Business customs in Canada are very similar to those in the United States. For example, an exchange of business cards is expected. However, there are differences. Canadians are generally quite aware of news and cultural developments in the United States, much more so than most U.S. businesspeople are aware of Canadian issues or culture. Canadians are also very aware that they are not Americans and that Canada is not the United States. Quebeckers in particular are very proud of the 400-year history of French speakers in North America. U.S. business travelers to Canada should be sensitive to these and other cultural and linguistic differences and allow adequate time for the development of personal contacts in business dealings. The most important thing is to make a good first impression in any sales communication, and sell the reliability and honesty of yourself and your company before trying to sell your product or service.
The State Department posts the latest Consular Information Sheet for Canada with information on such matters as the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, any areas of instability, and the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the subject country. In addition, the State Department issues travel warnings recommending that Americans avoid a certain country or area of a country. Americans living or traveling in Canada are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site to obtain updated information on travel and security within Canada. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
All persons entering Canada must carry both proof of citizenship and identity. U.S. citizens are encouraged to show a U.S. Passport or Passport Card. If they do not have a passport, they should be prepared to provide a government-issued photo ID (e.g. Driver's License) and proof of U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or expired U.S. Passport. U.S. citizens entering Canada from a third country must have a valid U.S. Passport. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens to visit Canada for up to 180 days. Legal permanent residents of the United States are advised to carry their I-551 permanent resident card. Business travelers and dependents must also satisfy any other admission requirements of the Canadian Immigration Act.
All persons, regardless of age, flying between the U.S. and Canada must present a valid passport. Effective June 1, 2009, travelers by land and sea will also be required to present a U.S. Passport, Passport Card, NEXUS card, Enhanced Drivers License, or other WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative)-compliant document in order to enter the United States. American travelers are urged to obtain WHTI-compliant documents before entering Canada, and to do so well in advance of their planned travel.
Telecommunications networks are highly sophisticated in Canada and comparable with those of the United States. Canada is integrated with the U.S. direct-dial long-distance telephone system (dial 1, the area code and the number, just like making a long-distance call in the United States). Most if not all U.S. mobile phones work in Canada, although roaming and long-distance charges may apply. Some U.S. mobile phone plans allow for roaming within Canada. 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).
Except in remote areas of the north, Canada possesses an advanced transportation system comparable to that of the United States. An extensive air network links all major, and many minor, traffic points with adequate connections to the United States and the rest of the world. The transcontinental Canadian National Railway handles freight, while VIA Rail provides passenger service.
An excellent highway and freeway system exists within 200 miles of the U.S. border that connects with major U.S. interstate highways at the border and supports heavy truck, bus and automobile traffic. While all cities have reasonably priced public transport systems, Canada is as much an "automobile society" as is the United States. Gasoline is sold in liters in Canada, and Canadian safety standards for cars are similar to those in the United States. International highway symbols are used in Canada, and distances and speed limits are given 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 in the winter should make sure that the cars have winter tires on them, since all-season tires start losing traction in cold weather.
While Canada is officially bilingual in English and French, English is spoken in every major business center in Canada including the province of Quebec, where French is the official language and is spoken as a first language by 80 percent of the population. The province of New Brunswick is bilingual, with the largest French-speaking population outside of Quebec. Knowledge of and appreciation of French and of the history of the Birth Place of French America will be greatly beneficial in helping build relationships with Canadian business partners especially in Quebec.
Canada has attracted a huge influx of immigrants, many of whom speak Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and a variety of Arabic dialects. One recent report indicated that the number of Spanish speakers is now approaching the number of French speakers. Large Chinese communities are found in Toronto and Vancouver that form a sizable market themselves.
Canada has no special health risks for travelers. Standards of community health and sanitation are comparable to those in the United States. Competent doctors, dentists, and specialists of all types are available, and medical training is equivalent to that in the United States. However, long waits for treatment in hospital emergency rooms, for appointments to see doctors, especially specialists, and for diagnostic tests are the norm. Canadian doctors, hospitals and health providers generally do not accept U.S. health insurance. Travelers should expect to pay in cash or by credit card, obtain a receipt and description of the treatment, and file their own insurance claims.
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.
Canadian federal and provincial holidays overlap some, but not all, U.S. holidays, and differ by province.
Canadian federal holidays in 2009 are January 1 (New Year's Day), April 10 (Good Friday), April 13 (Easter Monday), May 18 (Victoria Day), July 1 (Canada Day), September 7 (Labor Day), October 12 (Thanksgiving Day), November 11 (Remembrance Day), December 25 (Christmas Day), and December 26 (Boxing Day).
In 2010 the federal holidays are January 1 (New Year's Day), April 2 (Good Friday), April 5 (Easter Monday), May 24 (Victoria Day), July 1 (Canada Day), September 6 (Labor Day), October 11 (Thanksgiving Day), November 11 (Remembrance Day), December 25 (Christmas Day), and December 26 (Boxing Day).
In 2011 the federal holidays are January 1 (New Year's Day), April 22 (Good Friday), April 25 (Easter Monday), May 23 (Victoria Day), July 1 (Canada Day), September 5 (Labor Day), October 10 (Thanksgiving Day), November 11 (Remembrance Day), December 25 (Christmas Day), and December 26 (Boxing Day). Quebec observes January 2 and its National Day of June 24 as holidays.
1. In Canada, if a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday it is observed the following Monday.
2. Most of Canada will follow the U.S. with the new dates for daylight savings time established in 2007.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
Business visitors to Canada may bring certain personal goods into Canada duty and tax-free, provided that all such items are declared to the Canada Border Services Agency upon arrival and are not subject to restriction. Further information on Canadian entry requirements for business travelers is available from the U.S. State Department webpage "Tips for Travelers to Canada" and Canada Border Services Agency Memorandum D2-1-1 "Temporary Importation of Baggage and Conveyances by Non-Residents."