Snowy mountains, lumberjack shirts, maple syrup, Bryan Adams. Yep, there is a hell of a lot to love about Canada and there is no better time than now to go and check it out for yourself.
Canada isn’t exactly renowned as a budget destination and is not a good shout for a ‘cheap’ break. However, with a bit of forward planning it’s very much possible to do Canada on a relatively modest budget.
In this post we’ll share some tips and tricks to help you plan a budget break to Canada.
Getting to Canada from pretty much anywhere in the world is relatively straightforward these days as the country is very well connected by air. The major international transport hubs are Toronto on the Western Seaboard which handles flights from Asia and the Pacific and Vancouver on the Eastern Seaboard receives flights from Europe.
Therefore if you are on a budget, it really will pay to plan your vacation around which side of Canada you will arrive. For example, you can usually fly from London Heathrow to Toronto for around $600 but taking an onward flight to Vancouver may add another $200 – $300 to this. But worry not, Toronto itself is a cool city and Montreal and Quebec are both within a reachable distance.
If you are traveling to Canada from the US, then you have a lot more options open to you. Firstly, there are major land borders near Seattle & Chicago and a few smaller ones too. There are Amtrak trains running both ways and tickets cost around $120 but to be honest, it can be just as cheap to fly unless you plan on taking a few suitcases or big bags.
The Canadian Dollar is not as powerful as some other currencies so the country can work out to be pretty good value. At the time of writing (July 2021), the following exchange rates are correct;
$1CAD = $0.79USD
$1CAD = 0.67EUR
$1CAD = £0.58
To give this some context, the average price of a meal for one (mid-range restaurant) is $18CAD and a 0.5 litre of beer is $6CAD making it cheaper than the US, the UK and North-Western Europe.
Regardless of whether you are looking to change Euros, Rupees or US Dollars, you should always keep an eye on CAD exchange rate. Try to buy your Candian Dollars during a trough when the currency dips rather than waiting until the day before your trip.
There are ATMs throughout Canada and all major Credit Cards are widely accepted. However you may incur overseas usage fees AND exchange rate charges when you use them to check in advance.
Visa For Canada
There’s good news and more good news here.
To travel to Canada, you will probably need either an eTA or a Temporary Visitor’s Visa to enter the country.
eTA stands for electronic transit authorization and essentially acts like an online visa. An eTA, once acquired, costs a whopping $7 and lasts 5 years. Note that eTAs are only valid if you’re entering by air, which is 90% of cases. Upon arrival, you’ll still need to pass border control vetting processes. Refer to this website for more information on eTAs. If you are a non-US citizen arriving overland from the US, you will need the full visitor visa.
When arriving in Canada, travel documents will need to be ready and relevant. Canadian customs are verystrict and only allow people who meet certain standards inside. You will need to pass a “character assessment” which to be frank is pretty weird but happily we haven’t heard of any backpackers failing the assessment.
Accommodation in Canada
Accommodation in Canada is generally of a high standard ranging from the comfortable to the sublime. There are very few “flop” houses and so you (probably) won’t have to worry about bed bugs. The flip side of this is that cheap digs can prove very hard to find in Canada. We have scoured the nation to find cheap hotels in Canada and can tell you now that they are few and far between.
The major cities all have enough hostels to satisfy and again, the dorm standards are all pretty good. If you are traveling in a group, it can prove good value to rent an apartment – check out these Vancouver Airbnb’s to give you an idea.
Here is a quick hack – In Canada Airbnb’s in particular tend to be cheaper between Tuesday – Thursday so you can save a few bucks on digs if you make your Canada budget break a midweek one.
Cheap Things To Do in Canada
Toronto and Vancouver both pack in some excellent museums although they are not always exactly cheap. However, most of them offer one free entry evening per week so the chances are that you can make it at least one of them.
One of our top picks for Toronto is Toronto Island where there are plenty of walking trails as well as Canada’s oldest lighthouse. You’ll just need the $3.60 for the ferry. Eh!
If you are headed to the National Parks in Canada then you will have to pay for admission which starts at $10 CAD per person. If you are headed to Canada to ski, then unfortunately there is no way I can think of to make it cheap!
INSIDER Canada Budget Hacks!
Canada can be expensive, but not if you follow some of my classic Canada budget hacks to help you save some extra brass.
- Always ‘pre-fade’ before going out drinking. Paying for full-priced drinks at a bar is a great way to waste your money. Instead, buy some beers at the store and drink with your friends at the hostel/their house/the park/anywhere besides the actual bar. Or don’t drink alcohol at all!!!
- Cook at home as often as possible. This is where renting an Airbnb with a kitchen really starts to make sense. Obviously, you should go out to eat sometimes, but not all the time.
- Get a special/discount pass – For example, if you’re visiting Vancouver’s attractions and think that you’ll be paying for lots of tickets, consider picking up a City Pass or Passport.
- Get happy at happy hour – Happy hour is everyone’s favorite hour. From around 4-6 pm some bars and restaurants have special drink/food prices.
- Use a water bottle – Bottled water costs about $1.50 CAD AND costs the ocean. So save cash by investing in a good water bottle and then drink from the tap. By the way, Vancouver’s mountain water is refreshing and is totally fine to drink.
- Go for a walk! Many cities and towns are surrounded by natural beauty so it’s easy to escape the city and go on a hike. It’s beautiful and free.
- On Tuesdays everything in the supermarket is free so help yourself! Sorry, we’re just kidding, you have to pay whatever he day.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!