Bring Canadian money for five days in Quebec City?
July 26, 2022 6:49 PM   Subscribe

I am taking the family from New England to visit Quebec City for five days. Should I get some Canadian money here and bring it with? How much?

Our AirBnB will be pre-paid, so that's not an issue. We will probably hit a grocery store and cook breakfasts there, but lunches & dinners will be out.

How much cash will we reasonably expect to spend, as opposed to just using the American credit card?

The local AAA branch can do it for no fee, so that's not an issue.

(Thanks to previous AskMes, I know that I need to check whether my card charges a foreign transaction fee, and also to warn them that I am taking a vacation.)
posted by wenestvedt to Travel & Transportation around Guelph, ON (24 answers total)
Canadian prices are usually about 1.3 to 1.5 the US prices. You might be shopping at convenience stores or fancier grocery stores (the big cheap chains tend to be in more suburban areas) so you’ll pay a bit of extra markup.

For 5 days I might bring $200-500 cash depending on how budgety you feel. You can always use your credit card for groceries and restaurants, and mostly use cash on little treats or street vendor situations.

Some anchor type items and their prices:
A McDonalds combo is about $11.
A small can of soda or a small bottle of water at a corner store is $1-2 depending on their markup.
A large size bag of chips (like 14 inches tall) is about $4.
A dozen cheap eggs is about $4.
A cheap loaf of bread is about $3.
A beer from a store is about $4, in a restaurant about $7.

Note that tax will be added at the till.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:04 PM on July 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I find in general Canada is less reliant on cash compared with the US. I would expect to be able to use my credit or debit card pretty much anywhere.

You can also get like $100 from an ATM in Canada to cover incidentals (tolls?).
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:09 PM on July 26, 2022 [12 favorites]

I was surprised recently in Montreal by how many shops refuse to take cash. Whatever you bring, it's not a bad idea to have a couple of chip cards handy.
posted by eotvos at 7:11 PM on July 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

I went to Quebec City on my own back in March for a similar-length trip and I spent less than $20CAD in cash - I used my credit cards everywhere.
posted by mskyle at 7:12 PM on July 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Shit, there's tolls?! It never occurred to me, because we have an EZ-Pass transponder in each car.

OK, so that's important advice -- thank you, hydrobatidae!!!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:13 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Caveat: I have not been to Quebec City and all my experience is in Ontario and mostly the GTA.

That said, at least in Ontario and the GTA, ATMs are everywhere and the exchange rate will be good enough.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:23 PM on July 26, 2022

Don't worry about tolls - I mean, go ahead and check, but I think there are very few toll roads in Quebec (I did not encounter any) and if for whatever reason you do find yourself on one of them you can pay without cash (bill later or pay with credit card).

I could easily have gone completely cash-free on my trip; I brought the ~$20CAD I had left over from my last trip and planned to go to the ATM if necessary, but it was never necessary (so I did pay for a few things with cash because I had it around).
posted by mskyle at 7:24 PM on July 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I usually take out $100 or so in the airport when I visit Canada for several days but I rarely end up using all of it, except to settle the splitting of costs with people paying for a meal or whatever by credit card. At the moment the U.S. dollar is worth about $1.30 CAD.

Note that you will probably have to actually sign the physical receipt for your credit card charges if you use a U.S. card.
posted by praemunire at 7:38 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Tolls will take credit card and if you're paying for street parking anywhere the parking "meters" are typically app or credit card based.

You can almost certainly get away with no actual cash. Especially after COVID made lots of businesses avoid dealing with physical cash, Canada - especially in big cities - is very credit/debit card based and tipping can be done on the pay terminal. The only place my partner and I regularly spend cash is at farmer and craft markets and even many of the vendors in there use a phone or tablet.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:40 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you choose not to bring any Canadian cash at all or it gets too difficult to do with everything else ya gotta plan, and you really want to use cash or get to see Canadian cash*, a significant number of tourist-focused restaurants and attractions close to the border or that get lots of American tourists (plus McDonalds or Timmies almost everywhere) will take US Dollars in payment and give you back Canadian cash as change. You'll be charged a random percentage to account for exchange (that is much less favorable to you than a bank or exchange) or a flat surcharge based on the total bill, so it's not a great budget plan, but it can work in a pinch.

* I am a currency nerd so this is a 100% valid option
posted by holyrood at 7:44 PM on July 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'd just get cash at an ATM if you need it. I haven't done much in Canada, but I did a fair bit of travel in a more cash centric country and I can't imagine you'll get better rates or have less hassle than just picking up your cash from the banking system in country.
posted by wotsac at 7:59 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I live in Canada and I don't carry any cash. The last time I paid for anything in cash was months ago when I paid an electrician to do work in my condo and got a discount for paying cash. Even ice cream trucks take cards. Set up google pay on your phone and tap away.

If you feel like you end up needing cash you can just go to a machine and get some. No need to bring any.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:15 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I live in Canada and I bought something with cash today because the credit card authorization wasn't working on the soda machine in my basement. First time in months. It was almost weird. What was really surprising to me is that I successfully scrounged up $2.75 in change to use.

In short: don't worry about it.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:26 PM on July 26, 2022 [6 favorites]

You really don't need cash in Canada, especially for just five days. And if you do, you can get it out of an ATM quite easily with a US card.
posted by ssg at 9:47 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

One tip - let your financial institution know that you're going up there, so that your card doesn't potentially get shut down for 'fraud protection'.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:21 PM on July 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

Note that you will probably have to actually sign the physical receipt for your credit card charges if you use a U.S. card.

