How to Open a Bank Account in Canada - Your Full Guide 2022

Looking to open a bank account in Canada? Whether you've just landed in Canada or you're planning everything ahead of your arrival, opening a bank account in Canada can feel like a daunting process. 

If you’re moving to Canada long term you can start to open a bank account there with a traditional bank before you arrive, but you won’t always be able to get full account functionality until you land and visit a branch. If you need to transact in CAD before you land, you may be better off with a flexible online option like Wise

This article will help you understand how to open an account before heading off - and when you arrive - including the documents you need, and the options available. 

Learn more

What documents do I need?

To comply with Canadian law you’ll need to provide some documents to open your Canadian bank account. If you’re a Canadian citizen - or if you’re already settled there - this shouldn’t be too tricky. However, as a new arrival, or when trying to open an account ahead of time, this can prove a bit more complex.

In basic terms you’ll usually need to provide two documents to open a Canadian bank account - one document must include your name and address, and the other document must contain your name and date of birth.

Documents usually accepted by banks include:

  • A passport

  • Government issued ID documents 

  • Government issued tax or benefit statements

  • Canadian public utility bills 

  • Bank account or credit card statements

If you’re applying for a specific newcomer account, banks may have a slightly more flexible approach and allow you to provide a different set of documents. Common options include:

  • Your foreign passport

  • Proof of your legal right to stay in Canada - your visa or residence permit for example

  • A letter from your university if relevant

Foreign government issued ID may be accepted if you need additional documents - talk to your bank to check what will be required for your specific circumstance.

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

Canada’s banking system is well set up for newcomers, with all the major banks offering specific support for people arriving in the country. However, while you can start to set up your account in advance, you often won’t be able to fully use it until you arrive in Canada and present your documents in a branch.

Get a step ahead - and start to transact in CAD before you travel - with an alternative online option like Wise or Revolut. Both providers offer an easy online or in-app onboarding process, with no need to visit a bank branch.

Wise accounts  can be opened using your home proof of address, and your normal ID documents, before you travel to Canada. Once your account is up and running you’ll get your own local CAD bank account details, plus details for up to 9 other currencies, to get paid fee free from 30+ countries. You’ll also be able to hold and exchange 50+ currencies, and get an international debit card.

You can’t open a Revolut account as a Canadian resident - but depending on where you live, you may be able to get set up before you travel. Choose a free or fee paid account to manage multiple currencies, withdraw and spend with a linked card, and even access saving, budgeting and investment options.

Open a Wise account online

How to open a bank account in Canada

To open a bank account in Canada it’s common to need to appear in person at a branch to show your identification and get your account set up. That said, more banks are starting to move to online applications, so it is well worth checking if your preferred bank will let you apply entirely online.

Can I open a bank account in Canada before arrival?

If you’re applying for a specific newcomer account in Canada you’ll need to start your application online - up to 90 days before you travel - and then, often, complete the application by attending a meeting in branch to show your paperwork.

Having applied for an account online like this does have one key advantage - you can make a wire transfer of funds into the account before you arrive in Canada. In some cases this can be used as proof of funds for your visa or residence permit application - and it can also mean you don’t need to worry about carrying large amounts of cash with you when you travel.

However, the primary drawback of the newcomer account process is that your account won’t necessarily be fully open until you arrive and show your original documents in a branch. This means you can’t transact fully until that point. If you need to send payments in CAD before then, you’d be better off opening an online multi-currency account from a provider like Wise which operates in Canada and a broad range of other countries, too.

Which account is best in Canada for foreigners? 

To help decide which account might work for you, let’s look at one online provider - Wise - alongside a few newcomer account packages from traditional Canadian banks.

ServiceWiseTD Bank (Unlimited Chequing)HSBC (Performance Chequing)Scotiabank (Preferred Package)
Currencies covered50+ currencies including CAD, GBP, USD and AUDCADCADCAD
Open before you arrive in CanadaYes

Start the process before arriving - complete by visiting a branch

Yes - visit an HSBC branch in your home countryPossible for residents of some countries
Open onlineYesNewcomer account can not be opened fully onlineNoPossible for residents of some countries
Opening fee$0 $0

$0 - fees may apply for the foreign account opening service. This depends on where you open your account

$0
Maintenance fee$0 $16.95$14.95$16.95
Online international transfersLow fee, varies by currencyUp to 25 CAD

20 CAD - 40 CAD depending on the value of the transfer

$1.99

Wise

Wise accounts can be opened by both personal and business customers, and offer full multi-currency functionality covering 50+ currencies. Importantly, you’ll be able to get CAD bank account details you can use to get paid like a local from Canadian dollars, even before you arrive. Sign up using your normal ID documents and your local proof of address wherever you live, for a fully online onboarding process you can complete from home.

Accounts come with a linked international debit card you can use to spend in 200+ countries and in 150+ currencies. All transactions use the real mid-market exchange rate with no markups and no hidden fees. There’s no minimum balance or monthly charges either, so you just pay low transaction fees for the services you actually use.

Account types: Wise accounts can be opened by people resident in many countries around the world, including Canada. Open on arrival, or before you head out, to hold, exchange, send and spend in 50+ currencies

Eligibility: Use your home proof of address to get your account open and access a CAD balance. The exact account services available may vary based on location, so check the Wise website for more information.

