Canadian bank notes - Because of wide spread counterfeiting, most businesses will not accept $100 bills.
US$ bank notes - Many local businesses will allow you to spend your US$ bank notes without your first converting them to Canadian currency. However, you may not receive a fair exchange rate.
Credit cards - Visa, Mastercard and American Express are accepted at most businesses that accept credit cards. Do not plan to use your Discover Card at all.
Debit cards - Generally, only Canadians will be able to make point-of-sale purchases using a debit card.
ATMs - ATMs are plentiful. So long as you belong to a large network such as Cirrus, Star, Plus, etc., you should be able to withdraw cash in Canadian currency.
Taxes - 7% Goods and Services Tax and 8% Provincial Sales Tax apply to most of your purchases. Non-Canadians can apply to get a refund of the GST they pay on many purchases. Persons who are not residents of Ontario may apply to get a refund of the PST they pay on very large purchases.
Exchanging currency - Exchange foreign currency at banks or make purchases on your credit cards to receive the best rate of exchange. Also, the foreign exchange counter at the convention centre will be open long hours and will have favourable rates of exchange.
Hotels - Hotels will exchange only a limited amount of foreign currency each day, and will cash only a limited amount of travellers cheques each day.
The Convention - Different areas of the convention will be accepting payment in Canadian funds and US funds. Please read the detail below carefully for more information.
Going Home - When returning to your own country, there are limits as to what you are allowed to take back with you. Do your own homework on this, but we provide some guidelines below.
Canadian Bank notes and coins
Canadian bank notes are multi-coloured. Common denominations are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 [Pictures of bank notes]. Note that $100 bills have apparently been subject to a lot of counterfeiting of late, so almost all businesses refuse to take them. Try to avoid them and save yourself some trouble. If you do have $100 bills, you are best to go to a bank and exchange them for smaller denominations.
Over the past 15 years, Canada has replaced the $1 and $2 bills with coins. You will hear people commonly refer to the $1 coin as the "loonie" (the image on the back of the coin is a loon), and to the $2 coin as the "toonie" (two-nie). Common coins are 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, $1 and $2. You will sometimes run across 50¢ coins, but not often. Be prepared to manage your coins well or end up with a pocket full of change [Pictures of coins].
US bank notes, coins and travellers cheques
Most (but not all) restaurants and stores in Toronto and the surrounding region will accept US bills and coins. However, whereas at a bank you might expect to receive Cdn$1.48 or Cdn$1.52 for every US$1.00 (roughly the rates of exchange when this article was written in early-February 2003), you will find that when you are spending US currency directly at a store or restaurant, the exchange rate given will be to your disadvantage. You might receive Cdn$1.50, or only Cdn$1.40 or maybe just Cdn$1.25 or even just Cdn$1.00. There are no laws governing the exchange of currency at the retail level. You are subject to whatever rate the establishment has self-determined. Those that deal frequently with US tourists will usually post their exchange rate where you can see it. If you don't see it, ask before committing to a purchase.
If you pay for a purchase with US funds, you will receive your change in Canadian funds. So if the exchange rate the seller uses is not favourable, remember that you are losing value not just on the purchase price but on the full amount of the US funds that you use for your payment.
You are much better to exchange your US currency into Canadian currency at a bank or foreign exchange office that will give you a better rate.
Actually, the above discussion really pertains to US bills. If you want to spend your US$ coins, you will only get value equal to exactly the same Canadian coins.
Other currencies - bills, coins, travellers cheques
Generally, if you are carrying any other currency, you should convert it into Canadian funds at a bank, foreign exchange office or hotel. Restaurants and stores will not be able to handle other currencies, unless you are shopping at a very specialised location where you already know that the establishment is willing to take your foreign money.
Most businesses of any size accept Visa and Mastercard. Most, but not all, also accept American Express. Restaurants and other businesses which deal frequently with business travellers will also accept other cards such as Diners Club. Note however that Discover Card is almost unknown in Canada (as of the time of writing this article, we do not know of any business that accepts Discover Card) so do not expect to use it here.
