Tag Archives: Canada

Are prices in Canada higher than in the United States?

I’ve noticed that many prices seem to be lower here in the United States than in Canada. Am I imagining it? With the help of my Canadian friend Annette (an experienced shopper), I decided to find out.

Methodology

I selected a basket of 20 common retail items (food, alcoholic beverages, and fuel), and compared the prices for these items in Vancouver, Canada (my home) and San Antonio, Texas (my location when this crazy idea struck me). Annette and I gathered regular retail prices (not sale prices) not including sales taxes from comparable retail outlets (to the extent that they are available in both cities) within a few days of each other. The American prices were converted to Canadian dollars at the current exchange rate. Where quantities or package sizes differed, the prices were adjusted to equivalent volumes.

Findings

The table below shows the items we checked, the U.S. price, the Canadian price, and the percentage difference of the Canadian price compared to the U.S. price.

Product U.S. Canada Percnt
Frosted Flakes (760g box) $3.92 $7.23 84.6%
Cheerios (396g box) $2.90 $5.02 73.3%
Milk (3.78L = 1 gallon) $4.32 $4.56 5.4%
Eggs (12 Large Grade A) $1.71 $2.63 53.5%
Coors Light beer (24×355 ml cans) $20.39 $43.99 115.7%
Corona Extra beer (12 x 330 ml bottles) $13.25 $25.69 93.9%
Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon (750 ml bottle, Australia) $5.07 $12.99 156.2%
Woodbridge Merlot (750 ml bottle, California) $8.64 $13.99 61.9%
Coca Cola (12 cans) $3.04 $5.97 96.4%
Coca Cola (2 Litre bottle) $1.41 $1.87 32.9%
Chicken thighs skin-on, bone in (per pound) $5.04 $4.98 -1.2%
Ground beef (85% lean, per pound) $3.25 $6.28 93.0%
Ground beef (89% lean, per pound) $3.79 $7.98 110.3%
Ground beef (93% lean, per pound) $5.08 $9.88 94.5%
Bananas (per pound) $0.49 $0.58 18.5%
Fuji Apples (per pound) $1.70 $1.19 -30.1%
Yellow Onions, medium (per pound) $2.43 $1.28 -47.3%
Russet Potatoes (per pound) $0.90 $0.48 -46.5%
Gasoline (regular, per Litre) $0.91 $1.34 47.9%
Diesel fuel (per Litre) $1.01 $1.41 39.4%

Analysis

Vancouverites are paying a lot more!

Of the 20 items on the list, 16 were more expensive in Canada. 3 produce items were significantly cheaper in Canada (apples, onions, & potatoes), and there was a trivial difference in the price of chicken thighs. All other items were between 5% and 156% more expensive in Canada.

The price differences were the biggest for wine and beer (61% to 156% higher). The probable reasons for this are: a government monopoly on alcohol distribution in British Columbia, high government taxes on alcoholic beverages, and restrictions and tariffs on importing alcohol into Canada.

Grocery items (other than the few that were cheaper) were between 5% (milk) and 110% (ground beef) more expensive in Vancouver, with the remaining 9 items between 18% (bananas) and 96% (Coca Cola) more expensive.

Vehicle fuel was priced 47% higher in Canada for regular gasoline and 38% higher for diesel fuel. This is due, in part, to higher taxes.

I recognize that this was a very limited sample size (20 items, 2 stores, 2 cities, none of which were randomly chosen), and so few general conclusions can be drawn from these results. But it does confirm my suspicions. In my experience, groceries, alcohol, and fuel are consistently more expensive in Canada than in the United States.

Why is this the case? What can Canadian consumers do about it? Stayed tuned for more on this topic.

Our Unplanned Route

This trip has been an ambition of mine for a while.  Although not officially on my Dreams List, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for several years, and it will provide an opportunity to fulfill other dreams that are on my list.  Initially, I had only the vaguest of ideas.

Map of Canada and the United States with an red oval surrounding most states and provinces with the words "See This" in the center

Initial Concept

We left home with only the vaguest of routes in mind.  Head south to the warm weather as quickly as possible.  Turn left in Southern California.  Visit family and friends in Arizona.  Continue East until Florida.  Turn left again.  Drive North until we cross the Canadian border.  Turn left somewhere in the Maritimes.  Drive West until we return home.  Along the way, stop as appropriate.  That was it.

