The best banks for expats in Canada (and how to open an account there)

All set for making the move to the Great White North? Before you go, find out about the best banks for expats in Canada, how you can open an account with these banks, and the factors you should consider when choosing a bank.

Xe Consumer North America

23. Juni 202110 min read

Mobile banking in Toronto, Canada

Moving to Canada, or any new country, for that matter, is easier said than done. But your finances don’t have to go through a rough patch because of that.

Keeping your money affairs in order, no matter what happens, is the key to a smooth transition in your international move. But how do you do that?

By being prepared. When you already know what to expect after shifting to Canada, you win half your battle of being an expat.

One of the first steps in this adjustment process is setting up your Canadian bank account. To help you out, we’ve come up with a list of the best banks for expats in Canada, plus the info you might need for opening an account there, and how you can send money to your loved ones or your other account overseas. 

How do expats in Canada choose the right bank?

Some factors you should look out for when choosing a bank are:

Monthly fees

Many Canadian banks will charge you for opening and maintaining a checking account. This fee usually sits anywhere between $5 CAD and $30 CAD per month, based on the number of transactions you want to make every month.

At the same time, the banks may offer to have the monthly fees waived if you have a minimum balance in your account, or meet some other criteria, like maintaining a certain number of recurring deposits or direct debits.

ATM charges

Generally, Canadian banks don’t charge you for using their own ATMs. But if you use another bank’s ATM, you may have to pay a certain fee for each such transaction.

So, to avoid this fee as much as possible, you can choose a bank that’s got a robust ATM network spread across Canada.

Interac e-transfer

It’s a payment system used by a collection of banks and merchants in Canada to transfer money online just by using the recipient’s email address. You don’t even need the bank details of the recipient.

To avail of this system, though, both you and the recipient must have a Canadian bank account that’s got this facility.

You might have to pay $1 CAD per transfer, but then again, you might not, if your bank offers free Interac e-transfers.

CDIC insurance

Similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) insures your deposits at a Canadian bank, up to $100,000 CAD.

The insurance covers your savings and checking account deposits, as well as deposits in foreign currencies, like US Dollars (USD).

Check whether the bank you’ve chosen for opening an account is CDIC insured.

What do expat customers need to apply for an account?

Naturally, each Canadian bank will have their own requirements, but the least you can do is cover the basics:

  • Your current mobile phone number and email address

  • A valid passport

  • Your residential address in Canada

  • Your employment and annual income details

  • Proof you’ve reached the age of majority in your province or territory. If you’re in Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island, the age of majority is 18. You must be at least 19 years old if you’re in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and New Brunswick.

  • Your Social Insurance Number (SIN). Some Canadian banks may also be ready to accept your Social Security Number (SSN), in case you’ve relocated to Canada from the US.

What are the best banks for expats in Canada?

There are plenty of brick-and-mortar as well as online banks in Canada, but not all of them cater to expat customers. Here are some, though, that do.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)

Interest rate: 0.05%

Monthly fee: $0 CAD to $25 CAD for savings accounts; $3.90 CAD to $29.95 CAD for checking accounts

CIBC offers a slew of savings accounts, including a high-interest one, and another in which you can save, withdraw, and deposit your US Dollars, if you’re from the US. You can also open a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) account, or a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) at this bank.

Each savings account lets you add a savings goal online, and automate your savings by setting up recurring transfers from your checking account to your savings account.

What’s more, there isn’t any monthly fee, unless you transfer a part or all of your RRSP or TFSA funds to another bank, in which case, the fee would be $100 CAD.

Each transaction with a CIBC eAdvantage Savings Account costs $5 CAD, and with a CIBC US$ Personal Account, the transaction fee is $0.75 USD. The other savings accounts require a minimum investment of $25 CAD each.

The bank offers specialized accounts for seniors and youths, as well.

For example, seniors (aged 65 or more) can get free money orders, paper statements, and bank drafts, and 2 free transactions every month. Plus, when they use a safety deposit box, they’re eligible for a $5 CAD discount on the annual rental fee.

As for checking accounts, CIBC offers 3 of these, with some offering free Interac e-transfer, unlimited cash withdrawals at CIBC ATMs globally, and 12 to unlimited transactions.

If you want to avoid the monthly fee, you need to keep a daily minimum balance between $3,000 CAD and $6,000 CAD, or have $100,000 CAD in investments and savings.

With a CIBC Smart Plus checking account, you can also get a CIBC premium credit card and avail of annual fee rebates. Seniors are entitled to a monthly fee discount of $4.95 CAD on their specialized checking accounts.

Allowing you to pay on the go using Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay, the checking accounts at the bank also let you opt for overdraft protection.

To set up an account at CIBC, you need to be a resident in Canada, and you must also have reached the age of majority (18 or 19) in your province or territory.

