Getting there & away
Visitors from all countries need a passport to enter Canada. Actually, US citizens don’t need a passport to get into Canada so much as they need one to return to the USA. At the time of research, the USA was putting a new rule into effect that requires everyone to have a passport to cross into its borders, be it by air, sea or land. These rules have been known to change (particularly the land-border crossing information), so check the websites for the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) and Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca) for updates.
Visitors from selected countries also require a visa to enter Canada.
Since the airplane ticket eats the single biggest chunk out of most travel budgets, it’s wise to spend a little time shopping around. Basically, timing is key when it comes to snapping up cheap fares. As a rule of thumb, you can save a bundle by booking as early as possible (at least three weeks in advance, more for summer dates) and by traveling midweek (Tuesday to Thursday) and in the off-season (October to mid-May, except for winter-sports destinations). Departures in the late evening or early morning may also be less costly than the daytime flights popular with suits. Some airlines offer lower fares if you stay over a Saturday.
Online agencies are good places to start searching for low-cost fares, but they are best when used in conjunction with other search engines. One of these is ITA Software (www.itasoftware.com), a search matrix that sorts results by price, while also alerting to downsides such as long layovers, tight connections or overnight travel. No software download is required. Note this site does not actually sell tickets, which must be bought from a travel agent or the airline.
Another handy tool is Sidestep (www.sidestep.com), whose search includes low-cost carriers that are not covered by companies such as Expedia and Orbitz. This site requires a free software download that may contain spyware.
One way to learn about late-breaking bargain fares is by signing on to airlines’ free weekly email newsletters. Even old-fashioned newspaper can yield deals, especially in times of fare wars, when airlines plaster the travel sections with giant ads. And don’t forget about travel agents, who can be especially helpful when planning extensive trips or complicated routes.
Tickets for flights departing from Canada, whether purchased in Canada or abroad, should include departure taxes. Some airports also charge departing passengers a so-called ‘airport improvement tax, ’ usually $10 or $15.
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)
Info-Hub Specialty Travel Guide (www.infohub.com/travelnow.html)
STA Travel (www.sta.com)
Yahoo! Travel (www.travel.yahoo.com)
An adventurous, though not necessarily inexpensive, way to travel to or from Canada is aboard a cargo ship. Freighters carry between three and 12 passengers and, though considerably less luxurious than cruise ships, they give a salty taste of life at sea. A 15-day trip from Montréal to Italy typically costs between $1850 and $2150. Your best sources of information are Cruise & Freighter Travel Association (800-872-8584 in USA; www.travltips.com) and Freighter World Cruises (626-449-3106, in USA 800-531-7774; www.freighterworld.com).
On the west coast, ferries travel between Washington State and Victoria on Vancouver Island. From Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island, ferries also head north along the Inside Passage to Alaska. Travelers bound for the Yukon should consider the ferry service to either Haines or Skagway, Alaska, from Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
There are 22 official border crossings along the US-Canadian border, from New Brunswick to British Columbia. The website maintained by the Canadian Border Services Agency (www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/general/times/menu-e.html) shows current wait times at each of them. In general, waits rarely exceed 30 minutes, except during the peak summer season, and on Friday and Sunday afternoons, especially on holiday weekends, when you might get stuck at the border for several hours. Some entry points are especially busy:
Other border points tend to be quieter, sometimes so quiet that the officers have nothing to do except tear apart your luggage. When approaching the border, turn off any music, take off your sunglasses and be exceptionally polite. Most officers do not welcome casual conversation, jokes or clever remarks.
Greyhound (800-231-2222; www.greyhound.com) and its Canadian equivalent, Greyhound Canada (800-661-8747; www.greyhound.ca), operate the largest bus network in North America, with services to 3600 destinations. There are direct connections between main cities in the USA and Canada, but you usually have to transfer to a different bus at the border.
Tickets can be purchased at Greyhound terminals. Sometimes you can purchase tickets over the phone or online (depending on if you reserve 10 days in advance, if the bus station you’re traveling from has a ‘will call’ service, and if you don’t mind paying a service charge, which varies but can be up to $15). Some passengers have reported difficulty in obtaining advance-purchase discounts when trying to book cross-border tickets.
The highway system of the continental USA connects directly with the Canadian highway system at numerous points along the border. These Canadian highways then meet up with the east–west Trans-Canada Hwy further north. Between the Yukon Territory and Alaska, the main routes are the Alaska and Klondike Hwys and Haines Rd.
