City Guides

Moving To Vancouver, Part 2: What's the Best Canadian Bank Account for Foreigners?

Moving to Canada and want to know the best Canadian bank account for foreigners? Sit back, take a piece of maple fudge, and prepare to figure out how to access your cash. 


The day you arrive in Vancouver, you'll probably realise the only bank cards you have belong to your respective homeland, and that they're charging you a premium to access your own cash from another part of the world, so you'll want to set up a Canadian bank account pretty quickly – but which bank to go with?

There are a range of factors that go in to this decision because, well, banking in Canada is different. Here are five reasons why: 

  1. Your 'chequing' account is your everyday banking account. Your 'savings' account is literally a savings account, and you will be charged to access money from this account (my bank blocked my ability to use the 'Savings' feature on debit machines so I could avoid these charges). Many banks also hardly give you any interest on anything in your savings account.

    IMPORTANT: When you use your debit card, make sure you hit the 'chequing' button. I don't even know why they have a 'savings' button, but they do, and you'll be charged if you use it.

  2. Monthly fees are a usually part of life, and they range from $5 - $30. You can get around this by joining a bank that is traveller-friendly, or a bank that waives the charge if you keep you balance above a certain amount (more on those later).

  3. You're often charged to use ATMs. This can include ATMs belonging to your own bank, and charges range from $0.99 - $2.50. Depending on your account type, banks will often have a set number of ATM and teller transactions you can make per month – if you go over that limit, you'll start getting charged for your transactions.

  4. Credit cards are a bit of a necessity. There are a surprisingly-large number of systems in place that do not allow you to use a debit card. For example, you cannot set up your Compass card (public transport card) to automatically recharge unless you have a credit card, pre-pay for a ferry to Vancouver Island, and a bunch of other weird things. I'm not suggesting you get a credit card, but a few things might be easier if you do, so it might be worth looking in to a bank with a no-fee credit card.

  5. People still use cheques, and cheque books cost $40... Who knew? Sometimes rent or bills has to be paid via cheque, and some employers will ask you to send them a void cheque so they can get all your banking details right. I haven't needed a cheque book at this stage, but it's probably worth asking the banking gods about them when you sign up for an account – some include free cheque books.

Having said all that, it's very easy to avoid these fees if you play it right, so read on! I will talk about that in a bit.
 

What info do I need to get a bank account in Canada?

Each bank has a different set of requirements, but if the bank has accounts targeted at newcomers, you will most-likely only need the following:

- Work Permit- SIN Number
- ID (driver's license or passport)

If your chosen bank is not newcomer-friendly, you'll most-likely need to show proof of your Canadian address, and/or a Canadian driver's license. It's always best to call the bank before showing up to confirm.

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What bank should I go with?

There are a lot of options, but personally, I think the idea of being charged to access your own money from your own ATM or an in-store debit machine is borderline criminal, so I've only included budget-friendly accounts that waive those fees completely, or at least for a period of time:

Pros: CIBC offers newcomers unlimited transactions, e-transfers, and no monthly fees for one whole year. You also don't need a proper Canadian address to sign up (they let me use the hostel address), and they'll throw in a no-fee credit card that gives you 'cash back' on grocery purchases.

Cons: After a year, they will start charging you monthly account fees, along with additional fees for transactions and e-transfers. You're pressured in to taking the credit card, and the 'cash back' on grocery purchases is credited to your credit card, so you have to use the card to spend it (think about it – it's a vicious cycle). I also actually had consult Google as to how I should pay off my credit card because it's not obvious.

HINT: Don't wait for them to send you a bill (they charge you for that bill) – transfer the money in to your credit account. It looks ridiculous just sitting there, but it counts as payment.
 

RBC (Royal Bank of Canada)

Pros: RBC allows you to set up a bank account from outside Canada, and transfer your own cash in to it via their in-house wire transfer system. This means you land in the country and start making transactions immediately, from any province, without worrying about the exchange rate or ATM fees. They'll also give you a credit card, reduce foreign exchange transactions in-branch for 12-months, and waive account fees and give you unlimited transactions for nine-months.

