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As a visitor to the US from Canada, is it possible to use Canadian money, especially coins, at businesses in the US?

What about vending machines?

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There are local exceptions that accept Canadian money at par, mostly for tourist promotions, (Jay Peak, Vt), Myrtle Beach, SC) for the later: huffingtonpost.ca/2016/02/03/… – Max Feb 17 at 20:57
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Even Canadian vending machines don’t accept Canadian coins. The new loonies and toonies are not backward-compatible. – Basil Bourque Feb 17 at 21:21
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Yes and no. In general, a vendor may accept anything as payment. But a purchaser cannot demand that anything but 'legal tender' be accepted by a vendor who serves the general public. – user2338816 Feb 18 at 2:20
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@user2338816 As your own link states, a purchaser can't even demand that legal tender be accepted by a merchant. 'Legal tender' status just means that people who are owed debts must accept it, not that anyone selling anything must do so. It's perfectly legal, for example, for a merchant to only accept card payments or only accept checks. – reirab Feb 19 at 16:44
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@trevor Having lived in Bellingham mostly, since 1988, I experienced the same thing. However, your comment sounds past-tense, and more recently, most places including Bellis Fair mall have stopped accepting Canadian change at par, and may even have stopped taking Canadian cash. (Probably because VISA became more popular, so there's been less interest in people trying to spend Canadian cash, so less of a need for stores to care enough to accept it.) Though as Necreaux's answer suggests, we generally don't care to differentiate the pennies (presuming less than 5 of them in a purchase). – TOOGAM Feb 21 at 19:05

10 Answers 10

up vote 43 down vote accepted

Technically no, practically speaking yes.

Many of the coins look the same as US coins at a first glance, so careless clerks may accept them. I am in the US and often find myself with Canadian pennies and quarters which are very similar to the US counterparts. Having all the new coins in the US in recent years makes it even harder for people to tell the difference. Generally, vending machines will not accept them.

It's probably technically illegal to pass them off as US currency though, it might be classifiable as counterfeiting or fraud, but it happens all the time, intentional or not.

EDIT: To summarize discussion in comments...

There may be stores near the border that officially accept CAD. That would be completely legitimate. I live in a border state but have never seen any. In all fairness I live 200 miles from the border but I do go near the border several times a year. I also have never specifically looked. It is probably limited to tourist locations.

In reference to careless clerks, using CAD for an entire transaction is unlikely to work. 4 CAD quarters would be way less likely to work than 3 USD and 1 CAD.

I'm still skeptical on the vending machine front. I've tried it without success and stopped trying, but maybe there are vending machines that would accept them. A whole discussion on how they work would probably be off-topic, but I think it has something to do with whether they detect a coin based on size or electrical resistance.

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@blackbird57 there is a distinction here between passing CAD for USD, and explicitly using CAD in a place that accepts them. There are a lot of places near the border that accepts CAD, which an exchange rate the is usually a little lower. – njzk2 Feb 17 at 15:53
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The USA might be the only country you can spend those Canadian pennies now. – Th4t Guy Feb 17 at 17:08
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As far as bills are concerned, you might have a hard time convincing a typical American that anyone considers Canadian money to be actual money, much less that they should accept it. As an American living in Canada, I've gone back home to hear everything from "Monopoly money" to "tissue paper" (which is absurd, Canadian money would be useless for any legitimate application of tissue paper...) – corsiKa Feb 17 at 18:49
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@njzk2 Agreed. Intentionally passing off Canadian currency as if it were U.S. currency is fraud. You're only paying 73% of the price (at today's exchange rates, at least.) – reirab Feb 17 at 19:34
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This answer is misleading. Clerks might not notice if you pay with several US coins and one Canadian coin but if you try pay for things using only Canadian coins, I'm pretty sure that would be noticed. Your summary sentence should be something more like "Technically no but you might be able to spend the occasional Canadian coin here and there." – David Richerby Feb 19 at 0:47

Generally not. Your Canadian money will definitely not work in US vending machines. Some border towns accept Canadian currency, but the further from the border you get, the less likely it is.

