Bay street, Toronto
Bay Street banking district, Toronto. Source: (Creative Commons)

The first thing you must do when moving to Canada is to set up a bank account which is vital for your salary and for paying rent, mortgage or bills. The Canadian banking system operates in a similar way to the US banking systems and is largely controlled by 5 main banks which are:

  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Toronto-Dominion Bank
  • Bank of Nova Scotia
  • Bank of Montreal
  • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

If you bank with HSBC it is possible to open a Canadian bank account with them whilst still in the UK but you must consider the locality of the bank as there may not be a local HSBC branch that you can get to.

With any of these banks you can open chequing accounts (current accounts) and savings accounts.

Opening a Bank Account

You can open an account online or over the phone but by far the quickest way is in person so that you can show the manager your relevant documentation as you will need proof of ID such as your passport or birth certificate.

Bank Charges and Fees

Just like the US, Canadian banks do charge customers to use chequing accounts in the form of monthly fees, however this can be overcome by keeping a minimal amount of money in your account. Monthly fees are usually between $12 and $15.

You may also be charged for paper statements and transaction fees so it pays to shop around and find the bank with the lowest charges. Some banks have special incentives for newcomers.

Credit and Debit Cards

Any credit history you had in the UK will not apply in Canada so you may well be denied a credit card until you have racked up a decent history. If you have an international credit history you could plead your case and fill out an application form with evidence of your credit history and arrange a meeting with your bank manager but be aware that if you do get a credit card, the rates are likely to be high so make sure you always pay off your balance.

Debit cards are widely used across Canada and in fact Visa Debit cards have not long been introduced whilst Maestro is also common but Interac is the default debit card in Canada.

Some stores will charge a surcharge for purchases on your debit card but this should be revealed to you before you enter your PIN. Charges are still in place for some ATMs when you use a different debit card.

Benefits of Canadian Banking

You might be overwhelmed with the high bank charges and fees and reluctance to issue credit cards but one of the benefits of having a Canadian bank account is that Canadian Banking is one of the safest in the world, according to Global Finance Magazine. Your main bank accounts are protected by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation who will fund customers in the unlikely event of a bank failure.