Cons: You have to phone the bank to set up the account if you're not in Canada, you only have nine-months of no account fees and unlimited transactions, there is a downpayment ($1,000-ish) if you want a credit card, and they're not very accommodating if you accidentally miss a credit card payment (I heard a horror story where someone was signed up for the wrong type of credit card. It ended up costing her thousands even though it's not what she asked for, and they made her pay it all back anyway).
 

BMO (Bank of Montreal)

Pros: They'll waive monthly fees for a year, and give you unlimited ATM transactions ande-transactions. They'll also give you a no-fee credit card, free safety-deposit box rental for one-year (why you'd need this, I don't know, but the option is there!), and (like RBC) you can can get an account before you move to Canada and access your cash from the moment you land.

Cons: You can only apply for an account from outside the country by international snail mail, and as with the other banks, the freebies will end.
 

Tangerine

Pros: With unlimited transactions and e-transfers, free access to all Scotiabank ATMs across the country, no bank fees, no bill payment fees (yes, that's also a thing), interest on anything in your chequing account, and a free cheque book, Tangerine is a pretty good option. The best part is these options are available to Canadians and foreigners, and the features never expire, so you could theoretically have unlimited transactions until THE END OF TIME.

Cons: Tangerine isn't my top recommendation because they're not newcomer-friendly. To sign up for an account, you'll need to give them proof of your Canadian address, and be in possession of a Canadian driver's licence (your homeland license and passport will not do). Furthermore, despite being spruiked as an 'online' bank, I had to go in to the branch in Vancouver multiple times during work hours to show them my ID and work permit  because they wouldn't let me do it online.

When I finally received my bank card, I realised it was 'client card' rather than a visa debit or mastercard, which means there's no CSV number on the back, and I wouldn't be able to make online purchases without getting a Tangerine credit card. Not impressed, Tangerine. Not impressed.

Nevertheless, I still recommend them because there's no time-limit on benefits.

HINT: Want $50?Sign up with tangerine online, put in number below when prompted, and BOOM! We'll both get $50. Pin: 50086125S1.
 

TD (Toronto-Dominion Bank)

Pros: Unlimited transactions, e-transfers, one free international transfer per month, and no monthly fees – all for six-months. They'll also give you a credit card, and interest on anything in your savings account.

Cons: Benefits only last six-months and the account doesn't come with a cheque book. on another note, the credit card limit is $5,000 and they require a $500 downpayment. That may not be a problem if you're good at managing your finances, but it's also potentially dangerous and encourages overspending. 
 

Credit Unions

Another option is to go with a credit union. Credit unions are a little different to regular banks because they're more community-driven, and require you to make a one-time investment of around $5 (often refundable if you cancel your account), which allows you to have a say in how the elected board of directors use the bank's money.

Credit unions aren't generally traveller-friendly, so you'll probably need to prove your address and residency upon sign-up, but if you've been in Canada for a few months, you should have a Canadian driver's license and/or bill with your address on it, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Recommended unions include Coast Capital Credit Union and President’s Choice because they offer unlimited transactions, no monthly fees, and PC offers a free cheque book. Another option is Vancity, but you'll have to keep your account above $1,000/month is you want free transactions and no monthly fees.
 

My Recommendations

When I arrived in Vancouver, I got an account with CIBC because they had a newcomer deal and I knew someone that was already with them, and went on to sign up with Tangerine a few months later. I don't regret that decision, but the fact that I had to research a way to pay off my credit card is not ok. I've also seen a few charges on my bank statements that I don't really understand, which bothers me and makes me feel as though they're just trying to take my money. So I do not recommend CIBC.

As annoying as Tangerine was to sign up with, in my opinion, their benefits are unparalleled compared to the banking institutions throughout the rest of Canada. Having said that, I've only heard good things about Vancity and, had I known about them earlier, would have at least looked at going down that avenue.

How do I avoid bank fees in Canada altogether? Sign up with a bank that has a newcomer deal, wait until your benefits are up, then get an account with Tangerine or a credit union once you have a Canadian driver's license and address.

Yes, it really is that easy.

 

So those are my top Canadian bank account recommendations for foreigners!

