Best Ways to Take Money to the US in 2023
As our closest neighbour, huge numbers of Canadians cross the border to the US every year. For some of us it’s just a short break, while others spend large chunks of the year stateside, or choose to move to the US to work, live or study.
Whatever takes you to the US you’ll need to work out the best way to get cash and pay for things when you get there. You’ve got a few different options here - so spending a bit of time before you travel picking the method or methods that suit your needs is a smart plan, and can also mean you spend less overall.
This guide covers 4 possible ways to take money to the US, including their benefits and drawbacks, to help you pick the right way for you.
Prepaid travel cards to use in the US
Ideal for: ways to spend US dollars conveniently, and to get USD cash from an ATM as and when you need it
You can get a prepaid travel card from a specialist online provider like Wise. You’ll also be able to go for a prepaid card from a bank, like the BMO Prepaid Mastercard. Prepaid cards have their own features and fees - but one obvious benefit is that they’re not linked to your normal CAD transaction account. This gives peace of mind, improves security, and can make it easier to budget for your travels.
Specialist prepaid travel cards usually support multiple currencies for holding or exchange - that means that you can top up the card in Canadian dollars and convert your balance over to USD for spending once you arrive in the US. That can make it easier to plan your travel spending - although some cards also just let you leave your balance in CAD until you pay, and convert instantly as needed.
Not all prepaid cards have multi-currency holding options, and some have foreign transaction fees if you spend overseas. Generally, choosing a card which lets you hold multiple currencies is best for travel, offering a balance of improved security and low overall costs.
Learn more about our picks for the 5 best prepaid cards - there’s more on our top choice, Wise, next.
Wise - our pick for prepaid travel card
With this card:
Hold and exchange 40+ currencies and manage your money from your phone
No annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement
Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup
Some free ATM withdrawals available every month
Receive payments to your account with local bank details for up to 9 currencies
|Wise card pros||Wise card cons|
✅ Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate
✅ No foreign transaction fees apply
✅ Free to hold and spend 40+ currencies
✅ Receive payments to your Wise account in a selection of global currencies
✅ No minimum balance or ongoing fees
❌ It can take up to 14 days for your physical card to arrive by mail
❌ Free ATM withdrawals are limited to 2 per month, to the value of 350 CAD. Fees of 1.75% + 1.5 CAD after that
❌ 10 CAD fee to receive payments to Wise in CAD, via SWIFT
Pros and cons of taking money to the US with a prepaid travel card
Some Canadian prepaid cards are linked to multi-currency accounts - allowing you to hold USD conveniently
Easy to order your card online - some options can also be collected in person if you’re in a hurry
Cards are available with no minimum balance or ongoing fees to pay
Currency exchange may have better rates than a bank will offer
Exchange rates may include a markup on the mid-market rate
ATM fees may apply, depending on the card you pick
Some cards charge a fee if you spend in an unsupported currency, or if you spend a currency you don’t hold in your account already
Travel debit cards to use in the US
Ideal for: spend and withdraw money conveniently abroad - and manage everything from your phone
While you can just use your bank debit card when you’re in the US, you’ll probably find this involves paying a foreign transaction fee unless you have a cross border banking package which offers ways to hold USD. Using your bank debit card can also feel risky from a security perspective - if you lose it or it’s stolen you’ll need to cancel your main payment card.
Instead, many people prefer to get a debit card that’s designed for travel from a specialist provider.
Travel debit cards vary pretty widely but they’re generally optimised for people spending in foreign currencies. That may mean you can hold several different currencies alongside CAD, or you might find you get extra perks like insurance or airport lounge access.
If you’re ordering a specialist travel debit card, then picking a card which supports a broad range of currencies rather than just USD will also mean you can use it for the next time you go away.
We’ll go into more detail about our top pick for a travel debit card - the Canada Post Cash Passport - next. You can also learn more about the best travel debit cards in Canada here.
