One of the first things you’ll need as an international student in Canada is a bank account. This will be a vital tool for you over the next few years, so it’s important to choose one that offers you the best range of services and perks for you. Read on to find out more about student bank accounts in Canada.
Student bank accounts in Canada: the basics
Most banks in Canada offer free basic banking to full-time students — this means no fees for chequing accounts, but there may be limits or conditions. It’s important to read through all the fine print before opening an account.
Before you start looking around, think about what banking services you may need. You may just want a basic chequing account, which allows you to withdraw and deposit money and is appropriate for daily expenses. You may also want a savings account in order to keep some money separate from your main account. Many student banking plans in Canada offer the option to open a chequing and savings account together, which you can use with a debit card.
Student banking and the GIC requirement for SDS study permits
If you are planning to apply for a study permit through the Student Direct Stream (SDS), you need to provide a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) as a part of your study permit application. Even if you’re applying for a study permit through the regular application process, you can use a GIC to demonstrate your proof of funds for study in Canada.
If you do require a GIC, check out our guide comparing all the different GIC banks for Canadian study permits. This will help you determine the best option for affordable and efficient student banking in Canada.
Credit cards and student bank accounts in Canada
A credit card could be useful while you are in Canada, but think carefully before you secure a credit card. While a bit of extra cash could seem helpful, be careful about building up credit card debt. Credit rating is important in Canada, and a poor credit score could affect you later on. On the other hand, if you are confident you can use a credit card responsibly — meaning, remain within your overdraft limit and pay at least the minimum amount each month — your student years could be a good time to start building up a good credit score. You may want to consider a credit card that offers air miles or points towards other expenses.
Find out more about credit cards in Canada with the Moving2Canada guide to banking.
If you are in need of extra money for the cost of your studies, banks may also offer a student line of credit for international students. These can offer larger limits than a credit card, with lower interest rates and incentivised repayment options. However, it’s a good idea to research all your loan options before treating a bank’s line of credit as a student loan, as interest can build quickly.
Many Canadians don’t carry much cash, partly because debit cards are so convenient, and partly because banks charge fees for cash withdrawals at Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) belonging to other banks or private operators. Most shops, cafes, and restaurants take cards (although some may not take credit cards, and smaller outlets may still be cash-only) and, of these, most accept contactless payments for transactions up to a certain amount.
Canada’s online money transfer system is called Interac. With Interac, you can send money from your account to any other participating Canadian account — you just need the recipient’s phone number or email address. Chances are you’ll encounter Interac during your time in Canada — it’s great for paying back friends or splitting bills, and landlords may ask you to pay rent this way.