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Our trip to Montreal was so fun, and I still can’t believe we could drive to from New York to Montreal in less than seven hours! Driving sure beat the price of flying a whole family up there and the ride was really easy. I love that in a short road trip, we could be transported to a completely different country and culture. I learned a lot about driving into Canada and I’m excited to share my tips for Americans visiting Canada, especially the French speaking city of Montreal.
On this trip, Momma To Go partnered with Tourisme Montreal for complimentary and discounted tickets to some attractions. As always, all opinions are my own.
Driving from NY to Canada
From where we live on Long Island, it is exactly a 400-mile drive to the heart of Montreal. According to google maps, the ride will take about six and a half hours. From Philadelphia, Montreal is 455 miles, from Boston 308 miles and from Portland, Maine, Montreal is only 262 miles away! Clearly Montreal makes a great road trip destination from the northeast US!
Besides being significantly cheaper than flying a family of four (plane tickets to Montreal were hovering around $250-$300 per person for end of August 2018) the drive from New York to Montreal is really easy. As you can see on the map, its literally a straight drive due North along I-87 North.
For this trip, we left our house on a Sunday afternoon, after little man’s soccer tournament. At that time, getting out of the NYC area was surprisingly traffic free, but at rush hour, definitely consider that the roads might be more congested. I would avoid hitting the road during the weekday morning or weekday afternoon rush.
Because of little man’s soccer tournament, we were not sure when we would be able to leave for Montreal. For that reason, we planned to just drive 3 hours on Sunday, stopping for the night at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Malta, New York (Just south of Saratoga Springs). We drove the remainder of the way to Montreal on Monday morning, arriving at our hotel (the AC by Marriott Downtown) around 2pm.
Once you drive north of the Poughkeepsie area, the road really opens up and you will be driving at top speed towards Canada! Along this stretch of road, you will pass by Albany, then the summer resort destinations of Saratoga (horse racing in the month of August!) and Lake George. These areas have many amenities such as gas and restaurants but note summer lodging prices in this area are very high.
As you travel north of Lake George, you enter the Adirondack Mountain region. Driving through the lush, green mountains is beautiful, but be careful here because roadside amenities are limited. We did stop at a Stewarts gas station for fuel and convenience store treats, but there were not many restaurants right off the highway. There was also no cell phone service in this area, at least for us AT&T customers.
The last big town before the US Canada Border is Plattsburgh. This is where we stopped for lunch before crossing into Canada. We figured this would be the simplest before trying to navigate a foreign country with hungry children, and hungry adults!
New York/Canada Border Crossing – Driving into Canada
For an American family, traveling on holiday, navigating the Canada border crossing was very simple. We arrived at the US Canada border around 1pm on a Monday afternoon. There were only a few cars in front of us.
I had all our passports (US) in a Ziploc bag in the glove compartment, easy to access as we pulled up to the Canadian Customs agent. This Canadian border crossing looked a lot like a toll booth.
As we pulled up, we handed our passports to the agent and she asked me to roll down the window so she could see who was in the backseat. For some reason, the kids got such a kick of that. Then she asked us several questions:
- Where we were headed and why? (Montreal, holiday)
- More specifically she wanted to know what hotel we were staying at. (AC by Marriott Downtown)
- How long we were planning to stay? (four nights)
- Did we have any alcohol, tobacco or firearms? (Just two bottles of wine)
And that was it. She scanned our passports and off we went! We were in Canada and all of a sudden, all the road signs were in French. From the border, it was about another 40-minute drive to our hotel.
Tips for Driving in Canada
A bit of French Driving Vocabulary
In Quebec and all of Canada, driving is done as it is in the US. Driver on the left, car on the right. Nothing monumental there. However, in the French –speaking province of Quebec all the street signs were in French. I could tell a Stop (ARRET) sign from its familiar red octagon shape (thank God for the universal language of geometry). I knew that SORTIE meant exit (as in highway exit) from our drives through Maine. But sortie is definitely a helpful vocabulary word.
I think it’s also important to know your cardinal directions: NORD (North), SUD (South), EST (East) and OUEST (West). While trying to navigate the traffic heading into Montreal. Google maps kept telling to go to Ouest and I wasn’t sure if that was East or West! I took Italian all through high school… and college… and after college in night classes… and I practice on Duolingo but my Italian is still shaky, although much better than my French!
Navigating the Metric System
When you cross into Canada, the speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour (they use the Metric System). I realized then that my Acura MDX actually does display kph in small numbers around the speedometer, but I had a panic moment of huh? When I saw the speed limit was 100kph.
It’s only about 63 mph btw.
So you might want to familiarize yourself with your speedometer especially if you are in a rental car or doing a lot of driving through Canada!
Make sure you have directions
Lastly, about driving into Canada, I was paranoid my Acura sat nav would conk out and I knew hubby had signed us up for a Canadian data plan (more about that in a moment) but I knew with all things tech, if there were problems connecting, we were going to be out of luck with directions to our hotel.
So when we stopped for lunch in Plattsburgh, I screenshoted the directions to our hotel from google maps. If I had thought about it before hand, I could have printed the directions (so old school, remember the days of printing from MapQuest?) but this was a good second-rate back up.
