British Columbia travel guide
About British Columbia
One colossal mountain range after another, gigantic fjords biting chunks out of a wild coastline, and temperate old-growth rainforests hiding cougars, bears and wolves: British Columbia is nature at its best.
That said the cities are pretty special too. Clutching onto the edge of the Coast Mountains and Pacific Ocean, Vancouver may lack world-class museums, but who needs those when you’ve got beaches to flop on, food trucks to munch at and Canada’s biggest city park to play in? Not to mention an elaborate web of hiking and ski trails in the city’s backyard.
And forget what you’ve heard about Victoria replicating ye olde England. BC’s bijou capital buzzes with floatplanes, kayakers, one of the finest gardens in the nation and a resident orca population offshore.
Take a road trip past mineral hot springs and glacial lakes in the Kootenay Rockies or peach trees and vineyards in the Okanagan. Venture into Canada’s only desert at Osoyoos, home to rattlesnakes, scorpions and prickly pear cacti. Spot grizzlies in Northern BC, whose sprawling wilderness is twice the size of the UK.
The opportunity for adventure in this province is unremitting. Get out and surf Pacific swells at Tofino or ski fathomless powder in Whistler. Explore the Gulf Islands and Haida Gwaii archipelagos by kayak or paddle the Kicking Horse River by raft. Hike up and down ladders on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail or follow the wagon wheels of pioneers and bike the Gold Rush Trail north from Lillooet.
Wherever you go, unspoiled beauty will be just around the corner.
944,735 sq km (364,764 sq miles).
5 per sq km.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Wildfires in Canada
Canada is experiencing a particularly severe wildfire season. There are wildfires affecting several Provinces and Territories, particularly in Western Canada including, but not limited to, North West Territories, British Columbia and Alberta.
Wildfires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. The situation can change quickly.
If you are in or near areas affected by wildfires
Be cautious if you are in or near an area affected by wildfires. You should:
- Check the status of wildfires in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta
- Download the Alertable emergency app on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store
- Follow the advice of local authorities
- Contact your travel operator or accommodation provider before you travel to check that it is not currently impacted. Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
If you need consular assistance
If you are a British national in Canada in need of consular assistance call +1 604 683 4421.
For concerned family and friends, call our 24-hour helpline on +44 20 7008 5000.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad, which includes:
- advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
- information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Canada set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact Canada’s High Commission in the UK.
Countries may restrict travel or bring in rules at short notice. Check with your travel company or airline for changes.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Travel to Canada
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for passengers entering Canada. Avoid travelling if you have symptoms of COVID-19. See the Government of Canada’s website for more information on COVID-19 and travel.
Public spaces and services
The Government of Canada recommends that all travellers wear a face mask on public transport.
You may be asked to wear a face mask indoors, such as in hospitals or on public transport. You may need proof of vaccination to visit settings such as care homes.
Local authorities in Canada can introduce restrictions or measures at short notice. Comply with the rules and advice of the local authorities. Check the COVID-19 guidance for each province and territory.
Passport validity requirements
Your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay.
Most people need a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to travel to Canada – not both.
You may need to provide fingerprints and photos at a visa application centre to apply for permanent residence or a study or work permit. Find out if you need to give biometrics. If you do need to give biometrics, see the list of biometrics collection points.
When you arrive, you must show that you have enough funds to support yourself during your stay, even if you are staying with family or friends.
Contact Canada’s High Commission in the UK if you are unsure about visa requirements or your eligibility to enter the country, for example, if you have a criminal record or have been arrested.
Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA)
You must get an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) to enter or transit Canada by air, unless you’re exempt. Read the list of exemptions on the ETA website. If you enter Canada by land or sea, you don’t need an eTA. However, you must travel with acceptable travel documents and identification.
If you have British-Canadian dual nationality, you cannot apply for an eTA. You need a valid Canadian passport instead.
The eTA website has information about the eTA system and how to apply.
Visa and eTA scams
Some unauthorised websites charge for submitting visa applications. These websites are not associated with the Government of Canada.
If you think you may have been a victim of a scam, use the eTA Check Status tool to confirm if your eTA is valid. If it has been 72 hours since you applied, and you have not received a confirmation of your application, complete this enquiry form.
Transiting through Canada
You must have a valid Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) to transit Canada, unless you are exempt.
If you have questions, contact:
- your airline
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
- your nearest Canadian high commission, embassy or consulate
Travelling with children
If only one parent is present, carry a letter of consent from the non-travelling parent. Immigration officers have the right to question children using simple and appropriate language to see if there are any concerns about child abduction.
There are strict rules about goods that can be taken into - and out - of Canada. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
Banned food products will be confiscated and you could be fined. Check the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website for more information.
If you visited a farm, or had contact with wild animals before entering Canada, and intend to visit a farm during your stay, you must complete the relevant section in your Customs Declaration Card. For more information, see the Government of Canada’s website on biosecurity.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.
Terrorism in Canada
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Canada.
Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should remain aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.
