If you're traveling to Canada, it's helpful to know a little about the money that you'll be using when you're there. All of Canada uses the Canadian Dollar (CA$ or CAD). Like most global currencies, the value of the Canadian dollar floats against that of all other major currencies. In fact, the Canadian dollar is the closest example to a pure floating currency because of how little the country's central bank has interfered. Since about 2014, the Canadian dollar has been worth about 70 or 80 cents compared to one U.S. dollar.
The low Canadian dollar in 2020 is in contrast to the years between 2009 and 2014 when the U.S. and Canadian dollars were approximately on par, with the CAD hovering either just below or just above the U.S. dollar. In the 1980s and '90s, the CAD was worth considerably less than the U.S. dollar due to inflation rates, international conflict, and budget deficits, among other reasons. At times when the Canadian dollar is low, shopping in Canada is a real bargain for those shopping with U.S. currency (but remember to factor in the sales tax).
Characteristics of Canadian Money
Canadian bills or bank notes are commonly available in CA$5, CA$10, CA$20, CA$50, and CA$100 dollar denominations. The CA$1 and CA$2 bills have been replaced with coins (the loonie and the toonie).
Canadian bills are brightly colored—unlike the green and white of all U.S. bills—making them easy to distinguish from one another. In fact, in addition to better beer than their neighbors to the south, their colorful money is another point of cultural Canadian pride. For those with visual impairments, the bills have a tactile feature (but not braille) to distinguish different denominations.
Canadian coins include the loonie, toonie, 25-cent quarter, 10-cent dime, 5-cent nickel, and 1-cent penny. Although production of the penny has been stopped and phased out, some people hang on to one or two as a keepsake. Since 2014, purchase totals have been rounded off to the nearest nickel to take pennies out of circulation.
Beginning in 2011, the federal government of Canada began replacing paper bills with polymer bank notes to cut down on counterfeiting. These polymer notes are more slippery and may sometimes easily stick together, so take care when dealing with a stack of bills.
Best Way to Bring Money to Canada
Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted across Canada and ATMs are easy to find in urban areas so it's not necessary to bring loads of cash with you. Having some cash on hand when you arrive is a good idea though for tipping or odd small purchases.
Using U.S. Currency in Canada
Canada has its own currency—the Canadian dollar—however in border towns and at major tourist attractions like Niagara falls, U.S. currency may be accepted; it is at the discretion of the retailer. Read our guide to find out more about if and when U.S. currency is accepted in Canada.
Many places near the Canada / U.S. border, especially tourist destinations, accept U.S. dollars, but exchange rates vary by retailer and are likely less favorable than bank exchange rates.
Debit and credit cards issued by other countries can be used for purchases or to withdraw Canadian money in Canada, but currency exchange rates will vary by card. ATMs will charge you for a service fee between CA$2 and CA$5. For more information, read our guide to using debit and credit cards in Canada.