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.

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Student bank accounts in Canada

Canada’s largest banks — CIBC, HSBC, BMO, RBC, Scotiabank, TD — all offer student banking options, and they all offer a variety of perks to woo students each year, but other options for student banking in Canada are available too. Watch out in particular for monthly transaction limits – it could cost you around $1 each time you use your debit card if you go over this limit. Canada’s main banks have online banking services and mobile apps for simple and secure banking from home or on the go.

Note: Canadian banks usually charge fees for cash withdrawals at other banks’ (or private) ATMs. To avoid a fee of up to $4 or $5 each time you withdraw cash, consider choosing a bank with an ATM on campus or near your residence.

CIBC

CIBC’s student account has no monthly fee and gives unlimited free monthly debit card transactions. It’s one of the most cost-effective banking options for international students in Canada. CIBC also offers many perks and resources for international students, including a bonus of $60 just for signing up!

If you are applying for your study permit through the Student Direct Stream, CIBC also has one of the most competitive options on the market for your Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC). Check out our guide comparing GIC options to see what we mean.

For considering studying in Canada, CIBC is definitely a strong contender for one of the top banks for international students.

Scotiabank

In addition to no monthly fees, Scotiabank’s student account gives unlimited debit card transactions and a Virtual Visa Debit card so you can shop online without a credit card. Scotiabank is known for its SCENE rewards program, which lets you build up points towards free movie tickets. Scotiabank offers one of the most popular student bank accounts in Canada.

HSBC

HSBC’s Newcomers Program for International Students offers special packages for new account holders with added bonuses depending on the type of account you open and the amounts you deposit. Additional bonuses are unlocked when you open a new Mutual Fund account or, for those eligible to work, set up a recurring payroll while studying. They offer no banking fees for 12 months on the chequing account and the opportunity to build credit with HSBC Mastercard.

Find out more.

National Bank

National bank does not have a specific program for international students. Instead, their Student Bank Account offer extends to anyone who is a full-time student in Canada. That offer includes a Canadian or US dollar account with no monthly fee, unlimited e-transfers and overdraft protection, as well as a platinum credit card with no annual fees for the first two years, and vehicle and travel insurance. It’s in the details, and the package also features a student line of credit with preferential terms and conditions.

More details here.

BMO

BMO offers a Student Banking account with no monthly fee during your studies and for a year after you graduate. However, there’s a limit on the number of free transactions you get each month. They’ve also teamed up with discount program SPC to offer more student discounts on popular brands.

RBC

RBC’s Student Bank Account for Newcomers has no monthly fee and a range of other benefits, including:

  • No monthly fee for full-time students – Pay $0/month for your account
  • Unlimited debit transactions in Canada
  • Free Interac e-Transfer transactions
  • No RBC fee to use another bank’s ATM in Canada
  • Up to $39 rebate on the annual fee of an eligible credit card
  • The RBC Mobile Student Edition app
  • Tap to pay with your mobile device
  • Virtual Visa Debit for safe online shopping

TD

TD offers an International Student Banking package with no monthly fee and no minimum balance requirement. You could also open a savings account, credit card, and student line of credit if you’re eligible. Watch out: there’s a transaction limit on the chequing account, after which you’ll have to pay a fee for each debit card transaction.

Other options

Online-only banking is growing in popularity across Canada, and there are several banks that operate exclusively online. This can be fast and convenient, but there may be downsides too, particularly if you need to withdraw or deposit cash frequently.

The main draw of online banks for many is that they usually don’t charge monthly fees. However, given that you’re a student, you should be able to get a free bank account at one of the main banks. Furthermore, having access to a branch can be really useful as you’re getting to grips with a banking system that may be quite different from what you’re used to at home.

Tangerine

While Tangerine doesn’t have physical branches, account holders can use the Scotiabank ATM network for free cash withdrawals. They don’t offer a special student account, but the standard chequing account offers a similar range of perks to the main banks’ student accounts.

Simplii Financial

The other main player in Canada’s online banking game, Simplii Financial is operated by CIBC, so account holders have access to their ATMs. Like Tangerine, they don’t have a separate student account, but their standard chequing account has no monthly fees and offers a similar range of services.

Student bank accounts in Canada: in summary

Choosing a bank is an important step towards starting your new life in Canada, and it’s important to think carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand when presented with student bank accounts in Canada, and shop around before going with the first bank you see. However, as many of the student offerings are comparable across the main banks, there’s no real “wrong” decision.

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