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How do I… bank as a newcomer?

Set a firm foundation for your finances in Canada

New to Canada's banking system?

As a newcomer to Canada, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to banking. Depending on where you’re coming from, the banking system in Canada may be different than what you are used to. You may be wondering how to open a newcomer bank account. Or wondering, what is an RRSP? The good news is that plenty of financial institutions offer services and products tailored specifically for new immigrants or newcomers.

Here’s how you can start your banking journey in Canada.

Understanding Canada’s banking system

In Canada, you can keep your money in financial institutions like banks and credit unions. 

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Safety: Traditional banks typically insure your money up to $100,000. This means, if something happens to the bank, you can get up to $100,000 back. Credit unions provide unlimited insurance, meaning all your money is safe.

  • Community focus: Banks are typically large, for-profit institutions owned by shareholders. Their decisions are profit-driven, and customers don’t have a voice in how they are run. Credit unions are smaller and member-owned, meaning the people who store their money there have a say in how the credit union is run.

  • Fees and Services: Banks might charge you money for using their services, like Automated Teller Machine (ATM) fees. Credit unions usually charge fewer fees and might let you use other ATMs for free. In Canada, many credit unions have banded together through The Exchange Network to give members access to thousands of ATMs, surcharge-free, across the country.

Choosing the right institution will make managing your finances smoother as you start your new life in Canada.

Opening a newcomer bank account

Opening a newcomer bank account is the first step to managing your finances in Canada. This allows you to: 

  • Deposit money 

  • Withdraw money

  • Pay bills  

  • Make electronic transactions

Banks and credit unions in Canada have many types of accounts. There are basic ones like savings and chequing accounts, and others for students, seniors, retirement savings, tax-free savings and even U.S. dollar accounts. You should consider any fees associated with the account, as well as things like the location of the nearest branch for convenience, access to Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and language preferences.

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Explore your banking options 

Your Canadian financial institution may offer a variety of additional services, such as investments, registered savings plans and mortgages.

If you’re planning for your future retirement or an education for your children, registered savings plans are an incredible tool. An RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan), for example, helps you reduce your taxable income and earn interest on money saved in the account throughout your working years—your deposits are tax deductible.  

If you are looking to protect loved ones in the case of unforeseen events, look into insurance like life, critical illness and disability. To save for longer-term goals and help your money grow, explore investments like stocks, bonds and mutual funds with the guidance of one of our advisors.

And for those hoping to open a business, you may want to look into loans, lines of credit and insurance services.

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Five things you can do to start banking in Canada as a newcomer:

  1. Research banks, credit unions, rates and fees before committing to a financial institution

  2. Open a newcomer bank account and use it regularly 

  3. Learn about long-term savings plans like an RRSP, RESP, TFSA and more

  4. Establish a good credit history by responsibly using credit cards or loans and paying them on time

  5. When you seek financial advice, consider asking questions like: How can I build credit in Canada? What investment options align with my financial goals? How can I best plan for my long-term financial security?

Build your credit

Your credit score is one of the most important financial tools for any newcomer. It’s a three-digit number that reflects your financial health, and lenders use it to determine if you qualify for loans or other forms of credit. 

A good credit score in Canada will help you access better terms and rates for loans, credit cards or other financial services. Generally, a good credit score is between 660 and 724, but every financial institution calculates scores a little differently.

As a newcomer, your credit score is likely to be low, as you have not had credit in Canada before. But you can start building your score by opening a new credit facility and using it responsibly. Over time, as you make payments on loans or credit cards, your score will improve. 

Talk to your financial institution about their services to help you build credit—for example, secured credit cards or lines of credit.

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Choose the right financial institution

When choosing a bank or credit union in Canada, it's important to think about the long term. Consider additional services you might need in the future and whether they’ll be available through your new financial institution. 

As well, think about investing opportunities, credit-building strategies and retirement savings plans—all of which can help you make your money work for you over time. 

If you plan to open a business, look for a financial institution that’s committed to seeing your business grow. Services such as commercial loans, business credit cards and merchant services will set your business up for success.

When choosing an advisor, consider asking these questions:

  • What are their qualifications, credentials and experience?

  • Are they able to communicate in the language of your choice?

  • Are they able to provide references?

  • Do they have a proven track record?

  • Are they able to offer you a range of products and services to meet your specific needs?

Choose a financial institution that shares your values, that supports your local community and one you feel you can trust and rely on. The best financial institution for newcomers to Canada is one that understands your unique needs as an immigrant and will support your financial goals, now and into the future.

At Gulf & Fraser, many of our advisors have been newcomers themselves. We know what it takes to start your financial life here, and can even connect with you in your preferred language—if that feels more comfortable.

Ready to start banking as a newcomer?

From savings and chequing accounts to specialized services like student banking, youth accounts or retirement savings plans, we'll help you find the perfect fit.

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Life gets busy, but don't let that stop you achieving your goals. Whether you’ve got $50 or $50,000, we want to help power your possible – and we'll come to you to do it.

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