Map of Canada and the United States with lred lines around the perimiter of the Unisted States and going through the Canadian provinces

Version 1 of Route Plan

Our only constraints are:

  1. Canadians can stay for a maximum of 6 months less a day in the United States for immigration and taxation reasons
  2. we want to be home in British Columbia before the Canadian winter makes travel difficult.

The basic idea is to follow the sun while circling and seeing as much of Canada and the United States as possible.

Before leaving home, I made a list of the things that I wanted to see, those that I could think of off the top of my head.  I also searched the Internet for ideas of places to visit (e.g. “top travel destinations United States”).  I combined several of these Internet lists into a spreadsheet.  I also added in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites from both Canada (16) and the United States (21).  I sorted my list by state and province, and hoped that I might get to as many of these places as possible.

Now that we’ve been on the road for a while, we’ve had some time to think and some excellent advice that has allowed us to refine our route further.  The overall plan hasn’t changed, but now we have an expanded list of places to visit, attractions to see, and even some places to stay.  The details remain to be worked out.  We try to roughly plan a route as we enter each state, but not the day-by-day details.  We’d rather take it one day at a time.  And of course, everything is subject to change.

We have also gained a few contacts in various parts of North America, people who can give us their local suggestions.  We would really like your input also.  Please leave a comment with your North American travel recommendations — places to visit, routes to drive, ‘must-see’ attractions, favourite restaurants, places to stay, etc.   If you have a friend who can provide us with recommendations on any of these, please forward this post to him or her. We would be very grateful.  I look forward to blogging about some of your favourite places!

There and back again — Retrieving our motorhome

picked up our motorhome from the dealer in Des Moines, Iowa on December 28th.  I drove out into the night and a snow storm.

The roads were slick with uneven layers of ice still clinging to them from an earlier blizzard.  I sat idling in the parking lot while I figured out the controls, including the in-dash GPS.  I eased on to the freeway and headed west towards Omaha, Nebraska.  The steering was pulling to the left and I thought I might have a problem, but I kept going because the dealer was closed anyhow, and I later learned that it was just the wind steadily pushing on the broad side of the motorhome.  I stopped for fast food, then drove for a few hours before pulling in to a Walmart just off the freeway after 10 PM.

I headed in to the store to buy some road trip essentials – some jugs of drinking water, a tea kettle, a dozen diet coke, a variety pack of potato chips, chili chocolate, some $10 vinyl floor mats, and a plastic bin to hold my snowy boots.  It was cold out, 10 or 20 degrees below freezing, but I stayed warm in the arctic sleeping bag that I’d borrowed from my friend Lee.

A warm thick red sleeping bag on our RV bed

A sleeping bag for a North American winter

RV in a frosty parking lot with Walmart behind

My first night’s accomodation

The next morning I woke up early and the sun was shining.  I purchased fuel, mistakenly buying more expensive biodiesel which should be OK for our new engine (I hope?).  Although it was cold, the weather and the roads were clear, so I prepared to ‘make time while the sun shines’.  I drove 15 hours the first day, stopping only for fast food, fuel, and toilet breaks.

RV Front at sunrise in frosty, icy parking lot

I drove west through America’s heartland on Interstate 90 through Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.  I passed a lot of famous attractions – The Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis (home of the massive annual Harley Davidson gathering), The National Museum of Wood Carving, The South Dakota Hall of Fame (OK, perhaps some of them aren’t so famous).  I went right by The Bridges of Madison County (made famous by the Clint Eastwood film of the same name), The ‘World’s Only’ Corn Palace (do we really need more than one?), 1880 Town, Wall Drug, and the Ranch Store (‘where you can feed the prairie dogs for free!’).  I also skipped the Car Museum (which has one of probably many General Lee’s from the Dukes of Hazard), Wonderful Cave (‘the largest in the mid-west’), and The Prairie Homestead (that can’t be very exciting, can it?)  I also missed the Badlands, Devil’s Tower (from Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), Grand Teton, Yellowstone National Park, and the Rocky Mountains.  I’ll have to slow down next time.

