Anyone can open a bank account in Canada, but you can only do it in Canada, and in person, at a certified branch. Visit the local branch of the bank that you choose to use, and ask for assistance in opening an account. You will need to present two pieces of ID such as your passport, driver’s license, or some other ID with a photograph. You will also need to present your Social Insurance Number. If you do not have a social insurance number, you will need to apply for one, either from your country of origin, or in Canada (if you are planning on becoming a Canadian citizen). There are very few ways around this, but in some cases, having a letter of confirmation from your country’s government will suffice. These cases are few and far between, however.
The two most common accounts that are opened in Canada are the checking account and the savings account. With a checking account, you will be issued cheques which you can use to pay for goods and services. With a savings account, you will not be issued cheques, but you will receive a higher percentage of interest on the money that you have in the account. With both accounts you may be issued a debit card, which can be used at ATM’s to withdraw or deposit cash or make bill/credit card payments.
While there is no minimum amount required to open an account, some accounts require a minimum balance to maintain, or have no interest on accounts under a specified amount. Take the time to investigate all of the account options at the bank you choose, making sure that you understand the interest, fees, and account limitations for the one that you select.
Once you have an account, you may write cheques in both Canadian and international currency. Be aware that a service fee will be applied to any cheque written in foreign funds, and there will be a processing delay as the bank exchanges the currency. To avoid this you might want to purchase an International Draft (also known as a Bank Draft or Cashier’s Cheque) instead of using a cheque. This process involves paying the bank for the sum of the cheque (plus a processing fee), then having the bank itself issue a cheque to the payee.
Most people access their accounts using a PIN-protected bank card. The Interac system allows people to make purchases directly from their bank at most stores throughout the city. For withdrawals outside of the country, look for ATMs with the PLUS symbol. Be aware of the fees involved in using your bank card at stores, banks other than your home bank, and internationally.
If you wish to deposit money into your account from another country, it is best to send a wire transfer. Cheques are also an acceptable means of transferring money, but these monies will be held until the cheque is cleared, which may take several days.