If this is your first time visiting Vancouver, you’ll encounter the familiar, but also the unexpected. Don’t get caught off-guard when you arrive — be informed so that you can enjoy your time here. These are just a selection some of the more common scenarios out-of-towners may not be aware of when touring the city and province.
The Steam Clock in Gastown
Planning it out
Before arriving, take advantage of browsing the Tourism Vancouver and Hello BC web sites to learn about the city and province, find hotels and attractions and other information. Be sure that you have the appropriate travel documents prior to arriving — the Government of Canada web site has the latest requirements for entry to Canada.
Check-in with your country’s consulate
If you’re visiting from outside of Canada, check to see if your country has a consular office in Vancouver. These offices can be helpful in an emergency, if you lose a passport and for other affairs.
Considering Vancouver is pretty close to the Canada/United States border, many retailers welcome American currency. Keep in mind that it is up to the retailer to accept the greenback, and in some cases they may not take bills with denominations over $20 due to counterfeiting. Canadian ATMs will allow most major debit and credit cards to withdraw Canadian cash if you need it quickly (fees imposed by your banking institution may apply).
The legal drinking age in British Columbia is 19. Bring government-issued picture ID to a bar or restaurant if you intend on drinking; you’ll also need a second piece of ID (e.g. care card, credit card, etc) if you’re purchasing booze from a liquor store. For further information, browse the British Columbia government web site.
Lighting up a cigarette or cigar is not only illegal in restaurants and bars, but on public beaches and parks in Vancouver. Smoking is also prohibited within 6 meters (19 feet) of any doorway or air intake. Visit the city bylaw web site for further details.
It’s customary to leave a tip when dining out in North America. Recommended amounts usually range between 15%-20% of your total bill depending on level of service you’ve received. Some restaurants may include a gratuity on large groups instead of leaving it up to the individual diner to place a tip. It’s considered rude to not leave a tip, but is better than leaving a small tip for poor service.
Cars on the Granville Street Bridge
Planning on driving in the city? Make sure you have a drivers license and are familiar with the road laws in British Columbia. All signs are posted in English (with French near the airport) and speed is measured in kilometres per hour. Many streets have pay parking and restrictions limiting to how long you can park for and if special permits are required. Also, you must have insurance when driving in British Columbia — visitors can purchase insurance from car rental companies.
Gifts for home
Before you head home, make sure that what you’re bringing back for family and friends is not prohibited. While some items are legal to purchase in Canada, they may not be welcome in your home country. For example, Kinder Surprise and Cuban cigars are illegal in the United States, so don’t cause yourself unnecessary trouble on your way home.