Looking out the RV window onto a flat, snowy road

The view from my window

What I found interesting was that many of these attractions are advertised on billboards for 100 or more miles in advance.  I couldn’t believe that I was still seeing more signs for something hours after they began.  By the time I got there, I’m thinking, ‘maybe I should check this out? I can’t believe that someone went to so much effort.  Perhaps it’s good?’  But I suppose that’s the intention.

Motorhome beside road with flat, snowy prairie int he background

Miles of flat snowy prairie

The engine light came on at sunset of the first full day of driving, which had me worried.  It turns out that the engine light comes on when the fuel level drops to the point that one begins using the reserve tank.  Soon afterwards, the fuel warning light comes on.  Why wouldn’t it be the other way around?

I passed many helpful signs like, “Help manage our wildlife, wear fur”.  Also, ‘God Loves You’, followed soon afterwards by, ‘The Wages of Sin is Death’.  I guess that’s the carrot and stick approach.   I saw one that said, ‘Jesus is Lord in this Valley’, and I thought, ‘why limit yourself geographically?’  Did the probably well-intentioned author mean to limit God’s jurisdiction?

I drove another 15 hours the second day and came over Snowqualmie Pass late in the evening to arrive at Seattle.  I drove a little farther to get to the north of the city which would allow me to avoid most of the morning traffic.  I spent my 3rd night on the road in a Walmart parking lot in Lynnwood.  The weather was finally warming up, but still just above freezing.

A thick red sleepng bag laying on our RV bed

Another night at Walmart

Motorhome front under the street lights in a Walmart parking lot

On the morning of Day 3, I discovered that the kettle I had purchased at Walmart and had been using for the last 2 days still had what appeared to be the instructions inside, but it was hard to know for sure because it was just a soupy mess.  Surprisingly, it didn’t affect the taste of my tea.  I drove north to the Pacific Highway Truck Crossing at the Canadian border between Blaine, WA and Surrey, BC where the US Customs and Border Protection Office that handles vehicle exports is located.  I had submitted the required export paperwork to US Customs more than the 3 business days in advance that they require.  I waited while dogs searched the lobby and me until the agent returned to confirm that my motorhome hadn’t been stolen, stamped my paperwork, and sent me on my way.

One hundred meters later at the Canadian border crossing, I was instructed to park and take my paperwork inside.  They calculate and collect the Goods and Services Tax (5%), but they also wanted to charge me 6.1% duty, which came as a surprise.  I was under the impression that the Mercedes=Benz Sprinter chassis was manufactured in Germany but assembled in Charleston, South Carolina making it duty-free under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  However, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on our chassis starts with the letters ‘WD’ which means that it was made outside of North America (the ‘W’) in Germany (‘D’ is for Deutschland), and that is all the Canadian Customs and Border Protection agents consider.  I spent 3 hours at the border researching and calling people to try and prove otherwise, but I was mistaken.  It turns out that Sprinter cargo and passenger vans are assembled in the U.S., but Sprinter cab chassis, upon which our and all other Sprinter-based motorhomes are built, are shipped fully assembled from Germany.  So I paid the additional duty, watching some of my anticipated savings from buying in the U.S. disappear.  On the positive side, I did make it home in time to enjoy New Year’s Eve with Diane.

The other challenge with buying a motorhome based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in the U.S. is the warranty.  Although a motorhome built on a Sprinter cab chassis has a full warranty if purchased and registered in the U.S., this warranty becomes invalid when the vehicle is exported and registered in Canada.  On most Mercedes vehicles Mercedes-Benz Canada would then honour the remainder of the warranty, but only after charging thousands of dollars to convert the vehicle to their, not Transport Canada’s, standards.  This surtax allows them to maintain a significant price differential, charging thousands of dollars more for the same new vehicles in Canada.  Unfortunately, Mercedes-Benz Canada will not honour the warranty for the Sprinter cab chassis, supposedly due to the modifications made to convert it to a motorhome.  However, Mercedes-Benz U.S. does provide a warranty for the same converted vehicles, so this seems to be a convenient excuse to discourage Canadians from buying in the U.S.