If you have a device capable of doing Apple Pay (so obviously an Apple device -- iPhone or Apple Watch) or Google Pay (Android devices), set your card(s) up on it. It's called NFC, or more simply, tap. Not only is it easier to deal with in most situations and you don't have to take your wallet out of your pocket (so less chance of opportunistic snatch and run), it seems to have eliminated all cases where I used to have to sign when using an American credit card.

Some places may not take certain payment methods--for example, I know of a few places that take physical Amex cards but their card terminals can't handle NFC payments with them--or may place a dollar limit on transactions that way. Definitely have the physical cards handy, but if you can do tap payments with your devices, it's a great way to do it. Also makes it much harder for your card number to get stolen that way since it doesn't use the physical card's number.

One tip - let your financial institution know that you're going up there, so that your card doesn't potentially get shut down for 'fraud protection'.

OP did mention this in their post, although the flip side is I have been back and forth to Canada dozens of times from the US and have never had a single charge flagged as potentially fraudulent. YMMV, can't hurt to tell them, a lot of them have it in their apps now, etc.
posted by tubedogg at 11:00 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, this is probably a "no duh" thing, but Canada has eliminated the penny. So if you're paying in cash, your bill will be rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents.
posted by tubedogg at 11:01 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Even the funicular (like $4 per ride, there's one guy on duty at each end) takes tap credit card payment. As a fallback, virtually everywhere in Vieux-Quebec (ie within the walls & the Lower Town) will take US cash, probably at par, which means you're losing around 30%, but your Benjamins will work.

On the off chance this is a very last minute question, note that the Pope is visiting Quebec City this week on his apology tour and the resulting foofaraw (motorcades, media, etc.) will screw everything up for unaware visitors.
posted by Superilla at 11:05 PM on July 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Quebec has a lot of summer festivals with small vendors selling snacks and souvenirs. Cash is still in use in those settings- I just spent $50 cash at a street festival in Ontario this past weekend.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:43 AM on July 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was in Quebec City recently and the funicular was cash only and pretty much the only time I used my bag of toonies and loonies. But I think it might be nice to have a little cash for street vendors if there is a festival.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:58 AM on July 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

People have covered most things already but I wanted to add that if your credit card is an American Express, some places won't accept it (only Visa and MasterCard). But otherwise yes, nearly everyone except street vendors will have a little machine for debit and credit cards. Absolutely all grocery stores, gas and other essential places will. A few restaurants won't accept credit cards due to the extra fees, but will normally still accept debit cards. You can look for the visa/mastercard symbols (usually printed on the door), or ask the server before ordering to confirm. As always with travelling, best to take a few cards so you have a backup if one is flagged for fraud or some other problem arises.

I live elsewhere in Quebec and haven't used cash in literal years, even pre-pandemic. I would suggest carrying maybe 50$ max in cash - you're unlikely to need even that much unless you're buying a ton from street vendors, and you just risk losing it. You can always get more from an ATM if needed, there will be lots around in any touristy area.

Enjoy your trip! It's a lovely city.
posted by randomnity at 7:00 AM on July 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Some shops may have minimum purchase amounts for using a debit or credit card to pay so it's useful to have cash around for that. I rarely end up using cash but I try to keep $50-100 in my wallet just in case.

Also are your credit cards set up for chip and PIN or tap payments? I only ask because on my last trip to the States, which was around 4 years ago, I blew more than a few cashiers' minds by successfully tapping my card on the card readers to pay.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:14 PM on July 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

In my view, your main vulnerability in not having cash on you is if the internet connectivity required to process credit or debit transactions goes down. Emergency cash is just a sensible thing to have, especially if you're travelling with kids.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:12 AM on July 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FOLLOW-UP: we didn't take any Canadian money. We were fine.

Drawbacks: The only time I wished I had some cash was for tipping a couple of street performers and the kids at the ice cream shop -- and that would have been a handful of toonies.

Backup cash: We took a few hundred US dollars (in cash) in case there was an emergency where we couldn't use a credit card (e.g., broken down van on the side of the road in rural Quebec at night during another ROgers outage), and never touched them.

Credit cards:We paid every bill with our Visa card, and the transaction sailed through: the Copilote parking app in Quebec City, the Sepac web site for admission to the Jacques Cartier national park, handheld machines every little restaurant & souvenir shop -- all of them were fine, asking only for a signature on some of the receipts.

Fees: We checked our credit cards (a Visa, a Mastercard, and our daughter's Discover card), and the Discover has zero foreign transaction fees where the others had 3% fees. So of course we planned to use her card, but when we offered it to the waiter at the first meal, he said, "Discover -- is that like American Express?" The card machine beeped contemptuously, and we used the Visa the rest of the trip. *shrug*
Merci for all the help, everyone!
(And by the way, we love-love-loved Quebec! We explored the old city, dipped our toes in the falls of Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, climbed the stairs at Montmorency Falls, drove around some of Ile d'Orleans , kayaked the St. Charles river and hiked in Jacques Cartier parc national, and learned to love the dipped ice cream cones. Can't wait to come back -- in the winter next time!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:38 AM on August 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

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