Make sure you subscribe to my newsletter to gain instant access to the next instalments of the Moving To Vancouver series, and make sure you check out the article on renting in Vancouver

Have you moved to Canada and/or Vancouver and had a different experience? Comment below, or tell me all about it!


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Heading to Canada? You might like these:

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The ancient town of Melnik is nestled in the Pirin Mountains, surrounded by 100-meter rock formations, and lined with 500-year-old trees and heritage-listed structures. If the history side of things doesn’t do it for you, the 600-year-old wine culture will – there are more wineries on the main street than you could shake a stick at.

Blue Mountains Travel Guide

Katoomba.jpg
If you find yourself in Sydney for more than a few days, you’ll probably end up in the Blue Mountains – and so you should! It's beautiful.

A surprisingly large amount of Australians think the Blue Mountains is just Katoomba, and they’re very wrong. While Katoomba is the main tourist hub, the whole area is actually a city with about 25 suburbs – it takes about 2-hours to get from Glenbrook at the foot of the Mountains, to Bell on the other side of the Mountains, and it’s home to a lot of people.

So how did the Blue Mountains come to be? I know you're dying to find out! Colonial Sydney-siders needed more farming space, and thought they might find it if they crossed the big blue-looking mountains in the distance (hence the name…). In the early days, rough terrain and a severe lack of resources meant the British were unable to successfully cross the mountains, but in 1831 they all decided it was time. Blaxland gathered Lawson and Wentworth to join him in this almighty task, and off they went through the bush in search of somewhere to put a cow. After 18-days of near starvation and illness, they discovered Lithgow – a small town that now has lots of farms – and each explorer had a suburb named after them.

Like the rest of Australia, the Blue Mountains were occupied by the Aboriginal people at the time of British colonisation – they were the first to cross the Blue Mountains and had done so many times before the British settler. You can still see rock carvings in some areas today, and I highly recommend taking the time to pop over and have a look.

Where: Two-hours out of Sydney, NSW, Australia.
 
Why Go?

The Blue Mountains is a world heritage-listed enclave of valleys, canyons, views, Aboriginal engravings, cosy towns, hiking tracks and eccentric locals. With sites, tours and accommodation to fit all budgets, this natural wonder is great for a weekend getaway, or a week of serious hiking, rock-climbing and site seeing.

When To Go:

Anytime. Since the suburbs are pretty spaced apart, the weather varies drastically, so locals tend to divided the place in to ‘upper mountains’ and ‘lower mountains’. While the lower-mountains have a similar climate to Penrith (slightly warmer than Sydney), the upper-mountains gets pretty chilly.

Winter: I love the mountains in winter. The air gets pretty crisp and mist drifts around, clouds hang low, local pubs and coffee shops seem to glow with warmth, and everyone’s rugged-up in scarves, beanies and coats. The lower-mountains will only really be full of locals during this time, but the upper-mountains are pretty popular in winter. Snow is a rarity, but when it happens, everyone gets really excited.
 
HINT: If you're there around winter solstice, go to the Winter Magic Festival and either watch as adults and kids dressed as elves, witches, fairies, goblins and wizards dance and parade down the street with face paint, bells and tassels, or join in! It's usually on the third Saturday of June, and the whole of Katoomba street is roped-off to make way for thousands of people. Make sure you stick around in the evening for local bands, fireworks and mulled wine.
 

Summer: If you’re not in to the cold, summer in the upper-mountains is really nice. Temperatures hover from 20-29 during the day, you can sit outside without freezing to death, and it’s a lot better for bush walking. The lower-mountains can get pretty warm (25-40 during the day), so if you’re traipsing around there, bring water and sunscreen.

Getting There: 

Trains are the most affordable option and, provided there’s no trackwork, it should be pretty smooth sailing, but Sydney Trains are fairly unpredictable so it's always a bit of a gamble. The Blue Mountains is a huge tourist destination, and most travel companies, hostels and hotels should be able to help you to get there.

