Canada - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.

Last published date: 2021-08-21

Business Customs

Business customs in Canada are like those in the United States. Initial meetings are generally formal and exchanging business cards is expected. The use of a PowerPoint presentation or other technology during a sales presentation is common. Although English and French are both official languages in Canada, most international business is conducted in English.

Business culture varies somewhat throughout Canada depending on the region, and most Canadians identify strongly with their respective provinces. U.S. business travelers to Canada should familiarize themselves with the culture, history, and geography of the province where they will conduct business. Most important, business travelers should make a good first impression, and sell the reliability and trustworthiness of themselves and their company before trying to sell their product or service.

Travel Advisory

The Department of State reports on the latest Country Information for Canada with information on such matters as health conditions, crime, customs regulations, entry requirements, and the location of the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate or Consulate General.

Americans living or traveling in Canada are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important safety and security announcements, and to make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency.

Travel Restrictions

In response to the global pandemic, various border restrictions have been put into place by the United States and Canada. In addition, various provinces within Canada have instituted additional health and safety measures. For the latest on these, please refer to the U.S. Embassy’s COVID-19 webpage at https://ca.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-canada-3/. If you’re planning a business trip, always check travel.state.gov before you go.

Visa Requirements

Entry into Canada is determined solely by Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials, in accordance with Canadian law. Canadian law requires that all persons entering Canada carry both proof of citizenship and proof of identity. A valid U.S. passport, passport card, or NEXUS card satisfies these requirements for U.S. citizens.

The NEXUS program allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing by U.S. and Canadian officials via dedicated processing lanes at designated northern border ports of entry; at NEXUS kiosks at Canadian preclearance airports; access to TSA Pre✓™ at U.S. airports; and at marine reporting locations. Canadian and business travelers requiring a NAFTA TN (Trade NAFTA) visa may refer to the USCIS website for more information.

U.S. citizens can present a valid: U.S. Passport; Trusted Traveler Program card (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST); U.S. Military identification card when traveling on official orders; U.S. Merchant Mariner document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business or Form I-872 American Indian Card, or (when available) Enhanced Tribal Card.

U.S. and Canadian citizen children under the age of 16 (or under 19, if traveling with a school, religious group, or other youth group) need only present a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship if traveling by Land Mode only. The birth certificate can be original, photocopy, or certified copy. (Note that children are also required to present their own passport when traveling by air).

Anyone seeking to enter Canada for a purpose other than a visit (e.g., to work, study, or immigrate) must qualify for the appropriate entry status, and should contact the nearest Canadian Embassy or Consulate. Because visas may take several weeks to process, applications should be submitted as far in advance as possible.

When returning to the United States from Canada, U.S. citizens are required to present a valid U.S. passport if they are re-entering the United States via air. For entry into the United States via land or sea border, U.S. citizens must present either a U.S. passport, passport card, NEXUS card, Enhanced Driver’s License, or other identification. The only exception to this requirement is for U.S. citizens younger than 16 (or younger than 19, if traveling with a school, religious group, or other youth group), who need only present evidence of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or naturalization certificate. U.S. citizen travelers are urged to obtain WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) compliant documents before entering Canada well in advance of their planned travel. Refer to the CBP website for further information.

In most cases, Canadian citizens are exempt from visa requirements for travel to the United States. Canadian citizens wishing to enter the United States as a Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor must obtain a visa. Companies applying for an initial E1 Treaty Trader or E2 Treaty Investor visa at https://ca.usembassy.gov/visas/treaty-trader-and-investor-visas are processed at the United States Consulate General in Toronto; visa renewals and visas for family members are processed in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary. U.S. companies that require non-Canadian foreign business associates to travel to the United States should be advised that visa processing times can vary and may require additional time for administrative processing.

U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that while the Embassy and Consulates aim to process cases as soon as practicable, there are likely to be increased wait times for completing services due to pandemic-related backlogs. Please review the consular operations webpage at https://ca.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/consular-operations-updates/ for additional information on available consular services. For additional information on visas, including information on submitting a visa application in Canada, please visit the U.S. Embassy website at https://ca.usembassy.gov/visas/treaty-trader-and-investor-visas.

Currency

Canada’s official currency is the Canadian dollar ($). There are 100 cents (¢) in a dollar. Coins have varied sizes, shapes, and colors. They are:

  • 1¢   Penny (removed from circulation in 2012)
  • 5¢   Nickel
  • 10¢ Dime
  • 25¢ Quarter
  • $1   Dollar or “loonie”
  • $2   Two Dollars or “toonie”

As of August 04, 2021, the exchange rate was $1.25 Canadian dollar for one U.S. dollar. The last time the Canadian dollar was valued higher than the United States dollar was January 2013, at C$0.99 for US$1.

