Taking an RV into Canada to explore the Canadian Rockies or the Atlantic Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is very easy, but there are a few fun and funky things we thought fellow RVers would appreciate knowing about.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR RVers THAT ARE PLANNING A TRIP TO CANADA:
For starters, you need a passport to cross the border into Canada. The border agent in the booth at the Calais border crossing in downeast Maine asked us a bunch of questions about where we were going and how long we’d be staying. He did not look inside our trailer. It was very easy. Likewise, crossing the border north of Eureka, Montana, at Roosville, British Columbia was a quick affair, and our trailer was not checked.
Coming back over the border the US border in Calais, Maine, the agent wanted to check our fridge for fruits and veggies. The only thing in our veggie drawer was a peach, and he took it. Crossing into the US at Chief Mountain, Montana, the border agent took the keys to our trailer and opened it up and inspected it himself (we offered to get out of the truck and accompany him, but he refused). This time we had no fruits or veggies in the fridge, and nothing was confiscated. Checking things over later, we assume he also looked in the basement compartment of our fifth wheel trailer, as we found it was unlocked when we arrived where we were going, and we’re sure we’d locked it when we’d packed up to leave Canada.
Credit and Debit Cards
To avoid having our cards declined at stores in Canada, we called our credit card companies and banks before we crossed the border to let them know we’d be traveling in Canada.
Because every transaction on a credit card or debit card involves exchanging money between Canadian dollars and US dollars, most credit cards and banks charge a 3% fee for making the exchange, no matter where you use the card (i.e., at an ATM or restaurant or gift shop). This 3% charge on every transaction quickly adds up!
Some credit card companies and banks list the 3% fee as line item on their statement. Others may not.
If you will be spending a long time in Canada, or plan to do many repeat visits, consider getting a credit card and checking account with Capital One. They do not charge a currency exchange fee on their credit and debit cards.
On each visit to Canada, we were in Canada for three to six weeks and we used only $20-$50 in cash (to do laundry). If you need cash, you can get it without paying an ATM fee by asking for cash over on a small debit card purchase at a big supermarket like the popular supermarket chain Sobeys.
We also had clerks in tiny mom-and-pop stores change a US $20 bill for us so we could either make a purchase from them or could get some coins to finish drying our laundry next door.
By the way, $1 coins are called “Loonies” for the cute loon on the back of the coin and $2 coins are “Toonies” to rhyme with Loonies.
Data / Phone Plans
Contact your cell phone provider and mobile internet data provider to see what happens when you take their phone or internet device into Canada. Technology is changing rapidly, and these companies are modifying their plans all the time.
If you don’t like the company’s plans and restrictions for taking your devices to Canada for some reason, you may be able to suspend the account for a period of time and reinstate it once you get back. Find out if there is a disconnect or reconnect fee for doing this.
It also may be possible to swap out the SIM card in a smartphone for one from a Canadian carrier, but from what we saw, it is brand and model dependent. Some can and some can’t. Canada has a lot of cell phone providers.
Internet Access via WiFi
There is ample free and open (no password) internet access in both the Canadian Rockies and Nova Scotia via WiFi at town halls, visitors centers, big box stores like Walmart, restaurants and coffee shops.
Unlike the US where almost all WiFi signals are password protected, there is usually a free signal available in the more populated areas. However, they aren’t always all that fast and, of course, they aren’t secure.
The following links give the current currency conversion between US and Canadian dollars:
Canadian Dollars to US Dollars
US Dollars to Canadian Dollars
Fuel Costs – Converting Canadian $ per Liter to US $ per Gallon
Contrary to many crazy rumors we’ve heard, fuel prices in Canada are about 20% higher than fuel prices in the US. That’s it.
The easiest way to get from Canadian $/liter to US $/gallon is to bundle it all into one conversion factor taking two things into account:
— There are 3.79 liters in a gallon.
— The current exchange rate (it was 0.8 $C to 1.0 $US when we went)
Converting from $C / liter to $US / gallon uses this conversion factor:
$US / gallon = (3.79) x (exchange rate) for the price you see advertised for fuel
During our visit the conversion factor was: 3.79 * 0.8 = 3.03 or approximately 3.