If you rarely travel outside of your own country, shortly before leaving for Torcon, you might want to call all your credit card issuers (there should be a toll-free number for the issuer in small print on the back of the card). You want to notify them that you will be travelling in Canada on certain dates. You want them to note this in their records so that, if an automatic program notes unusual usage of your card from another country, they won't invalidate the card for fear that it's been stolen.
And if you seldom stay at hotels for long periods of time, here is something else to keep in mind: When you check into a hotel, they will often contact your credit card company and put a sizeable hold on funds available through your card, in order to ensure that there will be sufficient credit available to pay your hotel bill with that credit card when you check out. If you carry more than one credit card, you may want to give the hotel one card for their information and use a different card for your regular purchases.
Canadians make far greater use of debit cards for purchases than Americans. Most retail establishments of any size will accept debit cards for purchases - however, the debit cards (which take money directly from your bank account) must be part of the Interac network, which is exclusively a network of Canadian banks. So persons from outside of Canada will most likely not be able to make point-of-sale (p.o.s.) purchases using their bank's debit card.
Personal Cheques (or "checks" to some of you)
The Canadian banking system is very good at processing cheques written in other currencies. As a general rule of thumb however, cheques written on an account located in Canada should be written in Canadian funds, cheques written on an account located in the US should be written in US funds, etc. To do otherwise, means that the person depositing the cheque into their account may face long delays and hefty bank charges in order to get their funds. So it is advisable for non-Canadians to pay Canadian retailers, restaurants and dealers at the convention by means other than personal cheques.
In fact, because of the popularity of credit cards and debit cards, not as many businesses accept personal cheques these days. Outside of the convention, you will find it very difficult to pay for purchases with cheques written in a currency other than Canadian funds.
At the convention, for example in the dealers' room, a US based dealer may be very willing to accept a cheque from a US member of the convention.
So don't necessarily leave your chequebook at home, but also don't expect to use it much outside of purchases at the convention.
If you are an American and a Canadian writes a cheque to you, for whatever reason, check the address of the bank on the cheque. Many people have made arrangements with their bank to have a US bank address on the cheque, which makes it much easier for the US recipient to cash the cheque.
ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines)
ATMs are very plentiful in Toronto and the surrounding area. The convention centre and our hotels are located right beside the downtown business district, so ATM machines are easy to find. If at some point during the convention, you find that a machine has run out of cash, you should not have to go to far to find another machine.
If your bank participates in one of the international networks such as Cirrus, Plus, Star, etc. then you should not have difficulty in finding an ATM from which you can make cash withdrawals. Note however that not all machines are on all networks -- certain banks are affiliated with certain networks.
ATM machines dispense Canadian bank notes. However, if your bank is located outside of Canada, then your account balance will be reduced by your own currencies' equivalent amount - at whatever exchange rate your financial institution is using at the time.
Most ATM machines dispense only $20 bills. Some will dispense $20 and $10 bills. A few have recently started spitting out $50 bills.
There are a few ATMs around the city which will dispense US$ bank notes. One, operated by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is located the Atrium building/shopping complex which is across the street from the current bus station at Bay St. and Dundas St. This is not within walking distance of the convention centre, but is just a short taxi ride or short trip by bus or subway if you really need to get to it.
Much closer, the Royal Bank of Canada has an ATM which dispenses US$ bank notes and travellers cheques. That ATM is located on the lower level (below street level) of the Royal Bank Plaza which is located directly east of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel and which can be reached by an easy walk in the PATH system without going outside.
The Bank of Montreal also has a machine in the concourse under its main bank tower which will dispense rolled coins. There is an additional fee for this service on top of the regular bank fees.
Before leaving home, you should check with your own bank as to what it will cost you to use ATMs in Canada. If you have a bank plan, there may be no additional charge. However, making withdrawals in another country using the Cirrus or other networks usually entails a higher bank fee per transaction than making a withdrawal in your home town.