If you’re driving into Canada, you’ll need the vehicle’s registration papers, proof of liability insurance and your home driver’s license. Cars rented in the USA can usually be driven into Canada and back, but make sure your rental agreement says so in case you are questioned by border officials. If you’re driving a car registered in someone else’s name, bring a letter from the owner authorizing use of the vehicle in Canada.
Amtrak (800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com) runs four routes between the USA and Canada. In the east, one train daily runs from New York City to Montréal; another runs from New York City to Toronto; and a third connects Buffalo, New York State, to Toronto. On the west coast, one train daily chugs from Seattle to Vancouver. The North America Rail Pass is valid on both Amtrak and Canada’s VIA Rail.
Passengers arriving in Canada by plane are given the standard immigration and customs forms to fill out during the flight. After landing you first go through immigration, then through customs. Officials can be very strict and you may be asked a series of questions. Questioning may be more intense at land border crossings and your car may be searched.
Having a criminal record of any kind, including a DUI (driving under the influence) charge, may keep you out of Canada. If this affects you, you should apply for a ‘waiver of exclusion’ at a Canadian consulate in your country. The process costs $200, takes several weeks and approval is not guaranteed. If your conviction dates back 10 years or more, you’re automatically considered ‘rehabilitated, ’ at least as long as you haven’t broken the law since.
Like many countries, Canada is concerned about child abduction. For this reason, single parents, grandparents or guardians traveling with anyone under the age of 18 should carry proof of legal custody, or a notarized letter from the non-accompanying parent authorizing the trip. Not having such documentation may cause delays when entering the country. Unaccompanied children also will need a notarized letter of consent from both parents or legal guardians. This is in addition to their passport and/or proof of citizenship.
Canada has about 500 airports and 800 unpaved landing strips, but you’re most likely to arrive at one of the following international gateways:
Calgary (YYC; 403-735-1200; www.calgaryairport.com)
Edmonton (YEG; 780-890-8382, 800-268-7134; www.edmontonairports.com)
Halifax (YHZ; 902-873-4422; www.hiaa.ca)
Montréal (Trudeau; YUL; 514-394-7377, 800-465-1213; www.admtl.com)
Ottawa (YOW; 613-248-2000; www.ottawa-airport.ca)
St John’s (YYT; 709-758-8581; www.stjohnsairport.com)
Toronto (Pearson; YYZ; 416-776-3000; www.gtaa.com)
Vancouver (YVR; 604-207-7077; www.yvr.ca)
Winnipeg (YWG; 204-987-9402; www.waa.ca)
Air Canada, the national flagship carrier, is considered one of the world’s safest airlines. Other companies based in Canada and serving international destinations are the charter airlines Air Transat and Zoom and the discount airline WestJet. In addition, numerous US airlines and national carriers of other countries serve Canada.
The following list contains airlines’ telephone numbers in Canada for reservations, flight changes and information. For contact information in your home country, see the websites.
Air Canada (AC; 888-247-2262; www.air canada.com)
Air France (AF; 800-667-2747; www.airfrance.com/ca)
Air Transat (TS; 866-847-1919; www.airtransat.com)
Alaska Air & Horizon Air (AS; 800-252-7522; www.alaskaair.com)
Alitalia (AZ; 800-268-9277; www.alitalia.com/ca_en)
American Airlines (AA; 800-433-7300; www.aa.com)
ANA (EL; 800-235-9262; www.anaskyweb.com)
Astraeus Airlines (5W; 877-428-9425; www.flystar.com)
British Airways (BA; 800-247-9297; www.ba.com)
CanJet (C6; 800-809-7777; www.canjet.com)
Cathay Pacific (CX; 800-268-6868; www.cathay.ca)
China Airlines (CI; 800-227-5118; www.china-airlines.com)
Continental Airlines (CO; 800-231-0856; www.continental.com)
Condor (DE; 800-364-1667; www.condor.com)
Czech Airlines (OK; 416-363-3174; www.czech-airlines.com)
Delta Airlines (DL; 800-241-4141; www.delta.com)
Eva Air (BR; 800-695-1188; www.evaair.com)
Japan Airlines (JL; 800-525-3663; www.ar.jal.com)
Lufthansa (LH; 800-563-5954; www.lufthansa.com)
Northwest Airlines (NW; 800-225-2525; www.nwa.com)
Philippine Airlines (PR; 800-235-9262; www.philippineairlines.com)
Qantas (QF; 800-227-4500; www.qantas.com.au)
Singapore Airlines (SQ; 800-387-0038; www.singaporeair.com)
Swiss Air (LX; 877-359-7947; www.swiss.com)
United Airlines (UA; 800-241-6522; www.united.ca)
US Airways (US; 800-428-4322; www.usairways.com)
WestJet (WS; 800-538-5696, 888-937-8538; www.westjet.com)
Zoom (Z4; 866-359-9666; www.flyzoom.com)
The main Canadian gateway for flights originating in Asia is Vancouver. Air Canada operates nonstop services from Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo. Japan Airlines and ANA fly in from Tokyo, Philippine Airlines from Manila, China Airlines and Eva Air from Taipei and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. In addition, Air Canada operates direct flights to Toronto from Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Four Seas Tours Hong Kong (2200-7777; www.fourseastravel.com)
No 1 Travel Tokyo (3205-6073; www.no1-travel.com)
There are no nonstop flights from Australia or New Zealand to Canada. The best route is from Sydney to Los Angeles, with onward service to your Canadian destination. Air Canada, Air New Zealand and Qantas are the dominant airlines on this route, but United Airlines and American Airlines also offer flights. Some flights stop in Honolulu.
