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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 (BMO, CIBC, Scotiabank, 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:
- Bank of Montreal (BMO)
- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
- Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
- HSBC Canada
- TD Canada Trust
- National Bank of Canada
Since 1817, BMO has been helping customers from all walks of life pursue opportunities, navigate challenges, and achieve great things. As Canada’s first bank, BMO is backed by more than 200 years of tried and trusted expertise. BMO is driven by a single purpose — to boldly grow the good in business and life, and that means a sharp focus on building, investing, being a champion for progress, and a catalyst for change.
With more than 12 million customers across personal and commercial banking, wealth management, and investment services, BMO is viewed by many as one of the best banks in Canada. The team has extensive experience in serving newcomers, helping them settle, and getting their new life started in Canada.
Through the BMO NewStart program, you get access to banking products and services which are specifically designed to make life a little easier. BMO offers newcomers (those who have arrived in Canada within the last five years) 12 months of no-monthly-fee banking, first year free safety deposit box, unlimited electronic transfers, and more. Plus, BMO is the only bank with a joint telco offer that gives you bonus cash and 3GB of monthly bonus data for one year with chatr Mobile™, so you get to keep your friends and family close wherever your new life in Canada takes you.
Find out more about what BMO offers here.
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’s success as one of the best banks in Canada is tied to its continued and sustained investment in the future. They have recently modernized their banking platforms to enhance their clients’ experience. The consistent execution of their client-focused strategy is paving the way for transformation of how banking is carried out in Canada, and it also enables CIBC to bring the best service possible to their clients. For example, CIBC Mobile Banking® App continues to earn top spot (6th year in a row!) in the Forrester ranking for functionality and user experience.
Moreover, CIBC’s chequing account has evolved over time to meet the needs of its customers. This account will allow you to bank just how you want to bank. In addition, with one of the largest ATM networks across Canada and top-ranked online and mobile banking as well as Apple Pay, all choice is yours. This is especially helpful for newcomers to Canada who will have one less thing to worry about.
Find out more about banking with CIBC here.
RBC has been around since 1864, and is today the largest banking institution in Canada by market capitalization.
RBC conveniently tailors its newcomers banking packages depending on whether you are preparing to move, just arrived, or settling into life in Canada. RBC’s newcomer banking offer presents up to $550 value.
One particular perk for RBC customers is that they can take out cash from any ATM, including ATMs from other banks, without paying any fee. This may go under the radar at first, but could add up in value and convenience over time.
Find out more about banking with RBC here.
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.
Find out more about banking with HSBC in Canada.
Moving2Canada has also partnered with HSBC Canada on a range of guides, including:
- How to manage your finances as a newcomer to Canada
- How to manage your finances as an international student in Canada
- How to start investing as a newcomer to Canada
- 4 things you need to know about credit scores in Canada
- How to buy your first home in Canada
- New arrival must-haves: an essential checklist for newcomers to Canada
- Schooling in Canada: a guide for new families
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.
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 intuitive online banking platform and app, and a range of incentives for newcomers.
Learn more about new-to-Canada banking with TD.
The National Bank of Canada is the sixth-largest commercial bank and has been in contention for the best bank in Canada award. 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. If, however, you are planning on moving to 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 offers newcomers a tailored package of services valued at up to $600. Newcomers who choose to go with National Bank will also benefit from a year of access to their Assistance service for newcomers.
Get help making the best decisions for you
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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 Moving2Canada customers.
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.
In Vancouver, a free checking account is available from Coast Capital Credit Union (customers can use Coast Capital ATMs and HSBC ATMs free of charge).
Simplii Financial offers free banking in Canada, unlimited transactions, free cheque books. It’s an online bank, and you use CIBC cash points free of charge. Learn more about fee-free digital banking.
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.
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
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.