Gift cards

From: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

A gift card is a prepaid card that you use to pay for purchases. You can use gift cards at a single retailer or at a group of retailers, such as a chain or shopping mall. Generally, gift cards come with money already on them. Gift cards can be a physical card or an electronic card.

Depending on your province or territory, there may be different rules for gift cards.

Learn more about the regulations on gift cards where you live.

Gift cards are not branded with a payment card network logo. Cards with the logo for payment card networks like Visa, Mastercard and American Express are called prepaid cards.

Learn more about prepaid cards.

Using gift cards

When you buy something using your gift card, the total value of the gift card goes down by the amount you spend. For example, if you use a $50 grocery store gift card to buy $10 worth of groceries, the balance on the card is now $40.

You can’t redeem a gift card for cash.

Usually, gift cards:

  • come with money already on them
  • don’t expire
  • don’t have fees

Sometimes, you can add money to a gift card.

If your gift card is old, you may need to get the money on it transferred to a new card.

Make sure you read the terms and conditions of any gift card you buy or use.

Gift cards with an expiry date

Most gift cards don’t expire.

Depending on the rules in your province or territory, the following gift cards may have an expiry date.

Promotional or charitable gift cards

Businesses may give promotional or charitable gift cards as part of a promotion, loyalty program or to raise money for charity. These cards are usually only for purchases at a specific retailer or group of retailers. They often have an expiry date.

Gift cards for a specific service

Sometimes gift cards for a specific service may carry an expiry date. For example, a gift card for a haircut or massage may have an expiry date.

Fees to use your gift card

Generally, there are no fees to use or buy a gift card.

In some provinces or territories, retailers may charge a fee to:

  • replace a lost gift card
  • customize a card
  • activate a card
  • maintain a gift card from a shopping mall after a certain period of time

Checking your gift card balance

Often, you can check the balance of your gift card:

  • on the retailer’s website
  • on your transaction receipt
  • by calling a telephone number on the card

Where to buy gift cards

Before you buy a gift card, ask if there are any restrictions on what you can buy.

Gift cards for various retailers are available:

  • online
  • by telephone
  • at retail stores
  • at Canada Post outlets

When you buy a gift card, make sure the retailer activates the card.

When you buy a gift card, you don’t pay tax on the gift card. The retailer will charge tax when you buy a taxable item with the gift card. For example, you pay tax on a sweater you buy with a gift card, the same as you would when you pay with cash or credit.

Gift card fraud

Make sure to check that the card and packaging hasn’t been altered. You can ask the retailer to verify that the amount on the card has been loaded.

Be careful if you’re buying or checking a balance online. Scammers may try to create fake websites to steal your information or the money on the card.

To protect yourself:

  • avoid clicking on links found in pop-up boxes or suspicious emails
  • use a search engine to search for the official company website
  • contact the company directly by calling the number on the back of the gift card

Learn more about spotting and reporting gift card fraud.

Regulations on gift cards

Provinces have their own regulations on gift cards.

The territories don’t have specific regulations on gift cards. Contact territorial consumer affairs offices for key details.

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