Money & costs
Wherever you’re visiting from, there are still some creative ways to keep your costs down. Families can take advantage of discounted admission at museums and attractions, and there are passes available that can save a considerable amount for those planning to see lots of attractions.
It’s also worth remembering that kids stay free at many Vancouver hotels. Some of these have kitchenettes where you can chef up your own nosh to keep your dining budget down.
If you’re eating out, many restaurants will prepare half-orders for children, if they don’t already have a dedicated kids menu. You can also save your dine-out dosh by dropping by the city’s three cooking-college restaurants. You’ll get a similar good deal at area drama schools, where professional-level productions are staged by aspiring actors for a cut-price ticket fee.
The most expensive item in anyone’s budget is likely to be their plane ticket and, after that, accommodations. Sleeping at mid-priced hotels or B&Bs, eating at neighborhood restaurants or shopping-mall food courts, and stretching your entertainment budget with a few freebies will mean that two people traveling together should be able to keep costs down to $100 or so each per day.
Paper bills most often come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green) and $50 (red) denominations. Coins include the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢), quarter (25¢), 'loonie' ($1) and 'toonie' ($2). Most Canadians do not carry large amounts of cash for everyday use, relying instead on electronic transactions: credit cards, ATMs and direct-debit cards.
Interbank ATM exchange rates usually beat the rates offered for traveler's checks or foreign currency. Canadian ATM fees are low (usually $1 to $1.50 per transaction), but your home bank may charge another fee on top of that. Some machines also dispense US currency, if you're planning a trip across the border. ATMs abound in Vancouver, with bank branches congregating around the business district bordered by Burrard, Georgia, Pender and Granville Sts.
It's best to change your money at a recognized bank or other financial institution. Some hotels, many downtown shops and some tourist offices exchange money, but rates are unlikely to be favorable. Aside from banks, try the following currency exchanges:
American Express (604-669-2813; 666 Burrard St, downtown; 8:30am-5:30pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat; Burrard)
Custom House Currency Exchange (604-482-6006; 375 Water St, Gastown; 10am-6pm; Waterfront)
Vancouver Bullion & Currency Exchange (604-685-1008; 800 W Pender St, downtown; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri; Granville)
Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB cards are widely accepted in Canada. Credit cards can get you cash advances at bank ATMs, generally for a 3% surcharge. Be aware that many US-based credit cards now convert foreign charges using highly unfavorable exchange rates and fees.
Taxes & refunds
The federal goods and services tax (GST), variously known as the 'Gouge and Screw' or 'Grab and Steal, ' adds 5% to nearly every product, service or transaction, on top of which is usually a 7% BC provincial sales tax (PST).
Visitors are eligible for refunds on GST, although the refund process is inconvenient. To wit: your purchase amounts (before taxes) must total at least $200, and each individual receipt must show a minimum amount of $50 before taxes. You must have original receipts (credit-card slips and photocopies are not accepted), and the receipts are not returned. Receipts for goods must be stamped by Canadian customs to be refund-eligible (at the airport go to the Refund Office; at land borders go to the customs office or a refund-designated duty-free shop). Visitors departing Canada by commercial carrier (including air, rail, noncharter bus or ferry) must also include their original boarding pass or carrier ticket with the refund claim.
Once you've met all the above criteria, it's time to fill out and mail in the rebate form, widely available at tourist shops, hotels and tourist offices around the city. You can also contact the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's Visitor Rebate Program (800-668-4748 in Canada, 902-432-5608 outside Canada; www.ccra.gc.ca/visitors; Suite 104, 275 Pope Rd, Summerside, PE C1N 6C6). Expect to wait four to six weeks for your check, which is paid in Canadian dollars, unless issued to a US address, in which case it will be in US dollars.