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Paying for Things

 

Currency Exchange Rates

Below are the types of currency you will typically use in the United States and Canada.  Although most of the pieces have similar names, their values are different. Exchange rates change by the minute but you can use the currency calculator below to get current prices.  You will typically find you receive the best exchange rates from a bank or ATM machine.

Picture of canadian $2 toonie

$2 Toonie

Canada uses the following types of common coins:

  • 1¢ penny – phasing out as of 2012
  • 5¢ nickel
  • 10¢ dime
  • 25¢ quarter
  • 50¢ piece – rarely used
  • $1 loonie coin
  • $2 toonie coin

Canadian paper bills are brightly coloured, making them easy to distinguish from one another.   These include: Picture of Canadian paper money

  • $5 bill
  • $10 bill
  • $20 bill
  • $50 bill
  • $100 bill

Near the border you will find many places that will accept U.S. dollars but the exchange rates may not be very good. It is therefore a good idea to convert at least some currency at a bank before your trip.  Banks in both countries will almost always give you the best exchange rate.

If you decide to pay for something in American dollars you should compute the exchange rate you are getting as businesses can charge you whatever they want for this service.  You will sometimes find currency-exchange storefronts in tourist destinations but the exchange rate can be poor and surcharges are unpredictable.

One final consideration.  If you are quoted a hotel rate in American dollars, but you make payment when you check out of the hotel, you will again face the exchange rate surcharge.  The hotel will charge you in Canadian dollars and can use any rate they wish to compute how much you owe.  This maybe true even if you use a credit card.  Make sure you understand exactly how much the hotel will charge you  at the time you make your reservation.  You should consider paying for the room online before you arrive or be prepared to pay the entire sum in American cash.

American Money

Picture of united states quarter

U.S. Quarter

Below are the most commonly used denominations of U.S. Currency.  Most ATM machines will dispense $20 bills.

  • 1¢ penny
  • 5¢ nickel
  • 10¢ dime
  • 25¢ quarter
  • $1 bill
  • $5 bill
  • $10 bill
  • $20 bill
  • $100 bill

picture of one dollar bill

picture of u.s. twenty dollar bill

Credit and Debit Cards

One difference between the countries is whether they will accept cards with “embedded chip technology”.  Canada has adopted the newest, and safer, technology which requires card readers that scan an embedded chip and then requires the user to enter a PIN.  The United States has not adopted this technology.  As a result, Canadians may find it difficult to use their credit and debit cards in the U.S.   On the other hand, Americans can typically use their credit cards in Canada because swipe machines in Canada usually accept both types of cards.  However, Americans should be aware that as use of this technology increases worldwide, they may find more locations that refuse to take a credit card without a chip. The bottom line: always make sure you have some cash or other payment methods for emergency situations.

Presuming you have an acceptable credit or debit card, these are frequently a good way to pay for things.  Generally speaking, you tend to get better exchange rates using a debit card at an ATM than when you try to get cash at a hotel or even a bank.  However, check with your card issuer before you leave to find out how the exchange rate will be computed and what additional fees may be applied.  You should also alert them to your trip as the first charge in another country can trigger a fraud alert.  You will know this has happened if you find you card is suddenly being denied.  You can fix this by making a call to your credit card issuer but this can take some time and leave you without any way to pay for things.

Use CAD for Canada and USD for the United States.

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