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Banking in Canada is reliable and convenient, though not always free. With some research, you can find out which is the best bank in Canada 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.

Before you decide on a preferred bank, take into consideration which branches are convenient to your home and place of work, what their opening hours are, and who offers the best credit cards in Canada for your needs.

Which is the best bank in Canada for me?

The ‘Big Five’ banks in Canada all (Scotiabank, BMO, CIBC, TD Canada Trust, RBC) have programs for newcomers, as do other banks including HSBC Bank Canada and National Bank of Canada. These come with special newcomer incentives, so be sure to look into them. The best bank in Canada for you will depend on your specific needs. The banks that’ll be covered in this article are as follows:

  • Scotiabank
  • Bank of Montreal (BMO)
  • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
  • HSBC Canada
  • TD Canada Trust
  • National Bank of Canada

Scotiabank

The Scotiabank StartRight® Program allows you to open a bank account before you arrive in Canada, with unlimited no-fee international money transfers.

For newcomers to Canada, you can receive your first year of banking with Scotiabank for free, without any monthly fees. Plus, you can also avail of a variety of products and services tailored to newcomers.

Find out more about the Scotiabank StartRight® Program here.

In the webinar below, which first aired in August, 2023, we teamed up with Ivy (Ang) Li, Financial Advisor of Scotiabank who has helped countless newcomers find financial success in Canada. We covered everything from credit cards to budgeting, with a whole lot more in between.

BMO

BMO opened in 1817 as Canada’s first bank, more than 200 years ago.

It has more than 12 million customers across personal and commercial banking, wealth management, and investment services. The team has experience in serving newcomers, helping them settle, and getting their new life started in Canada.

BMO offers newcomer incentive for those who have arrived in Canada within the last five years. These newcomers can get access to tailored products and services.

CIBC

In 1961, Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Imperial Bank of Canada merged to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, or CIBC as it is more commonly known today.

CIBC has recently modernized its banking platforms to enhance clients’ experience.

It’s chequing account has also evolved over time. This account will allow newcomers to bank just how they want to. CIBC has one of the largest ATM networks across Canada, online and mobile banking, as well as Apple Pay. This is especially helpful for newcomers to Canada who will have one less thing to worry about.

RBC

RBC has been around since 1864, and is today the largest banking institution in Canada by market capitalization.

RBC tailors its newcomers banking packages depending on whether they are preparing to move, just arrived, or settling into life in Canada.

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HSBC

HSBC Bank Canada is part of the global HSBC network, with a footprint in many countries across the globe. Their 130+ branches are predominantly located in Canada’s major cities. They offer a service called “Global view”, which is a big draw for people who already have HSBC accounts in other countries, and makes accessing and transferring their money between their personal HSBC accounts worldwide simple.

TD Canada Trust

Toronto Dominion bank, better known as TD Canada Trust or simply TD, has presence across Canada and even in the United States too. Many newcomers to Canada choose TD as they have plenty of branches and ATMs, an online banking platform and app, and a range of incentives for newcomers.

National Bank

The National Bank of Canada is the sixth-largest commercial bank. It is headquartered in Montreal and has branches in most provinces, although it does not have as many branches as its competitors outside major urban centres outside Quebec.

National Bank is in fact the largest bank in the predominantly French-speaking province (where it is called Banque Nationale du Canada). National Bank also offers newcomers a tailored package of services.

How do I choose the best bank in Canada for me?

When choosing which is the best bank in Canada for you, be sure to learn about how your bank deals with each of the following.

Banking fees

Many banks in Canada charge you to have a checking or chequing account (known in other countries as a ‘current’ account).

Fees range from $5 to $30 per month, depending on the number of monthly transactions you wish to make. You may be able to have these fees refunded if you maintain a sizeable balance, typically in the $3,000 to $5,000 range at least.

Cheques

Cheques (spelled ‘checks’ in the US) remain a popular payment method in Canada. This comes as a surprise to many newcomers travelling from countries where cheques have been largely phased out.

Many employers will request a ‘void check’ at the beginning of your employment. This is because it will contain the bank details they require to transfer money to your account. A void check is simply a check with the word ‘void’ written across it. Your bank may give you some of these for free when you open your account.