Recent attacks include:
- in 2023, one person was stabbed and injured in Surrey, British Columbia
- in 2021, 4 people were killed and one injured by a vehicle in London, Ontario
- in 2020, one person was killed with a hammer in Scarborough, Ontario
- in 2020, one person was killed and 2 wounded in a machete attack in Toronto, Ontario
Take precautions to protect yourself from petty crime, including:
- not leaving your bag or luggage unattended
- keeping luggage out of sight in cars
- keeping valuables and passport in a hotel safe
- leaving copies of important documents with family and friends in the UK
- carrying a photocopy of your passport for ID
Laws and cultural differences
Recreational cannabis is legally available in Canada. Local laws vary depending on the province or territory you are visiting. It is illegal to carry any form of cannabis into the UK without a valid licence issued by the Home Office. This includes cannabis and cannabinoid oils prescribed for medicinal purposes in Canada. It is illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border without a permit or exemption authorised by Health Canada.
There is more information on the Canadian Border Services Agency website.
If you are hiking or camping, be considerate and cautious of local wildlife. You should:
take all rubbish with you including food items to avoid attracting animals to your site
be careful around animals with nearby young or nests – they may be aggressive when protecting their territory
research the region to learn about the local wildlife
take particular care if you’re in an area where bears have been sighted
keep a safe distance from any wildlife including marine animals and birds
follow park regulations
Traffic and safety laws vary between provinces and territories. This includes laws on whether you are allowed to turn right on a red light. See more information on driving in Canada.
Follow speed limits and take extra care when travelling on country roads. Watch out for wild animals.
Driving in winter
In winter, highways are often closed because of snowstorms and avalanches in Alberta, British Columbia and other provinces. Check local weather conditions on The Weather Network.
Driving conditions can be dangerous, even when roads remain open during a winter storm. Take care, follow local restrictions or guidelines, and make sure your vehicle has snow tyres and emergency supplies.
Car hire in Canada
You can drive a car in Canada using a full UK driving licence. However, some car hire companies may require you to have an International Driving Permit. Check your car hire company’s requirements before you travel. Always carry your driving licence and take out full insurance cover if you hire a vehicle.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
From July to November, coastal areas can be affected by hurricanes. Check the National Hurricane Centre, Environment Canada and The Weather Network websites for the latest weather conditions. See FCDO advice on tropical cyclones.
Avalanches can happen in mountainous regions, including Alberta and British Columbia. Always follow avalanche advice and stay away from closed trails. Follow the directions of local guides or instructors. For more information and avalanche news, visit the Canadian Avalanche Foundation.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
Familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. The Government of Canada has more information about emergency preparedness.
Summer thunderstorms are frequent in most parts of Canada, particularly between April and September. They can cause property damage and threaten lives.
Tornadoes can occur anywhere in Canada between May and September, but June to July is the peak season in:
- Southern Ontario
- southeastern Quebec
- Southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba through to Thunder Bay
- the interior of British Columbia and western New Brunswick
Follow instructions from Canadian officials or law enforcement. Check the National Hurricane Centre for weather updates.
Forest fires can start at any time, whatever the season. There is more risk of fire in the grasslands and forests of western Canada. Follow local warnings or news for details on latest outbreaks.
For more information about active wildfires and forecasts, visit the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System website.
Most British nationals travel safely around the Arctic each year. However, consular assistance and support to British nationals is limited by the capacity of national and local authorities. Make sure you have appropriate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment or potential repatriation.
Before you visit:
- consider the remote nature of certain destinations and access to medical facilities, search and rescue and evacuation options
- have emergency plans in place, particularly if you are an independent traveller
Sea travel in the Arctic
Most people visit the Arctic by ship. Some areas of the Arctic are uncharted and ice-covered. Before you travel:
- check the experience and credentials of operators offering travel in the region
- consider the on-board medical facilities and discuss any pre-existing medical conditions with the cruise operator
Search and rescue
In the highest latitude regions of the Arctic, cruise ships may be isolated from other vessels or populated areas. Be aware that:
- search and rescue response may be very far away
- assistance to stranded vessels may take several days to arrive, particularly in bad weather
- search and rescue teams will only offer basic transport and medical care; they are unlikely to be able to offer advanced life support
Before you travel, check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Dial 911 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance or medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check:
- the latest information on health risks and what vaccinations you need for Canada on TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre)
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Canada, including the ski and hiking destinations in the Canadian Rockies, such as Banff and Lake Louise. More information about altitude sickness is available from TravelHealthPro.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
TravelHealthPro explains best practice when travelling with medicines.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Healthcare facilities in Canada
The cost of medical treatment can be very expensive. There are no special arrangements for British visitors.
For emergency healthcare, go to a hospital emergency room or a walk-in clinic.
If you have dual British-Canadian citizenship, you may still have to pay for medical treatment if you don’t meet provincial residency requirements for healthcare. Check with the relevant province or territory for more information.
COVID-19 healthcare in Canada
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Canada on TravelHealthPro.
Seek medical assistance if you develop COVID-19 symptoms while in Canada. Follow the advice from Public Health Canada for updates and guidance. These Twitter accounts are also official sources of information and guidance:
The TravelHealthPro website has more advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in Canada
Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)
Coastguard maritime emergencies
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in Canada
- dealing with a death in Canada
- being arrested in Canada
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you are affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
Find more support for British nationals abroad.
Help abroad in an emergency
If you are abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
You can also contact FCDO online.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)
Risk information for British companies
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.