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Published January 25, 2024

Best Banks for International Students in Canada for 2024

The best banks for international students in Canada can accommodate your savings, day-to-day banking and financing needs.

As an international student, opening a bank account is one of the most important steps you can take to get settled in your new country of residence. In Canada, there were over 800,000 international students with active study permits at the end of 2022, many of whom had to go through the process of finding a bank account that suited their needs.

Here are our top picks for both financial institutions and accounts that are geared toward foreign students:

Best banks for international students in Canada

Chequing account intro offerProductsWays to bank
BMO$100 cash bonusBMO International Student GIC ProgramChequing accounts with Student Special Discount Program:
  • BMO Performance Plan
  • BMO Premium Plan

Credit cards:
  • BMO CashBack Mastercard
  • BMO AIR MILES Mastercard
Online, ATM, phone and branch banking.
CIBC$100 cash bonusCIBC International Student GIC ProgramChequing accounts with CIBC Smart plans:
  • CIBC Smart for Students 25 and older
  • CIBC Smart Start for students and Youth under 25
Credit cards:
  • CIBC Dividend Visa Card for Students
Online, ATM, phone and branch banking.
RBCN/ARBC International Student GIC ProgramChequing accounts:
  • RBC Advantage Banking for students
Credit cards:
  • RBC Cash Back Mastercard
  • RBC ION Visa
Online, ATM, phone and branch banking.
Scotiabank$100 cash bonusScotiabank Student GIC ProgramChequing accounts:
  • Student Banking Advantage Plan

  • Savings accounts:
  • MomentumPLUS Savings Account
Credit cards:
  • Scotiabank Scene+ Visa Card for Students
Online, ATM, phone and branch banking.
TD Bank$100 cash bonusTD International Student GIC ProgramChequing accounts:
  • TD Student Chequing Account

  • Savings accounts:
  • TD Everyday Savings Account
  • TD ePremium Savings Account
Credit cards:
  • TD Rewards Visa Card
Online, ATM, phone and branch banking.
Simplii FinancialNone.
*A $125 referral bonus on an eligible account and a $50 welcome bonus on Student GIC Program Account
Simplii Financial International Student GIC ProgramChequing accounts:
  • A Simplii No Fee Bank Account with the Simplii Financial International Student Deposit Program
Credit cards:
  • Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa Card
Online, ATM and phone banking.

Methodology

NerdWallet Canada selects the best banks for international students based on several criteria, including welcome offers, monthly fees, number of included free transactions, and more. The banks considered for this list serve international students in more than one Canadian province.

    Guide to choosing an international student bank account

    By Barry Choi

    As an international student, you may associate banking in Canada with its Big Six banks — the Bank of Montreal (BMO), Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), National Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank). However, there are many smaller banks, credit unions and caisses populaires that also offer bank accounts — specific accounts for students. 

    Given that every type of financial institution is different, you need to understand how international student bank accounts work so that you can choose the right one.

    What is an international student bank account?

    An international student bank account is one that enables foreign nationals living in Canada on a study visa to conduct everyday financial transactions, even though they may not be a permanent resident or citizen.

    Just about every prominent Canadian financial institution offers an international student bank account. Note that some banks may only offer general student bank accounts that can be extended to international students who meet eligibility criteria. 

    When studying in Canada, having a student bank account is essential since it’ll help you manage your day-to-day expenses. Without an account, you wouldn’t have a place to keep your money safe or deposit any cheques or payroll. In addition, financial institutions offer products and services to help students build their credit history and savings, such as credit cards, loans and investments.

    Types of bank accounts for students

    Chequing accounts

    Chequing accounts are the most commonly used bank accounts in Canada. A chequing account is used for your day-to-day banking needs, such as withdrawing funds at a branch, online or through ATMs

    Many student bank accounts come with unlimited transactions and have no monthly fee. To qualify for a student chequing account, you may need to be 23 or under and provide proof of enrollment in a full-time post-secondary education.

    Savings accounts

    As the name implies, savings accounts are for storing money and earning interest, rather than making purchases or withdrawals. However, you may get a limited number of included transactions. It’s possible to get additional transactions at no additional charge, but it usually requires a minimum monthly balance. 

    While savings accounts can be valuable, they’re not always customized for student life. Savings account requirements from traditional banks may make it difficult for students to accumulate and maintain funds that are enough to reap any of the benefits of current interest rates.

    High-interest savings account

    High-interest savings accounts (HISAs), usually with online-only banks, are attractive savings solutions since they pay a good interest rate for no monthly fee. If you link your HISA to your chequing account, you can move money between the two accounts to maximize their savings.