Canada Post Cash Passport - our pick for travel debit card
With this card:
Get your card conveniently online or in a Canada Post location
Load any of up to 7 major foreign currencies, including USD
No fee to spend a currency you hold in your account
Lock in exchange rates in advance of travel
Free secondary card in case your first is lost or stolen
|Canada Post Cash Passport card pros||Canada Post Cash Passport card cons|
✅ Hold 7 major currencies in your account
✅ No extra fee to spend a currency you hold
✅I ssued on the Mastercard network for global acceptance
✅ Contactless payments or Chip and PIN options
✅ 24/7 global assistance if you lose your card
❌ 15 CAD fee to get your first card
❌ 3.25% fee if you spend a currency you don’t hold in your account
❌ Top up and cash out fees may also apply
Pros and cons of taking money to the US with a travel debit card
Use for spending and ATM withdrawals in the US safely and conveniently
Many cards from specialist services are linked to multi-currency accounts you can use on future trips too
No interest or penalty fees - top up to set your travel budget so you don’t need to worry about unexpected bills
Not connected to your main CAD account, adding extra security
Some transaction fees usually apply
You may pay a fee when converting from one currency to another, which can be rolled up in the exchange rate you get
Some cards have card order or closure costs associated
Taking cash in the US
Ideal for: small purchases and tipping, and as a back up plan in case your card is out of action
Cash isn’t always necessary in the US, as card payments are popular and widely accepted. However, there are always some occasions when using cash is easier - or essential - so having a little on you is a smart idea.
You can buy US dollars in cash before you travel through a service like Canada Post - or you can exchange your CAD on arrival. You’ll find it easy to locate a currency exchange service close to tourist attractions and in big towns - but the exchange rates offered will vary widely. That means you’ll need to shop around to make sure you get a good deal.
Generally the most convenient way to get cash for your trip to the US will be to make ATM withdrawals as and when you need to. It’s safer as you won’t have to carry all your travel money at once, and if you use a travel debit card or prepaid travel card from a provider like Wise you might also find you get low overall costs and a great exchange rate.
Do I need cash in the US?
You might find you seldom use cash in the US - but it’s always worth having some with you, just in case a merchant can’t accept your card. Cash is also handy for tipping and when you’re buying things at markets.
You’ll find that it’s easy and pretty good value to use a prepaid card or travel debit card to make ATM withdrawals in US dollars once you arrive in the US, often with low or no fees, depending on the card you pick.
How to buy US dollars on arrival in the US?
You’ll find it easy enough to exchange your Canadian dollars on arrival, at currency exchange stores in cities, airports, or tourist areas. You’ll need to carry high denomination, clean notes and shop around to find a decent exchange rate. Aside from the potential of getting stuck with high overall costs, the major downside here is that you’ll need to take time out of your trip to find a currency store.
How to buy US dollars in Canada?
You can buy US dollars in cash in Canada before you travel if you want to make sure you have some in your pocket when you cross the border. Canada Post has partnered with CIBC to offer foreign cash for collection or home delivery, or there are individual currency exchange stores in all major urban centres. Fees and exchange rate markups may apply.
Best place to get US dollars from
There’s no single best place to get your travel cash. Providers pick their own rates and fees, which can vary widely. Shopping around is essential - remember to look at both any upfront cost and the exchange rate being offered, as there’s often an extra charge tucked away in the rate a provider uses for retail customers.
Pros and cons of taking cash to the US
Good as a back up plan in case your card is out of action or can’t be accepted by a merchant
Buy your cash in advance to save time on arrival, and lock in the live exchange rate at the point of purchase
Set your budget in advance so you know exactly what you have to spend
Carrying a lot of cash isn't particularly safe
You’ll usually waste time during your break if you’re having to compare costs to get a good deal
Exchange rates vary widely and usually include a markup - an extra fee
Travel credit cards to use in the US
Ideal for: overseas spending with no foreign transaction fee and spreading the cost of your travel over several months
While the features of a travel credit card do vary, you’ll often find you pay no foreign transaction fee when abroad. Some cards also offer extras like complimentary insurance, annual travel credits and emergency cash if you’re unlucky enough to have your card stolen.
Another popular reason to get a travel credit card is to allow you to pay for your trip over a few months. That can make managing the costs easier, but bear in mind that variable interest will apply which means you spend more in the end. Finally, you’ll sometimes be asked for a credit card as a payment guarantee, such as when you check into a hotel or rent a car.
Overall there are some great benefits of using a travel credit card responsibly - but do remember that annual fees, interest, cash advance charges and penalties can apply, which can make this a costly choice.
Learn about our top pick - the HSBC World Elite Mastercard - next.