There are approximately 36 domestic banks, 18 foreign bank subsidiaries, 28 full service foreign bank branches, and four foreign bank lending branches. Canada’s banks operate through an extensive network that includes more than 5,890 branches and 18,640 automated banking machines (ABMs) across the country. Canada has one of the highest numbers of ABMs per capita in the world and benefits from very high penetration levels of electronic channels such as debit cards, internet banking, and telephone banking.

Telecommunications/Electronics

Telecommunications networks are highly sophisticated in Canada and comparable to those in the United States. Canada is integrated with the United States direct-dial long-distance telephone system (dial 1, the area code, and the number). Most U.S. mobile phones work in Canada, although roaming and long-distance charges may apply. Some U.S. mobile phone companies offer combined U.S. and Canada coverage plans. All forms of communication and transmission are possible, including voice, text, data and video, over regular phone lines, broadband, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Transportation

Canada possesses an advanced transportation system comparable to that of the United States. Canada’s truck, air, and rail services are fully integrated with U.S. networks, providing efficient access to consumers and suppliers throughout North America.

Although all cities have reasonably priced public transport systems, Canada is as much an “automobile society” as the United States. Within 200 miles of the United States border, there is an excellent highway and freeway system that connects with major U.S. interstate highways at the border and supports heavy truck, bus, and automobile traffic. Canada is ranked number one for road provision among all G7 countries.

The Trans-Canada Highway is a federal-provincial highway system that links all 10 provinces of Canada. With the main route spanning 8,030 km (4,990 miles), the Trans-Canada Highway is one of the world’s longest national highways and is recognizable by its distinctive white-on-green maple leaf route markers.

U.S. travelers should make note of both the similarities and differences when driving in Canada.

  • Gasoline is sold in liters in Canada, and Canadian safety standards for cars are like those in the United States.
  • International highway symbols are used in Canada, and distances and speed limits are posted in kilometers.
  • Seat belts and infant/child seat restraints are mandatory in all Canadian provinces. Fines are imposed for non-use of seat belts and child restraints.
  • Travelers renting cars in Canada during winter should make sure the vehicles are equipped with winter tires (mandatory in Québec), because all-season tires lose traction in wintry weather.

Canada’s railway system is the third largest among OECD countries at 73,000 km, with significant links to the United States. There is easy access to Canada’s major ports and to interior communities through truck-rail intermodal services.

Canada has the world’s longest inland waterway open to ocean shipping, the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System. The Seaway provides a direct route to the industrial heart of North America. Major ports include Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Port Cartier, Sept Iles/Pointe Noire, Saint John, and Québec City. Modern container facilities at major ports connect with inland container trains to ensure rapid movement of goods throughout North America.

Canada’s air transportation system includes 10 major international airports and more than 300 smaller ones. Toronto’s Pearson Airport is the busiest airport in the country, handling almost one-third of all traffic.

Language

Canada has two official languages: English and French. All Government of Canada services and documents are available in the two languages. English is the official and most commonly spoken language in most provinces, except Québec, where French is predominant. New Brunswick is the only official bilingual province where both languages are equally used.

Canada has attracted numerous immigrants in recent years, many of whom speak Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and a variety of Arabic dialects. According to Canada’s 2011 census, nearly 6.6 million persons reported speaking a language other than English or French at home. More than 200 languages were reported as a home language or mother tongue.

Health

The level of public health and sanitation in Canada is high. Although Canada’s medical care is of high standard, health care is also government-controlled and rationed. Quick and easy access to ongoing medical care can be difficult for temporary visitors who are not members of each province’s government-run health care plans, and 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 long. Some health care professionals in the province of Québec may only speak French.

Canadian health care providers do not accept U.S. domestic health insurance, and Medicare coverage does not extend outside the United States. Visitors who seek any medical attention in Canada should expect to pay in cash or by credit card and obtain a receipt and description of the treatment to file their own insurance claims. Traveler’s medical insurance is highly recommended even for brief visits.

Most food and other consumables available in the United States can be found in Canada.

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

Canada has six time zones. Newfoundland time is 4 1/2 hours ahead of Pacific Time. Local business hours are Monday to Friday, with the workday generally starting between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) is now observed in all Canadian provinces, except for most of Saskatchewan, which observes Central Standard Time year-round even though it is in the Mountain Zone, effectively putting it on DST year-round. Under the Canadian Constitution, laws related to timekeeping are a purely provincial matter.

Canadian federal and provincial holidays overlap with some, but not all U.S. holidays, and differ by province. A complete list of Canada’s national holidays is located at the Government of Canada’s Public Holiday webpage.

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Business visitors to Canada may bring certain personal goods into Canada duty- and tax-free, if all such items are declared to the Canada Border Services Agency upon arrival and are not subject to restriction.

Business travelers to Canada may also be eligible for an exemption of the GST/HST sales taxes paid for certain expenses in Canada such as hotel accommodations.