So, we multiplied the advertised gas price (or other liquid liter price) by 3 to get the equivalent US dollars per gallon.
For instance, the sign says diesel is 1.097 (Canadian) per liter (call it 1.10 Canadian). Multiply that by 3 and it’s around $3.30 (US) per gallon, or a little over.
In 2015, we had been paying $2.79 per gallon on the east coast, so paying $3.30 per gallon in Nova Scotia was not that much higher (about 20%).
In 2016, we had been paying about $2.39 per gallon in Montana, so paying $2.70 to $3.00 per gallon in the Canadian Rockies was not that much higher (again, about 20%).
We also found that New Brunswick was slightly higher (averaging around $1.25 per liter) than Nova Scotia (averaging around $1.10 per liter).
The highest we’d seen in 3 months of travel up from Florida through Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia through New York to Maine had been $3.39 in Pennsylvania. Most of the places we’d gassed up had been below $3.00 / gallon.
If you see a great sale on something because the price is low and the conversion math in your head makes it seem like a steal, don’t forget that there is a much larger sales tax than in most American states.
During our visits, the sales tax in New Brunswick was 13%, the sales tax in Nova Scotia was 15% and the sales tax in British Columbia was 12%. Alcohol is taxed a little extra and other goods are taxed a little less.
Comparative Cost of Groceries and Beer
We found that groceries were just slightly more expensive than the eastern states and New England where we had been traveling prior to visiting Nova Scotia. Groceries were perhaps 5% to 10% higher for identical items. The same proved true in the Canadian Rockies as compared to Idaho and Montana.
Beer and cigarettes are heavily taxed, and we found the typical cost of a six pack of darker beer was around US $10-$12.
In the National Parks in the Canadian Rockies, everything is priced a little higher simply because these are heavily visited tourist destinations.
For lovers of dark ales, porters and stouts, the selection in Nova Scotia is almost non-existent. After trying every “dark” ale we could find, and discovering that they were all just a shade darker than Bud Light, we discovered a wonderful brew called Propeller Porter.
In the Canadian Rockies we had much better luck with finding good darker microbrew beers.
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
Parks Canada (similar to the National Park Service in America) offers various ways to pay the entrance fees at the national parks. There are day rates but there is also an annual pass called the Discovery Pass.
The easiest way to get the Discovery Pass is when you arrive at the entrance gate to a National Park. The fee when we got ours in 2016 was C$136.40 per couple/family group.
Because Canada is celebrating its 150th year of confederation in 2017, all the National Parks entrance fees will be waived in 2017. So, the ranger happily informed us that our 2016 pass would be effective for two years, which is another way of looking at it.
There is more info here: Parks Canada Discovery Pass Info
Navigating the Web
The first time you do a Google search in Canada, you may be surprised to see that rather than www.google.com you end up on www.google.ca. The search results are quite different, because the search is done primarily on Canadian websites.
This is a wonderful chance to see how cyberspace looks from another vantage point, and we truly enjoyed browsing the internet with a Canadian slant.
However, if you get lonely for the Google that you know, simply enter the following:
The “/ncr” will go away the next time you visit Google.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are in the Atlantic Time Zone which is one hour earlier than Eastern Standard Time, so you will need to set your clocks forward when you cross the border.
We have atomic clocks in our RV that beam up to satellites every so often to get the current time of day according to the time zone they think they are in (we tell them what time zone they are in via buttons on the back of the clock).
Unfortunately, these are American clocks that don’t have a setting for Atlantic Time. So, we spent three weeks in Nova Scotia not really knowing the correct time. The manual override on the bedroom clock worked okay, but the living room clock insisted on beaming up despite being set on manual, and unfortunately the satellite it got its time from was four hours off.
Oh well! The computers had the right time, and who really cared what time it was anyway?
There are lots of great boutique stores and wondrous shopping experiences to be found in the Canadian Maritimes, and Walmart and all the other big box stores have a strong presence in urban parts of New Brunswick (less so in Nova Scotia). One incredible store that is well worth a visit is Canadian Tire. It is a combination of Walmart, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and Target all rolled into one. They also sell tires.
