Get The Most Out Of Your Canadian Dollar When In The US

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I woke up this morning and the Canadian Dollar was worth about $0.76 against the American Dollar. It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were on par with the US and that was good news for Canadian travelers. No fast currency calculations in our head as we purchased something and no credit card bill shock when we got home. How much did that meal cost me? Today, Canadians are re-evaluating trips to the US because it is just that much more expensive than even a year ago. It might cost us more, but we can still plan trips to the States. For example, I am off to Hawaii and Northern Idaho before the year is out. I’ve done some research to help me get the most out of our Canadian Dollar. I hope you’ll find these tips useful and will help you get the most out of your Canadian Dollar.

Stretching the Canadian Dollar

Before I begin, I can’t promise a magic solution with these tips. I hope at least a couple of them will help you save and stretch your money. They are in no particular order. Good luck getting the most from every dollar.


#1 Purchase US$ every month – Just like your financial advisor will tell you to contribute monthly to your RRSPs and retirement,  fund you should purchase US Dollar every month. This will allow you to take advantage of the fluctuating exchange rates and average out your losses. This should offer you the best chance to get the most from your money over the course of a year. If you leave buying US Dollar till the last minute, you may fall victim to a sudden drop or benefit for a Canadian Dollar surge. It’s just like gambling, how risk tolerant are you? Example if you were to exchange $100 at the beginning of each month ($900 CA in total), so far in 2015, you would receive approximately $717.01 US. Take that $900 today and exchange it all at once and you would receive $678.24 US. That is a US $38.77 bonus by averaging out the exchange rates.

Monthly Calendar

#2 Cash is King (credit card vs cash) – I love putting everything on my credit card. I get valuable reward points, extra insurance on big purchases and a backup accounting just in case I lose a receipt. When it comes to using credit cards in the States, we pay a 2.5% foreign exchange premium for the privilege. Both Visa and Mastercard charge this is on top of the daily exchange rate charged by the institution. To avoid this additional charge, take cash with you (safely secured in a money belt or put it in tip #3). If you still want to put the charges on your credit card but you don’t want to pay the 2.5%, the only options I could find would be a US Dollar credit card. You’ll still pay the exchange rate when you pay your bill, but you’ll avoid the 2.5% premium.

Cash is King

#3 Open a US$ bank account and credit card – Banks like TD Canada Trust and Royal Bank offer US Dollar accounts and credit cards. If you travel to the States on a regular basis, I think it makes sense to sign up for an account. Beware of the monthly fees and research to find the account that is right for you, but I think this is a smart move. I’m considering it myself. If you follow tips #1 and 2 then depositing your US cash into this account will mean you won’t have to transport the cash with you on your trip. You can just access an ATM when you run low on funds and withdrawn exactly what you need.

TD US$ Visa

#4 Bank vs Foreign Exchange Companies – I have to be honest, in the past, when I needed to convert money for an upcoming trip I would just go to my bank. I trust that they have the best rates, but do they? I belong to three financial institutions: TD Canada Trust, RBC, and Vancity. As of today, $1 US would cost me $1.3467 CA at Vancity, $1.3498 at TD, and $1.3497 at RBC. At Money Mart, the exchange rate is  $1.353 plus a $3 service fee while at Vancouver Bullion & Currency Exchange (VCBE), $1 US would cost me $1.3272 CA. I think the banks beat Money Mart, and Vancity beats the banks, but VCBE wins the top prize. VCBE will also deliver your money directly to your home or office for a $15 fee, anywhere in Canada. If you go through your bank and have a US Dollar bank account, you can just transfer your money seamlessly without ever having to go into a branch. You could even do it from your phone.

Vancouver Bullion & Currency Exchange

#5 Join Canadian Snowbird Currency Exchange – If you are a yearly traveler (aka “a Snowbird”) to the States, this may just be the tip for you. You should join the Canadian Snowbird Association for a one-time fee of $25 and then sign up to join the Snowbird Currency Exchange. It works very simply.

  • You must have a US Dollar account based in the States
  • You sign up and allocate a monthly withdrawal amount by the Snowbird Exchange
  • Each month, they will withdraw that amount from your Canadian bank account and make a group purchase of US dollars
  • Your US Dollar are then deposited to your US bank account and ready for you to access anytime you need.

This happens automatically each month and as of September 2015 the cost to purchase $1 US through the SCE is $1.3280. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but those savings will add up over time. Best of all you can enjoy the other benefits the CSA offers at no additional cost.

Canadian Snowbird Association screen capture

I hope those tips are helpful. I will keep my eyes and ears open for more tips and when I find them I will update them here. I think what I’ve learned from all this research is that if you want to get the most out of the Canadian dollar during a low dollar period you have to plan your vacation in advance. If it’s last minute the best you’ll be able to do is get a better exchange rate at Vancouver Bullion & Exchange Company.

Happy and safe travels.


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About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.


  1. A well thought out post, Marc. Since I’m heading to New York in October I’m definitely concerned about the exchange rate. Using cash … now there’s a concept I didn’t think of. How very 1985. That’s my fav tip.

  2. These are great tips – I especially like the one about buying a little bit of US dollars each month. So smart. When I used to be a waitress it was easy because I always made a little bit of US tips so it was nice to save that up for trips. Also thanks for the tips on getting a US credit card. I didn’t realize my bank offered that option.

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