In the US, it has become a common practice for a bank to charge an additional fee above and beyond network fees. Happily, in Canada, this practice is not prevalent at most bank ATMs. Usually you will pay just the Interac or Cirrus or Plus (etc) transaction fee IF you are using an ATM of one of the major banks.
Be aware though that there are a number of ATM machines which are not supported by the major banks. These WILL charge an additional transaction fee. You can generally recognize these machines because they do not have any bank identification on them. The ATMs near the foreign exchange offices at the Toronto airport are this type.
There is one ATM in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. It is at the east end of the AA level (one below street level). The Crown Plaza does not have any ATM machines on its premises, but there are ATMS in the convention centre which is attached, and directly across the street. At the Renaissance Toronto Hotel at SkyDome there is one ATM on the premises and two ATMs a few steps outside of the front doors of the hotel. At the Holiday Inn on King there is one ATM (type unknown) in the gift shop.
There are Royal Bank of Canada ATMs located in the convention centre.
In Union Station, the train station directly across the street from the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, there are three ATMS in the ticket purchase area (two bank machines and one "rogue"), six bank ATMs on the below-ground level (two in the regular arrivals area and four in the transit arrivals area) and one "rogue" ATM in the departures area.
When you spend money in Toronto, your purchase may be subject to the GST at 7%, the PST at 8%, or both.
Almost everything that you spend money on in Canada is subject to the Federal government's Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is charged at 7%. Just as the name states, this tax is applied to all goods and all services. There are some exceptions however. The common exceptions are things that will not affect convention attendees very much, such as residential rents, financial charges (bank charges, interest) and certain food items.
There are two exceptions that may benefit convention attendees. First, small retailers who expect to have total sales during the year of less than a certain dollar amount are not required to register for the GST and therefore do not collect the GST from their customers. Second, dealers and artists from outside of Canada who do not have plans to sell goods at other conventions in Canada are not permitted to register for GST; therefore they will not collect GST on the goods that they sell.
Therefore, convention attendees may have to pay GST on some of their purchases at the convention, and may not have to pay GST on other purchases.
If you are required to pay GST on your purchase, the seller is required to give you a receipt which clearly indicates the amount of GST paid and the seller's GST registration number. If you are non-Canadian it is valuable for you to keep the receipts for your larger purchases, because with a little bit of effort on your part you are able to get a refund from the Canadian government on certain GST amounts paid (see below).
Most purchases of materials are subject to Ontario's Provincial Sales Tax (PST) at the rate of 8%. Food items are exempt. Books are exempt. Magazines are not exempt.
(If you visit other provinces in Canada, the provincial sales tax rates are different in each province.)
One other point on taxes ... the taxes on your hotel bill will total 12%, that being GST at 7% but PST at a special rate of only 5%.
Non-Canadians may file a claim with the Federal Government in order to obtain a refund of GST paid on certain purchases, including GST paid on their hotel bills. See below for more information.
Persons from outside of Ontario may file a claim with the Ontario Government in order to obtain a refund of PST paid on certain large purchases. You may not claim a refund of PST paid on your hotel bills. See below for more information.
Similar to the United States, tipping is a common practice in Canada. Restaurants and other establishments therefore usually pay lower wages in the expectation that their staff will earn additional money through the tips that the customers leave behind in reward for good food and/or service.
Tips are not normally mandatory. The exception is when you take a large party to a restaurant, the restaurant will often have a policy of adding a specific percentage on to the bill for tips. Ask about this policy before you are seated, if you are concerned. And check the menu - it will usually state the restaurant's policy.
Tipping in restaurants is usually 10% to 20% of the bill. When calculating your tip, remember that there is 15% tax already added on (GST of 7% and PST of 8%) and you may want to calculate your tip on the BEFORE tax amount, rather than on the final total. In fact, many people leave a 15% tip, calculating that by leaving a tip in the same amount as the taxes.
Last updated: 16 August 2003
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