Is it safe? Wise is registered with both FINTRAC and a range of other global bodies in the other countries it trades in. 

Go to site

TD Bank 

TD Bank is one of the largest banks in Canada, and a familiar name to many US citizens, too. There’s a specific newcomers service which allows you to start your account opening before travelling, and complete on arrival. If you’re coming from certain regions you can also call on free local numbers to get advice and support in arranging your account.

TD Bank has a wide range of account products, but suggests the Unlimited Chequing account as a good option for new arrivals. In this account you’ll pay a 16.95 CAD  monthly fee, which can be waived if you meet a minimum balance requirement, for unlimited free transactions and TD Bank ATM withdrawals. Fees apply to send and receive international payments.

Account types: There are a few different accounts on offer to newcomers - you’ll be able to pick from chequing and saving accounts, as well as student accounts aimed at international students.

Eligibility: To complete your application you’ll need to visit a TD branch with your Permanent Resident card, confirmation of permanent residence or a temporary permit, along with either a passport, Canadian driving licence or Canadian ID card. If you don’t have all of these documents, call TD to discuss alternatives which are available in your particular situation. 

Is it safe? Yes. TD Bank is one of the largest banks in Canada, with a significant presence internationally, too. It’s a fully regulated provider, trusted by millions.

Go to site

HSBC

HSBC has an advantage over some of the other newcomer account types in that you may be able to fully complete the account opening process in a branch in your home country, if there is one near you. In this case you can open a sole or joint chequing or saving account and start to use HSBCs services right away. You won’t be able to get a debit card until you arrive in Canada, but this is still more flexible than most of the alternatives from traditional banks.

Once you’re registered with HSBC you can open a range of different accounts - we’ve looked at the HSBC Performance Chequing Unlimited as a good option. This has a 14.95 CAD monthly fee, for unlimited day to day transactions and overdraft protection. Sending an international payment online will cost 20 CAD - 40 CAD depending on the value of the transfer.

Account types: Good range of chequing and savings accounts

Eligibility: If you’re already in Canada and can provide adequate paperwork you can apply there - but if you’re in another country which has HSBC branches, you may be able to get the process completed in a local branch before you even travel

Is it safe? Yes - HSBC is a huge global brand and regulated by official bodies in Canada and around the world

Go to site

Scotiabank

Scotiabank lets customers from selected countries open international accounts online - or you can start to set up your account online before you travel and then confirm your application once you arrive. Scotiabank offers a range of account options, with the most popular - the Preferred account - being eligible for the newcomer international application process.

The Preferred Package costs 16.95 CAD a month but comes with unlimited free transactions, interest on your balance, and overdraft protection. If you hold a 4,000 CAD or more minimum balance for the month your monthly fee may be waived. You may also benefit from 1.99 CAD international payments, although a markup may still apply on the exchange rate. 

Account types: Scotiabank has a good range of chequing and savings accounts, including a couple which can be opened online in advance or arrival by people from selected countries

Eligibility: You’ll need to provide ID including your passport and proof of legal residence in Canada

Is it safe? Yes. Scotiabank is FINTRAC registered and fully licensed to trade in Canada

Go to site

What are the costs

It’s usually free to open a bank account in Canada. However accounts from traditional banks will often have monthly fees, which can only be waived if you maintain a set minimum balance all month. There are also transaction costs to consider. Some banking packages come with a fixed number of free transactions a month, some have unlimited transactions for free, and some come with charges for every transaction you make within your account - make sure you read all the details carefully before you sign up.

Tips for transferring money

One of the most common transactions you’ll need to make as an expat is probably moving money across currencies with international transfers - this can also be a costly thing with traditional banks. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Check the exchange rate you’re offered against the rate you find on Google to see if a markup - and extra fee - has been applied

  • International transfer fees may vary depending on the value of the payment, and whether you arrange it online or in a branch

  • Third party fees may be deducted as the payment is processed, and can mean your recipient gets less than you expect

Conclusion

Having a local bank account is an important part of settling into a new country. Canada’s banking system is adapted to welcoming newcomers, with a range of account products and services aimed at new arrivals. However, depending on the bank you choose, you may not be able to get your account fully up and running in advance of arrival.This may mean you can’t transact in CAD before you get there.

For a flexible alternative, have a look at online services like Wise, which let you get a multi-currency account set up in a broad range of countries, with CAD bank details to make it easy to hold, receive, send and spend in CAD - even before you arrive.

Open a free Wise account online

FAQ

Can a foreigner open an account in Canada?

Yes. You can open an account as a newcomer, or on arrival, through a traditional bank, or an online specialist service.

How much do I need to open a bank account in Canada?

Most bank accounts are free to open, but to avoid high monthly fees you may need to meet minimum balance requirements.

Can I open a Canada bank account online?

Online opening at a traditional bank isn’t usually easy for new arrivals. Check out a few options to see if any can accommodate your personal situation - or look at online account providers which can offer a more flexible service with a fully online onboarding.

Can I open a bank account in Canada before landing?

Most of the major Canadian banks have newcomer services which allow you to open an account in part or full before arriving. You can also choose an online specialist service to open an account and get CAD bank details before you get to Canada.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated August 22, 2022