Train: Trains to Katoomba, Mt Victoria and Lithgow leave Central station (Sydney Terminal) roughly every hour. It will take about one-hour-and-a-half to get to Springwood, two-hours to get to Katoomba, and three-hours to get to Lithgow. Check the Sydney Trains website to plan your trip and check ticket costs (around $10 return on Saturdays). You’ll also need to get an Opal card from a City Convenience store or an EzyMart (this isn't hard, they're everywhere).
 

NOTE: Sydney Trains like to schedule track maintenance on the Blue Mountains line on weekends. If this happens, ask a guard at Central station and they’ll tell you where to go. You’ll probably have to catch a bus at some point, but the train staff are pretty good at letting you know when to get off the train, and what bus to get on. It’s a good idea to factor extra travel time in to your trip in this scenario. You can check on the Sydney Trains trackwork page.

Car: This is probably the most convenient way to get there. You can stop and look at each town, drive off the Great Western Highway and find non-touristy lookouts. Keep in mind Sydney roads get very congested, so depending on when you leave and return, this may interrupt your itinerary. There’s a lot of timed and metered parking in Katoomba, so unless you hover around the backstreets, it might be hard to find a spot. If you don’t like traffic, I strongly recommend you avoid driving down the mountain on a Sunday afternoon.
 

Tour: There are loads of tour buses that’ll take you around. There aren’t many that leave from Sydney, but there are lots in Katoomba that will take you to all the sites, like Trolley Tours and the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.

Food:

Cafe culture is a big deal in these parts. Cafes, restaurants and bakeries line the streets of Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba and Blackheath, so take your pick! Along with pub-style burgers, steaks, pizza and pasta at many of the local bars and pubs, there are also some great places to go if you're feeling fancy.

Budget: Hominy Bakery in Katoomba (pies), Bakery Patisserie Schwarz in Wentworth Falls (German pastries), The Savoy in Katoomba (breakfast until 5pm, dinner and wine after that – not the greatest food, but super cheap), Bamboo Box in Katoomba (rice-paper rolls), True To The Bean in Katoomba (coffee), Anonymous Cafe in Blackheath (coffee and baked goods).

Mid-Range: Leura Gourmet (pretty much everything), Cafe Madeleine in Leura (chocolate! So much chocolate), Station Bar in Katoomba (pizza), Old City Bank Brasserie in Katoomba (steak), La Bello Pizzeria in Faulconbridge (pizza and pasta), Arjuna Indian Restaurant in Katoomba (everything).

High-End: Darleys in Katoomba (hatted restaurant – I went there and it was amazing), Pins On Lurline in Katoomba (fusion restaurant with a fantastic reputation), Ashcrofts Bistro in Blackheath (fine dining at one of the best restaurants in the mountains), Vesta in Blackheath (food cooked in a 120-year-old scotch oven...what's not to like?), The Avalon in Katoomba (set in an old movie theatre, this place has been around forever and has amazing views).

Vegan: The mountains aren't exactly crawling with vegan options, but they're definitely there! I have a few options here, but things are popping up all the time – take a look at Nabo Blog for new additions. Papadino's Katoomba allows you to mix and match pizza toppings,  and swap regular cheese for vegan cheese, and it's actually pretty good (it melts!).

There's also a vegan pasta option, but I recommend the pizza. Rubyfruit in Leura very popular vegan bakery and cafe, complete with burgers, burritos, pasta, cheesecake, and a bunch of other options. The Baker's Wife in Springwood is a go-to choice for the lower mountains, with salads, smoothies, wraps, and a range of other breakfast and lunch options.

Shopping:

There’s a range of souvenir shops in Katoomba, especially if you go to Scenic World or Echo Point, but apart from that it really depends what you’re after. With the closest major shopping mall in Penrith, you won’t find generic shops up the mountain – small businesses rule supreme in these lands, so don’t expect to find H&M lying in some arcade.

For home wares, jewellery and nick-knacks, head to Leura. For antiques, head to Leura, Blackheath or Hazlebrook. For Nepalese-style jumpers, knitted beanies and gloves, head to Katoomba. For a one-of-a-kind giant hippy emporium, head to Springwood.

Accommodation:

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay that’s nice and touristy and scenic, Katoomba is your best option. Of course there’s other accommodation in different suburbs, but I recommend staying in Katoomba and day-tripping out to see everything else. Alternatively, if you’re looking for somewhere nice and quiet and pretty, go to a holiday house in Blackheath or the newly-renovated Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath.