Flight Centre (133-133; www.flightcentre.com.au)
STA Travel (134-782; www.statravel.com.au)
Flight Centre (0800-243-544; www.flightcentre.co.nz)
Go Holidays (www.goholidays.co.nz)
STA Travel (0800-474-400; www.statravel.co.nz)
Toronto is the main gateway for European flights. Air Canada is the primary carrier, with services from Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Vienna and Zurich. European airlines flying to Toronto include Alitalia, Czech Airlines and Lufthansa.
If you’re headed for Montréal, you’ll find direct flights from Amsterdam (KLM/Northwest), Frankfurt (Air Canada), Paris (Air France, Air Canada), Prague (Czech Airlines) and Zurich (Swiss Air). Air Canada also operates a direct flight from Frankfurt to Calgary, while KLM and Lufthansa fly nonstop to Vancouver. In summer, Condor flies from Frankfurt to Whitehorse. The charter airline Air Transat also adds summertime options, flying from nine European countries to all major Canadian cities, including Edmonton and Halifax. The charter airline Zoom flies from Paris to Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montréal and Halifax.
Anyway (0892-302-301; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (0892-705-000; www.fr.lastminute.com)
Nouvelles Frontières (0825-000-747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
Voyages Wasteels (www.wasteels.fr) Specializes in student and youth travelers.
Just Travel (089-747-3330; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (01805-284-366; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (069-743-032-92; www.statravel.de)
CTS Viaggi (06-462-0431; www. cts.it)
Airfair (020-620-5121; www.airfair.nl)
Barceló Viajes (902-116-226; www.barceloviajes.com)
The UK is especially well connected to major Canadian cities. Air Canada, British Airways and Air Transat together operate some 40 daily flights from London to Toronto alone. There are also direct connections on Air Canada from London to Calgary, Halifax, Montréal and Vancouver. British Airways also serves Montréal and Vancouver. And charter airline Zoom specializes in linking the UK to Canada, with flights from London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and Manchester to all major Canadian cities.
Besides the travel agencies listed here, look for special deals in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers or in Time Out, the Evening Standard and the free magazine TNT. Whatever agency you book with, make sure it’s registered with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), which will guarantee a refund or an alternative ticket, if you’ve paid money to an agent who ends up going out of business.
Flight Centre (0870-499-0040; www.flightcentre.co.uk)
North South Travel (01245-608-291; www.northsouthtravel.co.uk) Donates a percentage of profits to projects in the developing world.
Opodo Travel (0871-277-0090; www.opodo.co.uk)
STA Travel (0871-230-0040; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845-058-5858; www.trailfinders.com)
Travel Bag (0800-804-8911; www.travelbag.co.uk)
Flights to Canada from the USA abound. Air Canada and its subsidiary Air Canada Jazz connect several major US cities with Vancouver, Calgary, Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa. Practically all other US carriers, including US Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, Continental, Delta and Northwest Airlines, also head to numerous north-of-the-border destinations. Alaska Air and Horizon Air have flights to western Canada, with most of them originating in Seattle, except for Calgary, which is served from Los Angeles as well.
Bargain hounds should also consider discount carrier WestJet, which flies to Calgary and Toronto from several cities in Florida, California and Arizona. Air Transat has seasonal flights to Toronto and Montréal from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
FlightCentre (866-967-5351; www.flightcentre.us)
STA Travel (800-781-4040; www.statravel.com)
Travel Cuts USA (800-592-2887; www.travelcuts.com)