HSBC World Elite Mastercard - our pick for travel credit card
With this card:
Spend internationally with no foreign transaction fee
Variable interest rate based on purchase type and personal circumstances
Add extra cardholders to your account for free
Lots of extras and travel benefits offered
24/7 support of you’re a victim of theft or fraud
|HSBC World Elite Mastercard card pros||HSBC World Elite Mastercard card cons|
✅ No foreign transaction fee
✅ Up to 4 supplementary users on each account with no extra annual charge
✅ 24 hour worldwide assistance to get cash to you if your card is stolen
✅ Some complimentary insurance offered
✅ Options to earn rewards, including enhanced benefits for travel spending
❌ Interest and penalty fees may apply depending on how you use your card
❌ Annual fee of 149 CAD
❌ ATM withdrawals come with fees and a higher rate of interest compared to purchases
Pros and cons of travel credit cards to the US
Earn rewards and discounts, or get travel perks - depending on the card you pick
Spread your costs out over a few months
Some cards have low or no foreign transaction fees
Credit cards are useful as a payment guarantee in some situations
Interest and fees usually apply if you don’t pay back your bill immediately
Cash advance and interest costs apply when using an ATM
Eligibility rules apply
Travel requirements from Canada to the US
There’s no visa requirement for Canadians travelling to the US. Generally if you’re heading there as a short term tourist all you’ll need is your passport, or in some cases a valid NEXUS card.
Bear in mind that medical costs in the US are notoriously high, so you’ll also need top notch medical travel insurance which explicitly covers your trip to the US.
Check the Canadian government’s travel advisory page to learn more and to get detailed information for your specific destination.
Does the US accept Canadian dollars?
No. You won’t be able to spend CAD anywhere in the US. If you’re carrying Canadian dollars with you you'll need to exchange them for US dollars when you arrive.
Best currency to take to the US
You’ll only be able to spend in US dollars in the US. While you can carry cash in CAD and convert it on arrival, or get some dollars in cash before you leave, for many travellers using a specialised travel card for cash withdrawals in the US as and when you need them is the easiest solution.
Top travel money tips to the US
Here are a few final tips to help your money go further while you’re away:
Have several different payment methods in case one isn't accepted wherever you are
Get a travel money card before you leave to make it easier and cheaper to spend and withdraw in the US
Use the handy Exiap guides to learn more about currency exchange, travel cards, and more
How much money do I need per day in the US?
Exactly what you’ll need to pay for your visit will depend a lot on what you like to do, and where in the US you’ll stay. As you’d expect, the large cities which are popular with tourists can be pretty pricey.
To put this in context, in the US as a whole you’ll find a 3 course lunch for 2 will set you back in the region of 103 CAD. Have that same meal in New York, and you can expect to pay over 165 CAD.
Do some detailed research to see how much things are likely to cost based on your plans and where you’re headed, so you can plan your budget. Get more detailed cost information by country and city, from Numbeo.com.
How much does it cost to fly from Canada to the US?
Flight costs vary widely depending on where in Canada you’ll leave from, the US airport you want to land in, and the time of year you’ll visit the US. The particular carrier you want to fly with is also a factor in the cost. At the time of writing (October 2023), the very cheapest deals start from around 130 CAD per person return - but if you’re looking for a flag carrier like American Airlines, the ticket fees rise to over 215 CAD per person.
Conclusion - best ways to take money to the US
There’s no single best way to take money to the US. In fact, having more than one way to pay is definitely a good idea - just in case you end up in a situation where your preferred payment method isn't accepted.
A good solution for many people could be to get a travel card - such as a prepaid travel card from Wise or a Canada Post Cash Passport - and to carry that as well as your regular debit or credit card as a back up. You can then use your travel card to make ATM withdrawals on arrival for those times when you need cash.
Use this guide to decide which option to take money to the US will work best for you, based on your own preferences and needs.
FAQ - best ways to take money to the US:
Should I exchange money before I travel to the US?
While you can switch Canadian dollars for USD before you travel, it’s actually very easy to just make a cash withdrawal at an ATM on arrival in the US. This can also be cheap, and may get you a better exchange rate compared to exchanging in advance, particularly if you have a travel card from a provider like Wise.
Can I withdraw US dollars from a local ATM?
You can’t withdraw US dollars at a normal ATM in Canada. However, you can get a travel card to make an ATM withdrawal on arrival in the US, which will often mean you pay less compared to using your bank card which might come with a foreign transaction and international ATM fee.
Are prepaid travel cards a good way to take money to the US?
Travel prepaid cards from services like Wise are a safe way to spend when abroad. With Wise you’ll also get mid-market exchange rates and low, transparent fees which can bring down the costs of your trip.
Can I use cash in the US?
Yes, although in most places you’ll also find card payments are OK - in larger bars or restaurants you can even use a card for tipping. In general, making sure you always have some cash in US dollars, and a travel card for spending or getting cash from an ATM, is a good choice so you have a back up plan if you ever need it.