Currency Exchange and Banking Tips for Vacations in Canada

Canada Money Exchange and Debit Charges

Canadian 20 dollar banknotes and coins
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Once upon a time, the difference in the rate between the Canadian and American dollars was about 20%. This worked to the Detroiter’s advantage while vacationing in Canada. For instance, if your hotel charged $200 Canadian, you were actually paying $160 American.

Canada No Longer a Bargain

Heavily-trafficked tourist destinations soon caught on, however, and prices rose on the supply/demand principal at the specific locale. Now that the two countries’ dollars have, for the most part, equaled out, the inflated prices are slow to adjust back down again. There are exceptions, of course; but it is important to keep a watchful eye and comparison shop for restaurants, hotels, etc.

Best Places for Currency Exchange

It is a good idea to convert at least some currency at a bank before your trip. Banks, both in the U.S. and Canada, give you the most accurate exchange rate at any given time. Barring that, use your credit card. Credit card companies use the bank exchange rate as well. The currency exchange at the border is also reasonable.

Other Options

Currency-exchange storefronts (brokers) in tourist destinations are also available but beware of unfavorable exchange rate differences and surcharges for the service. If you pay American dollars at individual restaurants and hotels, you may be paying a large surcharge for the privilege because the owners can come up with their own conversion rate/formula for additional profit.

Special Hotel Concerns

Another concern when dealing with the different currency is when you reserve a hotel room. If you are quoted a rate in American dollars online, be sure to pay online before you travel. If you make a reservation and won’t be paying until the end of your stay, you will be paying in Canadian dollars, leaving the hotel to convert the quoted American rate to a Canadian rate. The result can come as a BIG surprise because of the conversion calculation the hotel uses.

In making a currency conversion, the hotel will utilize the same conversion rate it offers to guests in their currency exchange service.

Many hotels abuse the convenience factor and utilize a currency rate that is grossly to their benefit, including well-known United States chains like the Marriott. This is true even if you charge your stay to a credit card because the transaction has to be charged in Canadian dollars. Unfortunately, the only way around this may be to pay in cold, hard American cash.


Denominations in Canadian currency are similar to their United States counterparts except that dollar denominations under $5 are in $2 and $1 coins rather than bills. The $2 coin is larger than an American quarter. It is silver with an inner circle of copper. The $1 coin is about the same size as an American quarter but is copper-plated.

Use of Credit and Debit Cards

Credit/debit cards are widely accepted throughout Canada. Detroit’s proximity to the border, however, means that you may utilize your debit/credit card in the U.S. in the morning and Canada in the afternoon. Since there are sometimes delays before a charge is posted, it is possible for the pattern of purchases between the two countries to trigger your bank’s International Fraud software. Other than sounding downright scary, what this means is that the bank will not authorize any more charges or debits to the card –- which can be pretty embarrassing when you drop your ​debit card on a restaurant tray after a big meal.

The situation can usually be remedied through a call to your financial institution. For Chase customers, however, customer service regarding a debit VISA or Master Card is not available 24 hours. To avoid the inconvenience, it may be a good idea to have alternate means of payment for expenses and/or to notify your bank before travel.

Note: In many restaurants, your entire credit card number will be printed on the receipt; so be careful how you dispose of it.