Back in Canada, I took our Solera for the required federal inspection at a Canadian Tire store, and then got it registered and insured at an Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) agent.  Upon registering it in Canada, my Mercedes-Benz warranty disappeared.  Do I sound bitter about this?  I shouldn’t, because I knew about it in advance and chose to import a Sprinter-based motorhome anyhow, but apparently I still have some energy about it. If we had purchased a Ford, the other manufacturer of motorhome chassis in North America, I would still have a warranty and I would not have paid duty.  But I would also own a Ford.

It took me longer to drive home than the estimates provided by our GPS and Google Maps because the speed limit most of the way was 75 miles per hour (121 kph).  In the motorhome I drove 65 mph (105 kph) on the highway during daylight hours and 60 mph (96 kph) in the dark.  I averaged 12.8 miles per gallon (18.4 Litres per 100 km), but this will improve as the diesel engine breaks in and I slow down a bit.  Diesel fuel averaged $3.70 US per gallon, and an almost-empty tank cost about $75 to fill.  When I picked up our motorhome it already had 800 kilometers (500 miles) on it.  My trip was 3220 kilometers (2000 miles), bringing our total mileage to about 4000 kilometers (2500 miles).

In hindsight, I still think that we made the right decision to purchase our motorhome in the U.S. and import it ourselves.  Even with the unexpected costs, we still saved significantly.  However, we are now relying on the famous German engineering and quality, as these savings could disappear if we have any major problems with our Mercedes chassis.  We are placing our bet on the Germans,  Would you?

Our Next Adventure

Happy New Year!  Another lap around the sun.  An occasion for new beginnings.  The perfect time to begin another adventure.

When we returned from Europe in September, 2012, Diane and I had already agreed how we would spend our 2013, though it was not what we had in our minds when we left for Europe in April.  We had intended to return to Vancouver and settle down for a while.  Then our friends Sue and Martin asked us if they could defer their trip to the colonies by another year, meaning that they wouldn’t be needing the RV, the one we haven’t purchased yet, until 2014.  Since our home is currently occupied by foreigners, this gave us an opening to buy an RV a bit earlier and to use it in 2013.  A great opportunity to do some more traveling, and to make sure that our soon-to-be RV is fully tested and ready for our friends.

And so it was that we decided to pursue another travel adventure in 2013 – a circumnavigation of the United States and Canada!  We plan to leave Vancouver in January 2013 and quickly make our way down the west coast to the warmer weather of Southern California and Arizona.  We’ll cross the southern states during the winter then follow the sun up the eastern seaboard as the weather warms.  We’ll cross back into Canada by mid-summer, careful not to overstay our welcome in the U.S. (Canadians tourists are allowed to stay for a maximum of 6 months).  We’ll explore the Maritimes and Eastern Canada before heading back across the Prairies in the fall, hopefully crossing the Rocky Mountains before the heavy snow flies.

Other than this vague outline, we have no specific plans.  There are a few friends and family that we hope to visit along the way, mostly in the west.  We’ll follow our whims and the weather, travelling on the highways of life and the byways of experience.

I’m excited about what lies ahead and we invite you to participate in our adventure.  We hope that you enjoy the stories of our journey.  Because many of you have traveled in the United States and Canada, we look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.  As it was when I started this blog, it remains my intention that we will all benefit from the experience.  Thank-you for participating and have a great 2013!

The Intermezzo

Our first trip to Europe last fall was a great success.  We travelled by motorhome through Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain, little Andorra, and even smaller Gibraltar.  The map below shows our approximate route for Europe Phase 1.

Map of Europe marked with red lines showing route during Europe Phase 1

Europe Phase 1 Route

My musings about this period are available in the Archives from September 2011 to December 2011 (remember that to read them chronologically, you need to read them from the bottom up).

We returned home to Vancouver just before Christmas.  It was great to be with friends and family for the holidays, and to get caught up on the many things that needed to be done.  We left Europe with a to-do list of 120 items and battled it down to 12 items before we departed.  I never understood why retired people claimed they were so busy, but there appears to be something to it!