    Student bank account vs. standard bank account

    Student bank accounts and standard bank accounts are alike in many ways, but they differ when it comes to welcome bonuses, eligibility factors, transactions and fees. Student bank accounts may come with unlimited transactions for no monthly fee, for instance. Standard bank accounts will usually have a monthly fee and a limited number of debit transactions, including withdrawals and e-transfers. 

    Most banks have multiple tiers of chequing accounts. The higher your monthly fee, the more transactions you get. That said, some banks will waive the monthly account fee if you maintain a minimum balance or provide full or partial rebate for students and seniors.

    How to find the best bank in Canada for international students

    It’s common for students to choose a financial institution with a location that’s close to where they live. While there’s no denying the convenience, it would be wise to shop around before choosing an international student account. Here are some of the important things to consider:

    Seek out special offers

    Banks often have special student offers when signing up for a chequing account or a banking plan. For example, you may receive a cash bonus to set up your account. To get the bonus, you usually need to meet a few requirements, such as setting up a direct deposit, making debit transactions or signing up for a credit card. 

    Look for plentiful included transactions

    Some student bank accounts provide you with unlimited monthly transactions. This is a unique perk since traditional bank accounts only give you a set number of transactions per month, and once that limit is reached, they charge a fee for each additional one. 

    Any debits from your account are considered transactions, including:

    Watch out for other fees

    Even though student bank accounts don’t often have monthly fees, check for any out-of-pocket-expenses that may arise from transactions not included in your plan. For instance, you can be charged a fee if you use an ATM that’s not associated with your financial institution or a foreign ATM. Overdraft fees could also apply if you’re trying to access more money than you have in your account. 

    You can avoid overdraft fees with overdraft protection, which is a monthly optional service many banks provide for a fee.

    Minimum balance requirement

    Many student accounts have no minimum balance requirements. However, some banks may require you to hold a minimum balance in order to waive off your monthly fee, or to provide you with additional transactions. 

    Ways to bank

    The bank that you choose should offer banking options that work with your student lifestyle. Traditional banks have set hours, and you’d have to visit the financial institution within those hours to get your banking done in person. Alternatively, they may also offer some services via phone, ATM and online. In contrast, digital banks only provide online services with an exception of some banks offering debit cards to access your funds at an ATM.

    Credit cards for international students

    Many financial institutions also have credit cards for international students. Getting a credit card can be worthwhile, as it allows you to start building a credit history and score in Canada. And while you’re at it, you can also earn some bonus rewards and save on rebates with major banks.

    A good credit score can be vital later when you apply for a loan, such as a mortgage or auto loan.

    Credit card rewards programs

    Many financial institutions offer two types of rewards on credit cards: points and cash back. Credit card points can typically be earned from and redeemed for travel, merchandise and more. With cash back, you’ll get a set percentage back on every purchase you make. 

    Which type of rewards you go with is a personal choice. Travel rewards can be great if you regularly travel back home or like visiting foreign destinations, whereas cash back can help you put some money back into your pocket.

    Money transfer options

    One of the most common ways to transfer money and make payments in Canada is with an Interac e-transfer, which can be done via an online banking platform or mobile app. Many international student bank accounts provide unlimited free Interac e-transfers. If you need to send money back to your home country, then you may want to consider a financial institution that offers international money transfers for no or low fees. 

    Student Direct Stream 

    The Student Direct Stream (SDS) is a program where international students from a qualifying country can expedite their study permit. One of the requirements for SDS is to purchase a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) of C$20,635 — or as specified by the province or territory. Since GICs are separate from your bank account, it may make sense for international students to choose a financial institution that offers both. 

    How to open an international student bank account in Canada

    To set up your bank account on arrival, you generally need to bring two forms of ID, including a:

    Additionally, you may be asked to provide a letter of acceptance or a student ID card from your school.

    Ways to apply

    You can choose to apply for an international student bank account after arriving in Canada. Just call the financial institution to book an in-person appointment. The process of opening a bank account usually shouldn’t take very long. The bank representative can also help you set up other services, such as online banking and applying for a credit card. 

    The online-only banks may allow you to set up your accounts online and mail the debit card to your Canadian address close to your arrival. You’ll likely have to call customer service to active the card.

    If you’re applying for a student GIC to meet your SDS application requirements, you can set up your account while you’re in your qualifying home country by:

    1. Submitting your application to the participating bank online.
    2. Sending funds for your GIC.
    3. Completing your study permit application.

    Once you receive your study permit and arrive in Canada, you can access your GIC funds and activate your bank accounts.

