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Currency, Sales Tax and Banking in Canada

In this section, you will find the basics of what you need to know about money in Canada. Everything from what it looks like and how much it’s worth, to where to save it and how to access it.

The Basics Of Canadian Money

  • The official monetary unit in Canada is the Canadian dollar ($)
  • 1 dollar = 100 cents
  • 1 cent piece is a “Penny”
  • 5 cent piece is a “Nickel”
  • 10 cent piece is a “Dime”
  • 25 cent piece is a “Quarter”
  • $1 coin is a “Loonie”
  • $2 coin is a “Toonie”
  • Paper currency: $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 denominations
  • Unlike US currency, Canada’s is colour-coded
  • $50 and $100 bills are used less frequently due to counterfeiting issues. As a result, some Canadian businesses refuse to accept either.

Whose Faces Appear On Canadian Dollar Bills?

  • $5: Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone prime minister
  • $10: Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister
  • $20: Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of Canada
  • $50: Sir Robert Borden, Canada’s prime minister during World War I
  • $100: William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving prime minister, served during World War II

What Symbols Appear On Canadian Coins?

All Canadian coins depict Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse (heads). The reverse (tails) has the following:

  • Nickel: Beaver, Canada’s national emblem
  • Dime: Bluenose, the famed Nova Scotia schooner
  • Quarter: Usually the Caribou, but the design can be used to commemorate major events
  • Loonie: Loon, a duck-like bird found primarily on waterways in Canadian cottage areas
  • Toonie: Polar bear

Canadian Sales Tax

When you purchase goods or services in Canada, you will be charged two types of sales tax:

  • Provincial Sales Tax (PST): % charged varies by province, although Alberta is PST exempt.
  • Federal Goods and Services Tax (GST): Standard 5%

These sales taxes are not included in the retail price (i.e. they are added to the price of your purchases at the cash register when you pay). Some provinces charge an HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) which combines the GST with the PST.

Canadian Banks

Upon arriving in Canada, you will need to set up a bank account in order to deposit your pay. It is unwise to keep large sums of cash at your home. Your employer can either deposit your pay directly into your bank account or issue you a cheque.

How To Open A Bank Account

  • Choose a banking institution which will be able to serve you anywhere in Canada, such as:
  • Bring proof of identification (passport, work permit, credit cards) and a nominal amount of money to deposit.
  • Bring your Social Insurance Number (SIN).
  • If you have not yet received your Social Insurance Number, bring the “Acknowledgement of Application for a Social Insurance Number” form that you received from Service Canada.
  • Choose a type of bank account.
  • Find out how long you have to wait to withdraw cash after you have deposited your pay cheque. Some banks put a temporary hold of 5-7 days for new customers.

Bank Fees

Most banks charge monthly service fees and/or charge for each transaction (i.e. bank card use or cheque processing). Service Fees vary from bank to bank.

Bank Hours

Hours of operation vary from bank to bank. However, most banks are open:

Monday - Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Some banks are open later in the evening on week nights, and for a few hours on Saturday as well.

Automated Banking Machines (ABM) / Automated Teller Machines (ATM)

Most banks will provide you with a card that allows you to deposit or withdraw money, pay bills and transfer money between accounts using a bank machine (ABM/ATM). While you do pay for the convenience with each transaction, the 24/7 access is more than worthwhile. Please note that automatic service charges apply whenever you use an ATM from a different banking institution other than your own.

Canadian banks have arrangements with U.S. banks (usually through the Cirrus network) allowing direct access to your Canadian bank account through most ATM’s in the United States. Most European, Australian and New Zealand ATM cards will work in Canada and in the United States too.

Transferring Money From Home

There are a number of ways you can transfer money from home:

  • By wire from your home bank account to your Canadian bank account.
  • By mail via international money orders or postal orders.
  • By Western Union, a worldwide service with the capacity to transfer money within an hour.

Canadian Credit Cards

A credit card is a very useful financial tool. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards throughout North America. You can use your credit card to:

  • Purchase concert tickets or airline tickets online.
  • Make a deposit for heat or electricity accounts.
  • Hold hotel or rental car reservations.
  • Top up your cell phone account.

U.S. Currency

U.S. coins are accepted on par with Canadian coins, however U.S. dollars are not. If you need to convert U.S. dollars into Canadian dollars, check with several different banks to get the best exchange rate.


Unlike in some European countries, a charge for service is not included in the final bill so you may be unfamiliar with the practice of tipping for a meal or a cab ride.

In Canada, it is customary to tip 15%:

  • Restaurant servers 20%
  • Bartenders $ 1 per drink
  • Cab drivers 10% to 15%
  • Hairdressers 15% to 20%
  • Pizza delivery 10% 

It is appropriate to tip between 10% - 15% of the bill before taxes, more if the service was excellent. Use your discretion when deciding to tip if the service was poor. Do not tip sales staff in retail stores.

Download the full Guide For Participants Coming To Canada (PDF* 570 KB) brochure.

For more information about International Experience Canada, please contact us.

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