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As an American living in Canada, I can assure you many places around the states accidentally take Canadian coins. – corsiKa Feb 17 at 18:48
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@corsiKa Careless store clerks, sure. But vending machines? Don't those normally have measures to only accept the types of coins they're expecting? – reirab Feb 17 at 19:30
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It would appear people on this site use vending machines approximately 10000x more than I do... – corsiKa Feb 17 at 19:37
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Exactly this - the amount of offense you will cause a store clerk when trying to pass a Canadian coin is almost entirely related to your distance from the border. Americans from New England (far NE US) have expressed incredulity to me that anyone would even bother to notice; some Texans see it as a federal crime akin to money laundering. – Dewi Morgan Feb 18 at 2:26
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@Dewi: actually Scottish banknotes aren't legal tender (scotbanks.org.uk/legal_position.php), but what you say is true about acceptance varying by latitude. – Steve Jessop Feb 19 at 12:22

Canadian money in the US is generally not accepted, and will definitely not be taken at the abysmal current rates, unlike US money which you can sometimes use in Canada.

However, in my experience quarters are nearly always interchangeable, I've used US quarters in machines in Canada and American businesses have accepted Canadian quarters in the past.

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US Quarters have almost always been accepted in Canada, in vending machines. The reverse has never been true--except perhaps on the odd occasion when Canadian currency has been more valuable. The coins have different weights, and the machines are more than capable of differentiating. – Auspex Feb 17 at 14:31
    
@Auspex hm quite possible, maybe I need to refresh my memory with a trip to the US soon – blackbird57 Feb 17 at 14:37
    
Rejection by vending machines are generally how I become aware that some clerk has slipped me a less valuable Canadian coin. – tjd Feb 17 at 17:32
    
Replace "can sometimes use in Canada" with "can always use in Canada" – Insane Feb 17 at 18:03
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@Insane hm that's not quite true – blackbird57 Feb 17 at 18:29

Devices that take coins in the US are specifically designed to reject all foreign coins, and most will do so quite reliably. If you happen to find one that does not, it would be the equivalent of using a slug rather than a coin in terms of what the potential penalty might be.

In general, foreign coins are much less acceptable than bank notes in most countries (for example, usually banks don't want them and won't supply them), and the US is certainly no exception. There may be a few places in border towns that depend on Canadian tourism that will accept coins and/or bank notes, but it would be stated explicitly. It might even be possible to get a preferential exchange rate, as a promotional deal, but that would be by far the exception.

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Resident of the Buffalo/Niagara region here. Acceptance of of Canadian currency is not uncommon but the exchange rate is definitely not preferential. Canadians come here to avoid the PST & GST. Erie County's paltry 8% sales tax is a remarkable savings for Canadians in its own right. Most folks just use plastic when across the border. – tjd Feb 17 at 17:25
    
@tjd There are a number of Western NY tourist-oriented businesses that currently accept Canadian dollars cash at par, and others that offer a discount. Naturally this is not made obvious to residents as it would probably just p*ss them off. Unfortunately (unlike HST) there is no way for non-residents to get a rebate on NY state sales tax, so often Canadians end up paying both. random example – Spehro Pefhany Feb 17 at 19:42
    
"It might even be possible to get a preferential exchange rate" Perhaps. But, in general, when you're in one country and trying to use the currency of another country in a shop, the exchange rate you get is truly abyssmal. – David Richerby Feb 18 at 0:14

It depends.

When I was very young (some 55 years ago), living in Lake Hills WA, a small bedroom community just outside Bellevue WA, which in turn is just outside of Seattle WA, Canadian coins and American coins routinely traded one-for-one. I would be very surprised to learn that this was no longer the case, as Seattle is quite close to the Canadian border.

I saw the same thing in St Petersburg FL in 1982. During the high season, the town was close to 40% Canadian tourists.

While there was, in St Pete at that time, about a 20% difference in the value of the coins, according to the exchange rate, the local merchants didn't worry about it. They figured they'd make it back when they passed the coin along to someone else, and it made it easier on the Canadian tourists who were paying the bills.