    Alternatives to traditional student bank accounts

    While many international students will naturally set up their banking at a traditional financial institution, there are online banks that offer similar services that can be attractive. Digital banks may lack physical locations, but they often make up for it in savings, interest paid and convenience. Examples include:

    Tangerine No-Fee Daily Chequing Account

    Tangerine No-Fee Daily Chequing Account
    • Bonus Offer
      $250
    • Monthly Fee
      $0
    • Number of Transactions
      Unlimited
    Our Take
    • Tangerine’s No-Fee Daily Chequing Account offers free access to 44,000 ABMs worldwide, overdraft protection, financial monitoring tools and a secure way to shop both online and in person.
    • Tangerine is a subsidiary of Scotiabank and offers chequing and savings accounts, GICS, registered accounts, credit cards, mortgages, loans and investment products. Read our review of Tangerine for more information.
    Product Details
    • Switch your payroll deposits and you could get $250.
    • No monthly fee.
    • Interest rate: up to 0.1%.
    • Free online daily banking, including debit purchases, bill payments, pre-authorized payments, Interac e-Transfers and ABM transactions that use Scotiabank’s ABM network.
    • ABM withdrawals with other banks in Canada: $1.50.
    • ABM withdrawals on other networks worldwide: $3.00.
    • Free first cheque book (50 cheques). $50 for each additional cheque book.
    • Tangerine Client Card with Visa Debit can be used anywhere Visa is accepted, and can be added to Apply Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
    • Card is covered by Interac and Visa Debit Zero Liability protection, so you won’t have to pay for unauthorized purchases.
    • Access to tools and alerts that help monitor spending activity.
    • CDIC protection for all eligible deposits.

    Tangerine No-Fee Daily Chequing Account

    Tangerine has no physical locations, and most people use the No-Fee Daily Chequing Account exclusively online. You can save on monthly fees, get unlimited transactions and earn interest on your deposits. With this account, you also get free access to Scotiabank’s ABM network.


    Motusbank Chequing Account

    Motusbank Chequing Account
    • Bonus Offer
      N/A
    • Monthly Fee
      $0
    • Number of Transactions
      Unlimited
    Our Take
    • Motusbank isn’t the only financial institution offering a chequing account with no monthly fee and unlimited debit payments, but it ups the ante with a stylish vertical debit card, the ability to deposit cheques by taking a picture and a few other useful perks.
    • motusbank is an online division of Meridian Credit Union and offers chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, registered plans, GICs, investing, and a home equity line of credit loan.
    Product Details
    • Earn interest at a 0.15% rate.
    • $0 monthly fee.
    • No minimum balance required.
    • Free, unlimited Interac e-Transfers®.
    • Unlimited debit purchases, bill payments and withdrawals, including transfers between accounts, Interac Direct Payment purchases, pre-authorized debit, ATM withdrawals and cheques.
    • No-fee access to THE EXCHANGE Network of ATMs in Canada and the Allpoint Network in the U.S.
    • Deposit Anywhere: deposit a cheque by taking a photo.
    • First order of 25 cheques is free.
    • Free, unlimited use of Motusbank’s Price Drop feature, which hunts for cheaper prices when online shopping.
    • Foreign debit transaction surcharge: $2.50.
    • Paper statement fee per month: $2.
    • ATM international transaction fee: $5.
    • ATM US transaction fee (non-Allpoint Network): $3.
    • Deposits protected by Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation, up to a maximum of $100,000.

    Motusbank No-Fee Chequing Account

    Motusbank is an online-division of Meridian, one of the largest credit unions in Canada. Their no-fee chequing account gives you unlimited debit transactions and Interac e-transfers, free access to The Exchange Network of ATMs in Canada and 25 free cheques. Your deposits earn some interest, but motusbank also offers savings accounts that pay a higher rate.


    EQ Bank Personal Account

    EQ Bank Personal Account
    • Bonus Offer
      N/A
    • Monthly Fee
      $0
    • Number of Transactions
      Dollar limits apply*
    Our Take
    Why we like it

