The best banks in Canada for international students

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Bryan Smith - December, 29 2023

9 min read

About the author

Content Manager at Prodigy Finance, helping international students gear up to study abroad

Canada is a popular study destination for many international students. With 10 provinces and three territories spanning majority French-speaking Quebec on the Atlantic east coast, to British Columbia bordering the Pacific Ocean, Canada is known as a multicultural country with a diverse heritage.

With so many banks in Canada it’s best to narrow it down by looking at what they offer you. Most bank accounts in Canada will waive monthly fees for students and offer perks such as reward points or shopping discounts.

It’s important to remember that in Canada you will be charged a transaction fee every time you use an ATM from a bank that is not your own, so a good way to choose a bank is to see which ATMs are on or near your university campus.

Often banks will offer you a reward for signing up an account with them - it’s up to you to choose what’s most attractive or useful to you. Others even provide specific discounts based on the degree programme you are studying, so it’s worth checking if you qualify for any of those.

There are two types of bank accounts in Canada: checking accounts and savings accounts.

  • Checking account: allows you to deposit and withdraw money as often as you like Usually receive a chequebook and a debit card.
    • Generally used by international students to pay for their living costs while studying in Canada
    • A credit card facility is usually available through your checking account, should you require one.
  • Savings account: useful for saving over a longer term and good for emergency savings.

When considering which bank to choose, here are some pointers on what to look for:

  • Account fees: what the bank charges for any account maintenance fees, transaction fees, ATM fees as well as local and international transfers
  • Minimum balance requirements: understand what the minimum balance requirements are and fees charged if your balance drops below that
  • ATM accessibility: check out the bank's ATM network to see how close they are situated to campus for easy access to cash withdrawal
  • Online banking: how user-friendly the online banking platform is, as this is essential for managing your finances conveniently
  • Currency exchange fees: inquire about the bank's exchange rates and fees for international transactions, in case you need to convert foreign currency
  • Interest rates: ask about interest rates for savings accounts
  • Student promotions: ask about any special promotions or benefits they have running for students, such as waived fees or discounts on certain services
  • Multi-currency accounts: check if they are available

Let’s take a look below at some of the more popular banks, and what they offer:

Bank of Montreal (BMO)

As the 8th largest bank in North America, BMO provides personal and commercial banking, global markets and investment banking services to over 13 million customers.

Features and benefits

  • Student bank account:
    • Plus plan: $0 monthly fees
    • Premium plan: discounted monthly fees
    • Student budget calculator
    • BMO alerts
    • $70 cash bonus when opening an account
    • Perks for medical and dental students
    • Available for international students before arrival in Canada
  • BMO Student Performance Chequing account:
    • Apply online (qualifying countries include: Antigua and Barbuda, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Vietnam)
    • Send up to $75,000 CAD before you move
    • Enjoy no monthly fee banking for the length of your school programme, just visit your closest branch
    • If you're a recent graduate, you can still get no monthly fee banking for an additional year!
    • Earn a $100 cash bonus and 6 months of pizza from Domino’s when you open a new account

International transfer facilities and fees

  • Transfer money overseas quickly and easily in three ways:
    • Send money to up to 50 countries with BMO Global Money Transfer. Transfers take just two to five business days.
    • BMO’s wire payment service is a quick, convenient and secure way to send and receive money - available at BMO branches.
    • Use Western Union money transfer service through BMO Online Banking, to send money safely and quickly to more than 200 countries and territories connected to the Western Union network.
  • Use Interac e-Transfer to send, request & receive money anytime, anywhere in Canada to anyone who has an email or mobile phone
  • Interac has also teamed up with Mastercard and Western Union to facilitate international transfers through some banks, but there are fee charges applicable and you’ll need the recipient’s banking details to create the transfer.

Availability of ATMs and branches

  • Over 3,000 ATM and branch locations

Online banking features

  • Free online and mobile banking

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)

CIBC was founded in 1867, the second oldest of Canada’s big five banks and is the smallest of the big five. It serves over 10 million customers across Canada and globally.

Features and benefits

  • CIBC Smart Start: aimed at students under 25
    • No monthly fee until age 25
    • Free unlimited Interac e-Transfer® transactions
    • Free unlimited debit and Visa* Debit transactions in Canada
    • One free non-CIBC ATM withdrawal in Canada per month
    • Free trading with** CIBC Investor’s Edge**; investors 18 - 24 can trade stocks and ETFs online for free
  • CIBC Smart for students: aimed at students over 25
    • No monthly fee for as long as you study full time
    • Free unlimited Interac e-Transfer transactions
    • Free unlimited debit and Visa* Debit transactions in Canada
    • One free non-CIBC ATM withdrawal in Canada per month
    • Take advantage of student pricing at $5.95 per online stock or ETF trade when you open an Investor’s Edge Account
  • Open and fund your account before you arrive in Canada, with the CIBC Student Deposit Programme
  • Send money to your new Canadian account with no service fees
  • Refer a student friend and you’ll both earn $50 - refer up to 10 student friends and earn up to $500 every year

Perks:

  • Koodo: get 30 days of free Canada-wide Koodo service with a CIBC account, featuring 7GB of data, plus unlimited Canada-wide call and text
  • SPC+: get a free SPC+ membership as a CIBC student and get discounts of up to 30% at over 450 top brands
  • Journie Rewards: join Journie Rewards for free and link your eligible CIBC debit and credit cards, to save up to 10 cents per litre on gas

International transfer facilities and fees

  • CIBC global money transfer: send money globally with $0 transfer fee to over 130 countries including India, the Philippines, China and the United States by using CIBC Online Banking or use the CIBC Mobile Banking App
  • Use Interac e-Transfer to send, request & receive money anytime, anywhere in Canada to anyone who has an email or mobile phone
  • Interac has also teamed up with Mastercard and Western Union to facilitate international transfers through some banks, but there are fee charges applicable and you’ll need the recipient’s banking details to create the transfer

Availability of ATMs and branches

  • CIBC has over 1,000 bank branches and 3,000 ATMs.

Online banking features

  • Online banking is a free service for CIBC clients.

Scotiabank

Scotiabank is Canada’s fourth biggest bank in Canada, established in 1832, and serves more than 10 million small business and commercial banking customers across Canada.

Features and benefits

  • Student Banking Advantage Plan:
    • Available to full-time post-secondary students in Canada
    • Free unlimited transactions and no monthly fees
    • No interest paid on deposits
    • No additional fee for teller-assisted transactions
    • No interest paid on deposits
    • Free credit score
    • No additional fee for transfers to and /from other banks.
    • The Visa debit card can be used online.
    • Overdraft protection available on approved credit.
  • Perks:
    • Earn Scene+ points on everyday purchases (earn 1 Scene+ point for every $5 spent). Scene+ points can be redeemed for travel and merchandise, including movies and snacks at Cineplex theatres.
    • Upgrade to Scotiabank’s Preferred Package free for 12 months after you graduate

International transfer facilities and fees

  • Unlimited Interac e-Transfers and no additional fees for Interac e-Transfers.

Availability of ATMs and branches

  • Scotiabank has a wide spread of branches and ATMs, with 953 branches and over 3,632 ATMs.
  • Free access to over 4,000 Scotiabank ATMs.

Online banking features

  • Visa Debit card can be used online and is compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • Online and mobile banking

Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank)

TD Canada Trust (commonly referred to as TD or TD Bank) was founded in 1855 and is the second of the biggest banks in Canada and has over 25 million customers around the world.

Features and benefits

  • TD Student Chequing Account:
    • Available to full-time post-secondary students in Canada
    • Converts to a paid chequing account at age 23, unless you have proof of study enrollment
    • Free unlimited cheques and transactions
    • No monthly account fees or overdraft protection monthly fees
    • Unlimited Interac e-Transfers
    • No additional fee for teller-assisted transactions.
    • 0.01% interest paid on all deposits.
    • No additional fee for transfers to/from other banks.
    • Mobile cheque deposit is available.
    • Overdraft protection available on approved credit.
    • Cheques are available for a fee.
    • Deposits are eligible for CDIC deposit insurance.

Perks

  • Open a new account by May 31st 2023 and perform at least three qualifying transactions to earn a $100 Amazon.ca gift card. Additionally set up a recurring direct deposit by August 31st, 2023 to earn 500 Starbucks Stars.
  • Get a $100 Amazon.ca gift card and 500 Starbucks Stars when you open an account.
  • Earn 50% more Starbucks Stars when you link your TD card with your Starbucks Rewards account.

International transfer facilities and fees

  • Use Interac e-Transfer to send, request & receive money anytime, anywhere in Canada to anyone who has an email or mobile phone
  • Interac has also teamed up with Mastercard and Western Union to facilitate international transfers through some banks, but there are fee charges applicable and you’ll need the recipient’s banking details to create the transfer.
  • Send money internationally with TD Global TransferTM to over 200 countries, using TD International Student Banking Package, where you will enjoy unlimited international money transfers with transfer fees rebated for up to 12 months when you send money using TD Global Transfer

Availability of ATMs and branches

  • Over 1,900 ATM and branch locations
  • Free access to over 2,500 TD ATMs

Online banking features

  • Use your Visa debit card for online payments and also compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay

Simplii Financial

Simplii Financial launched in 2017, with the ethos being to help their clients bank, borrow and invest the way they like, as they believe the easier it is to save and manage your money, the better their clients can do so.

Backed by CIBC, a bank with more than 150 years of experience, Simplii Finance has almost 2 million clients who simplify their personal banking with them.

Features and benefits

  • **Simplii Financial™ International Student Deposit Programme: **
    • Apply for your student deposit account online, in 5 minutes
    • Transfer funds from home: send between $2,500 and $20,000 CA to your new account and pay no service fees.
    • Activate your account when you get here - your debit card will be mailed to your Canadian address on your tentative arrival date
  • Apply for a credit card to cover student expenses, get great rewards and build your credit in Canada with the Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa* card
    • Get a $2,000 credit limit - no credit history required
  • Get $125 for referring an international student to open a bank account with Simplii†, when they open an eligible account using your referral link. Plus they’ll also get $50 as a welcome bonus when they transfer money to their Student GIC Program Account.

International transfer facilities and fees

  • Save on transfer fees when sending money to friends and family abroad with Global Money TransferAvailability of ATMs and branches

Availability of ATMs and branches

  • With 3,400 CIBC ATMs across Canada, withdraw money any time close to campus and pay no withdrawal fee.

Online banking features

  • Easy to transfer money between accounts, pay bills and deposit cheques right on your phone with the Simplii Financial Mobile Banking App

Conclusion

Finding the right account for your needs may take a bit of research but is worth the time spent. will take a bit of research and time. As an international student living in Canada, you’ll need to make sure you have the right paperwork to get your account up and running.

Before opening an account, it's advisable to visit the bank's website or contact them directly to get the most up-to-date information for international students.

Disclaimer: The contents of this guide are intended as an overview for illustrative and educational purposes and do not constitute an endorsement of any international bank, nor international bank account, mentioned.

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