Nova Scotia was having a cool summer during our visit in June and July, but more important than that was the variability of the weather. In general, we found the coast could often be foggy or rainy, so we tried to make hay when the sun was shining.
Here’s a classic eight day forecast for the pretty twon of Lunenburg on the South Shore:
We visited the Canadian Rockies ahead of the main tourist season in May. We saw high temps ranging from as low as the 40’s to as high as the 80’s (Fahrenheit). We saw low temps get as low as the 20’s. We saw beautiful sunny days, snow, sleet and rain. Be prepared for anything and everything!
Later in the season, the Canadian Rockies is much warmer, but can still throw a cold day at your. The trade-off is that the number of tourists sky rockets.
DECIPHERING THE ROAD SIGNS IN NOVA SCOTIA
Striking off on the highway in New Brunswick was ordinary enough until we noticed some of the highway signs flying by. Canada’s official languages are both English and French, so the road signs are written in both languages. What a cool truck scale sign!
Then we were reminded that Canada uses the metric system for all units of measurement, including speed.
This includes not just kilometers per hour for speed but Celsius for temperature too.
Including both English and French words on a small sign can get crowded, so lots of the highway signs in Canada use creative imagery instead. It was really fun to look at the signs and try to figure them out.
Did a lighthouse picture mean there was a lighthouse somewhere? What about that snail vine looking thing?
We got an eye full when we pulled off the highway and had to decide which way to go.
Wait a minute — can we see that again up close?
The traffic piled up behind us as we studied the icons and tried to guess their meaning. Our route was to the left, despite all the wonderfully artistic imagery that tried to lure us off to the right.
We got back on the highway only to pass an exit that made it very clear we were now traveling in a foreign country. English might be spoken here, but then again, maybe not!
The icons are really imaginitive, and at first glance, going by at 60 mph, it was impossible to know what they all referred to.
Was the “@” sign something with email? Was the flower and barn a nursery? Were the masks a theater?
There was a key icon — we sure could use a key to unlock the other icons!
It became a fantastic game to spot these signs whipping past us and to try to remember all the icons we saw and to guess what they represented.
We stopped at a visitors center, and the hosts shed some light on a few that they knew. The egg in an egg cup was a bed and breakfast. The wrapped gift was a gift shop.
They had never noticed the barn with the people in it waving, so they weren’t sure what that was. We had seen several — one had a silo and another was under water with a fish swimming above… who knows!
There was a seahorse and there was a father and son looking off to sea with a spyglass and pointing. There was a tulip in a house and a vase on a hand. Just wonderful, but utterly baffling!
Inventing meanings for these signs sure beat the old alphabet game we used to play as kids in the back of the family station wagon!
We learned later that some were icons for designated scenic drives, and the hosts at the visitors center told us that one time a fellow came in and was very irate because he had followed all the lighthouse signs to the end of the road and had never seen a lighthouse. They’d had to explain to him that the lighthouse icon stands for a scenic drive that has lighthouses along the route, but you have to get off the route to see them!
Another mysterious icon for a scenic drive had triangles and stripes that looked to me like a fish skeleton. I don’t know what that indicated, but when we saw the beer stein icon we knew for sure that a brewery was nearby.
Some signs were very familiar and very obvious.
Others were familiar but had a special twist. McDonald’s puts the Canadian maple leaf in the middle of their logo, and we later noticed that many online retailers like Amazon put the red maple leaf on their websites too (along with the “.ca” extension rather than “.com”).
Within a few days, though, the novelty of these exotic road signs wore off and we felt very much at home.
That’s about it. Going to Canada to do some RV travel is pretty darn easy. I hope these little tips and insights are useful to you, and have fun RVing the Canadian Maritimes!!
Our RV travel posts from the Canadian Rockies:
- Waterton Lakes Nat’l Park – Starry Skies, the Milky Way & Wildflowers
- Waterton Shoreline Cruise – A Classy Tour of Waterton-Glacier NP
- Waterton Lakes National Park – Rocky Mountain High!
- Kananaskis Country – Canadian Rockies Beauty Off the Beaten Path
- Canmore, Alberta – An Outdoor Lover’s Town in the Rocky Mountains
- Jasper National Park – Columbia Icefields & Athabasca Falls
- Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies – Swimming in Giant Hot Tubs!!
- Banff, Alberta – A Grand Resort Town in the Canadian Rockies
- Yoho National Park – Emerald Lake & Natural Bridge – Aqua Magic!
- Moraine Lake – Crown Jewel of Banff National Park
- Icefields Parkway – True Blue Lakes, Avalanches & Grouse!
- Icefields Parkway – Canadian Rockies Scenic Drive – WOW!
- Lake Louise – RV Travels to the Heart of the Rockies in Banff
- Kootenay National Park Canada – Bears, Mountains & Rivers!
- Canadian Rockies – Big Mountains & Bighorn Sheep!
Our RV travel posts from Nova Scotia:
- Cabot Trail Highlights – Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island
- Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Shore – The Quiet Side
- Mahone Bay & Blue Rocks on Nova Scotia’s South Shore
- Lunenburg, Nova Scotia – Pretty As A Picture!
- Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia – Reflections At Sunset!
- Fireworks for Canada Day and the 4th of July – EXPLOSIVE!!
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NIce post and I found many of the same things when I went to Vancouver Island 3 years ago and when I head to Alberta. Takes me some time to adjust to the differences although it is kind of fun. Now they need a website that tells us what all of those icons on signs mean!
It’s a little jolt at first, and then it’s old hat within a day or two, isn’t it?! I’m sure there’s a website or book out there that explains the icons, but it’s so fun to guess, I’m not sure I want to find out!
Great post and info. We returned two days ago from a swing through southeastern Saskatchewan, Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, and the Lake of the Woods in the southwest corner of Ontario. The exchange rate was about 0.75 cents US to the Canadian dollar, which made the conversion of prices very simple. I would add that using a US credit card with a microchip makes paying at the pump for gas/diesel much easier because Canadians converted to the chip reader and PIN number system several years ago.
If I were guessing on the symbols on the St. Andrews sign, I would say they are, from left to right, 1) camping (tent and RV), 2) tourist information, 3) national park (enclosed beaver is the sign of Parks Canada), 4) golf course, 5) museum, 6) bed-and-breakfast, and 7) arts/crafts site or store. On the other signs, I would guess the child pointing and the adult looking through the binoculars is a “viewpoint”, the ear of corn-strawberry-apple is a produce stand/market, the house enclosing the flower is a florist and the other one with a flower is a greenhouse or nursery, and the barn/silo and underwater building with people waving are ecotourism sites (agriculture and aquaculture, respectively). Maybe the “@” symbol is “WiFi available” and the key is a locksmith? It really is fun to try to figure them out as long as you don’t need one of them at that particular turn because you would only come up with the answer after you had passed the intersection!
Right you are, Steve. It’s a hoot to guess, and if you really need to know, a little research will dig up the right answers. But if you are facing 16 of them at once and need to make a snap decision, it can be a little baffling!
Sounds like you had some wonderful Canadian adventures and at a great exchange rate to boot!
Instead of brain-damaging formulas to convert road-sign distances up to about 200 kilometers to miles, just look at your speedometer (200 km/h =~120 MPH, so 200 km = ~120 miles). If you only have a digital speedometer, you’re out of luck!
For Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion without fractions, double the Celsius number, subtract 10 percent, and add 32. So, 10C = 2×10 -4 +32 = 48F and 30C = 2×30 -6 +32 = 86F. If you can’t do that in your head, just remember: single C digits, wear a coat and hat; teen C digits, wear a sweater or hoodie; 20C – 35C, shirtsleeves ok; >35C, stay in the RV with the AC on “max” or find a swimming pool!
OMG! Just had a laugh so hard coffee came thru my nose! I just loved the way you described our road signs in Canada! You guys are both awesome as we can’t wait to start our RV life soon…..you both make it sound soooo enjoyable…Safe Travels!
I’m absolutely tickled you got such a kick out of our descriptions, Dave. You inspired me to re-read this post and I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. Thank YOU for sending me back to this page to relive those hilarious first few days in the Maritimes. Great fun! Those funny little moments are some of the best part of traveling — being a stranger in a strange land, even when it’s very much like home! Enjoy your RV life. It is a great life. We hope to come back to Canada soon!!
Thank you for this article.