Travelling and money

Take steps that will help you avoid financial problems that may ruin your trip. Make sure you purchase travel insurance, and most importantly make sure you always carry a backup source of funds in case of emergency or an unexpected delay.

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Cash

Check with the embassy or consulate in Canada of the country you are planning to visit to make sure you are allowed to import or export its currency. If you are permitted to import its currency, bring enough cash to get by for a couple of days and keep it in a money belt or in several different pockets in case your wallet is lost or stolen or your financial institution accidently freezes your cards. When you arrive at your destination, you can withdraw more cash from an ATM. 

Exchanging your money

The currency exchange rate tells you how much your Canadian money is worth in the local currency. When you exchange your money, you are actually using it to buy or sell foreign currency at a specific price called the exchange rate. You can find the official exchange rate of the currency in the country you will be visiting by using the Bank of Canada’s online currency converter.

It pays to know your options when dealing with foreign exchange rates. There are a number of ways to manage your finances when you are abroad that will save you a lot of money in exchange fees.

Banks

If you want cash on hand before you leave Canada, you can buy foreign currency from your bank over the phone or online. It can be delivered to your local branch for pick up. Exchange rates at banks are slightly better than elsewhere. You can also order currency before you leave on your trip from a number of websites that will ship it to your home within a couple of days.

Exchange desks

If you need cash in an emergency, there are foreign exchange desks at airports and hotels that will exchange Canadian money for the local currency. Fees tend to be very high. Even those advertising no commissions may have hidden fees, making these desks the most expensive places to change money.

Black market

The currency black market forms part of the underground economy in a number of countries. In a currency black market, transactions are almost always in cash, since its participants don’t want to leave any evidence. 

This illegal or parallel market in foreign exchange operates outside legal banking channels. If you are tempted to take advantage of the currency black market you should be aware that you will be breaking the country’s laws and could be arrested and imprisoned. You are subject to the country’s criminal justice system. Consular officials will not arrange your release from prison.

Scams

Be aware of anyone approaching you on the street offering to exchange your money for a much better rate than a bank. Typical money exchange scams include stealing your money in the process of counting and recounting a pile of bills or mixing your money with currency from another country with a much lower exchange rate. It is safer to go through an authorized agency or a bank. 

Cards (Credit, debit and pre-paid)

Credit cards

Use a major international credit card for your big purchases, such as your airplane tickets, hotel bills and restaurant tabs. If you reserve your hotel and rental car on your credit card, the reservation should be guaranteed even if you arrive late.

Use the credit card instead of cash wherever possible. Credit card issuers typically charge fees for international transactions and you may get the best exchange rate and fees lower than those associated with exchanging cash. However, you should not use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, because the fees and interest charges are usually very high.

Before you leave:

Debit cards

Always use bank-affiliated ATMs when you are outside Canada. Check if your financial institution has international branches or partners in your destination country where you can use your debit card fee-free. Using your debit card to withdraw money from ATMs will cost you extra in fees, but you can minimize them by withdrawing larger amounts less often.

You should carry some cash to cover daily expenses. Your debit card may not work in every ATM machine or be accepted at stores or restaurants in your destination country. If you are travelling to a rural area, you may not be able to find an ATM that is part of your financial institution’s network, so withdraw enough cash to manage until you are back in a city.

Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, you should use your credit cards and debit cards with caution. Use ATMs during business hours inside a bank, supermarket, or large commercial building.

Pre-paid cards

Some financial institutions offer pre-paid travel cards in foreign currencies. They may have higher fees than credit and debit cards, so check the terms and conditions and costs before you decide to travel with one. You can usually replace a pre-paid travel card as you would a lost or stolen travellers’ cheque.

Be aware that pre-paid cards may not be accepted at some hotels and car rental companies, and may be difficult to use at the ATM machines of foreign banks.

Dynamic Currency Conversion

Some shops, restaurants and ATMs give the option of using the currency of the country you are in or having the transaction converted into Canadian currency. Always choose to be charged in the currency of the country you are in. You will pay high conversion rates and transaction fees if they convert to Canadian currency.

Save your receipts

As you travel, save all ATM and transaction receipts in an envelope. Bring them home in your carry-on bag. Save your airline boarding pass to prove your return date. If you need to dispute a transaction, sending a copy of your receipt will speed up the resolution process.

After you return home, carefully examine your credit and debit card statements and continue to do so for several months. Identity theft and credit card fraud are not confined to Canada. If you notice any unusual charges on your statement, inform your financial institution immediately and request a copy of the receipt.

Travellers’ cheques

Canadian travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted worldwide, but are an option if you don’t want to use credit or debit cards or carry large amounts of cash.

When possible, order the cheques in the local currency and carry multiple cheques in small denominations. If you can’t order cheques in the currency of your destination country, order them in U.S. funds, which are widely accepted. Sign them as soon as you get them and keep the receipt in a separate location. If they are stolen they can be replaced anywhere in the world, usually within 24 hours.

Keep a record of your travellers’ cheque numbers, credit card account numbers and expiry dates and the telephone numbers for reporting lost or stolen cards in a safe place. If possible, leave a copy of the list with a family member or friend at home who can help you make telephone calls quickly if your cards are lost or stolen.

Travelling with $10,000 or more

Any time you enter or leave Canada, you must declare any money or monetary instruments, such as stocks, bond or cheques, you are carrying valued at $10,000 or more.

Travelling with $10,000 or more

Taxes

Canadians who live or work abroad or who travel a lot may still have to pay Canadian and provincial or territorial income taxes.

If you are planning to be outside Canada for an extended period of time, you should inform the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) before you go to ask for a determination of your residency status. Your residency status depends on whether you are leaving Canada permanently or only temporarily and the residential ties you keep with Canada and establish in another country:

You are leaving Canada permanently

You are leaving Canada temporarily

Visit International and non-resident taxes for information about income tax requirements that may affect you.

Departure tax

In some countries you must pay a departure tax or service fee at the airport or point of departure. Make sure you set aside enough money in local funds to pay it. 

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