Opening a Bank Account in Canada: All You Need to Know

If you’re moving to Canada, or travel there regularly, it could make sense to open a Canadian bank account to manage your money more easily. There are plenty of local and international banks in Canada, offering a full range of account types – Canadian dollar, as well as many other foreign currencies accounts. You could also pick a digital bank or other modern service provider if you’d rather a specialist account type.

Let’s take a look at how you can choose and open the right account for you, in Canada.

How to open a bank account in Canada?

In Canada, everyone has the right to open a bank account as long as they can provide adequate proof of identity. This means – for example – that you shouldn’t be barred from opening an account because you can’t immediately make a deposit.

You’ll usually be required to visit a bank branch to open your account and provide paperwork showing your identity. However, some banks and alternative providers do offer accounts which can be opened without attending a branch. As life increasingly moves online, this is becoming a more popular option around the world. We’ll cover this in a little more detail later – however, it’s well worth checking if your chosen bank or provider offers online account opening for your convenience. 

It’s good to know that many of the major banks in Canada have specific products and support on offer for newcomers to Canada. Royal Bank of Canada, for example, offers advice by visa status, with special help for international students and foreign workers. These resources can make it much easier to get to know the Canadian banking system, and explore your account options.

What documents are needed?

Each bank or credit union will have its own process and requirements for account opening. However, the Canadian government advises that the type of documents required are usually similar. You’ll be able to either show 2 original pieces of ID from a list (List A) including:

  • Canadian passport
  • Canadian driving license
  • Canadian Social Insurance Number
  • Permanent residence card

Or, you can provide one item from the above list, and one from a second set of documents (List B), which include:

  • Foreign passport
  • Employer photo ID, provided by an established company
  • Signed credit or debit card in your name

If none of these options work for you, you may also be able to provide one item from List A, and have someone give you a reference confirming your identity.

How long does it take to open a bank account in Canada?

If you’re opening an account online, it should only take a few minutes to complete the forms required. As an example, TD Bank states that online applications can be completed in just 5 minutes. 

However, if you don’t have the right paperwork on hand, or if the bank needs to check anything about your account application, it could take longer. In this case, you’re likely to be asked to visit a branch in person to discuss your application.

How to open a Canadian bank account online

If you’d rather open your account online you have a few options, including opening an account with a regular bank, choosing an internet only bank, or selecting an alternative provider.

Alternative providers

Finally, you may also want to look at specialist accounts from digital providers, which can be opened online. If you travel regularly, or like to shop online with retailers based abroad, you might choose a multi-currency account which lets you hold and spend multiple currencies easily. Check out the multi currency account from TransferWise as a cheap and convenient option.

With your TransferWise account, you won’t need to worry about any minimum balance, monthly fees or fall below fee, so you can use your multi-currency account flexibly. 

Online opening with a traditional bank

The biggest banks in Canada all offer some options for opening an account online. Take a look at the products available from these institutions, to start off your research:

It’s worth noting that there may be specific requirements or limitations when it comes to opening accounts online with traditional banks. 

For example, to open an account quickly online with BMO you’ll need your Canadian Social Insurance Number and a Canadian address. This is so the bank can carry out a credit check. If you don’t have the option of giving these details, you’ll need to talk through your situation with the bank, and will most likely have to visit in person.

Choose an online only bank

If you plan on managing most of your day to day finances online, you may also choose an online only bank like Tangerine. Digital banks offer a range of products including checking and savings accounts. They may not offer all of the same services as an account with a traditional bank, but the fees charged by digital banks are usually relatively low, making them well worth checking out.

Opening a bank account in Canada for non residents

It is possible to open a bank account as a non-resident. In fact, there are specialist services to help people open accounts prior to moving to Canada, operated by many of the large banks. Check what is available from your chosen bank – or consider opening a multi-currency account to hold and spend Canadian dollars, instead.

Looking for the best bank in Canada?

Finding the best bank for your needs will save you time and money in the long run. However, the best bank is somewhat subjective, and so you’ll need to invest some time thinking about what you need from your account, to help you choose. 

It’s worth considering the following questions:

  • Do you require face to face banking services?
  • Are there branches near your home or work?
  • Is the online banking service easy to use?
  • Does the account come with a checkbook or debit card?
  • Are there regular monthly fees, and if so can these be avoided in any way?
  • What are the account fees for transactions such as international payments?
  • If you’re saving, what are the interest rates, and can your money be accessed easily?

Good tips to know 

Ready to open your new Canadian bank account? Here are a few final tips before you do.

  • While there are often no monthly fees for students or seniors, many accounts in Canada come with a regular service charge. Check the details carefully
  • Many accounts offer only a set number of transactions per month for free, with charges per transaction after this. Look for unlimited transaction accounts if you think you’ll exceed the limits
  • Look at the number of ATMs available for free withdrawals, to make sure you’ll be able to avoid ATM fees
  • Check the exchange rates and fees applied if you send money overseas, or spend online with a foreign retailer – poor rates and excessive fees can quickly push up the costs

Doing your own research before you choose your Canadian bank account is essential. By investing some time up front, you can make sure you have the right account for your needs.


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