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Canada

Deepening Research and Teaching
Unrated
Towers and Science Center building from Expo 86 loom over the water in Vancouver

Jasper Johnston '20, Canada

GSS Country Snapshot

A brief overview of Harvard activities, safety & security, health, cultural, and outbound immigration considerations

Canada is a popular destination for affiliates to study, research, and attend conferences. The world’s second biggest country consistently ranks in the top 10 registered locations for Harvard travelers.

At Harvard, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs’ Canada Program expands research, teaching, and educational opportunities for Canadian studies, including courses taught by visiting scholars, faculty conferences, seminar series, and funding for students’ dissertation and thesis research.

The information below is intended as a high-level summary and is not all encompassing. Situations on the ground can change rapidly. We encourage you to review the additional resources and utilize your Harvard network to learn more. You can also schedule a consultation with us if you’d like to discuss the safety and security or operational matters unique to you and your travel or project. We’ll work with you to minimize risks and help you make informed decisions about your travel and activities.

Safety & Security

Although the Harvard GSS risk rating for Canada is unrated, there are still factors for Harvard affiliates to consider when traveling or planning activities in Canada. For example, petty theft occurs in major cities. Crimes motivated by race and ethnicity, particularly against Middle Eastern and African-Caribbean individuals, have been reported. Protests and demonstrations are common. Gun violence has been reported in major metropolitan areas. Terror attacks have occurred in the past, and the country remains a potential target for terrorist activity, both domestic and foreign. As with any country, you need to research and consider all factors in the context of your identity, your activities in country, and your familiarity with the country and its culture. If a security incident occurs, contact International SOS through the Assistance App or by dialing +1-617-998-0000.

Weather and environmental-related incidents can create safety risks in Canada. Winter storms, avalanches, heavy rainfall and flooding in spring, and landslides pose seasonal risks. Tornadoes are frequent May-September, and forest fires are common in western Canada. Hurricanes occur occasionally on the east coast, and seismic activity is a risk in several provinces—British Columbia, Ontario, and Québec. Download the International SOS Assistance App to receive push alerts about incidents in your area.

There are numerous international and domestic airports in Canada. Intercity air travel is a convenient way to travel given the country’s vast expanse. There’s also a large train and bus network between major cities. Licensed, metered taxis are available in all cities and most towns, and they can be ordered by phone or ride-share app, or from hotels and inter-city train and bus stations. Canada has an extensive, well-maintained road network, but travelers are advised not to self-drive because conditions may vary from what you’re used to. Review the road safety report for Canada (access code: Harvard1636) for more information on public transit, walking, biking, and driving.

The mobile phone network in Canada is comprehensive. Internet access is widely available, and internet cafes are widespread. Cybercrime via malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks are potential threats, as is credit card skimming at point-of-sale merchants. Know how to keep your data safe abroad.

Health

Make sure you’re up-to-date on any required and recommended vaccines for Canada. Health risks such as Covid-19, histoplasmosis, rabies, and West Nile virus may be present. If you're traveling with medication, check to see if your medications are legal and available in Canada. Only prescriptions written in Canada are accepted; also note that pharmacies are referred to as chemists.

Visit your doctor or a travel clinic (such as Harvard University Health Services) at least a month before your departure to discuss all health risks and your individual health with a professional, to receive any vaccines or medications you’ll need, and to learn how to reduce your risk of infection or transmission.

Keep in mind that all travelers have a small risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea in any country. Learn how to make safe food and drink choices.

If you need any medical or mental health assistance while on a Harvard-related trip in Canada, contact International SOS through the Assistance App or by dialing +1-617-998-0000. International SOS can direct you to appropriate inpatient or outpatient care and provide translation assistance (healthcare professionals in Québec may only speak French). Emergency and trauma capabilities are available, and evacuations from more rural areas are possible.

Culture

Canada is parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Its mixed, global economy is driven by the service, manufacturing, and mining industries. It is a secular state with a wide range of religious beliefs and customs; the majority of Canadian identify as Christian or non-religious, followed by Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh.

English and French are the official languages of Canada, and several Indigenous languages have official status in the Northwest Territories. English is widely spoken, although French is the dominant language in Québec. Many other languages, such as Arabic, Cantonese, German, Italian, Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish, and Tagalog are also spoken in major cities. Be mindful that using your index finger to point at another person is considered impolite in Canada.

Credit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are widely available. Hotels, restaurants, and shops may accept U.S. dollars.

When booking travel or scheduling meetings, be mindful of Canada’s holidays and festivals since businesses may be closed or have reduced hours.

Visas & Travel Documents

Before traveling to Canada, make sure your passport is valid for at least one day beyond the duration of your stay and that you have a blank page for an entry stamp. All visitors must have an onward or return ticket, and depending on your citizenship, activities, and length of stay, you may need a visa, work permit, or electronic travel authorization to enter.

Requirements are subject to change, so always check your visa and travel document requirements well in advance.

Upon exit, you may be charged a departure tax, which varies by airport and destination; you may also be charged an airport improvement fee.

Quick Facts

  • Currency: Canadian dollar (C$)
  • Tipping: 15-20% customary
  • Voltage & plug type: 120 Volts; Types A & B
  • Telephone code: +1
  • Emergency numbers: 911
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