Best ways to spend travel money in Canada: Debit and prepaid cards

Learn more about the best card to use, whether you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to Canada.

Travellers to Canada will be happy to hear that the monetary system basically works the same way as it does in the UK. You can use your cards in the same type of places as you would at home, there’s a similar number of ATMs and banks, and prices for accommodation and food are more or less the same — though it gets more expensive if you’re going skiing or snowboarding.

As you’ll be making transactions in Canadian dollars (CAD), there are some fees you’ll need to look out for. Here we compare the different travel money products and strategies you can use to get the most out of your trip to Canada.

Low-cost travel money options for Canada

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  • Avoid fees abroad without switching banks
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Using a prepaid travel card

Travel cards let you spend Canadian dollars in Canada. This avoids the fee for currency conversion. A travel card lets you hold multiple foreign currencies at a time, which may be helpful if you’re visiting the neighbouring United States.

If you’ve transferred your funds to Canadian dollars using a travel money card, you can avoid currency conversion fees when spending in Canada. Travel cards also come with a supplementary card, which can come in handy if your primary card is lost, damaged or stolen.

While you can avoid currency conversion fees, there are some other costs you’ll need to look out for. For example, look for international ATM fee waivers to save on cash withdrawal costs.

  • Tip: You might be able to give ATM fees a miss by taking cash out over the counter when you make a purchase.

Can I use my debit card in Canada?

Generally speaking, yes, but if you are travelling with a debit card, you should look for no charges for currency conversion, no international ATM fee and no monthly or account-keeping fees. If you just want to take your everyday debit card with you, you may have to pay for international ATM withdrawals (plus the ATM operator fee) and a 3% currency conversion fee.

Using a credit card

A credit card can give you interest-free days on your purchases, complimentary travel, purchase insurance, worldwide acceptance and additional financial security. If you have a credit card and you plan on using the complimentary international travel insurance feature, double-check your planned activities are covered by the policy. For example, some winter sports like snowboarding require additional cover.

Credit cards are a good way to make purchases, but you should supplement your credit card use with a debit card when you want to make ATM withdrawals. Cash advance fees and interest can compound and give you a nasty surprise when you arrive back in the UK. Some of these charges can be avoided, but it’s better just to keep your credit card for purchases and emergencies.

  • Tip: Some merchants may question British-issued credit cards. Make sure you have photo identification to show just in case.

Using traveller’s cheques

Traveller’s cheques have been made redundant by other forms of travel money compared on this page for the following reasons:

  • Your bank will give you your money back if you’re the victim of card fraud.
  • You can use your card in a wide number of places in Canada. Meanwhile, traveller’s cheques can only be cashed at banks and a select number of merchants.
  • You’ll pay a commission to buy traveller’s cheques.

Paying with cash in Canada

While card payments are common, there are always going to be times when you need to pay with cash, especially if you’re buying something small – some merchants won’t accept a card for a small payment due to surcharge fees. If you’re wondering the best way to exchange British pounds for Canadian dollars, you have these options:

  • Before you leave. Exchange cash in the UK using a foreign exchange service (information provided on this page).
  • When you arrive. Visit a bank or a dedicated foreign exchange office and avoid exchanging cash at the airport as you can easily find a better rate elsewhere.
  • Withdraw from a Canadian ATM. The simplest way to get CAD is to make an ATM withdrawal when you arrive. There are multiple ATMs at Canadian airports that offer a true rate, just be conscious of ATM withdrawal fees.

How many dollars do I need to bring to Canada?

Being a modernised, western country, Canada is similarly priced to the UK. Like all places around the world, prices jump up significantly in ski resorts such as Whistler. So, you’re going to need more cash if you head to the slopes.

WhistlerBudgetMid-rangeExpensive
accomodations-in-greeceMotel
£40–£60 per night
Hostel
£20–£30 per night
3-star hotel
£90–£150 per night
5-star hotel
£150–£300 per night
eatBurgers or fast food
£5–£10 per person
Casual restaurant
£10–£20 per dish
Steak dinner and a glass of wine
£30–£50 per person
seeSnowshoe walking tour, Whistler
£45 per person
Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg
£9 per person
10 days skiing in Whistler
£440
Sea to Sky exotic driving, Whistler
£465
White water rafting, Winnipeg
£70

*Prices are approximate and subject to change.