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Proximity has little to do with value, take a look at current exchange rates and you'll see why no one wants Canadian money. US money is generally worth more but the difference has always been negligible down to quarters and dimes – blackbird57 Feb 17 at 17:52
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"I would be very surprised to learn that this was no longer the case, as Seattle is quite close to the Canadian border." Well be surprised then. About the early 80s, someone, Federal Reserve, changed the rules and banks stopped taking Canadian coinage as American they had before. Merchants followed suit, and the amount of incidental Canadian Coinage in circulation is much less now. – Shannon Severance Feb 17 at 21:11
    
yep, I've lived in Seattle on and off since 2005 and have never once seen anyone use Canadian currency here. – fluffy Feb 18 at 0:45

I will add to the existing answers that most Canadian coins, over the last several years (or decades, for some denominations), had been made of (some variety of) a magnetic steel alloy. US vending machines most definitely will not accept any coins made out of a magnetic alloy, and the Canadian government (unlike the US one, ironically) is trying to pull the existing old (including non-magnetic) coins out of circulation (for metal reclamation - many of them are worth more as scrap metal than face value).

So anything you got in recent Canadian change is probably not going to be accepted in a US vending machine, but if you somehow have Canadian coins from the 1980s or earlier (can't recall where exactly the cut-off date is - and it's different for different denominations - but 1980s should be safe enough), they might be accepted, as the size is identical, and the composition is similar.
Of course, if you have Canadian coins denominated 10 cents and up from 1967 or earlier, they are silver, and worth an awful lot more than face value. And, also of course, knowingly passing Canadian currency (either coins or banknotes, though of course the latter is much less likely) as US currency of the same numeric face value (and thus much higher exchange rate) is very illegal fraud either way.

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There are businesses along the Canadian/US border that are aware of Canadian currency and may accept it at the appropriate exchange rate.

In particular, one company that I worked for on their point of sales software had a not insignificant portion of the business in towns like International Falls and Port Huron be from Canadians. The cashier would select the option for the tender being in Canadian currency and the current exchange rate would be applied to the currency. Outside of those two stores, it is still possible (though neither required nor are the cashiers necessarily trained on that feature of the software).

And so yes. There are places were using Canadian currency (both bills and coins) is perfectly acceptable within the United States. Chances are other companies that have businesses that border the border will have similar policies.

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This answer is definitely interesting, in that it would appear that some businesses might do more than the look the other way acceptance of coinage. – CGCampbell Feb 22 at 12:17

In the eyes of the US Treasury I am sure the answer is absolutely not. Store clerks will sometimes uncaringly or unknowly accept Canadian coins. Any merchant can decide for themselves to take Canadian money in an effort to boost sales just as they could decide to accept Chuck E Cheese tokens if they thought it could boost sales.

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The U.S. Treasury doesn't care what coins a shop accepts. As you say, a shop can choose to accept anything it wants in payment for goods. All the U.S. Treasury cares about is that you can't refuse to accept U.S. currency in payment of a debt. (Note that this is, technically, irrelevant to shops because you're not in debt to the shop: you're making an offer to exchange money for goods. But you are in debt to a restaurant when you eat your meal before paying for it.) – David Richerby Feb 19 at 0:50
    
Usually that money will be deposited in a bank where the federal government does start to have a say – teambob Feb 19 at 6:59
    
@teambob: as far as that is concerned, the government will take an extreme interest if the store tries to deposit Chuck E Cheese tokens claiming they're US dollars, but not at the point you accept tokens in your store instead of dollars. Either federal or local authorities might become interested in how you're reporting these token or Canadian-dollar transactions for sales/corporate/income tax. – Steve Jessop Feb 19 at 12:08
    
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_currency#United_States is quite fun, to see how these things sometimes kind of work (Ithaca hours) and sometimes very much don't (United States Private Dollars). – Steve Jessop Feb 19 at 12:11

Anything larger than 25 cents, definitely not.

For pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, sometimes.

In Michigan (where I grew up, which is near Canada), almost always. In New York, where I live now, clerks have rejected them.

I've never tried to use more than one or two at once, anywhere.

Vending machines will reject them.

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YES. But you should not rely upon it. There is no regulation preventing the acceptance of Canadian currency. If the vendor chooses to accept it, it is accepted. You may struggle to find a store that implements a policy of acceptance but it has happened.

Ask.

Hotels will generally place a notice above the reception desk, and you may be gouged for their inconvenience on the exchange rate.

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