How to open a bank account in Canada

Zorica Lončar
20.01.21
8 minute read

Planning to relocate or just moved to Canada? There are lots of things to sort out when you move overseas, from getting a visa to finding somewhere to live. But one of the first things you’ll need is a bank account.

Without a bank account, you’ll find it difficult to pay rent and bills, and to make everyday purchases such as groceries. You’ll also need somewhere to receive your salary if you’re planning to work in Canada.

In this guide, we’ll cover all the essentials of opening a bank account in Canada. We’ll run through how to apply, the different banks you can choose from and the fees you need to know about.

But let’s start by getting all your documentation in order.

What documents do I need to open a bank account in Canada?

To open a bank account in Canada, you’ll need to provide certain pieces of documentation. The most important are documents which verify your identity. The required documents vary from bank to bank, but here’s what you’re likely to need:¹

  • A valid, current passport
  • Proof of address
  • Your permanent residency card or immigration papers – most banks accept Temporary Residence Permits, work or study permits, or Confirmation of Permanent Residence documents
  • Employer photo ID from an established company
  • Your Social Insurance Number (SIN).

Opening a bank account in Canada as a non-resident. Is it possible?

If you’re not a Canadian citizen, you can still open a Canadian bank account. As long as you have the right identification and other documentation, you can open an account even if you don’t have a job or even the money for an initial deposit right away.

While this is good news, you may still find acquiring the relevant documentation a little tricky in some circumstances. For example, you may not have a Social Insurance Number (SIN)², which banks are required to ask for under Canada’s Income Tax Act.

You can apply for a SIN using a work or study permit, along with your passport. Alternatively, some banks will accept applications from non-residents without a SIN, and you may also be able to open non-interest-bearing bank accounts without one.

Can I open a Canadian bank account online?

With some banks in Canada, you can complete the process of opening a bank account entirely online.³ However, it depends on your circumstances and what documentation you have, as well as the bank and the account type you’re applying for. It’s a good idea to contact the bank in advance to check if your particular circumstances are right for an online-only application.

For other banks, you’ll need to make at least one branch visit in person. This means a trip to Canada if you’re not already living there, to complete the application process and open your new bank account.

How to open a Canadian bank account from overseas

If you’ve not yet started your move to Canada, the good news is that you should be able to at least start your bank account application from overseas. The first crucial step is to contact the bank, to check what you’ll need to do and the documents you’ll need.

Bear in mind that it can take a few days to open a Canadian bank account from overseas. It can also be quite complex, with many calls between you and a dedicated account-opening team. To make sure this process goes smoothly, make sure you have your immigration documents, permits and all other documents sorted in advance.

For many banks, you may need to physically visit a branch to complete the process once you arrive in Canada. This can potentially work in your favour, as it can be easier and quicker to iron out any issues in person.

While Canada’s major banks do offer products tailored specifically to newly arrived non-residents, you may find that your choice of accounts and services is limited. Due to this, and the complexity of applying from overseas, it could be best to wait until you arrive in Canada to open a bank account.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t access other services in the meantime. Open a multi-currency account with Wise and you can send and receive money internationally for low fees and the real exchange rate. You can open an account before you even arrive in Canada, which is super handy if you have moving costs to cover or payments to receive.

Get your multi-currency account today

Which Canadian bank is best for my needs?

Banking is one of the most important industries in Canada, with the market dominated by a handful of major banks. The industry is technologically-advanced and known for high service levels.

And the good news for anyone opening an account in Canada is that it is widely considered to have one of the safest banking systems in the world.⁴

There are many banks to choose from but the most famous ones are:

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)

RBC is the largest bank in Canada, offering customer service in an impressive 200+ languages.

Royal Bank of Canada is a popular choice among expats because of its Newcomers to Canada package⁵. Here you’ll find heaps of helpful information and services to get your finances sorted as you settle into Canadian life, along with a choice of accounts, services and perks.

RBC offers the following chequing (current) accounts⁶:

  • RBC No Limit Banking – offering unlimited debit transactions along with a special offer to pay no monthly fee for your first 12 months
  • RBC VIP Banking – a premier, all-inclusive chequing account with credit card rebates, unlimited debit transactions and other VIP features. It also has a special offer to pay no monthly fee for your first 12 months.

RBC also offers dedicated bank accounts for students, and for business customers.

TD Bank (Toronto-Dominion Bank)

TD Bank is another major bank offering a special package for newcomers to Canada. There’s a dedicated hub offering helpful information and advice, along with a newcomer special offer of no monthly fees for 6 months.

You can open the following accounts with TD Bank⁷:

  • TD Unlimited Account – a chequing account for everyday banking, with unlimited transactions and no fees to use ATMs in Canada
  • TD Minimum Chequing Account – a basic chequing account with a limit of 12 transactions per month, for those with very minimal banking needs
  • TD Student Chequing Account⁸ – specifically for students, this chequing account has no monthly fees and a limit of 25 transactions per month.

