What makes Canada a unique country to travel to?
Canada is the second largest country in the world in land area, and has large mountain ranges and extensive coastlines. Tourist facilities are widely available in much of the country, but the northern and wilderness areas are less developed and facilities there can be vast distances apart. It is a highly developed stable democracy with a vibrant economy. English and French are the official languages.
Although Canada generally has a lower crime rate than the United States, violent crimes do occur throughout the country, especially in urban areas. Visitors to large cities should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any possessions unattended in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view.
Auto theft in Montreal and Vancouver, including theft of motor homes and recreational vehicles, may even occur in patrolled and apparently secure parking lots and decks. SUVs appear to be particular targets of organized theft.
While Canadian gun control laws are much stricter than those in the United States, such laws have not prevented gun-related violence in certain areas.
Be aware of your surroundings. As in the United States, travelers in popular tourist areas may be targeted by pickpockets and other petty criminals.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Canada’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Canada are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Canadian law prohibits the unlawful importation or trafficking of controlled substances and narcotics. Smugglers risk substantial fines, a permanent bar from Canada, and imprisonment.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Canada, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Importation of Firearms: Firearms are much more strictly controlled in Canada than in the United States. Violation of firearms restrictions may result in prosecution and imprisonment.
Visitors bringing any firearms into Canada, or planning to borrow and use firearms while in Canada, must declare the firearms in writing using a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form. Visitors planning to borrow a firearm in Canada must obtain a Temporary Firearms Borrowing License in advance. These forms must be presented in triplicate and signed in front of a CBSA officer at the border (it is not possible to make photocopies at the border). Full details and downloadable forms are available at the Canadian Firearms Centre website, under the heading "Visitors / Non Residents."
Canadian law requires that officials confiscate any firearms and weapons from persons crossing the border who deny having the items in their possession. Confiscated firearms and weapons are never returned. Possession of an undeclared firearm may result in arrest and imprisonment. Travelers are strongly advised to inspect all belongings thoroughly prior to travel to Canada to avoid the accidental import of ammunition or firearms.
Canada has three classes of firearms: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.
Non-restricted firearms include most ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns.
These may be brought temporarily into Canada for sporting or hunting use during hunting season, use in competitions, in-transit movement through Canada, or personal protection against wildlife in remote areas of Canada.
Anyone wishing to bring hunting rifles into Canada must:
Be at least 18 years old;
Properly store the firearm for transport; and
Follow the declaration requirements described above.
Restricted firearms are primarily handguns; while they are not firearms, pepper spray, mace, and some knives also are included in this category.
A restricted firearm may be brought into Canada, but an Authorization to Transport permit must be obtained in advance from a Provincial or Territorial Chief Firearms Officer.
Prohibited firearms include fully automatic, converted automatics and certain military style weapons, including weapons designed for civilian use. A full list of prohibited weapons is available on the Canadian Firearms Centre website. Prohibited firearms are not allowed into Canada.
Pornography: Canada has strict laws concerning child pornography, and in recent years there has been an increase in random checks of electronic media of travelers entering Canada.
Computers and cell phones are subject to searches without a warrant at the border and illegal content can result in the seizure of the computer as well as detention, arrest, and prosecution of the bearer.
Possession of child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Production and distribution of child pornography is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Browsing for child pornography on the internet is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Prohibitions cover visual representations of sexual activity by persons (real or imaginary) under the age of 18 and include comic book imagery such as anime and manga.
Alcohol-related driving offenses, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving while ability-impaired, and driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, are criminal offenses in Canada. Penalties are heavy, and any prior conviction (no matter how old or how minor the infraction) is grounds for exclusion from Canada. U.S. citizens with a DWI record must seek approval for rehabilitation from Canadian authorities before traveling to Canada, which requires several weeks or months to process.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
The level of public health and sanitation in Canada is high. Canada’s medical care is of a high standard but is government-controlled. Quick and easy access to ongoing medical care is difficult for temporary visitors who are not members of each province’s government-run health care plans. Many physicians will not take new patients. Access to a specialist is only by referral and may take months to obtain. Emergency room waits can be very long. Some health care professionals in the province of Quebec may speak only French.
Traveler’s medical insurance is highly recommended even for brief visits. No Canadian health care provider accepts U.S. domestic health insurance, and Medicare coverage does not extend outside the United States. Visitors who seek any medical attention in Canada should be prepared to pay cash in full at the time the service is rendered.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Canada, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Canada is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. As in the United States, all emergency assistance in Canada can be reached by dialing 911.
Transport Canada is the Canadian federal government agency responsible for road safety, although each province or territory has the authority to establish its own traffic and safety laws and issue driving licenses. For detailed information on road conditions throughout Canada, as well as links to provincial government websites, please see the Transport Canada website or the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) website. The CAA honors American Automobile Association membership. Some automobile warranties of vehicles purchased in the United States may be invalid in Canada; please check the warranty of your vehicle.
Driving in Canada is similar to driving in many parts of the United States. Distances and speeds, however, are posted in kilometers per hour and some signs, particularly in Quebec, may only be in French. U.S. driver’s licenses are valid for visitors in Canada. Proof of auto insurance is required. U.S. auto insurance is accepted as long as an individual is a tourist in Canada. U.S. insurance firms will issue a Canadian insurance card, which should be obtained and carried prior to driving into Canada. For specific information concerning Canadian driving permits, mandatory insurance and entry regulations, please contact the Canadian National Tourist Organization.
Unless otherwise posted, the maximum speed limit in Canada is 50km/hr (32 miles/hr) in cities and 80km/hr (50 miles/hr) on highways. On rural highways, the posted speed limit may be 100km/hr (approximately 60 miles/hr). Seat belt use is mandatory for all passengers, and child car seats must be used by children under 40 pounds.
Some provinces require drivers to keep their vehicles’ headlights on during the day and some have banned driving while using a hand-held cell phone. Motorcycles cannot share a lane, and safety helmets for motorcycle riders and passengers are mandatory.
Many highways do not have merge lanes for entering traffic. Emergency vehicles frequently enter the oncoming traffic lane to avoid congestion. Drivers should be aware that running a red light is a serious concern throughout Canada and motorists are advised to pause before proceeding when a light turns green. Turning right at a red light is prohibited on the Island of Montreal, and motorists are subject to substantial fines.
It is illegal to take automobile radar detectors into Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, the Yukon or the Northwest Territories, regardless of whether they are used or not. Police there may confiscate radar detectors, operational or not, and impose substantial fines.
Winter travel can be dangerous due to heavy snowfalls and hazardous icy conditions. Some roads and bridges are subject to periodic winter closures. Snow tires are required in some provinces. The CAA has tips for winter driving in Canada. Travelers also should be cautious of deer, elk, and moose while driving at night in rural areas.
Highway 401 from Detroit to Montreal, which is one of the busiest highways in North America, has been the scene of numerous deadly traffic accidents due to sudden, severe, and unpredictable weather changes, high rates of speed, and heavy truck traffic.
There have been numerous incidents on Canada highways involving road racing and dangerous truck driving. Drivers can be aggressive, exceeding speed limits and passing on both sides, and police enforcement is spotty. In addition, approaches to border crossings into the United States may experience unexpected traffic backups. Drivers should be alert, as lane restrictions at border approaches exist for drivers in NEXUS and FAST expedited inspection programs.