Sales Tax in British Columbia

Expect to add on at least 12 percent tax on some items

Canadian money
••• Photo © Greg Biss / Getty Images

If you're planning a trip to Vancouver and British Columbia and you want to keep an eye on what you are going to spend, the taxes that you will pay on what you buy there, like accommodations, restaurant meals, and any special souvenirs, will affect that total. 

The goods and services tax throughout Canada, or the GST, is 5 percent. The general provincial sales tax, or PST, in British Columbia is 7 percent, with some items taxed at a higher PST rate.

This adds up to a total of at least 12 percent sales tax on many items unless they are exempt from sales tax or exempt from one but not both sales taxes. In addition, in the city of Vancouver, you will also pay a Municipal and Regional District Tax, or MRDT, of 3 percent. Whether you are charged no tax, 5 percent tax, or 12 percent tax (or more) in British Columbia depends on what you are buying. Some items, like liquor and accommodations, are taxed at higher PST rates.

Tax Rebates for Travelers

The lone tax rebate available to non-Canadian tourists through the Foreign Convention and Tour Incentive Program has been dropped. In any case, this rebate was available for certain tour packages and conventions and was not available to independent travelers. As of 2018, there are no tax rebate programs available for non-Canadian visitors to Canada.

Tax-Exempt Travel Services

If you're taking public transportation while on a trip to British Columbia, you're in luck: You won't have to pay any sales tax on those fares.

If you want to buy food for a picnic, the bread and cheese won't be taxed, but wine or beer will be taxed at rates of 10 percent PST and 5 percent GST, or 15 percent. Here's what's exempt:

  • Public transit fares
  • British Columbia ferries fares
  • Basic groceries
  • International air travel; continental U.S. flights are excluded when originating in British Columbia
  • International rail, bus, or ship travel originating in British Columbia

Travel Services Taxed 5 Percent GST

Most expenses that you will incur while on vacation in British Columbia will be subject to the 5 percent GST that is applicable throughout Canada but will be exempt from British Columbia's 7 percent PST. These services and items will cost you 5 percent more than the retail price:

  • Domestic travel by air, rail, or bus originating in British Columbia
  • Continental U.S. air travel originating in British Columbia
  • Restaurant meals
  • Attraction admission fees, including passes for ski resorts, museums, theater performances, sports events, and driving ranges
  • Books, newspapers, and magazines
  • Snack foods
  • Taxis
  • Camping sites
  • Massage therapy

Travel Services Taxed 5 Percent GST and 7 Percent PST

Some items are subject to both the GST and the PST, and as luck would have it, they are what you will likely spend a significant amount of your travel budget on. Not only that; liquor and accommodations are subject to even higher taxes. Hotels, motels, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts, and other types of short-term lodging in British Columbia charge a PST of 8 percent. So that hotel room that you book at a rate of $200 a night could actually be as much as $226, and if it is inside the city of Vancouver, you'll have to add another 3 percent tax.

Other municipalities in British Columbia could also charge an MRDT at rates up to 3 percent. You'll pay a 10 percent PST on alcoholic beverages in addition to the 5 percent GST, and that's a hefty tax on a bottle of wine or Canadian whiskey.

Taxes on Tobacco

If you use any kind of tobacco, you will be on the hook for a tax hit. As of April 1, 2018, you'll pay $5.50 tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes, $6.88 on a pack of 25, or $55 on a carton of 200 cigarettes; and 37.5 cents per gram of loose tobacco. If you are a cigar aficionado, you could be hit with a tax of 90.5 percent of the retail price, up to a maximum of $7 per cigar. The smart money is on bringing enough of own tobacco products to keep you in business throughout your trip.