Budget:  Blue Mountains Backpacker Hostel – With a range of dorms, single rooms, double rooms, and family rooms, this place is very affordable (double rooms are about $35/night in winter), really close to then main street and station, and they’ll help you find your way around. There’s also a really nice common room with pool tables, TV, kitchen, and outdoor roof area. I’ve stayed here, and I was really impressed.

No. 14 – While still a hostel, this place has more of a hotel feel to it. It’s a bit more expensive (around $58/night for a double room in winter), and with only 11 rooms there’s no space for cheap dorms, but travellers comment on the friendly atmosphere and excellent location.

Mid-Range: Katoomba Town Centre Motel  With a range of double rooms, family rooms and spa suites, this place is seriously close to town and gives you somewhere to park your car. A classic double room will set you back about $140/night in winter, but they do big buffet breakfasts in the morning, and there’s a games room! I’ve stayed here, and it was great – it’s especially great for families.

The Carrington  This hotel towers over the main street like a palace. With red carpets, ornate sculptures, detailed furniture, fireplaces, views, a restaurant, and an old-school cocktail bar, stepping inside feels like you’ve stepped back in time – you want to stay here just for the experience. A regular double room with cost about $150/night in winter, but you can get family rooms, suites, balconies and views for an extra cost. I’ve stayed here, and you feel so ridiculously regal walking downstairs in the morning that you just want to laugh. Rooms are nice, beds are comfortable, I was impressed.

High-End: The Mountain Heritage Hotel & Spa Retreat  Located within walking distance to the town centre, this hotel has a very old-fashioned feel to it (think tea party) and offers views, a restaurant, a pool, fitness centre, cocktail bar and spa. A regular double room will cost about $260/night in winter, and a room with a view will cost upwards of $290.

Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant – The best views Katoomba has to offer come at a whopping $800+/night, but if you’ve got the cash, it’s well-worth the expense – literally every room has a view. With access to all facilities at Lilianfels next door, you’ve got a spa, fitness center, two pools, tennis court and a pool table at your disposal. It’s a 5-minute walk to Echo Point, so if you want to go in to town you’ll have to drive or taxi, but with panoramic views and designer martinis at the hotel restaurant, you probably won’t need to leave.

Sites:

If you go to Katoomba, you can’t leave without going to Echo Point and seeing the Three Sisters (pictured above) – it’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. There are around 29 major attractions in the area, and you can either do a few yourself, or go all out and do it in a day with one of the hop-on hop-off services floating around.

Trolley Tours is the cheapest ($25 for all-day use), but for $44 you can get paraded around everyday for seven days in the Blue Mountains Explorer London-style double-decker bus…the choice is yours.

My Suggestion:
For a nice mix of tourism and food, get off the train in Katoomba, step in to Trolley Tours (right next to the station), grab a $25 pass and jump on a bus to Echo Point, marvel at The Three Sisters (pictured above), grab a takeaway coffee and bus to Scenic World where you can ride old mine tracks down a steep drop through the rainforest, wander around the bottom and learn about the history of the railway (which is actually pretty interesting) before climbing back up again and taking the Skyway to marvel at the view from above. Catch the bus to Leura for lunch at Leura Gourmet, and either head to Everglades Gardens or meander around Moontree (the candle shop), The Candy StoreTeddy Sinclair (the ‘man’ shop), Leura Toy Shop, and one (or all) of the many vintage stores around the main street. Buy some chocolate from Josophan’s Fine Chocolates on your way to the bus stop or train station and either train it to Sydney, or bus it back to Katoomba to hang out in the beer garden at the Old City Bank Brasserie, and find an excuse at some point to go to the bathroom over at The Carrington just so you can step inside and have a look. From here, you can either go upstairs for dinner at the Bank, head across the road to Station Bar or Rene’s for pizza, or head to The Avalon for something a bit fancier.

Interested in travelling the whole country? Check out my comprehensive Australia Travel Guide for info! Or check out Sabine's luxury stay in the Wolgan Valley.