Scotiabank

One of the top five biggest banks in Canada, with an impressive 4000+ ATMs across the country, Scotiabank offers four main chequing accounts⁹:

  • Basic Bank Account – a low-cost chequing account for people with minimal banking needs, offering 12 free transactions per month
  • Basic Plus Bank Account – a simple everyday account with some added features, including 25 free debit transactions a month and the chance to swerve the month fee by maintaining a minimum daily balance.
  • Preferred Package – offering unlimited debit transactions, a credit card fee waiver and the chance to earn additional savings interest, among other perks.
  • Ultimate Package – a premium chequing account with a higher monthly fee (which can be waived by maintaining a minimum daily balance), unlimited debit transactions and many other premium benefits.

Scotiabank also offers a fee-free Student Banking Advantage Plan, with unlimited debit transactions.

Bank of Montreal (BMO)

Bank of Montreal is the oldest bank in Canada, and another that offers a dedicated package for newcomers to the country.

The BMO NewStart Program¹⁰ includes all kinds of special offers and perks on chequing accounts¹¹, including no monthly fees on its Performance Plan chequing account and a free safety deposit box for 12 months. This account offers unlimited transactions and a cash bonus for opening the account online.

Other accounts from BMO include:

  • Plus Plan Chequing Account – a flexible everyday account for those with basic banking needs, offering 25 transactions per month and a free Premium Rate savings account.
  • Premium Plan Chequing Account – offering unlimited transactions and unlimited withdrawals from non-BMO ATMs around the world, plus free cheques and other perks.

Other banks worth mentioning

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) is another of the major banks in Canada with a Newcomers to Canada Plan.¹² This includes an CIBC Smart for Newcomers Account which has no monthly fee, paperless record-keeping and no monthly fee for 1 year. It also comes with a debit card.

We’ve covered all the major banks in Canada, but it may also be worth checking out smaller banks such as Canadian Western Bank, National Bank of Canada, HSBC Bank Canada and Laurentian Bank while you’re comparing options.

However, when it comes to the ease of opening an account as a non-resident, it may be best sticking to larger banks with dedicated newcomer packages.

What about fees?

The great news for newbies arriving in Canada is that most of the major banks offer dedicated introductory offers on monthly account fees. This is usually from 6-12 months, as part of newcomer to Canada packages.

Otherwise, chequing accounts tend to have monthly fees of up to $30 CAD¹³ depending on whether it’s a basic or premium account. With some banks though, you can waive these fees by maintaining a minimum daily balance.

Aside from monthly fees, you should also make a note of transaction, ATM and international fees when researching Canadian bank accounts.

Most bank accounts give you a set number of free transactions per month, if not unlimited. For any transactions above your monthly limit, you can expect to pay around $1.25 CAD¹⁴ per transaction.

If you use your own bank’s ATM to withdraw cash within Canada, you shouldn’t be charged any fees. Use another bank’s ATM though and you can expect to pay around $2 CAD¹⁵ per withdrawal.

Lastly, there are international transfer fees to consider. You may get a few free international transfers as a newcomer to Canada, but otherwise a fee may be charged. Receiving banks may also apply a fee to complete international transfers.

How to transfer money overseas from Canada

You need to be a little careful when sending money overseas from your Canadian bank account. Even if you aren’t charged an initial fee to arrange the transfer, there may be hidden fees in the form of a terrible exchange rate. This eats into your money, making the overall cost of sending money home or to friends in other countries more expensive.

A simpler and cheaper alternative - Wise

Luckily, there is a way to swerve high international transfer fees and unfavourable exchange rates.

Open a multi-currency account with Wise and you can send and receive international payments for tiny, transparent fees. Better still, you’ll always get the real, mid-market exchange rate with no expensive mark-up slapped on top.

This means better value, cheaper international transfers, which are just as secure, reliable and quick (if not quicker) as using a bank.

You’ll also get the chance to spend like a local with your Wise debit card, plus Apple Pay and Google Pay.

You can have a Borderless Wise account alongside your Canadian bank account, using it to save whenever you need to send money abroad. You can even open a Wise account before you set foot in Canada, to seamlessly manage your money while you wait for your Canadian bank account to be opened.

Sign up for free

After reading this guide, you should be all set to open a bank account in Canada. As Canada’s banking industry is one of the most welcoming in the world to newcomers, you should find it relatively straightforward.

So, get your documentation all sorted and get started – good luck with your Canadian adventure!

Sources used:

  1. Currency Live - bank account in Canada
  2. Canada.ca - SIN
  3. InterNations - bank account in Canada
  4. Business Insider - world’s safest banks
  5. RBC - newcomers
  6. RBC - personal bank accounts
  7. TD - banking options
  8. TD - student account
  9. Scotiabank - checking accounts
  10. BMO - newcomers to Canada
  11. BMO - newcomers banking
  12. CIBC - welcome to Canada banking package
  13. Greedy Rates - chequing accounts
  14. TD - minimum chequing account
  15. CIBC - personal account fees

Sources checked on 08-January 2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

Wise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location