Having a bank account is one of the most useful things you can do for your finances. A chequing account will allow you to receive payments and transfer funds seamlessly for bills, essentials, and all other purchases. A savings account is equally as essential for your financial well-being and can help you achieve your savings goals, like buying a new vehicle or saving enough for a down payment on your first home.

Figuring out how to open a bank account in Canada is quite straightforward, and if you have the proper documentation, you can do it today.

1. Check your eligibility

As a resident, you have the right to open a bank account regardless of your credit status, and even if you have gone through bankruptcy or are unemployed.

If you are a non-resident living, working, or attending school in Canada for an extended period of time, learning how to open a bank account in Canada is helpful. In most cases, non-residents who are working or attending school legally in Canada will have all of the paperwork needed to open an account, and select banks offer specialized newcomer assistance. Tourists, on the other hand, might have a difficult time obtaining the needed proof of ID for an account, especially if they are enjoying the country for rest and relaxation rather than work.

Opening a bank account is a speedy process if you have all the required paperwork on hand. Once in the bank, opening an account will take an average of 15-20 minutes, and you will be handed your debit card at the branch.

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2. Do your research

When researching what account(s) to open and where, ask the following questions to help narrow down your search:

  • What do I need this account for? If you need a combined chequing and savings account, then look for a package that gives you the most mileage for your money. On the other hand, if you are primarily focusing on business banking needs, focus on options with the best perks for your business type.   
  • How do I want to use my bank account? If you are planning to do most of your shopping, bill payments, and financial tasks online, opting for a bank that has a seamless app and website will be beneficial to you. Likewise, if you prefer to do your banking in person, choosing a bank that has more accessible branches and ATMs will be a better option. You can get a feel for a bank's online interface by visiting their website; you want to see updated content, quick-loading pages, and modern design.
  • How much will this account cost me? While different accounts have different fees, your fee total will depend on the type and how you use your account. For example, if you plan to use your chequing account for more than 20 transactions per month, it might save you money to choose an account that has a higher monthly account fee but unlimited transactions.

Before you open a bank account, determine what you want to use this account for. Do you need an account for receiving and making payments or do you need an account to hold your savings? The two major types of bank account in Canada are chequing accounts and savings accounts.

Types of chequing accounts

  • Standard chequing: This type of chequing is the most common and allows you to use your money on a daily basis. This type of account usually gives you access to point of sale purchasing with your debit card, cheques, and the ability to transfer money and pay bills electronically.
  • Interest-earning chequing: Select chequing accounts will earn a small amount of interest on account balances.
  • Student/teen account: The monthly account fee for youth chequing accounts is generally waived or reduced.

Types of savings accounts

  • High interest-earning savings account
  • Foreign currency savings accounts, which are helpful for individuals who do transactions in U.S. dollars or Euros

All accounts have unique perks and fees. Note all fees before signing up for a new account to ensure it is the right fit for you. Some common banking account fees include the following:

  • Monthly chequing account fees: These may be waived for some accounts if your account minimum stays above a certain amount, depending on the account you choose (the more perks you receive, the higher the required balance).
  • ABM fees: Pulling out money from your bank's ATMs may not result in a fee, but accessing your account through a different ATM typically will.
  • Foreign transaction fees: If you use your debit card overseas, you could 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 each transaction over the limit.
  • Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF) fees: If your account total cannot cover debit transactions or scheduled payments, you will receive a fee for every transaction that is covered.

4. Check the list of documents required

Both residents and non-residents alike must show proper identification to open a bank account in Canada. You must show original documents in person at the financial institute of your choice; photocopies will not be accepted.

There are three different ways that lead to an open bank account in Canada, and you can do so without a Social Insurance Number (SIN). Though if you plan to open an interest-earning bank account, you will need to present a SIN.

If you have two pieces of identification from List A, that will be the most straightforward option. If not, you can show one document of ID from List A and one from List B. Finally, if all you have is one document from List A, you can present that and have someone in good standing with the financial institution or in the community confirm your identity.

Some banks have their own requirements for account approval. For example, Scotiabank requires all potential account holders to fill out an application and for non-residents to submit a reference letter or current account statement from a reputable bank.

What do I need to open a bank account in Canada?1

List A

  • valid Canadian driver's licence (as permitted by provincial law)
  • current Canadian passport
  • birth certificate issued in Canada
  • Social Insurance Number (SIN) card issued by the Government of Canada
  • Old Age Security card issued by the Government of Canada
  • Certificate of Indian Status
  • provincial or territorial health insurance card that can be used as ID under provincial or territorial law
  • Certificate of Canadian Citizenship or Certification of Naturalization
  • Permanent Resident card or an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) form IMM 1000, IMM 1442, or IMM 5292
  • a document or card with your picture and signature on it issued by select authorities

List B

  • employee ID card with your picture on it that has been issued by an employer well known in your area
  • a debit card or bank card with your name and signature on it
  • Canadian credit card with your name and signature on it
  • client card from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind with your picture and signature on it
  • current foreign passport

5. How old do you have to be to open a bank account?

Any resident with the proper ID documentation can open a bank account in Canada. However, individuals age 17 and under must have a legal guardian open a bank account with them. Each bank also has its own age limitations for account, though many offer a junior or youth account option for children. If you choose a youth bank account for your child, note that these accounts usually automatically roll over into a standardized account when the child turns 18.

Learning how to open a bank account in Canada is simple but choosing the right account that is best suited for your money management style might take a little research. Don't be afraid to look at several different banks' account offerings before selecting the right one for you.

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