It wasn’t long ago that many Americans were threatening to move to Canada if either Trump or Hillary got elected. One might safely assume that about half are still considering said move.
But if you actually do make the jump north of the border—be it due to politics, professional opportunities, or an uncontrollable penchant for hockey and poutine—here’s what should you keep in mind as you try to properly set up your financial life in the red and white.
Sorry, we have different banks
There’s a stereotype that Canadians apologize a lot more than Americans, and I’ll just go ahead and fully reinforce that trope now: Je suis désolé, your American bank likely doesn’t have any branches in Canada whatsoever.
But fear not. Canada is generally a very welcoming country to its new residents, and that attitude is noticeable in the financial sector as well. I spoke with some of the ‘Big Five’ banks in Canada, and found that they have dedicated departments that cater to the needs of new Canucks, and empathetic personnel who may have been new immigrants to Canada at one point themselves. Munsif Sheraly, Director of Multicultural Banking at Scotiabank, says:
“There’s a couple of things going through a newcomer to Canada’s psyche or mindset. They want to be with a bank or financial institution that understands them, understands what their particular voyage is and wants to make sure that the financial solutions being provided to them fit into their life.”
Though this may sound like standard marketing-speak, Canada’s five major banks each back up their immigrant-friendly images with very attractive welcome packages.
If you can show proof that you’re a permanent resident, international student or foreign worker and you have been in the country for less than three years, our Start Right Program is probably the best program for you because it’s always challenging for newcomers to build a credit history and the program allows newcomers to get a credit card without that history.
Before dropping by a bank branch, do some prior research and get a sense of which bank’s immigrant package is best suited to the kind of banking activity you expect to be doing. Some of the incentives offered by the Big Five are as follows:
- No monthly fees for one year on the No Limit bank account
- No Canadian credit history required for some credit cards, mortgages and car loans
- Fees waived on safety deposit box for up to two years
- One free international wire transfer per month
- No-fee chequing for six months
- Higher interest rate on a savings account for six months
- Credit card eligibility w/o Canadian credit history
- Chequing account with no monthly fee for one year
- Unsecured credit card eligibility w/o prior Canadian credit history
- Qualify for a mortgage w/o prior Canadian credit history
- Benefits available up to five years after receiving Permanent Resident status
- Eligible for unsecured credit card w/o prior Canadian credit history
- Free safety deposit box for one year
- Unlimited transaction chequing account with no monthly fee for one year
- Free safety deposit box
Obvious though this may seem, don’t forget to bring your immigration documents with you when setting up your account. Showing up without them means you won’t have access to any of the specialized programs meant to help newcomers, and you likely won’t even be able to open a bank account.
US credit history ≠ Canadian credit history
As Sheraly alluded to, when you make the move to The Great White North, you can’t just pack your American credit history along with 20 pairs of wool socks and your heaviest coat. Starting a new life in Canada unfortunately means starting a new credit score, which initially makes it hard to make any large purchases or apply for a loan or mortgage.
Ivy Chiu, Senior Director of Newcomer Strategy at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), says:
“One of the quickest ways to build a Canadian credit history is by opening a credit card and using it regularly and wisely.”
As for what kind of credit card you should get—rewards, cash back, travel, etc.—both Chiu and Sheraly recommend sitting down with a financial advisor to discuss your financial situation, lifestyle, and goals before eventually selecting a card that aligns with all three.
You can also opt to consult a Canadian rate comparison site that recommends the most suitable cards for you according to the categories that you spend your money in.
However, Chiu offers a warning for transplanted Americans:
“If you have a U.S. rewards credit card, you might not be able to redeem your points in Canada, and vice versa for a Canadian rewards credit card redemption in the U.S. This is generally because of the location of the issuing bank. Most conditions for a rewards credit card are within the country it was issued in.”
Cross-border transaction penalties and different banking practices
One thing you should be aware of is that wire transfers can be slower when they’re sent cross-border. Checks can also take longer to verify.
For those relocating to Canada but still spending some time in the U.S., RBC Bank’s Cross-Border Banking solutions allow you to transfer funds between your Canadian and U.S. RBC accounts without having to pay wire transfer or foreign transaction fees, says Chiu.
Plus, if you still get American currency often, most Canadian banks now offer U.S. dollar account. This allows you to keep your money in the greenbacks it came in and then transfer them into your Canadian account when the currency exchange rate is favourable.
There are also a few other financial idiosyncrasies between the countries, which are important to stay aware of if you still travel stateside. Two to keep in mind:
- Post-dated cheques are not honoured (get used to the Canadian spelling throughout the article) in the United States. If a post-dated cheque is deposited earlier than you intended, it will come out of your account at that time. Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF) charges might be incurred if you’re not aware.
- Processing a cheque in the U.S. is often slower than in Canada. In Canada, a cheque often clears in one day, while it might take up to five days in the United States.
Setting up a financial life in Canada takes a lot more than just opening a new bank account. Your credit history will start over and you’ll need to figure out which credit cards work best for your new needs. Thankfully, those in the Canadian financial sector are happy to help!