Scotiabank

Interest rate: 0.01% to 0.50% (for a limited period) for savings accounts

Monthly fee: $0 CAD for savings accounts; $3.95 CAD to $30.95 CAD for checking accounts

Based in Toronto, the Bank of Nova Scotia, or Scotiabank, is the third largest bank in Canada.

A wonderful benefit of banking with Scotiabank is that their savings accounts are geared towards expats with different needs.

Like, if you want to grow your savings faster than usual, you can set up a Savings Accelerator account, where your interest rate will increase with your balance. For day-to-day access to your money, a Money Master Savings account would be just the right thing.

Scotiabank also offers daily interest savings accounts in 2 foreign currencies - the Euro (EUR) and the US Dollar (USD).

You can waive your monthly fees on these 2 accounts with a minimum balance of €200 EUR or $200 USD (depending on the foreign currency account you’ve set up). Expats aged 60 or more also don’t need to pay any monthly fees on these 2 savings accounts.

For the rest of the savings accounts, you don’t have to pay monthly fees, either. In case of Interac e-transfers with savings accounts, though, the bank charges a $2 CAD fee per transfer.

On the other hand, nearly all the checking accounts at Scotiabank offer free or unlimited Interac e-transfer transactions. You can avoid the monthly fees for checking accounts by maintaining a minimum daily balance between $3,000 CAD and $5,000 CAD for the whole month.

The bank also lets you opt for a couple of checking account packages, where you need to have a Momentum Savings account for earning a welcome bonus of $300 CAD.

Thankfully, Scotiabank isn’t that strict about who can or can’t open an account. So long as you’re a Canadian resident, or you’ve come to the country for work or study, and you’re at least 16 years of age, you can set up an account with this bank online.

In addition, Scotiabank lets you check your credit score for free - and not many Canadian banks can boast of this feature.

HSBC Bank Canada

Interest rate: 0.05%

Monthly fee: $0 CAD to $34.95 CAD for savings and checking accounts; $1.50 CAD at third-party ATMs in Canada

A huge advantage of opening a bank account at HSBC Canada is that if you’re already an HSBC customer in your country of origin, you can transfer your financial history to the new HSBC account in Canada.

Anyway, this bank offers a wide variety of savings accounts for expats in Canada. With the High Rate Savings account, you don’t need to pay any monthly fees or maintain a minimum balance.

And you’ll become eligible for unlimited debits and withdrawals, as well as free mobile check deposits and Interac e-transfers, once you set up a Youth Savings Account.

The bank offers Foreign Currency Savings accounts, too, like accounts for Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY), the British Pound (GBP), Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), US Dollar (USD), and Euro (EUR). None of these foreign currency accounts require any minimum balance or monthly fees, but you’ll still get competitive interest rates with all of them.

Coming to the checking accounts, both HSBC Premier and HSBC Advance provide unique benefits and services, but only if you meet their criteria.

For example, opening an HSBC Advance account will make you eligible for free Interac e-transfers from the account, unlimited daily checking account transactions, and 5 rebates per month on fees when using third-party ATMs.

However, to set up this account, you need to have combined personal investments and deposits of $5,000 CAD in HSBC Bank Canada and their subsidiaries. Either that, or you must hold a residential mortgage of at least $150,000 CAD with the bank.

Not all checking accounts have such criteria, though. With a Student checking account, for instance, you can make unlimited transactions, free mobile check deposits and Interac e-transfers, and pay no monthly fees.

How can expat customers set up an account in Canada?

Opening a bank account in Canada online doesn’t usually take more than 10 minutes or so. You just need to:

  1. Confirm you’ve reached the age of majority in your province and that you’re a resident in Canada

  2. Agree to having your credit check done by the bank

  3. Enter your name and date of birth

  4. Add your SIN (optional)

  5. Enter your current residential address in Canada, and indicate how long you’ve stayed there

  6. Provide your Canadian phone number and email address

  7. Enter your employment status and annual income details

  8. Get your new bank account, once the bank verifies your information and you agree to the terms and conditions.

How can expats in Canada send money back home?

Of course, most of the best banks for expats in Canada let you make wire transfers to one or more countries. But are you ready to pay the numerous fees that come with a wire transfer at a bank?

For example, Scotiabank charges $15 CAD for every wire transfer you receive, in addition to the extra margins on their exchange rates. Compare that to the cost-effective rates charged by an online international money transfer provider like Xe - and you’ve finally found a cheap and efficient way of transferring money overseas, 24/7.

Here’s how you can send money from Canada to more than 130 countries:

  1. Sign up or sign in to your Xe account.

  2. Enter the amount of money you wish to transfer.

  3. Enter the currency you want to exchange.

  4. Add the recipient’s name, address, and bank details.

  5. Choose whether you want to pay with your card, direct debit, or bank transfer.

  6. Enter your payment details.

  7. Verify all the info you’ve entered, and confirm the payment.

Get a quote

To know more, download the Xe mobile app, or visit our online Help Centre.