Because our home is rented, we were graciously hosted by our friends Werner and Henny for most of our time in Canada.  We did take a short trip down to Arizona to visit family (read about it in an upcoming blog) and to escape the rain.  We also ‘house sat’ for a couple of weeks for our friends Joanie and Henry who were also traveling.

We had previously decided to stay in Vancouver until the wedding of our niece Bailey and her husband Keenan.  It was a small and thoroughly enjoyable wedding and provided us a great last-minute opportunity to see Diane’s family before we departed.

Transition

It’s weird to be home, but not be in our home. It feels like walking over soft ground on a foggy morning. When I wake up at night, I’m not initially sure where I am, a temporary disorientation as my memory catches up with my senses. With my wits dulled from sleep, finding the bathroom in the dark can be difficult and potentially hazardous.

Jet lag has us a bit out of sorts. We’re exhausted by 8:30 PM in the evening, barely able to keep our eyes open. We wake every day between 4 and 6 AM. Even after 5 days at home, and despite concerted efforts at slumber, I still can’t sleep past 6:00 AM.  During the day I feel slightly hazy and vacant with a touch of light-headedness from time to time. It’s not unpleasant. Kind of like I’ve just had a big glass of wine.

Even though it’s Christmas, our alcohol consumption has declined and our healthy food intake is on the rise. I probably need about a month of salads to return my cholesterol and my colon to their normal states.

I’m back driving on the left hand side of the car again. Initially my sense of road position was slightly off, which Diane complained about as she was buzzing along perilously over the ditch.

Even though Vancouver is the warmest place in Canada, it’s still colder than where we traveled in Europe. I’m cold indoors and out. I’m going ice climbing next week, which should adjust my thermostat.

We’ve returned directly into the maw of Christmas consumer craziness. Out of season, the touristy thoroughfares of Europe weren’t as busy as our local mall.

We went grocery shopping yesterday and I was slightly traumatized by the food prices. Even accounting for the fact that the prices are in dollars rather than Euros, they still seem significantly higher than in Europe. Thankfully fuel is cheaper. When I’m hungry, perhaps I’ll go for a drive instead.

Europe Phase 1

After a brief stop in Southampton to visit family, we made it back safely to Canada in time for Christmas. We’re still dealing with the jet lag and trying to get used to the cold. We have our car insured and cell phone activated and we’re staying with generous friends until we return to Europe soon for Phase 2. We’re looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the holidays, and getting back in shape.

When contemplating Europe we anticipated rich history, grand sights, interesting culture, and great food. We experienced all of these things. We knew that travel would be much easier than in the developing world, and it was, despite some bad weather and vehicle problems. We had hoped, against the odds, for nicer weather. After the first week of September, temperatures where we traveled ranged from 2 to 23 degrees Celsius. Pleasant enough if it’s not raining, but cold at night. We were glad that we brought our down coats and gortex jackets! Phase 2 should be warmer and drier.

Because of the cold weather, we spent less time enjoying the nature of Europe and more time in the cities. We look forward to more hiking and for Patrick, climbing and mountaineering, when we return. Also the beautiful alpine views, great beaches, and swimming in the lakes and oceans.

We met fewer people (locals and tourists) than on previous trips because we were traveling by RV (i.e. not staying in hotels, not eating out as much, and only staying in campgrounds some of the time). In Phase 2, we will make more of a conscious effort to connect with people. If you have friends or family in Europe, we would love to meet them. We don’t expect anything, and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to get to know the people of Europe. If you’re thinking of traveling to Europe next summer, let us know and perhaps we can meet up?

Despite leaving a bunch of stuff in the S&M Motel, we found that our backpacks were crammed for the return trip. I’m not sure how this is possible when the only thing that I purchased in 4 months was Bombay Sapphire (gin) at the duty free store. Perhaps Diane’s new boots and clothes are the reason.

During our hiatus we’ll focus on planning for next year, getting our finances in order, getting back in shape, and spending time with family and friends. I will continue to blog. I’ve got a lot of postings partially written that I will finish and share, and lots more ideas. If you’re following the blog, please stay subscribed. As always, your comments on the blog are greatly appreciated.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!