    • EQ Bank’s Personal Account is the digital-first bank’s flexible hybrid chequing and savings account. It features a high interest rate, no monthly fees, and free and unlimited transfers.
    • The bank also offers joint accounts, US dollar accounts, TFSAs, RRSPs, and GICs.
    Product Details
    • Customers who set up direct deposit on their EQ Bank account will also get a bonus interest on recurring pre-authorized debits.
    • Here’s how to get the bonus interest: (a) Set up $500/month or more in either direct deposit for your pay or recurring pre-authorized debits. (b) Applies to your Personal Account, Joint Account and EQ Bank Card¹ balance. (c) Once set it up, they’ll be eligible for the increased rate of 4.00%* for 12 months! (d) Those who already set up the above automatically qualify for bonus interest!
    • 4.00% interest rate*.
    • No monthly fee.
    • This hybrid account gives you the benefits of savings with the flexibility of chequing.
    • Mobile Cheque Deposit is available through the EQ Bank mobile app.
    • Zero monthly banking fees.
    • No transaction or service fees. EQ Bank does not charge account fees, fees for sending or receiving Interac e-Transfers®, fees for bill payments, overdraft fees, or dormant account fees.
    • No minimum balance, but a $200,000 maximum balance.
    • Access your money immediately through the mobile app and online banking website, where you can deposit or transfer funds using Interac e-Transfers® or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to linked accounts.
    • Eligible for CDIC deposit insurance.
    • As of December 2022, EQ Bank is available to Québec residents.
    • *Interest is calculated daily on the total closing balance and paid monthly. Rates are per annum and subject to change without notice.

    EQ Personal Account

    EQ Bank has become incredibly popular over the years, in part because of the EQ Personal Account. This account combines the benefits of chequing and savings accounts. You’ll get unlimited transactions, and your deposits earn a high interest rate. 

    In addition, EQ Bank recently introduced a prepaid Mastercard offering cash back on every purchase, free withdrawals from Canadian ATMs, interest on deposits and no foreign exchange fees.


    The PC Money™ Account

    The PC Money™ Account
    • Bonus Offer
      Up to 125,000 Points ($400 value)
    • Monthly Fee
      $0
    • Number of Transactions
      Unlimited
    Our Take
    • The PC Money Account from President’s Choice Financial is not just another no-fee chequing account. It’s a rewards program, too. Every time you spend money using your PC Money Account card, you’ll earn PC Optimum points that can be put toward future purchases.
    • President’s Choice Financial is part of Loblaw Companies Limited with millions of account holders across Canada that save bank fees and earn rewards through the PC Optimum points system.
    Product Details
    • Enjoy up to 125,000 points in welcome offers when you open a no monthly fee PC Money™ Account. Here’s how: (1) Earn 75,000 points when you set up a minimum of $1,500 in payroll or pension direct deposit for 3 consecutive months, starting within 60 days of opening your account. (2) Earn 50,000 points: That’s 10,000 points for each of your first 5 bill payments of $50+ within 60 days of opening your account.
    • Earn 10 PC Optimum points (five regular, five bonus) for every dollar spent.
    • Earn up to 25 PC Optimum points per dollar spent at Shoppers Drug Mart.
    • Earn up to 5,000 points per month when making bill payments with your account.
    • No monthly fee.
    • No minimum balance required.
    • Free unlimited everyday transactions online and in-store, including electronic fund transfers, withdrawals at PC Financial bank machines, self-serve bill payments and purchases in Canadian dollars.
    • Free Interac e-Transfer® services.
    • The PC Money Account card, provided by Mastercard, is compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay digital wallets and can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted.
    • PC Financial provides Mastercard Zero Liability Promise for unauthorized purchases.
    • Free access to PC Financial ATMs.
    • CDIC protection on eligible deposits worth up to $100,000.

    PC Money Account

    Even though the PC Money Account doesn’t market itself as a chequing account, it acts like one. With this account, you get unlimited transactions and a prepaid Mastercard for no monthly fees. You can use the Mastercard to make purchases and withdraw money for free from PC Financial ATMs. 

    What sets this account apart is that you earn PC Optimum points on all your grocery, drugstore, gas and affiliate store purchases. These points can then be used to get discounts on groceries and merchandise. 


    Wealthsimple Card

    Wealthsimple Card
    • Annual Fee
      $0
    • Interest Rates
      N/A
    • Minimum Deposit
      $0
    • Maximum Deposit
      Unlimited
    Our Take
    Why we like it

    Beginner investors interested in learning more about building wealth will feel right at home with the Wealthsimple Card, a no-fee prepaid Mastercard that earns 1% cash back on purchases. Use the rewards to support your TFSA, invest in stocks, ETFs and crypto, or fund your linked spending (Cash) account, where you can send, spend and receive money instantly with the Wealthsimple Cash app.

    Pros
    • Use a Visa or Mastercard debit card to instantly deposit up to $3,500 per day (up to a maximum of $35,000 per month).
    • Effortlessly build an investment portfolio by transforming cash back rewards into stocks, ETFs or cryptocurrency deposited directly into a trading account.