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

Don’t stress about using your card to make purchases and to withdraw cash – card acceptance and ATM availability are similar to the UK. Canadian merchants accept Visa and Mastercard, while American Express credit cards are accepted in more places than in the UK. Canada uses a debit card system similar to our own called Interac Direct Payment (IDP), which is available all across the nation. You can use this system to get cash out over the counter if you’re paying with your debit or travel card. Travel cards, debit cards and credit cards are all worth comparing before you leave the UK.

Travel money options for Canada at a glance

Travel money optionsProsConsiderations
Travel prepaid cards
  • Multiple currencies
  • Avoid currency conversion fees
  • Supplementary card
  • Look out for ATM fees
  • Reloading time
Debit cards (transaction accounts)
  • No currency conversion fee
  • No international ATM fee
  • Unlimited free withdrawals at selected banks
  • International transaction fees may apply
Credit cards
  • Complimentary travel and purchase insurance
  • Interest-free days on purchases
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Benefits include rewards points on spending, 0% purchases, frequent flyer perks and complimentary travel insurance
  • Cash advance rates and fees
  • ATM withdrawal fees
  • Higher spending limit (depends on your approved credit limit)
Traveller’s cheques
  • Secure and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen
  • Can only be cashed at banks and selected merchants
  • Need to pay commission on buying traveller’s cheques
Cash
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • Foreign exchange fee or commission may apply on foreign currency orders
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

Did you know?

The Canadian dollar is one of the most traded currencies in the world. It’s colloquially referred to as the ‘buck’. This can be traced back to the origins of Canada’s history, where the Hudson’s Bay Company created a coin worth the pelt of one male beaver, otherwise known as a buck.

canadian-dollar-banknotes

Michael's season in Whistler

Michael did a season skiing Canada’s famous peaks: Whistler and Blackcomb. The season lasts for approximately 6 months starting in November and ending around May.

Any tips on how to go about getting a Canadian bank account?

He says that in order to get a Canadian bank account, you have to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN), which is the equivalent to our National Insurance (NI) number. Once you have that, you can apply for a bank account/keycard. You can get these forms from any Canadian bank, it’s a matter of going through the process and filling out the forms. Michael says it’s something he definitely recommends for someone who is going to be doing a season in Whistler.

Were there any places where you had trouble using any of your cards?

He says more or less, “no”. Michael told us of one instance where his bank flagged a possible fraudulent purchase because of the location, apart from that everything was fine. He says to make sure you tell your bank about your travel plans to avoid this situation.

Michael’s tips for managing travel money in Canada

Michael has some good advice about making international payments to Canada. He says he had savings in his home bank account, and he needed to transfer this money to his new Canadian account. He made a lump sum transfer every month or two. He recommends the services of a foreign exchange and international payments company.

  • Travel safety. He also says give money belts a chance. While they may not be the most fashion-forward choice of apparel, it’s savvy nonetheless. Michael’s words: “A travel money belt is probably a good idea for people who are prone to losing things.”

If you’re planning on hitting the slopes while you’re in Canada, you will need to make sure that you have additional winter sports insurance. So, if you are heading to Canada, make sure your trip is protected.

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Buying currency in the UK

Canadian dollars are a common currency and can be purchased from any number of foreign exchange companies, including your bank. You can bring as many Canadian dollars into the country as you like. You must make a customs declaration if you’re carrying more than C$10,000.

Withdrawing from Canadian ATMs

There have been reports of Canadian ATMs not accepting foreign cards. Look for the Visa or Visa PLUS logo on the front of the machine to see whether you can use your card to get cash. The same with Mastercard. A local ATM operator fee applies each time you withdraw cash.

Exchange rate history (GBP to CAD)

YearAverage annual exchange British pound (GBP) to Canadian dollar (CAD)
20201.720
20211.724
20221.608
20231.679
20241.711

*2024 price is an average until 16 April 2024.

Bottom line

Whether it’s a credit card, a debit card or a travel card, you’ll need to use a combination of options. While you can get away with making card payments a lot of the time, there are still instances when you’ll need cash.

What happens if you lose your debit card and you have to wait half a week for a replacement? Take a combination of the travel money products we’ve listed on this page and use the right card for the right situation so you can save on international transaction charges.

The Northern Lights, some of the best skiing in the world and a people warm in heart and spirit, it’s no surprise that every month tens of thousands of British people travel to Canada.

Do your research before you leave and you can enjoy your trip to Canada with peace of mind that you’re spending your money your way and not giving your hard-earned cash to your bank. If you have any questions about using travel money in Canada, ask us a question using the form at the bottom of the page.

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We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.

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