When someone asks “What’s in your wallet?” they’re not asking if you carry any cash. Most people nowadays carry little cash except for emergencies. They’re asking how you define yourself as a consumer.

  • What kind of credit card(s) do you have? With so many to choose from today and with a wide array of points programs, there’s a credit card for every taste and style of consumer.
  • What kind of debit card do you have? This is often the same as asking where you do your banking – but not always.
  • Do you have a shopping points card? Does your credit card serve that function?
  • Do you have gas card? Or again, does your credit card take care of that?
  • Air miles card? Or have you migrated all your points programs to a single credit card that gives you rewards points on a whole range of purchases?

But then there’s also the other essentials you need in your wallet, things that you can’t do with a credit card. Or for which a credit card is not enough.

It’s clear that having the essentials in your wallet is a necessity for anyone living and working in Canada. Let’s dive in and find out how to make sure your wallet has what you need stashed inside. We’ll take the perspective of a new resident of Ontario who has just moved with her family to the province from abroad to live and work.

How to Get an Ontario Driver's License

IDP by Nicolas Bouliane [CC0]

[Public Domain]

You do have one, don’t you? And if it’s an international driving permit based on your foreign driver’s license then let’s hope you’ve started the process for getting your provincial/territorial driver’s license. If you live in a large metropolitan area, then you might be able to function without one. But be aware that you may suddenly get offered a job where public transport is not an option. And what about the job interviews that you might miss because you can’t drive to the interview – much less to work should you get offered that job? It’s time to find out how to obtain your Ontario Driver License.

What are the steps?

Obtain an International Driving Permit from your home country that will allow you – along with your foreign driver’s license – to drive for 60 days in Ontario.

In the meantime, you should immediately apply for an Ontario Driver’s License. The process will depend on your home country.

If your full driver’s license is from any of the following states/countries:

  • Any state in the USA, or
  • Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Taiwan:

Then you will be able to exchange your foreign driver’s license for an Ontario Driver’s License. The above listed states and countries have an exchange agreement with Ontario. You can exchange your foreign license by applying in person at any DriveTest centre in Ontario or at the ServiceOntario College Park location in downtown Toronto.

Please note that you cannot exchange a learner’s permit or novice-class license from any of the above listed countries or states. It must be a full driver’s license.

If your license is from any other country (one that does not have an exchange agreement with Ontario) then you will have to apply for an Ontario Driver’s license. You may be able to get credit for your foreign driving experience. You should bring:

  • Your original foreign driver’s license with which you can self-declare 1 year’s driving experience.
  • A letter – translated into English or French – from the official agency/office that issued your foreign driver’s license stating the number of years of driving experience that you have; if you wish to declare more than 1 year and fast-track your application.

At the DriveTest Centre or the ServiceOntario College Park location you will have to:

  • Take an eye examination;
  • Bring an original copy of an accepted ID document showing legal name, date of birth and signature;
  • Bring your original, valid foreign driver’s license with an expiry date – have it translated into English or French if it is in another language;
  • Bring your translated letter or any other supporting documentation that show years of experience driving;
  • Pay the fees;
  • Fill out the application form.

Your next steps to getting your Ontario Driver’s license will depend on your foreign driver’s license:

Foreign License Type Required Steps for Ontario License
Fully licensed; 2+ years driving; Exchange agreement with Ontario Take an eye test
Less than 2 years driving; Exchange agreement with Ontario
  • Take an eye test


  • Drive with a G1 license (restricted conditions)
  • Gain 2 full years of driving experience (your foreign driving experience counts towards the total)
  • Take a G2 road test when you have 2 full years of driving experience
Fully licensed; 2+ years driving; NO exchange agreement with Ontario
  • Take an eye test
  • Take a written test on the rules of the road
  • Take a G2 road test (you can book the G2 road test as soon as you apply)
Less than 2 years driving; NO exchange agreement with Ontario
  • Take an eye test
  • Take a written test on the rules of the road
  • Take a G1 road test and accumulate 1 year of driving experience (your foreign experience counts)
  • Take a G2 road test

Learn more about Driver's Licenses in Canada

How to Get a Social Insurance Number

Old SIN Card (now phased out) - used with permission of photographer


This is your identification number for a range of government services and is equivalent to the number on a national identity document in other countries or to a Social Security Number in the US. Your SIN is needed in order to work in Canada or to receive government benefits. Service Canada is the agency where you apply for and receive your SIN.

Please note that Service Canada is no longer issuing plastic SIN cards. Instead, you will receive a confirmation letter when you receive your SIN. Keep this letter in a secure place and do not share your SIN unless it is for filing taxes or government programs. Corporations or landlords or private individuals are not legally allowed to ask for your SIN.

Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents with a work permit are eligible for a SIN.

To apply you will need to have the necessary documentation:

A Primary Document that proves your identity and legal status in Canada

  • For Canadian citizens:
    • birth certificate (from a Canadian province or territory); or
    • a certificate of Canadian citizenship; or
    • a birth registered abroad (before 1977).
  • For Permanent Residents:
    • Permanent Resident Card
    • Confirmation of Permanent Residence: must be used within 1 year of date you become a permanent resident.
    • Record of Landing: issued before June 28, 2002
    • Verification of Landing: only to amend or confirm SIN when COPR or Record of Landing lost/unavailable
    • Status Verification: only for amending or confirming SIN
  • For Temporary Residents:
    • Work permit issued by IRCC
    • Study permit issued by IRCC indicating you’re authorized to work in Canada
    • Visitor record issued by IRCC indicating you’re authorized to work in Canada
    • Diplomatic identity card and a work authorization issued by Global Affairs Canada

Please note that temporary residents receive a temporary SIN unlike citizens and permanent residents who receive a permanent SIN.

A Supporting Document indicates the name you are currently using. If your name differs from your name on your primary document for reasons such as divorce or marriage, you will need a supporting document in order to apply.

While you can apply by mail, because you have to submit original copies of your documents and Service Canada does NOT accept responsibility for lost or stolen documents, it is best to apply in person at any Service Canada office. Go here to find the one nearest you.

Remember, you will no longer receive a plastic SIN card. You will instead receive a confirmation letter which you should keep in a secure place.

How to Get a Canadian Health Card

Now that she’s got her Ontario Driver’s License and her SIN, our fictitious person should now think about her health card. Shouldn’t that be first on her list, you might ask? Well no, it shouldn’t.

You should probably get your provincial driver’s license first. Why? Because it’s a useful piece of ID when applying for OHIP. You need to prove you’re a resident of Ontario in order to qualify. So, you need some sort of ID that proves that, and a Driver’s License is perfect for that and very useful anyway.

Your OHIP coverage won’t start until about 3 months after you’ve been approved, so you’re almost definitely going to have private health insurance coverage anyway, for a period of up to 1 year. It’s another requirement for most immigrants to Canada anyway. That means your healthcare will be covered by your private insurance until at least your OHIP coverage starts although there will likely be some overlap period of a month or more where you have both.


How do you apply for an OHIP card?

Ontario Flag by Qyd (talk · contribs) [Public domain]

[Public Domain]

  1. Go to a ServiceOntario Centre and get a Registration for Ontario Health Insurance Coverage form and fill it out there if you have the necessary documentation or at home.
  2. Make sure that as well as your completed form, you have the 3 types of ID required:
    • Proof of Canadian citizenship or OHIP-eligible immigration status. This includes:
      • For Canadian citizens:
        • Canadian passport
        • Provincial/territorial birth certificate
        • Certificate of Canadian Citizenship
        • Certificate of Indian Status
      • For permanent residents:
        • Permanent Resident Card
        • COPR
        • Record of Landing
      • For permanent resident applicants:
        • IRCC confirmation letter
        • Work permit
        • Study permit
        • Temporary Residence permit
      • For other immigration status:
        • IRCC letter confirming Convention Refugee or Protected Person status
        • Protected Person status document
        • Temporary Resident permit (types 86 through 95 only)
        • Work permit
    • Proof that you reside in Ontario. This includes
      • Valid Ontario driver’s license
      • Valid temporary driver’s license
      • Valid Ontario Photo card
      • Original, mailed utility bill
      • Monthly, mailed bank account statements
      • Employer record – pay stub or employer letter on company letterhead
    • Proof of identity:
      • Credit Card
      • Valid Ontario Driver’s license
      • Valid Ontario Photo Card

Learn more about Health Cards

Go here for a full list of acceptable documents for OHIP applications. After you have applied and have been approved you will have to wait for around 3 months before your OHIP coverage starts. Go here to see which people qualify for immediate coverage.

Credit Cards

Now for the fun stuff that lets you spend and shop and earn bonus points and for which there is a wide variety of options. In fact, we’ve moved from cash to debit cards and now increasingly to credit cards to do our daily shopping. And it’s all because of the reward points!

So, let’s focus on 3 cards in terms of the various rewards programs they offer. Of course, there’s dozens of credit cards to choose from but we’ll just choose three to keep things simple.


American Express Cobalt Card:

American Express sign by Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

by Marcus Quigmire / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

This card earns you about 5% rewards on your monthly spending, which is about as good a rewards program you can get. Its main features are:

  • Annual fee: $120 (charged monthly at $10 a month).
  • Earn 5 points per dollar spent at grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and food delivery.
  • 2,500 points for every $500 you spend monthly during your first year owning the card.
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on gas, taxis, public transportation and travel (air, water, rail, or road transport + hotels).
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.


What do the points Get You?

  • Points can be redeemed against any purchases on your card. 
  • Points are essentially credit to your card balance.


Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite:

Scotiabank by Illustratedjc [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

by Illustratedjc / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Your annual fee of $99 is waived for your first year which is a nice welcome bonus. Here are its main features:

  • Earn 2% cash back on drugstore purchases and bill payments.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Receive Visa Infinite Benefits.


MBNA True Line Gold Mastercard:

It’s not just the low annual fee of $39 which about a third of typical annual fees on other cards, it’s the interest rate on purchases (or IRP) that’s an amazing deal with this card:

  • 8.99% is less than half the typical rate credit cards charge.
  • A 0% rate on balance transfers the first 6 months (additional fee of 3% applies).
  • Then the rate goes up to 8.99%.
  • Round-the-clock protection against fake charges.

Gas Points Cards

Do you drive? Of course you do! Everyone – or almost everyone – in Canada learns how to drive and gets their driver’s license. So when you purchase, lease, or even rent a vehicle, that means filling up the tank at least once a week. So even if you have a public transit card for the commute to work, you should also have a gas card to earn points on all those dollars you pump out of your wallet and into your car’s tank. Here are two of the best:


Petro Points Card:

Petro Canada Peter Broster [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

by Peter Broster / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

This is Petro Canada’s rewards program which gets you a host of features:

  • You get 5 points per litre of regular gas; 7 points per litre of mid-grade fuel; and 10 points per litre on high-octane gasoline.
  • On purchases of certain items at Petro Canada’s convenience store and their car washes you get 20 points per dollar spent.
  • You get additional points if you purchase over 150 litres of fuel per month. That’s filling up a tank more than 3 times a month (given 50 litres is a fairly average tank size and you rarely fill up your tank when it’s completely empty).

You can find the nearest Petro Canada near where you live (or intend to live) by clicking on this link.


What do the points Get You?

  • 1,000 = $1 off Petro Canada purchases
  • 10,000 = car wash or $10 off a trip at itravel2000.com or an electronic gift card



Shell Air Miles Card:

Shell station by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine [CC0]

[Public Domain]

This card gets you air miles for your purchases:

  • 1 Air Mile for every 15-litre purchase of gas;
  • 1 Air Mile for every $10 purchase at the convenience store;
  • 10 Air Miles if you purchase $225 or more monthly;
  • 25 Air Miles if you purchase $500 or more monthly.

Find Shell locations near you by clicking on this link.


Air Miles Cards

Once upon a time we might have included Aeroplan (the Air Canada points program) in this section, but nowadays banks and other financial companies have taken the lead on offering the best air miles credit cards. Let’s see what a few of them are:


BMO Air Miles No-Fee Mastercard

Bank of Montreal by Eastmain [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

by Eastmain / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

While you require a fairly good credit score to get one as well as a minimum income level - at $15,000 that’s something anyone working full-time can easily achieve - the benefits are impressive:

  • No annual fee.
  • A welcome bonus of 1000 Air Miles with your first purchase.
  • 1 air mile per $20 spent at almost any store/location in Canada.
  • Discounts of up to 25% at National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-a-Car.
  • 1.99% introductory interest rate for balance transfers in the first 9 months.


American Express Air Miles Platinum

You don’t need a minimum credit score and there is no minimum personal income level. What else is there?

  • nnual fees of $65 (less than 6$ per month);
  • 2,000 air miles with a minimum spend of $1,500 in first 3 months;
  • 1 air mile per $10 spent at an Air Miles sponsor store;
  • 1 air mile per $15 spent at all other locations;
  • Travel accident insurance of up to $100,000;
  • Car rental damage waiver;
  • Free supplementary cards.


What do Air Miles Get You?

Unfortunately, an Air Mile does not get you a mile of air travel.

They do get you discounts and rewards at many participating locations across Canada. See your options.

Retail Points Cards

While loyalty programs are digital and everywhere nowadays, those of us old enough to remember can think back to a time when Canadian Tire printed its own “Monopoly” money to “spend” at its stores. Yes, they still have the concept of CT Cash, but the rewards program is now digital like everyone else. So that’s a great place to start:


Triangle Credit Card:

Canadian Tire by Paulo O from Halifax, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

by Paulo O / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

This is Canadian Tire’s rewards card. So it’s features are centred around Canadian Tire and it’s automotive-sports-hardware store concept:

  • 4% back in CT money (aka Triangle Rewards);
  • 4% back at the following locations as well:
    • Sport Chek
    • Mark's
    • Atmosphere
    • Sports Rousseau
    • Hockey Experts
    • L’Entrepot du Hockey
    • Participating Mark’s L’Equipe and
    • Participating Sports Experts locations.


What does the Money  Get You?

Canadian Tire money used to be essentially currency only usable at Canadian Tire stores, in demoninations such as 1C, 5C etc. You'd collect enough of these to get a few dollars off a purchase.

Now Tangerine Rewards/CT Money resembles a more conventional points program like the others listed here.


President’s Choice MasterCard:

Loblaws by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine [CC0]

[Public Domain]

As part of the PC Optimum points program it has reasonable features and is aimed at those earning $40,000 and up. If you open up your cellphone’s calculator and do the arithmetic, that works out to about a $3,400 a month salary. The features are:

  • 1% back wherever you shop so that means you don’t have to worry normally if a store is part of the rewards program.
  • Easy to use but of course you may prefer the rewards on another credit card.

The choice is out there and it’s up to you to inform yourself.


Debit Cards

Finally, we return to good old-fashioned debit cards that still work in most places and of course get you cash from your account at any ATM.

Why should you use one seeing you don’t get the same range of rewards programs? There’s one simple reason:

  • A credit card is great as long as you pay your balance down in general and don’t start carrying a significant balance from one month to the next. Because if you do carry a balance from one month to the next by spending on all those great rewards programs that at most earn you about 5% back, you’ll pay way more in interest rate costs that run close to 20% for most cards.
  • A debit card on the other hand is just spending cash you already have in your bank account. No worries about interest rate charges. As long as you have the money, it’s your to spend with your debit card.


So, there you have it. What you need in your wallet in Canada. Of course, you can add all sorts of membership cards or additional rewards cards. And we haven’t even talked about apps on your cellphone. Maybe next article?


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