See this is why you are reading my article, so you won’t make the same mistakes as me!
P.S. The Acura sat nav worked fine and hubby was able to connect us to the internet upon crossing into Canada. We used the google maps lady to navigate us to the hotel. And although she was speaking to us in English, she was reading the names of exits, streets and directions in French – which was pretty hilarious! She was also telling me distance in the metric system.
I’m still trying to figure out how far 600m is…
General Tips for Americans visiting Canada
As an American citizen, visiting Canada could not have been easier. Again, Montreal was an easy drive for us, and getting into the country was pretty painless. However here are some things tips we learned along the way for all Americans visiting Canada, not just those driving in!
Passports to enter Canada
One (of many) reasons we did not spend this end of summer vacation in Europe was because my daughter’s passport expires in January, and for most European countries, you need to have six months validity from the time you enter the country. I knew with our busy summer we probably wouldn’t have time to get her passport renewed.
To enter Canada with an American passport, your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay.
According to the US State Department, Canadian law requires that all persons entering Canada carry both proof of citizenship and proof of identity. A valid U.S. passport, passport card, or NEXUS card satisfies these requirements for U.S. citizens.
Children under 16 need only present proof of U.S. citizenship.
As always, it is advised you do your homework to make sure you have the proper documentation for your family. Oh, and when you check out of your hotel, don’t forget to take your passports out of the safe… (luckily, I remembered them as we were packing the car)
Money: USD to CAD
The currency in Canada is the Canadian Dollar, CAD. At the time of our visit in August 2018, $1 USD was worth about $1.30 CAD. Said differently, $1 CAD was equivalent to $0.77 USD so for every Canadian price tag, we could cut the amount by 25% to get a rough estimate of cost. It was like five days of buying everything on sale!
Using Credit Cards in Canada
Before I left for Canada, I was taking out movies from our local library for the kids to watch in the car. I happen to mention this to the children’s librarian who had just returned home from a girlfriend trip to Montreal! She gave me great tips on visiting the city – the best being that EVERYWHERE in Montreal takes credit cards.
From the ice cream parlor to the food trucks, credit cards are widely used in Montreal. We could use our Delta Amex about 70% of the time, we also have a Marriott Visa we use as well.
Using a credit card in Canada was so easy. At restaurants, when paying a bill by credit card, the server will bring over a little handheld device that you can use to pay and add a gratuity (about 15-20% like here in the US).
For this reason, we never exchanged or took out Canadian cash. When we tipped the street performer in Vieux-Montreal, he was happy to take American dollars as were the bellmen at the hotel. The ONLY place we encountered that did not take credit cards was the entrance to the Notre-Dame cathedral. However, they did accept American Dollars at a 1-to-1 exchange rate. To pay the $16CAD entrance fee, we had to pay $16 USD, which means we really paid almost $21CAD to enter the Church.
Cell Phone Service in Canada
Driving across a country border is a bit of an arbitrary thing, but one important thing to consider when driving to Canada is if you use your phone across the border, you will be hit with all sorts of international roaming fees.
A few days prior to our trip, hubby called our service provider (AT&T) and added an international data plan to our phones. This cost $10 USD per day, but was worth it to us for several reasons. Hubby needed his phone for work, and having the ability to access the internet while touring is so important for navigating, calling an Uber and checking on addresses and hours of sights!
Our hotel had free Wi-Fi so it would be possible to have only one parent add the data plan for navigating and what not.
When we crossed into Canada, hubby turned OFF international roaming and set our phones to the local network (as per AT&T’s directions). Basically, my advice is to call your service provider before traveling and find out the options to connect to the internet and make phone calls while traveling outside the US. When my sister and I traveled to Italy back in 2017, we did not have any international data (just Wi-Fi where were we staying) and we really regret not having had access to the internet while trying to tour around.
The Cultural Experience of Montreal and Quebec
I had very much hoped for a cultural experience for my family. The point of traveling to Montreal was to experience a place we had never been to, and a city that was unlike home.
And Montreal certainly delivered on all of the above.
READ MY EPIC GUIDE TO VISITING MONTREAL
Montreal was more European, and way more French than I expected. All of the signs and menus were in French. In many restaurants, an English translation was offered, but for example when we popped into McDonald’s the entire menu was in French (I bet we could have asked for an English copy, but we were able to figure it all out). The TV in our hotel room had way more French channels than English and my kids got a kick out of learning about the 24-hour clock used for posting times in shops.
In Montreal, everyone we encountered was completely bilingual. But 90% of conversations were initiated in French. When the person realized we were English speakers, they would switch. We had one Uber driver who did not speak English, but otherwise it was not a problem.
Visiting Montreal with the kids offered us a great first chance to be in a place where we were the foreigners. For them to begin to see that not everyone lives the way we do, and that there is a big world out there for exploring. Of course, it was nice to do so in a place where people did speak our language and familiar stops like Starbucks and Dairy Queen were on the agenda.
We loved our visit to Montreal, it was such an easy road trip and we definitely have been bit with the international travel bug! Clearly, we need to renew the kids’ passports and think about where our next international trip will take us!
Have you driven to Montreal? Driven into Canada? What are your best tips for visiting Quebec and Montreal?
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