The best ways to get to Toronto, Canada from Australia (and a few travellers tips for your arrival)

This May, the annual music festival and conference Canadian Music Week will be opening its doors to the world, shining a spotlight on Australia and New Zealand, bringing with it dozens of bands and delegates from our countries up to the great city of Toronto. Why not come and join us? Over the next two weeks on AU Abroad we’ll be taking you on a special journey to the city to firstly, let you know how to get there and then give you some insight into what to do while you’re there, as they finally leave their cold winter behind and head towards the beautiful Canadian Summer. But we start off with the journey itself, which can be as quick or as lengthy as you see fit.

Fly Direct to Canada

Chances are, if you’re going to Canadian Music Week from Australia, you may be a part of the music industry – which means this is a business trip. And that means you need to get there as quickly as possible. The best way to do that is to fly straight to the West Coast of Canada from the East Coast of Australia, connecting through Vancouver and on to Toronto from there. The only airline who flies that route direct is Air Canada, offering a same plane service (AC34) to take you all the way from Sydney to Toronto. You do, however, have to disembark at Vancouver to clear customs, but it’s a fairly painless procedure. The whole journey will take you a little over 20 hours.

Return airfares from Sydney to Toronto start from AU$2300. For prices and more details head to:http://www.aircanada.com/au/en/home.html. Internal Australian connections are available to get you to/from Sydney at an additional cost.

If you’re flying from New Zealand, or interested in a stop off along the way, another option is Air New Zealand, who fly up to 6 flights a week direct from Auckland to Vancouver and then connect to Star Alliance partners like Air Canada from Vancouver. Prices start at $1,544 return Sydney to Vancouver via Auckland.

Fly via the USA

If you’re planning to be in North America for under 90 days, travelling to Toronto via Los Angeles or San Francisco can be an affordable option. Whether you’re transiting or staying for a few days en route, just remember that you’ll have to get a ESTA Visa Waiver before you leave. You can get your hands on it here (and ONLY here): https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

United fly direct from the East Coast of Australia to California (LAX and they’re the only airline with a direct service to San Francisco), with select flights offering the new 787 Dreamliner service. Virgin Australia have daily flights from both Brisbane and Sydney to Los Angeles, with easy domestic transfers within Australia. Both United and Virgin’s code share partner Delta will fly you direct to Toronto from California. As part of the Star Alliance network, Air Canada may serve as an alternative to United for the internal route (and if ticketed through, it’s possible you’ll end up on an Air Canada flight anyway). Qantas of course operate direct services to LAX as well, and connect with One World code share partners like American Airlines. Air New Zealand are another option to get to LAX via Auckland, and connect to a wide range of Star Alliance partners.

Sometimes, however, being ticketed through isn’t the cheapest option, so if you’re on a budget checkhttp://www.skyscanner.net/ to see what other airlines you might be able to jump onto from LAX or SFO. You have to recheck your bags and go through security again regardless if you’re tagged through or not, so you may as well aim for the best deal. And from personal experience, a night in LA either side of your time in Toronto will do wonders in preventing jetlag. It’s worth it for a trip to In n Out Burger alone.

For the latest ticket prices head to:
http://www.virginaustralia.com/
http://www.united.com/
http://www.qantas.com.au/

Take the road (or rail) slightly less travelled…

Once you get to Vancouver, there are options by land to take you to Toronto. But these are lengthy endeavours only benefited by those who have the time. Canada’s train network, however, is world class, and provides you with one of the grandest views of Canada’s stunning beauty you could possibly experience on the move. Via Rail are the main supplier for the Vancouver to Toronto journey, which takes four days and three nights. Head to their official website for more details. And of course, you could always rent a car and drive… the distance is 4530 km (2820 miles), so that would take a similar amount of time to the train, assuming you drove 12 hours a day. But who wants to do that? Give yourself two weeks (if you have it) and explore one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Tips: Travel Insurance

Don’t go anywhere without travel insurance. I personally recommend 1cover.com.au (underwritten by Allianz), who seem to consistently have the best rates, and having been stuck in a hurricane before I can vouch for their reliability (but as always, read the fine print before you lock yourself into anything).

Tips: Canadian Visas

Assuming you have an Australian passport, Canada doesn’t have a pre-application process for their tourist Visa program, like the USA does, they do all that at the border and will determine how long you can stay in the country. The standardised length is six months. Make sure you have proof of you departure date on you when you land. If you don’t have an Australian passport, you’ll want to check this website to see if you require a visa:http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp

If you’re flying via the USA, even in transit, keep in mind that travelling to Canada does not restart your 90 day Visa Waiver (ESTA) period. So plan your travel accordingly.

Tips: Canadian SIM Cards

Getting a SIM on arrival isn’t too difficult. I usually head to the Eaton Shopping Centre on my first day in Toronto and pick up a Virgin Mobile SIM. Canadian plans are quite expensive, relative to the rest of the world (make sure you get a number for the place in Canada that you’ll be spending the most amount of time… they distinguish “local” calls very specifically) – especially when you need data and are looking solely for prepaid options as a tourist – so research that before you go.

At the time of printing the Canadian and Australian dollars remain close to parity, which means converting the amount is incredibly easy. It also means that for the first time in a long time, travelling around Canada will be a cheaper exercise than in the USA. Also note that your US SIM is unlikely to work in Canada, so don’t expect to have a one SIM fits all experience when you go to travel North America. Try and avoid the Travel SIM options, they’re usually a rip off and don’t give you a local number. Get a local SIM card and buy phone cards if you need to call home. Or use one of your digital providers e.g. Skype or even Facebook Messenger.

Tips: Currency Exchange

And when it comes to getting Canadian currency, I withdraw from a bank ATM when I arrive in order to exchange at the best possible rate. Depending on what bank you’re with at home you’ll likely pay a conversion fee AND a withdrawal fee, so try to get out enough for a good chunk of the trip. There are plenty of other options out there for frequent and not-so-frequent travellers when it comes to cash cards and suitable bank accounts, so do your research before locking yourself into anything. My ATM habit has stemmed out of lack of time to do said suitable research, though odds are a direct withdrawal will regularly be your best option. But it’s certainly not your only one…

More travel tips for Toronto, and information on what to do on your arrival, will be found at the official Toronto Tourism website: http://www.seetorontonow.com/

This article was originally published in March 2015 and all information was correct at the time of printing.