To international visitors, determining the actual cost of things can be a perplexing problem. Unlike Britain, Australia or New Zealand where prices must be quoted inclusive of taxes or exclicitly state "plus tax" on all material, this does not happen in Canada, and can be most confusing.

The main problem is Canada's Goods and Services Tax (GST), provincial sales tax (PST), and/or harmonized sales tax (HST - combined PST & GST) . Although other countries may have taxes with similar names, in Canada these taxes are almost never included on the displayed or advertised prices, so visitors must remember to include them in their budget calculations. (The TripAdvisor Traveller Article Canada: Taxes gives more detailed information on tax rates and what is taxed.)

There are two notable exceptions to this rule. The first is fuel prices (gasoline/petrol, diesel fuel), where the price at the pump always includes all applicable taxes. The other exception to this rule is dining out - whether you're buying fast food or eating at a fine restaurant, the restaurant has the option of including the GST (or HST) in the price of the food items (tax in) or adding it to the price that is shown on the menu (tax out). Menus must state whether the prices include, or do not include, the GST. (If not, be sure to ask.) For everything but restaurants, the GST will not be included in the price that is displayed (tax out pricing). To add to the possible confusion in restaurants, a tip (10% to 20%, depending on service) is expected, if you dine in a restaurant with servers. So if you dine in a province with 12% HST, you need to remember that you will end up paying 22% to 32% more than the prices shown on the menu (provided you are leaving a tip).

Some provinces, such as Alberta and BC, also have very aggressive beverage container recycling programs. Again, the charges associated with the recycling programs are not included on the large print prices that are displayed on grocery store shelves (although you may see a small note advising you of the additional fees that will be charged). For example, if you buy a small package of 5 x 200ml fruit drinks, the shelf price may indicate $1.67 Canadian. But at the checkout the price can escalate to $2.27  This is caused by added container deposits ($0.10 each on small polycoated drink boxes) plus a container recycling fee ($0.02 per box), for an additional $0.60. However, the additional price is well worth it to residents (who are familiar with these charges) because the return rate for beverage containers in Alberta and BC is over 75%. As a result, beverage containers make up only a small portion of litter, and there is an incentive for low-income individuals and civic organizations to clean up beverage container litter. 


Container recycling at food court 

As a visitor, it's worthwhile to keep an eye open for bottle recycling bins. Beverage containers placed in the bins, instead of tossed in the trash, will be recycled and the proceeds from their deposits are often donated to local community groups. (And yes, even drink boxes are recycled.) You may see beverage container recycling bins in food courts, in shopping malls, on the grounds for major outdoor events like the Calgary Stampede, and even in campgrounds.

Many stores in Canada, from bookstores to grocery stores, have started to charge a small fee for providing bags for your purchases. This is usually around five to ten cents a bag, which can add up if you buy a lot of groceries. Of course GST, HST, and/or any other applicable sales taxes will have to be paid on the purchase price of the bag.

Ask the price of a rental car, and the total may nearly double when various 'extras' are added, such as air conditioning excise, vehicle licence fee apportionment, insurance, damage waiver, windscreen damage, and then taxes on the lot .

So remember that whatever you decide to buy in Canada, the end price may be considerably above what you would expect! When doing your budget planning, be sure to ask for a price quote that includes taxes and all other applicable fees to avoid unpleasant surprises.