Credit Card Acceptance in Canada: What You Need to Know

November 6, 2018

Whether you’re visiting Canada for the first time or a regular guest of the great white north, if you’re planning on making purchases here, there’s a good chance you’ll use a credit card. Credit card acceptance in Canada differs slightly from other countries. Canadian payment processors rely on advanced fraud prevention and payment processing technology that is not standard in every country. This means there are small differences between domestic and foreign credit cards, and how they’re processed.

Domestic vs Foreign Cards

Most Canadian payment processors are able to accept all major credit cards, which tend to fall into one of the four brand categories – Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. These credit card brands are issued domestically and internationally, meaning that it is possible to carry both a domestic and foreign credit card by the same brand. One of the key ways to know which type of card you carry is by noting the issuer of the card. If the issuer is a Canadian-based organization, such as a bank or credit union, you likely have a domestic card; if the issuer is a foreign organization, you likely have a foreign card. If you’re unsure, contact the customer support number associated with your card to find out.

Accepting Domestic Credit Cards

If you have one or more domestic cards, you’re always payment ready in Canada. Canadian merchants with a payment processing solution should be able to accept domestic cards at any time. Some merchants may choose to opt out of processing certain credit cards, due to transaction fees or other reasons, so it’s important to look for card acceptance signs or ask an employee before making a purchase.

Accepting Foreign Credit Cards

Most Canadian merchants are able to accept foreign credit cards without difficulty, as they follow the same card acceptance procedures as domestic cards.

For foreign cardholders, there are a few additional considerations to make when using your credit cards in Canada. The card brand or issuer may charge additional fees to the cardholders account for using the card internationally. These could be foreign transaction fees, currency conversion costs, and other billable items.

Cardholders may also want to contact the issuer of the card before they begin to use it in Canada. Some card issuers may be concerned with international purchases being made on a foreign card, seeing it as a sign of fraudulent activity. When this happens, many issuers choose to place a temporary hold on the account until they can reach the cardholder leaving the card unusable for a period of time.

Using Credit Cards in Canada

In Canada chip and PIN cards with near field communication technology (NFC) are standard for consumers. These cards not only have a standard black magnetic stripe on the back, they also have a square chip embedded in the front, and NFC enablement built in. In many foreign countries, the United States included, not all of these features are standard in credit cards. Many countries still rely mainly on the magnetic stripe to process a payment, with the addition of inputting a PIN or signing a recipient.

The security standards for Canadian credit card use is high, and this affects the ways credit cards are accepted. Most Canadian payment processors recommend using contactless or chip and PIN technology to authorize a purchase. Though payment terminals continue to offer a swipe payment option, these transactions are at a higher risk for fraud and aren’t recommended as a first choice. If a foreign card is being used, cardholders will likely be prompted to swipe their card; in this situation, using a magnetic stripe is appropriate.

Interested in learning more about credit card use in Canada? Make sure to check out our articles How to Accept Credit Card Payments Online and How to Accept Credit Card Payments In-Store!

The information in this article is provided solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be legal, business or other professional advice or an endorsement of any of the websites or services listed. 

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