What Americans Need to Know Before Visiting Canada

Moraine Lake
••• Overlook of Moraine Lake and Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/Getty Images

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In many ways, Canada is much like the U.S.A. and historically, the two countries have been casual about crossing back and forth over the border - almost like we were one big happy family. 

But today, even though the U.S. and Canada maintain a healthy friendship, certain restrictions and differences in laws can affect a U.S. citizen visiting Canada. 

Before you head north of the 49th parallel, here are 9 things you should know about visiting Canada. In addition, be sure to check out some of Canada's top attractions and common myths and misconceptions.

  • 01 of 09

    You Must Have a Passport

    US Passport
    ••• 27707 / Pixabay

    All U.S. citizens arriving in Canada must have a valid passport or passport equivalent, such as an enhanced driver's license or NEXUS card.

    Gone are the days of casual cross-border visits with only a driver's license; those disappeared after 9/11.

    Some leniency is given when it comes to children coming to Canada. Travelers 15 or younger need only present a birth certificate or certified copy to the border patrol.

  • 02 of 09
    dog car window
    ••• Robert Morrissey/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Be sure to educate yourself on what can and can't be brought over the border to Canada when you visit. For example, you can bring your pet (with proper documentation) but fresh fruit is a no-no.

    Take advantage of shopping for duty-free liquor and cigarettes at the ​duty-free stores but only in certain amounts.

    Canada is a popular hunting destination but be sure to read up on the country's laws regarding prohibited, restricted and non-restricted guns and be sure you have all the proper paperwork.

    Bringing gifts into Canada? Ok, but anything valued at over $60 is subject to duty and taxes.

  • 03 of 09
    Canado road sign
    ••• Mathias Schulte-Ontrop / EyeEm / Getty Images

    At first glance, driving in Canada looks the same as it does in the U.S. but dig a little deeper and you'll notice some differences.

    The good news is, your U.S. driver's license is perfectly transferable to driving in Canada. However, apprise yourself of some of the other laws and conditions.

    Speed limits are different in Canada and posted in metric, so kilometers, not miles, are used to indicate maximum speeds in any given area.

    Distracted driving laws are in effect in all Canadian provinces and territories, which means cell phones must be used hands-free when driving.

    Canada also makes it a no-no to smoke in a car if you have a minor.

    Driving conditions in winter can be extremely hazardous. Have a charged cell phone and an emergency kit when you head out in snowy weather. If your car is not ready for winter driving, consider renting a car that is better equipped. Be sure to check out these winter driving tips.

  • 04 of 09
    Canada coins
    ••• A 'loonie' and 'toonie' ($1 and $2 coins) of Canadian currency. Holly Hildreth / Getty Images

    Though many border towns and large metropolitan areas will accept U.S. currency, it is not widely accepted in other parts of Canada, like smaller or more remote towns, where they only deal in Canadian currency.

    Tourist attractions and major malls will probably give you a reasonable exchange rate while other businesses may just accept U.S. currency at par.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09
    ••• Check with your cell phone provider about what costs you'll incur by using your phone outside of your own country. © Scott McLean

    Your U.S. cell phone will work in Canada but the charges will be astronomical if you don't let your carrier know you are heading out of the country and have them work out a texting and calling package for you while you're away.

    If you don't set up a special plan, be sure to turn off your cellular data in settings and only download email when you're hooked up to WiFi.

  • 06 of 09
    ••• KingWu/Getty Images

    We love our neighbors to the south and Canadians are a friendly lot but we don't let just anyone across our border. Canadian Border Services Agency guards can get sticky when it comes to criminal records or suspicious behavior.

    Know what can get you denied entry, including DUI's, improper identification or papers if traveling with minors who are not your own.

  • 07 of 09

    You'll Still Need Health Insurance

    health insurance
    ••• Hero Images / Getty Images

    Canada does have an excellent universal health care system, but only for Canadians. If you are visiting Canada, you will want to get travel health insurance coverage during your stay.

  • 08 of 09

    Legal Drinking Age is 18 or 19

    pouring beer
    ••• amiera06 / Pixabay

    It may be 21 in the U.S.A. but make your way north and the legal drinking age goes down to 18 or 19 in Canada, depending on the province. 

    The drinking age also applies to the ability to buy liquor and beer, which in most parts of Canada is at specially designated liquor and beer stores - not in grocery stores or convenience stores (like the rest of the world). 

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09
    expensive bill
    ••• Sales tax in Canada may catch you off guard at restaurants, hotels and stores. Leontura / Getty Images

    Your restaurant or hotel bill may surprise you if you don't know that Canada adds a federal sales tax to all goods and services. Most other provinces also have their own tax, which means, depending on where you are in Canada, your bill will have up to an additional 15% tacked on.

    The tax refund program for visitors to Canada was dropped in 2007, so the taxes you pay while you're in Canada stay in Canada.