Whether you plan to move to Canada temporarily for school or permanently for a new job or other opportunities, getting your finances in order before you move will save you a lot of trouble. One of the top smart money moves you can make is to open a Canadian bank account. While this is not required by most schools or places of employment, it will make it much easier to receive your paycheque and pay taxes, as well as build up your credit history and use your debit card locally.

Figuring out how to open a chequing account in Canada as a non-resident isn't as complicated as you might think. As long as you have the proper documentation, you should be able to open up an account today.

1. Check your options for opening an account in Canada

There are a few different routes you can take to open a chequing account online or in-person. The method you choose might depend on how much paperwork you have available. For example, if you are still waiting for your employment ID card, setting up your Canadian bank account through a correspondent bank could be faster.

Here are the different options to consider:

  • Use a correspondent bank: Correspondent banks are authorized to provide financial services on behalf of another bank. A correspondent bank will process payments and complete wire transfers to your existing bank from your origin country. This option is best for individuals who are staying in Canada temporarily or university students who just need funds wired occasionally.
  • Open an international account: Some banks operate all over the world. Other banks have regional branches in Canada, making it easier to conduct your banking business in your home country and Canada. It will be easier to set up your bank account before you move. An international bank account can make it easier to obtain a Canadian bank account.
  • Talk to a Canadian bank: The top Canadian banks have different services and help available for non-residents. Talk with your desired bank to find out what their process is for non-residential accounts. Scotiabank’s newcomer program can help you get your bank account started before your move date.
  • Open an account when you are present in Canada: While each bank will have its own requirements, typically you will need to present your passport, immigration papers, and temporary resident, work, or student permit. While it is possible to obtain a bank account this way, it is best to try to set up an online bank account before you move.

New to Canada? We’re here to help you to be financially ready for the future.


2. Consider how you will use this account 

Canada is home to many banking options. While asking, “What do I need to open a chequing account in Canada?" also consider what you need this account for. Knowing how you will use your account will help you chose the right one for you. Other factors to consider:

  • Location: Is the bank easy to access on your daily journey to work, school, or errands? If you have to drive 30 minutes to the closest branch, it is going to be a pain to manage your money and any issues you might run into with paycheques or bills. If you want an open chequing account online that is easy to use virtually anywhere, make sure to test out the bank's online and mobile options.
  • Accessibility: Think about what you need your bank account for and how you want to use it. If you want a combined chequing and savings account, look for banks that specialize in those accounts. If you just want a bank account that can hold your paycheque and give you a debit card so you can shop locally with ease, look for a bank that offers low account fees.
  • Fees: Canadian bank accounts typically have fees for holding an account and for different tasks performed, such as money transactions. You want to choose the bank and account that will give you the most mileage for your money. Don't opt for a low-fee chequing account that limits your debit transactions if you do more than 20 per month. Similarly, look for accounts that line up with how you save and spend.

3. Learn about different bank account types

Whether this is a permanent relocation or a temporary stay for a few years, you will probably want your money to do more than just sit in an account. Different types of banking accounts will help you with your financial goals. Here is a brief overview of the different chequing accounts and savings accounts you can access in Canada.

Types of Chequing Accounts

  • Standard chequing: This type of chequing is the most common and allows you to spend your money through a debit card, paper cheques, and online bill pay.
  • Interest-earning chequing: Select chequing accounts will earn a small amount of interest on account balances. Expect to need a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN) for tax purposes on interest earned.
  • Student/teen account: Using a student chequing account while you are enrolled in university is ideal and available for non-residents. This chequing account typically offers little to no monthly account fees and reduced overdraft and transaction fees.
  • Senior package: Senior chequing accounts can also have lower fees but also limited free transactions.

Types of Savings Accounts

  • High interest-earning savings account: You will need to provide a SIN for tax purposes on interest earned.
  • Tax-free savings accounts (TFSA): Non-residents who have a SIN through employment are eligible to open a TFSA. However, non-residents will be subject to a 1% tax for each month the contribution stays in the account. This account is not taxed in Canada if you withdraw from it, though your home country might have other tax laws in place if you plan to withdraw and use the money later. Also, your savings will not grow if you leave Canada.1
  • Foreign currency savings accounts: This allows you to easily do transactions in U.S. dollars or Euros without large exchange rate fees.

Different accounts will come with its own unique fees. Some accounts waive certain fees while other accounts are better suited for one type of consumer. It is important to know these fees upfront so that your bank account doesn't cost you more than you expect. Some common banking account fees include the following:

  • Monthly chequing account fees: These may be waived on some accounts if your account minimum stays above $3,000 to $4,500 CAD.
  • ATM fees: Pulling out money from your bank's ABMs will not result in a fee, but accessing your account through a different ABM often will.
  • Interac e-Transfer fees: Many accounts allow a few free Interac e-Transferƚ transactions per month and then charge a minimal fee for transfer requests over the limit.
  • Foreign transaction fees: If you use your debit card outside of Canada, you may incur a foreign transaction fee in addition to the foreign currency exchange rate.
  • Cheque book fees: A flat cost to order cheques.
  • Debit transaction fees: If your account comes with a monthly debit transaction limit, then you will pay a minimal fee for all transactions over the limit.
  • Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF) fees and overdraft fees: If your account total cannot cover debit transactions or scheduled payments, you will receive a fee for every transaction that is covered.

Look for special banking offers for non-residents to avoid fees for the first year in the country. Scotiabank offers an account to newcomers that waives the chequing monthly account fee for one year as well as unlimited no-fee foreign money transfers.2 Offers like these help you to establish your chequing account without being bombarded with fees.

4. Check the list of documents required

In order to open a bank account in Canada, you will be asked to provide proper identification. You don't need to wait until you are in the country to start either⁠—you can open a chequing account online.

What do I need to open a chequing account in Canada?

  1. Gather the necessary documents. Each bank can vary on what documents they require, but typically you will need to provide a Canadian SIN (if you want to open an interest-bearing account), valid work, student or residential permit, your passport, and immigration papers. If you currently have a Canadian debit or credit card from a different bank, these are also useful to present when signing up for your new account.
  2. If you are under 18 years age, identify your custodian.
  3. Complete an application. Save yourself time by completing your banking application online. Have all of your important documents, employee ID and bank account numbers nearby to help you fill out your application.
  4. Fund your account. Even if you are opening up your chequing account to receive paycheques from your new job seamlessly, it is a good idea to put down a deposit. This can help with your account approval. If you set up your chequing account online, you will be able to wire transfer the money from your non-Canadian bank.

New to Canada? Speak to a Scotia advisor to get your finances on track in your new country