    Cons
    • There’s no brick-and-mortar location for Wealthsimple customers, so you need to be comfortable managing your money with an online-only company.
    • $5,000 per day spending limit; ATM withdrawals are limited to $500 per transaction/$1,000 per day.
    • Cash rewards invested into cryptocurrency are subject to Wealthsimple Crypto’s 1.5-2% fee.
    Product Details
    • General fees and features: Wealthsimple does not charge any fees to use the Wealthsimple Card.
    • Currency conversion fee: Mastercard will determine the applicable exchange rate from the range of rates available in wholesale currency markets for the applicable processing date, which may vary from the rate Mastercard itself receives.
    • ATM withdrawals: Wealthsimple does not charge any fees for withdrawing cash, but you may see a standard ATM withdrawal fee (usually about $3.00) when you make a withdrawal at an ATM. ATM Withdrawal limits are $500 per transaction and $1,000 per day.
    • Reload methods: Add funds to your card by making a deposit via a linked bank account, a wire transfer, your Visa or Mastercard debit card, or an institutional transfer to move an account from another institution.
    • Rewards: Earn 1% cash back on eligible purchases. Cash back rewards can go directly into your Spend account, be added to the cash balance of a stock trading or crypto trading account, or be used to auto-purchase the cryptocurrency of your choice in your crypto trading account. Use the card anywhere Mastercard is accepted — in-store, in apps, or online. Pay bills, use direct deposit, and e-Transfer.
    • The Wealthsimple Card is available as part of the everyday spending account, which comes with both a digital and physical card that you can manage right from the Wealthsimple app.
    • Use the app to manage your rewards and spending preferences, or lock your card if something happens to it. Your balances are all updated in real-time, too — even if you’re using the physical card
    • Add your Wealthsimple Card to Apple, Samsung or Google Pay digital wallet.
    • Use the Wealthsimple Cash app to send and receive payments to anyone else who uses the Cash app without paying fees. You can also send money to people who don’t have the Cash app yet. They will receive a prompt to download the app and claim the money you sent them.
    • Your money is protected for up to $100,000 through CDIC.
    • To be eligible, you must be a Canadian resident with a Social Insurance Number of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

    Wealthsimple Cash

    The Wealthsimple Cash account offers unlimited transactions, and comes with a prepaid Mastercard that has no annual fees. Any purchases made with the card will earn you 1% back in cash, stocks or cryptocurrency. Moreover, no foreign transaction fees are charged on your travel and online purchases.


    KOHO Spending and Savings Account

    KOHO Spending and Savings Account
    • Bonus Offer
      30-day free trial
    • Monthly Fee
      $0-$19
    • Number of Transactions
      Dollar limits apply*
    Our Take
    Why we like it

    • This hybrid chequing-savings account earns up to 5.00% interest on savings and up to 5.00% cash back on purchases depending on the subscription plan selected.
    • KOHO is a virtual bank that also offers cash back prepaid Mastercards cards
    Product Details
    • Interest Rate varies by selected subscription plan. Essential Plan: 5%, Extra Plan: 5%, Everything Plan: 5%.
    • Monthly Fee varies by selected subscription plan. Essential Plan: $4, Extra Plan: $9, Everything Plan: $19.
    • The account comes with the KOHO prepaid Mastercard that earns up to 5% instant cash back on spending (depending on the selected subscription plan).
    • The mobile app comes with spending pattern analysis, budgeting, automated savings and a RoundUp! feature that helps you save money on every purchase.
    • No minimum balance.
    • Immediate access to your money through free withdrawals, e-Transfers, and more.
    • Eligible for up to $100k CDIC deposit insurance.

    KOHO Spending and Savings Account

    Designed for newcomers to Canada, this KOHO account comes with a prepaid Mastercard. As a KOHO account holder, you can earn cash back on select categories and interest on your balance. The higher tier subscription plans come with additional benefits. Similar to a chequing account, you get unlimited transactions and can set up direct deposit with KOHO.

    Frequently asked questions about Canadian banks and accounts for international students

    What is the best bank for international students in Canada?

    The best bank for you as an international student will depend on your spending habits and financial needs. We have narrowed down our selection of the best banks for international students to those with a large spread of banking products, attractive introductory bonuses and other benefits like no-fee global money transfer and student discounts.

    Can an international student open a bank account in Canada?

    Yes, a student from a Student Direct Stream (SDS) qualifying country or a general category on a study permit can open an international student bank account online, from their home country or in-person after they arrive.

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