Chequebooks are often required for paying rent or enrolling in a service, such as daycare if you have children. It can cost up to $40 for a book of 100 cheques, so be aware of these costs when choosing the best bank in Canada for you.

ATM charges

You will usually be able to use ATMs belonging to your own bank without being charged. However, if you use another bank’s ATM, then you may usually incur a fee for each transaction.

If you use an ATM that does not belong to a bank (e.g. a privately-owned ATM at a bar or restaurant), both the ATM machine and your bank may charge you fees.

Using these privately-owned ATMs can cost as much as $4 or $5 each time, so try to avoid using them.

When deciding which is the best bank in Canada for you, keep in mind whose ATMs are close to your home and workplace.

Debit cards

As long as you don’t exceed the number of monthly transactions permitted by your bank, debit cards can be used almost everywhere without any additional fees. Canadians tend not to carry much cash as a result.

Interac e-transfer

The Interac e-transfer system (pronounced “Inter-ack”) is a collection of Canadian banks and merchants who all use the same payment system.

Money can be transferred online simply by entering the receiver’s email address — you don’t need the other person’s bank details.

Both parties must have a Canadian bank account that has Interac email transfer capabilities.

Interac proper is the Canadian debit system which all debit card issuers offer. However, some institutions will also offer Visa or Mastercard debit on top, which has the advantage of worldwide acceptance.

International money transfers to your new account

When you arrive in Canada, you’ll (hopefully!) have some money you’ll be looking to transfer into your new account.

Wise (formerly TransferWise) and CurrencyFair are two of the best ways to arrange an international money transfer, and both companies are offering discounts to the Moving2Canada community. The Scotiabank StartRight®️ Program also offers no-fee international money transfers, among other benefits.

You can learn more about them, and your other options, in our international money transfer guide.

Some of the best bank accounts are available for free

While these options are free at first, bear in mind the above points about access to ATMs and branches. They may not be the best bank in Canada for you if you have to pay fees to use other banks’ ATMs.

Best credit cards in Canada

It’s worth considering who offers the best credit cards in Canada for your needs when choosing a bank. Whether you avail of a credit card is up to you, however you should note that credit rating is considered important in Canada and using a credit card responsibly and always paying your bill on time will go some way to starting to build your all-important credit score.

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There are many credit card options depending on your needs, and your bank itself will likely have many options that could suit you. Credit cards in Canada are often grouped into the following broad categories: No Annual fee, and those with an annual fee but that also offer rewards or perks.

The rewards offered by these types of credit cards can be Cashback or points earned on your purchases that can be redeemed for products, airline travel, or even cinema tickets. Usually the tastier the rewards attached to the credit card, the higher the annual fee will be, so be sure to check the fine print to avoid any surprises.

Although some cards may have an annual fee, they can often offer attractive perks like travel insurance, extended warranties on purchases or a special kind of insurance when you rent cars called ‘auto collision waiver’. These perks can make the annual fee pay for itself but will depend entirely on your usage and personal needs.

If air travel is your thing and you want to get the best value out of your long-haul trips back home to see your family and friends, you may want to consider a credit card associated with one of the major airline loyalty programs such as Aeroplan (who are affiliated with Air Canada), AirMiles (who support many major airlines) or WestJet Rewards (a growing domestic carrier with new international routes).

All the Canadian banks we have provided links to above offer a range of credit card services that help newcomers to build their credit history at a low cost. Click the banners and links above to research newcomers’ products of Canadian bands and see if theirs are the best credit cards in Canada for you.

Just as your research about the best banks in Canada should be thorough, so too should your research on the best credit cards in Canada. By doing so, you will ensure that you find the best bank in Canada for you.

Researching the best credit cards in Canada for you

You can learn which are the best credit cards in Canada for you by understanding how much you can expect to pay, and what value you can get in return. Here are five simple things you’ll need to figure out:

1. Read the terms and conditions carefully. Understand what the the consequences will be if you don’t pay off your bills on time.

