMs are commonly found in the lobbies of banks, in stores, at malls, or in bars and restaurants.
If you use your bank card to withdraw money from an ATM, you will receive Canadian currency and your bank will do the conversion. It is a good idea to check with your bank before you leave on your trip to Canada to discuss the best card for travel. Some ATM networks offer fee-free withdrawals to visitors.
Best Exchange Rates
You will most likely get the best exchange rate at a bank of if you use a credit card for your purchases. Although you may have a bank fee per transaction, the exchange rate will be in the ballpark of the current exchange rate. Some banks may charge a surcharge for exchanging into a foreign currency so check ahead with your bank. For example, some banks like Chase, Capital One, and some Citi card may not charge a foreign exchange fee.
You can also get decent exchange rates at post offices and American Express offices. Hotels are also worth a try.
Worst Exchange Rates
Avoid the change bureaus you see everywhere in airports, train stations, and touristy areas. They usually have the worst rates, though occasionally you’ll get lucky. However, upon arrival to Canada, if you do not have any Canadian currency, and you do not want to be without, then you might want to exchange a small amount at the airport or border crossing.
So, at least you will have some local money on you.
Common Pitfalls of Money Exchange
Wherever you go to exchange your money, take the time to shop around. Read the posted exchange rates carefully, and ask for the net rate after commissions. Some fees are per transaction, others on a percentage basis.
To lure customers, some money changers will post the sell rate for U.S. dollars rather than the buy rate. You want the buy rate since you will be buying Canadian dollars.
Read the fine print. Another way that you can get misled into thinking you have found a great rate is that the posted rate may be conditional, such as that posted rate is for traveler’s checks or very large quantities of money (in thousands). You usually will not run into this problem at reputable banks or government-run post offices.
Banks in Canada
The longstanding, reputable Canadian banks are RBC (Royal Bank of Canada), TD Canada Trust (Toronto-Dominion), Scotiabank (Bank of Nova Scotia), BMO (Bank of Montreal), and CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce).