Last Updated on May 10, 2022 by Allard John Keeley
You’re going to be studying in Canada and you’re worried about how to do your banking. Do you go weekly to the nearest Western Union? Or instead do all your transfers from abroad in bitcoin or Ethereum or some other digital currency and use a bit-currency exchange that suddenly goes “dark”? Meaning you lose your digital currency with usually little recourse? While your expenses keep piling up?
Setting up a bank account in Canada is relatively easy. We have one the world’s most stable banking system and aside from the main Chartered Banks we also have subsidiaries of a number of large, well-known foreign banks. And the rules are actually pretty straightforward, although they can sometimes vary from one financial institution to another.
Here’s the basic framework as reported by the Government of Canada’s Financial Consumer Agency. You can find the link here. What they say is:
- You can usually open a bank account in Canada as long as you have the proper identification. And
- Some financial institutions may require you to open the account in person at a branch in Canada. But
- You may also be able to open a Canadian bank account even if you live outside of Canada. Again, this will depend on the financial institution you are dealing with.
The key here is proper identification. There is a term in the financial industry called know-your-client requirements and it refers to government regulations in a number of countries that require you to confirm that the person wishing to open a bank account is not engaged in criminal activities or any form of terrorism. As the Financial Transactions and Report Analysis Centre of Canada explains, financial entities have to:
- Confirm the existence of whoever or whatever organization or corporation that is opening a bank account. This means ensuring that you are who you say you are.
- Obtain beneficial ownership information in case you are using a trust or some other structure like a corporation in order to open your bank account
- If the entity opening the account is a corporation, then the financial institution has to confirm the corporation’s address and name, and the names of the corporation’s directors.
So, while you need legitimate and valid identification – at times including things like letters of reference from your bank back home- Canadian banks are happy to help you open an account. As a foreign university student who may end up living and working in Canada as a well-paid professional, you are a valuable prospective customer to them. In fact, Canadian banks have in general already set up websites or webpages to help guide you through the process. Let’s dive in and see what they offer for foreign customers.
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Scotiabank International Account
Scotiabank provides foreign customers with the option of opening an account online while you’re still abroad in order to easily transfer the funds you will need to settle in Canada. In fact, you may be able to transfer up to CAD$50,000 to your Scotiabank international account before you even arrive in Canada. You can go here to see if you’re eligible to apply for one.
How you apply depends on what country you’re applying from. For example:
In China you can apply online or you can go to the following banks in China and apply in person in order to set up your Scotiabank international account:
- China Everbright Bank
- Bank of Beijing
- Bank of Xi’an.
If applying at these banks in person remember to bring the following:
- Your visa number or landing document number which will be either form IMM 1000, or IMM 1442, or IMM 5292/5688
- Your passport.
Remember that to be eligible to open up an account with Scotiabank you must:
- Be an individual approved to come to Canada as a Permanent Resident, International Student, or Foreign worker.
- Be 13 years of age or older (in Quebec you must be age of majority).
- Be coming to Canada within 18 months of applying for the account.
- Not be coming to Canada on a tourist or visitor visa.
- Not be opening an account on behalf of a third party.
If you apply online, you will need:
- Your passport
- Your date of arrival in Canada
- Your visa or landing document number.
In India you have to apply online with the same guidelines for online applications as listed above for China. The same process as India applies to the Philippines and Vietnam where you also have to apply online.
The following countries also are eligible for online banking applications:
- Saudi Arabia
If you are from another country not on this list (remember this list also includes China, India, Philippines, and Vietnam) then you cannot apply for a bank account with Scotiabank until you arrive in Canada.
TD International Students Package
TD offers students the following:
- TD Student Chequing Account
- TD Savings Account
- TD Credit Card with no Credit history required
- TD Student Line of Credit.
However, to be eligible you must prove that:
- You are a Temporary or Permanent Resident of Canada for 2 years or less.
- You are a registered, full-time student at a post-secondary University or Community College.
- You have never had a TD Chequing account.
- You are age of majority in your province or territory (18 or 19 years old).
When you apply in Canada – although they are not quite clear on this, but it seems that you must apply in person at a branch in Canada – you must bring the following ID and documents:
- Your temporary permit (IMM 1442/1208/1102).
- Proof of enrolment in a post-secondary program such as:
- A letter on the university/college letterhead stamped or signed by the institution
- A copy of the tuition bill.
- One of the following:
- Valid passport
- Canadian driver’s license
- Canadian government ID card.
RBC Student Bank Accounts for Newcomers
This is a bundle of services and accounts offered to new arrivals in Canada that you can also apply online for in order to open an account. To start the online process from abroad go here. You will then receive an email giving you instructions on how to proceed.
The bundles RBC offers for newcomer students include:
- RBC No Limit Banking for Students: This is for students who use their bank accounts a lot and it includes unlimited debit transactions and free INTERAC e-Transfer transactions (within Canada you send money using email or cell phone numbers linked to a specific bank account). It also includes no minimum balance and a monthly fee of about CAD$10.
- RBC Student Banking: This is for students with low-frequency banking needs. You get no monthly fee and 25 free debit transactions per month. That means carefully planning your withdrawals to make sure you can meet your bills without running up charges at the bank. It also includes unlimited free INTERAC e-Transfer transactions which is nice when you need to send or receive money from another account in Canada.
- Beijing Student Guaranteed Investment Certificate Program: This is only for Chinese students who will be studying in Canada as international students. You can open a GIC of up to CAD$10,000 to help fund your education.
HSBC CA International Account Opening
As we mentioned, aside from Canadian Chartered Banks, a number of major worldwide banks have subsidiaries in Canada. We’ve chosen HSBC in order to show how opening a Canadian bank account can be done through the local subsidiary of a large, international bank with offices around the world.
In the case of HSBC, you can apply to open a bank account in Canada from a list of over 30 countries around the world, including China, India, and the Philippines. The process is as follows:
- Go to HSBC International Accounts page here to either:
- Send an email to start the application, OR
- Request a callback from an HSBC officer to begin the process, OR
- Call the HSBC directly at the numbers listed at the linked page, OR
- Chat live with a client representative at HSBC.
- An HSBC International Case Manager will help you complete your application as you gather the necessary documentation including:
- A valid passport
- Proof of income
- Source of income (this is key to satisfy their know-your-client requirements)
- Other documents that may be required such as visas
- Proof of address like utility bills or leases or ownership papers or property tax forms.
- Your application form and documentation will then be reviewed and verified and then signed at an HSBC branch, so you will have to go in person to your nearest HSBC branch.
- Because of varying local banking regulations, it may take up to 30 days to set up your account in Canada, so keep this in mind if using HSBC. It also helps if you already have an account with HSBC in your home country.
- Once your account has been successfully opened you will receive a welcoming email and your Debit Card and PIN number will either be held in branch or sent to your mailing address, depending on which option you choose.
In general, large international banks like HSBC cater to wealthier clients to whom they offer services such as Global View Global Transfer where you log in with one password and access all your global accounts. If you are a student on a fairly tight budget – especially given the tuition you will be paying in Canada as an international student – then it might be cheaper to open an account with a Canadian Chartered Bank. Again, it depends on your specific situation. If your daddy runs a large insurance firm in Mumbai maybe HSBC is just the ticket for you. Otherwise, an account at RBC or Scotiabank or TD or any other Canadian bank might be better.
The good news is that you can open one ahead of time in many cases so your bank account will be open and ready to use when you arrive in Canada for your studies.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.