Shopping in Canada Can Be Fun with These 7 Tips

Shopping in Canada can be a different, surprising, and pleasant experience for newcomers.  Here are 7 things to know to elevate your shopping experience.

1. Sales Tax

The price tags of goods sold in Canada do not include taxes. These taxes are added at the till or upon checkout.

Types of Sales Tax

There are three types of sales tax in Canada:

  • GST – Goods and Services Tax
  • PST – Provincial Sales Tax
  • HST  – Harmonized Sales Tax, which is a combination of GST and PST

The Retail Council of Canada has a table of sales tax by province.  Sales taxes range from 5 – 15%.  The provinces of Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon charge 5% total tax.  At the higher end, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island add 15% tax to purchases.

Tax Exemptions

There are tax exemptions for zero-rated supplies.  The Canada Revenue Agency defines zero-rated supplies as property and services that are taxable at the rate of 0%.  Basic groceries, prescription drugs, and certain medical devices fall under this category. This applies to every province and territory.

Receipt from Uber
Uber Receipt

The receipt in the photo is from an Uber trip.  In British Columbia, GST is pegged at 5%, while PST is at 7%.  However, transportation fares are exempt from PST.  With a bit of Math, it becomes apparent that GST was charged on the subtotal plus tolls, surcharges, and fees.

Grocery shopping receipt
Grocery Receipt

The second receipt shows taxes from a quick grocery run.  Both GST and PST are not proportional to the subtotal.  This is because some of the purchased items are basic groceries and are therefore zero-rated.

2. Sustainability and Additional Fees

When I arrived in Canada, I immediately noticed the luscious trees, well-maintained parks, and clean environment.  As an immigrant, I feel obliged to at least maintain the state of the environment. So, I keep the environment in mind when shopping in Canada (and elsewhere!). I hope you feel the same way.

Cost of Reusable Bags

Most retailers discourage the use of single-use plastic bags by charging a few cents per bag.  In the second photo, the store charged me 5 cents for an extra plastic bag.  (I usually have a couple of reusable bags handy. But this was an unplanned trip so I feel bad.)

Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) 

EHFs are charged on electronics.   Provincial recycling programs administer EHFs for the safe and responsible handling of end-of-life electronics.  The Source has a detailed matrix of EHF per province and item. 

Recycling Fee 

Recycling fees represent the cost of recycling the beverage container purchased.  Unlike the EHF, deposits may be refunded when empty containers are returned to participating stores as BC Liquor Stores and recycle depots such as Return-It.

It is nice to note that there are guidelines for returning containers. For example, BC Liquor Stores will only accept containers that are empty, clean, and uncapped. Their staff will issue a refund if they can determine that the product was sold in BC.

3. Certifications

Canada’s multicultural landscape brings a diversity of beliefs, preferences, habits, and even advocacies.  The resulting array of goods makes shopping in Canada interesting.

Food Item with Halal Logo

Some items bear certifications such as organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free.  These are great for individuals who have dietary restrictions or preferences.  Some items are marked Halal to convey that these are permissible under Islamic law.  Also, a few are certified to sustainability standards such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

As expected, these certifications add both premium and cost to the products.

Shopping in Canada
Shopping in Canada

4. Returns and Exchanges

I do not recall returning purchased items when I was living in the Philippines.  In Canada, it is not rare to see shoppers returning items at Customer Service Counters.  I believe that the strong consumer protection legislation and enforcement, as well as vibrant market competition, allow for such buyer behavior.

There are important things to note about returns and exchanges.  According to the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada website, there is no law that requires sellers to take back an item.  Because of this, every seller has a different return and exchange policy.  It is therefore important to check the store’s policy before purchase.

Receipts, notices near the cash register, and the seller’s website typically state return and exchange policy information.  These may also include exemptions and conditions.  For example, final sale items cannot be returned or exchanged.  Pierced earrings, underwear, swimsuits, and similar items are not accepted for returns due to hygienic standards.  Cashiers are great at informing buyers of these exemptions. Ask if in doubt.

5. Price Match

Price matching is an offer by a retail location to match a competitor’s lower advertised price for the same product. It can be intimidating to people like me who are not used to this practice.  But it can result in significant savings when shopping in Canada.

A bit of research before shopping is helpful since not all retailers offer a price guarantee or ad match.  Also, some stores offer discounts in addition to the price match. This should be more than enough motivation to grab this offer.

6. Types of Stores

I will be honest. I do not consider Canada a shopper’s paradise due to the costs of goods and the lack of variation in product offerings.  But finding what suits you may just be a matter of knowing where to look.

Shopping in Canada is usually done in malls, retail chains, grocery stores, mass merchandisers, and department stores.  We also have outlet malls. However, you should not overlook independent, farmers’ market, dollar, open box, and liquidation stores for your various shopping needs.  Thrift and consignment stores may also carry interesting finds especially for those who are looking for bargains, unique pieces, or sustainable options.

Organized Line up during Boxing Day in Canada

7. Sales

Sales may not be as interesting or eventful in Canada compared to its southern neighbor.  But sales in Canada still bring that feeling of triumph.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day and the sales happen the day after Christmas.  However, I noticed that the sales have been extended to boxing week in recent years.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

During my first few years in Canada, some friends would cross the border to take advantage of Black Friday Sales.  This scenario has become rare, at least in my circle.  This is due to the low Canadian dollar purchasing power and Canadian Black Friday Sales. 

To encourage shoppers to spend their money in Canada, retailers offer big discounts on the fourth Friday of November or the day after American Thanksgiving.  The sales extend to Cyber Monday. 

The Business Insider shares a rule of thumb for Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday shopping. Shopping for big-ticket items in-store and online is better on Black Friday.  Shopping for tech deals and smaller items online is better on Cyber Monday.

Moving to another country offers new and, oftentimes, overwhelming experiences. To be honest, the additional taxes and fees can also be shocking to an unwarned buyer. So, I hope these tips will help you enjoy shopping in Canada.

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