As in the United States, Canadian currency is based on dollars and cents. Coins come in denominations of $0.01, $0.05, $0.10, and $0.25, and $1 and $2. The one-dollar coin is the gold-colored “loonie,” named for the bird featured on it. The unique two-dollar coin, introduced in 1996, is silver with a gold-colored insert. Notes come in $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 denominations.
All prices quoted in this book are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. American dollars are accepted at many tourist areas, but the exchange rate is more favorable at banks. Currency other than U.S. dollars can be exchanged at most banks, airport money-changing facilities, and foreign exchange brokers in Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, Calgary, Banff, Jasper, and Edmonton. Traveler’s checks are the safest way to carry money, but a fee is often charged to cash them if they’re in a currency other than Canadian dollars. All major credit and charge cards are honored at Canadian banks, gas stations, and most commercial establishments. Automatic teller machines (ATMs) can be found in almost every town.
The cost of living is lower in western Canada than the eastern provinces and is generally similar to the United States. By planning ahead, having a tent or joining Hostelling International, and being prepared to cook your own meals, it is possible to get by on less than $100 per person per day. Gasoline is sold in liters (3.78 liters equals one U.S. gallon). As of the writing of this edition, gas was from $1 per liter for regular unleaded. In remote areas, such as along the Icefields Parkway (Banff and Jasper National Parks) and in the two territories, the price is higher, up to $1.50 per liter.
Canada imposes a 5 percent goods and services tax (GST) on most consumer purchases. Purchases in British Columbia incur a 12 percent harmonized sales tax onto most purchases, which includes the GST. So when you are looking at the price of anything, remember that the final cost you pay will include an additional 12 percent in taxes. Alberta is the only province that doesn’t impose a provincial sales tax. Alberta does have a 4 percent tourism tax on any accommodation with four or more rooms.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition