You will probably arrive in Canada by plane, most commonly in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver (the five largest cities, from east to west). Many other cities also have international airports, of which the following are particularly useful for visitors: Halifax, St. John’s, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Victoria and Quebec City.
Air Canada and WestJet are the only domestic airlines in the country, covering the entire country and international destinations (note that there are also a number of regional domestic airlines as well as charter airlines serving only international destinations).
With few exceptions, the three-letter IATA codes for Canadian airports begin with a “Y” and the corresponding ICAO codes are “CY”; the last two letters of the two codes must match.
The baggage allowance for flights to and from Canada usually works on the extra weight system, even on foreign airlines. This means that you are allowed to check in a limited number of pieces of luggage, each of which must not exceed certain linear dimensions (calculated by adding the length, width and height of the pieces of luggage). The exact restrictions on weight, linear dimensions and number of pieces of baggage allowed are determined by the airline you are flying with and the class of service you are travelling in. Generally, individual pieces of baggage may weigh up to 23 kg (50 lbs.) if you are travelling in Economy Class.
If you’re flying from the US, you should also note that Air Canada (on cross-border routes only – not on Canadian domestic flights) and all US airlines that offer cross-border flights (Alaska, American, Delta and United) charge a checked baggage fee. They are typically $25 for a single bag weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg) and $35-50 for a second bag, unless you have elite status, are flying first or business class, or qualify for a fee waiver (e.g. US military personnel). Since 2014, airlines (Westjet, Air Canada, Porter) have introduced tighter restrictions for passengers travelling between Canada and the US or within Canada in “economy fare”, resulting in a $25 fee for the first checked bag.
Canada has a land border with only one country: the United States. In fact, there are two land borders, Canada’s southern border with the 48 contiguous states and another between Western Canada and Alaska. See the subsection “From the United States” for more information on what to do when you leave the United States.
You can also enter the country overland from the US via one of the many border crossings. Of course, the same rules apply here, but if your case is not straightforward, expect a delay as officials here (especially in more rural areas) see fewer non-US travellers than at the airports. Also expect delays during the holiday season, as border crossings can be clogged with traffic.
In Canada, traffic laws are set by the provinces. They can vary from one place to another. For example, turning right on a red light is legal in Ontario if there is no oncoming traffic, but illegal in some parts of Quebec (including Montreal).
After crossing the Canadian border, road signs change to metric units; distances are given in kilometres and speed limits in kilometres per hour. One mile is equal to 1.609 km, so multiply what you see on the road signs by 5/8 to get the equivalent in miles, for example 40 km = 25 miles and 100 km/h = 62.5 mph. If you drive an American model vehicle in Canada, the speedometer will usually show American units on the top or outside, while metric units are on the bottom or inside. If only U.S. units are displayed, there is a switch that allows you to change the speedometer to metric units; see your owner’s manual for its location.
Since 2013, drivers of US registered vehicles in Canada are no longer required to carry a separate Canadian insurance document. It is your responsibility as a driver to ensure that your US policy covers you in Canada and meets the minimum coverage level for the province (s) in which you will be driving. Liability coverage of $200,000 CAD is standard in all provinces except Nova Scotia, where the minimum is $500,000 CAD, while most U.S. states have a statutory minimum of $50,000 USD or less. Most U.S. insurance policies will cover you fully in Canada, but some require pre-registration and/or payment of an additional premium. Call your agent before any cross-border car trip to discuss requirements and procedures.
Via Rail is Canada’s national passenger train service. Its American counterpart, Amtrak, offers train services to Toronto from New York via Niagara Falls, Montreal from New York and Vancouver from Seattle via Bellingham. Their trains are a cheap way to travel to Canada, with tickets starting at $43 round trip between Seattle and Vancouver.
Few people use the train as a regular means of transport for cross-country travel. Most just drive where they want to go if the distance is short (which in Canada can still mean hundreds of kilometres!), or fly if the distances are long.
Important: If you are travelling on Amtrak on international routes, you must have your tickets validated before boarding. Pick up your tickets at the ticket counter (not at the Quick-Trak kiosk) and show the agent your passport or travel document (travel document information is sent in advance on a manifest to border authorities to facilitate passage). Some stations, such as New York, have a dedicated counter for international passengers.
Since 2014, Hostelling International members receive a 10% discount at Viarail.
Greyhound Canada serves many destinations in Canada, connecting to regional routes and US Greyhound buses. Ask about discounts and travel packages that allow frequent stopovers when travelling in Canada. Greyhound no longer offers round-trip privileges on a single ticket within Canada: each travel segment must be purchased separately (confirmed 16 January 2015). Many routes connect major Canadian and American cities, including Montreal – New York City operated by New York Trailways, Vancouver – Seattle operated by Greyhound, and Toronto – New York City via Buffalo, this particular route is operated by several coach companies: Greyhound, Coach Canada, New York Trailways and two new discounted services: Megabus and Ne-On. There are also many local bus companies across Canada.
With the boat
Several cruise lines offer cruises between the eastern United States and Halifax. Most cargo lines serve Montreal on the east coast and Vancouver on the west coast. International passengers must clear customs at the port of arrival.
Ferries run from Alaska and Washington State to British Columbia. The Alaska Marine Highway serves Prince Rupert, while Washington State Ferries calls at Sidney (near Victoria) via the San Juan Islands. Black Ball operates a car ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles; passenger-only ferries for tourists connect Victoria with points in Washington State.
A car ferry from Sonra, Ontario, serves Marine City, Michigan (halfway between Windsor-Detroit and Sarnia-Port Huron). A truck ferry connects Windsor-Detroit, primarily to transport hazardous materials that are not allowed on the Ambassador Bridge. A small car ferry runs from Pelee Island and Kingsville, Ontario, to Sandusky, Ohio, depending on ice and weather conditions. The CAT car ferry between Rochester, New York and Toronto was discontinued in January 2006 due to low ridership. A small car ferry operates seasonally between Wolfe Island, Ontario (near Kingston) and Cape Vincent, New York.
There is a seasonal ferry service (1 May to the end of October) between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine. A ferry between Bar Harbor, Maine, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was discontinued in 2010.
A seasonal birding cruise from Cutler, Maine, to Machias Seal Island, New Brunswick, has a strictly limited capacity.
There is a passenger ferry from Fortune, Newfoundland, to St. Pierre and Miquelon; there is no car ferry.
Small boats are also an option to reach Canada from St. Pierre and Miquelon or the US border towns on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the St. Clair River in New Brunswick and on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The captain of a small boat arriving in Canada must contact Customs at +1-888-CANPASS (226-7277) before passengers disembark.