Using a credit card in Canada
Use our guide to get the best out of your plastic, and your cash, when travelling to Canada.
If you’re wondering whether you can use your credit card when abroad in Canada, you’re in luck! Being northern neighbours of the US, Canada loves credit cards, and you’ll find you rarely need to rely on cash for your transactions.
Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted and you might be able to use your American Express card in some places, too.
What's in this guide?
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Canada
Updated February 29th, 2020
Cash machines in Canada
There are thousands of ATMs in Canada – over 65,000 in fact. You’ll find them next to bank branches, or inside bank foyers. Additionally, you can find them in shopping malls, supermarkets, near petrol stations and restaurants.
Cash in Canada
You’ll want to have a few Canadian dollars in your wallet before you go, for tipping and transport to your hotel, along with paying in cafes, bars and small souvenir shops. But mostly, your Visa or Mastercard will see you through.
Chip and PIN
Canadians gravitate towards chip-and-PIN and contactless cards not only because these methods of payment are fast and convenient, but also because they are the most secure and safe ways to pay at point-of-sale.
But don’t despair if you only have a chip-and-signature card. If you don’t have a PIN, Canadian point-of-sale systems will ask you to provide a signature to complete each transaction.
If you’d like, you can turn your card into a hybrid signature/PIN card — just ask your provider for a PIN.
If you’re stuck with a magstripe card, you’ll likely be fine in Canada — many card machines allow swiping. Regardless, consider calling your provider to get a chip card. This type of card is generally considered more secure than magstripe cards, and it’s already standard around the world.
Is it safe to use my card in Canada?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Canada, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car. In some cases, thieves pose as police and ask to see wallets for identification purposes. In such a scenario, make sure you’re speaking with genuine police officers. It is very unlikely that a real officer will want to sift through your wallet.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive the cash advance fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Canada.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Canada
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Canada, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
- Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Canada is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Canada does not hit any roadblocks.
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
- Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
- What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
- How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques with you. Exchanging sterling to Canadian dollars is easy and you’ll get several options.
When you’re in Canada, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
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