2. Ask to see a fee schedule so you know exactly how much you can expect to pay. Learn what their interest-free grace period looks like — in other words, the period of time after making a purchase during which no additional charges are incurred.

3. Research the incentives or rewards on offer. The best credit cards in Canada (or certainly the most competitive ones) will have generous programs for its customers. Ask how quickly they can be obtained, and what conditions need to be met to unlock them. Find out if the rewards are revoked in cases of late payment, or any other reason.

4. Inquire whether a deposit is required, and, if so, when may you get it back.

5. Ask about their fraud protection policies, and what will happen if there is unauthorized spending being made with your card.

What else should I keep in mind?

Using international cards

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.

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). This term is not widely used in Canada. Instead, Canadians call them ‘deposits’.

More tips for newcomers

You’ve now learned more about choosing the best bank in Canada and the best credit cards in Canada. You can also save yourself time and money by getting your travel insurance (which is mandatory for IEC work permits) and resume arranged early. See our guides for more.

Where to buy travel insurance for Canada

How to adapt to the resume format in Canada

Facts about banks in Canada

Banks in Canada are the backbone of the country’s financial system, extending far beyond just being repositories for wealth. They are major employers and indispensable contributors to Canada’s economic landscape. As pivotal institutions, their influence resonates across various sectors, shaping how Canadians manage their finances, stimulating economic growth, and even addressing global challenges like climate change.

Economic Contributions and Employment of Banks in Canada

The Canadian banking sector boasts an impressive array of statistics that illuminate its significance. With over 5,700 bank branches and nearly 19,000 ATMs across the country, accessibility to financial services is a cornerstone of Canada’s banking ethos. Employing over 280,000 Canadians and more than 110,000 globally, these institutions are pivotal in providing jobs and shaping livelihoods.

Contributing a significant 3.6% to Canada’s GDP, banks play a pivotal role in the economic health of the nation. In 2022 alone, taxes paid by the six largest banks amounted to $18 billion, highlighting their substantial financial footprint.

Canadian Banks’ Shareholder Participation and Gender Representation

Interestingly, the majority of Canadians are shareholders in these banks, either directly or indirectly through various investment avenues. In 2022, dividends paid to shareholders reached a substantial $26 billion, underscoring the symbiotic relationship between banks and the populace.

Furthermore, gender representation within these institutions is noteworthy. Over half of the workforce in Canada’s largest banks are women, with a considerable 39.4% of senior management roles held by women in 2022. As of 2023, boards of directors comprise an average of 43% women, showcasing a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Canadian Banking Trends and Consumer Behaviour

Digital banking has become the norm for most Canadians, with 78% utilizing online and mobile banking. This shift has been accelerated, especially during the pandemic, with three-quarters intending to retain these digital habits.

Despite the digital surge, a substantial 10% still prefer in-person banking, highlighting the importance of maintaining diverse banking options to cater to varying preferences.

Canada Banks’ Impact on Small Businesses and Cybersecurity

Banks play a crucial role in nurturing small businesses, approving loans at a rate of 90.8 percent and authorizing trillions in credit. These institutions are not just pillars for individuals but catalysts for entrepreneurship and business growth.

Investments in cybersecurity are paramount, especially in the digital age. Banks in Canada are at the forefront, investing billions annually to safeguard customer information, prevent fraud, and fortify against cyber threats.

Environmental Commitments of Canadian banks

Recognizing their pivotal role in addressing global challenges, Canadian banks have taken proactive steps toward combating climate change. Aligning with the Net-Zero Banking Alliance, these institutions have pledged to transition to a low-carbon economy, committing financial resources in the hundreds of billions to meet this goal.

Your first week in Canada

Opening a bank account isn’t the only thing that should be on your to-do list. Here are some of the essential things you’ll need to do during your first week in Canada.

About the author

Ruairi Spillane profile picture

Ruairi Spillane

He/Him
Founder & CEO - Finance & Recruitment Specialist
As the founder and CEO of Moving2Canada, Ruairi has been advising newcomers on how to immigrate, settle, and succeed in their new lives in Canada since 2011. He is a frequent contributor to discussions on Canadian immigration and has earned several recognitions for his expertise in the immigration space.
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