Banking in Canada is reliable and convenient, though not always free. With some research, you can find out which are the best bank accounts for you.
It’s becoming more common to offer free banking for your first year, so shop around and don’t be afraid to say you will bring your business elsewhere. Browse through our tips below and feel free to share your thoughts on the best bank accounts on our Facebook page.
Before you decide which are the best bank accounts for you, take into consideration which branches are convenient to your home and place of work, and what their opening hours are.
It is very likely that two original pieces of identification will be required to open an account.
International Money Transfers
First things first: you’ll (hopefully!) have some money you’ll be looking to transfer into your new account.
You can learn more about them, and your other options, in our international money transfer guide.
Which are the best bank accounts in Canada for me?
The main banks (RBC, BMO, TD, CIBC, and Scotiabank) have programs for newcomers. These come with special newcomer incentives, so be sure to look into them.
Bear in mind that each of these banks usually have monthly fees associated with their chequing accounts (known as ‘current accounts’ in other countries). The average Canadian will spend $220 in fees each year.
With Tangerine, you can avoid these fees, and because they’re a subsidiary of Scotiabank, you can still have free access to Scotiabank ATMs all over Canada. They’re great for newcomers to Canada who are looking to save money, and you can view their chequing account here.
Debit cards can be used almost everywhere without any additional fees. Canadians tend not to carry much cash as a result.
The Interac system is a collection of banks and merchants that all use the same payment system. Money can be transferred by using an email address (you don’t need the other person’s bank details) in Canada as long as both parties have a Canadian bank account that has Interac email transfer capabilities. It costs $1.00 per transfer.
Many banks charge you to have a checking or chequing account (known in other countries as a ‘current’ account).
Costs can be anywhere from $5 to $30 per month, depending on the number of transactions. Most will refund this “cost” if you maintain a sizeable balance, usually at least $1,000 – $1,500. In any case, do some research and see what the best bank accounts are for you.
Check books (as they say in Canada for ‘cheque’) are often required for paying rent. It can cost up to $40 for a book of 100 checks, so beware of these costs.
International bank cards will not always work, so please check with your local bank first. You may need to give them advance notice of your travel plans.
Using cash advance on your foreign credit card is also costly as you pay cash advance fees and exchange rate fees. Try taking out large amounts at one time to save yourself from getting charged a lot of fees.
Charges from using bank Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) apply to all ATM use, except if you use an ATM machine from your own bank.
If you use an ATM machine that does not belong to a bank (i.e., privately-owned ATMs that are commonly found in bars and restaurants), both the ATM machine and your bank will charge you fees.
Banks usually charge $1.50 for using another ATM, whether privately-owned or from another bank.
Using these privately-owned ATMs is very expensive — generally the fees run from $1.50 – $4.50 — so try to avoid using them.
When deciding which are the best bank accounts for you, keep in mind which bank’s ATMs are close to you, and your work.
Some of the best bank accounts available for free.
While these options are free at first, bear in mind the above points about access to ATMs and branches. These may not be the best bank accounts for you if you have to pay fees to use other banks’ ATMs.
- Vancouver: Free checking account available from Coast Capital Credit Union (customers can use Coast Capital ATMs and HSBC ATMs free of charge).
- President’s Choice offer free banking in Canada, unlimited transactions, free cheque books. It’s an online bank, and you use CIBC cash points free of charge.
- Tangerine offers fee-free chequing and savings accounts, and they’ll even pay you a small amount of interest. They operate almost entirely online, which can be convenient for many.
Every other bank charges $4 a month and limited cash withdrawal/card payments or a fee applies, and $25 for cheque books.
And to avoid confusion at the counter…
The process of putting money into your bank account is known as a ‘lodgement’ in some countries (e.g. Ireland, UK). They call them ‘deposits’ in Canada.
When learning which are the best bank accounts for you, be sure to inquire also about what credit card to get.
Whether you choose to avail of one is up to you, however credit rating is considered important in Canada. You can also sign up for reward schemes, like ‘Air Miles’, which will give you points for each purchase which you can cash in for products and services.
Tangerine’s credit card offers the best value, as there is no annual fee and you can avoid charges if you make your payments on time.
Just as your research about the best bank accounts should be thorough, so too should your research on credit cards. Be informed about what the interest rates are, and what the consequences will be if you don’t pay off your bills on time.
RBC Dexia provide a credit card without a credit check, which helps solve the dilemma of not having a credit history in Canada. This is only available to residents (PR).
Scotiabank has options for newcomers, without the need for a Canadian credit history.
If you’re on a working holiday visa in Canada then it’s likely you can only get a pre-paid credit card as you will not have a credit history in Canada.
Here is a useful website that provides a summary of the your choices for banking in Canada.
More tips for newcomers
Finally, if you’re coming to Canada soon, you can also save yourself time and money by getting your travel insurance (which is mandatory for IEC visas) and resume arranged early. See our guides for more: