The Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance for Canadian Immigrants in 2024
We understand that moving to a new country can be pretty stressful, especially when it comes to your finances and figuring out how everything works. This guide should help you get started and aim you in the right direction when it comes to things like choosing a Canadian bank, building up your credit score, and even how to send money home.
Opening a Bank Account as a New Immigrant
Opening a Canadian bank account as a new immigrant should also be a priority upon arriving in Canada. Chances are you can use your debit card from home at the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) here and while shopping, but you are likely paying extra fees to do so, which you want to avoid. Opening a Canadian bank account and transferring your funds here will allow you to do that. There are also accounts that are tailor-made for newcomers to Canada.
Opening a bank account in Canada is a pretty straightforward process and won’t take too long. The two most common types of accounts you will want to start with are a checking account and a savings account. Hardbacon has helpful comparison tools available for both chequing accounts and savings accounts. But what are the main differences?
A chequing account will be where you keep money for day-to-day transactions. Things like grocery shopping, gas for your car, paying bills, etc.
Your savings account is where you keep the extra money that you don’t need right away. Savings accounts will allow you to earn a little bit of interest on the money as well, as long as it stays deposited in the bank account.
What you Need to Open a Bank Account in Canada
You will need two of the following. If you have no status yet in Canada, one of your identifications must be your passport.
- Permanent resident card or a confirmation of a permanent residence
- Work permit (if applicable)
- Social Insurance Number (SIN)
- 2 pieces of valid government-recognized ID (ie: passport or driver’s licence).
Most banks will allow you to open a new account online but it might be easier for you as a newcomer to visit the bank in person and open an account that way.
Some banks will have special promotions for new immigrants to Canada (more on that later) and the representative will be able to help you if you qualify for that.
Once you have opened the account you will be given a debit card which you can use at the point of purchase or at an ATM to withdraw cash.
Almost all Canadian banks also offer online banking services as well so you can easily manage your funds online or even via an app on your phone.
How to Choose a Bank in Canada
Canada has no shortage of banking options available. You can choose from the following:
There are a number of these but the big names when it comes to traditional banks are:
- Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
- Bank of Montreal (BMO)
- TD Canada Trust (TD)
- Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank)
- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
- National Bank of Canada
These banks are often referred to as the Big Six Banks in Canada. The big advantage to these banks is that they are spread country (or province) wide which makes it really easy to find an in-person location or even just ATMs.
These banks are ideal if you prefer in-person banking which many newcomers to Canada tend to find helpful when getting started with their banking needs.
While most traditional banks will allow you to do some online banking, online banks or digital banks are fully run online. This means that there are no brick-and-mortar buildings to go to for help or to speak to someone in person.
While this could be a disadvantage, the big draw for online banks is that they tend to be cheaper. Many have no or very low fees. One of the most popular online banks in Canada is Tangerine. You should be aware that online banks may not have services set up for new immigrants.[Offer productType=”SavingsAccount” api_id=”65496a205095a94f68b0f812″]
The third option is a credit union (or caisse populaire in the province of Québec). These types of financial institutions operate as not-for-profit businesses and focus on their members.
Any money earned by the credit union goes back to the members and the community, which means lower fees than the big banks. While these aspects are a big advantage, credit unions are much smaller than big banks meaning they don’t have as many branches to access across the country.
The biggest credit unions in Canada include: Vancity, Meridian, Coast Capital Savings, First West, Prospera, Steinbach, and Alterna. There is also Desjardins which is especially popular in Quebec. Desjardins’s network targets different communities and also offers products such as insurance.
There is no right or wrong option when it comes to choosing a financial institution in Canada. The right institution will give you great service and make you feel comfortable.
Banking Packages for New Immigrants
The banks want your business and they offer specialized packages for newcomers because they understand that you have to quickly set up your financial life in Canada. They put together lower rates and comprehensive packages to make your life easier.
Bank of Montreal (BMO) has the BMO NewStart® Program that makes coming to Canada and setting up a financial life here easy. In total, the Program gives you $1,250. You get the Performance Plan Chequing Account, and BMO waives the annual fee for the first year. BMO can help your family memeberes save too with the Family Bundle. You can also send unlimited BMO Global Money Transfers with no fees for a year. Add to that that BMO can help you start investing and can also help you qualify for a mortgage. Finally, even if you don’t have a credit history in Canada, you can get a special BMO Cash Back credit card.
How to Invest as a New Immigrant
After opening basic accounts, a great way to improve personal finances as a Canadian newcomer is investing. Above, we discussed the two main types of bank accounts: chequing accounts and savings accounts. These will work well for your basic and daily banking needs but you might also want to look into other types of accounts for investing.
Investment accounts let you invest money in companies and securities. In Canada, there are two types of investment accounts: registered accounts and non-registered accounts. The main difference between them is how the government taxes the money they hold.
There are a lot of different types of investment accounts. You might need an intermediary to get access to investing. There are three main access points: a financial advisor, an online broker, and a robo-advisor. There is always a fee for service, but the amount differs greatly between the three options.
You can use a financial advisor.This is a professional individual who will manage your investments and finances for you. There are pros and cons to using financial advisors but the biggest drawback for many is the cost. Financial advisors have very high fees.
If you are financially savvy you can do-it-yourself (DIY) through an online broker. An online broker operates online only: you never meet anyone in-person, but there is a professional linked to the service. There are lots of online broker options for DIY investing such as Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade. This would be the investment option with the lowest fees, however, it also involves the most work. You need to know what you are doing. Hardbacon has an online brokers comparison tool that lets you compare online broker fees to help you make informed decisions.
A third option is a robo-advisor which is an easy and convenient choice that is quickly gaining popularity here in Canada. A robo-advisor offers Exchange Traded Funds or ETFs: these are funds that have minimal fees. A robo-advisor will do all the investment work for you for a fraction of the cost that a financial advisor would charge. You can compare the fees for Canada’s best robo-advisors with Hardbacon’s robo-advisor comparison tool.
What exactly do you invest in? That is up to you, but your advisor will offer to put the investment in either a registered or non-registered account.
What is a Registered Account
Registered accounts are government-registered so they come with tax benefits. They also have more rules surrounding them in terms of age restrictions and contribution limits. The 3 popular registered accounts that Canadians use for investing are Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA), Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP), and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP).
Tax Free Savings Account
A Tax-Free Savings Accont (TFSA) is tax-free, so any money you earn on investments held in a TFSA is yours to keep, no need to report that income come tax time.
As a government-registered account, there are several rules and conditions to be mindful of with your TFSA. To open a TFSA you must meet the following conditions:
- You must be a resident of Canada
- You must have a SIN
- You must be at least 18 years of age
Your TFSA will also have contribution limits. Every year the Government of Canada will set a contribution limit. This is the maximum amount that you can contribute to the account. So, if you arrived in 2021 then you have $6,000 in contribution room. For every year that you are a resident of Canada, you will get more room. That room always carries forward every year so don’t stress if you can’t use it all right away.
A TFSA can be a great savings vehicle for long or short term goals because there are also no rules about withdrawals. So you can use it to save for a home, a dream vacation, or retirement if you choose.
Registered Retirement Savings Plan
A Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is meant to help you save for your retirement. You can open your RRSP as soon as you start working. Every contribution you make will serve as an immediate tax break on your current year taxes. So, if you deposit $2,000 into your RRSP in one year, it will take $2,000 off of your taxable income. The more money you make, the more advantageous this tax break is.
As with the TFSA, there are contribution limits for the RRSP. It’s either 18% of your annual income for the year OR a specific amount as set out by the Government of Canada. This amount changes each year but it’s important to be mindful that you don’t exceed the limit or else you will be penalized. If you are unable to use all of your space, that’s ok! Your contribution room will carry forward.
Now, remember, this is a retirement account which means you shouldn’t plan on withdrawing from it early. If you do, you will lose the contribution room and have to pay higher taxes. Unlike a Tax Free Savings Account, your RRSP is taxed upon withdrawal. However, since this money is meant for retirement by the time you withdraw it you won’t have a regular income which means that you won’t have to pay as much back in taxes.
Another thing to note, while RRSP is meant for retirement, there is an age limit. When you are 71 you can no longer use this account. You can either withdraw all the money in a lump sum, turn it into an annuity, or transfer it into another account called a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF).
Registered Education Savings Plan
A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) and is meant for parents (or other family members) who want to save for a child’s education. The big draw here is that the government will match 20% of your RESP contributions up to $500 per year with a lifetime limit of $7,200. It’s the easiest way to save for your child’s college or university education.
There are no tax breaks for an RESP, however, when the money is withdrawn it is withdrawn by the student so they should pay very little to no taxes on it.
What is a Non-Registered Account
Non-registered accounts are basically any other type of investment account. There are no age limits or contribution limits associated with these types of accounts. However, this also means that they are not tax-sheltered so you need to be mindful of that when it comes time to do your annual taxes.
How to Build a Credit Score as a New Immigrant
One important aspect of your personal finances as a Canadian newcomer. A credit score is a three-digit number that indicates to lenders who reliable you are and how likely you are to pay back a loan.
So if you want to buy a house and need a mortgage, want to get a car loan, or even want to get a fancy credit card, you need to have a good credit score of 650 or higher.
Credit scores range from 300 to 900, the higher the better. The categories are as follows:
- 760-900 is considered excellent credit
- 725-759 is considered very good
- 650-724 is considered good
- 550-659 is considered fair
- 300-559 is considered poor.
As a new immigrant to Canada, your credit history from your home country will not be considered here. You need to start fresh and build your credit history. There are a few ways to do this.[Offer productType=”OtherProduct” api_id=”651675efb5d3ec71388a7920″]
A credit card is an essential tool to have for personal finances in Canada. They are an easy way to build your credit score. It can also make shopping easier in Canada.
What is a credit card? A credit card lets you pay for things electronically in person or online. There are card networks like VISA, Mastercard, and American Express, and issuers – usually banks – that together lend you money up to a certain amount to buy things. It is not linked to your bank account. You are responsible for paying back the loan on time each month. If you don’t, you will pay a pre-determined interest until the loan and interest are paid off.
Getting a Credit Card When You Come to Canada
There are three types of credit cards available to you: traditional (or unsecured), secured, and pre-paid. Which one you get is determined by your bank and credit file.
Traditional Credit Cards
Many of Canada’s big banks offer credit cards for newcomers. This means they provide you with a credit card even though you have no credit history. There are other criteria that need to be met in order to qualify for this type of credit card but if you qualify, you can use them nearly anywhere.
Here are some great cards to consider:
Scotia Momentum® No-Fee Visa Card[Offer productType=”CreditCard” api_id=”5f32ba8692ec22115033b2dc”]
Issued by Scotiabank, the Scotia Momentum No-Fee Visa Card has no annual fee to pay; that is money you save to spend or invest.
Scotiabank American Express Card[Offer productType=”CreditCard” api_id=”62c453858e710d4f783b951d”]
The Scotiabank American Express Card is great if you want to earn one ScotiaRewards points for every $1 spent. The card also grant you extra coverage when you travel, including car rental loss or collision insurance and emergency travel medical insurance too.
BMO Cashback Mastercard[Offer productType=”CreditCard” api_id=”5f298ccf68c746304bee1258″]
The BMO Cashback Mastercard card gives you back a percentage of what you spend on groceries, recurring payments, and other purchases – that can really add up to significant cash. It has no annual fee, which means even more money for you.
Rogers Red Card[Offer productType=”CreditCard” api_id=”65037663daebb83846254145″]
The Rogers Mastercard, known as the Rogers Red Card, can substantially reduce your monthly expenses by an impressive 50% on either a new or existing phone plan. Additionally, you have the option to finance a new phone with a 0% interest rate over a generous 48-month period, all without being tied down by a mobile contract.
Even more enticing, Rogers customers are rewarded with a 2% cash back on all eligible purchases, and there is no ceiling on the amount of cash back you can accumulate. As an added bonus, when you redeem your cash back through Rogers, they provide an extra 30% on top of the redemption value, resulting in a remarkable 2.6% return on your spending. To qualify for the unlimited 2% cash back, you simply need to be a Rogers customer with a postpaid wireless plan and at least one Rogers home service such as TV, Internet, Home Phone, or Home Monitoring.
Scotiabank® Gold American Express Card[Offer productType=”CreditCard” api_id=”5f32aa0a63ae8636997fa6a7″]
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card does everything really well. The annual fee is $120 but its Gold status gives you travel insurance and earns you 5 Scotia Rewards points for every $1 spent on groceries, restaurants, entertainment and more. Plus, you earn rewards faster than with some other cards when you pay for gas or transport. You earn rewards up to x5 faster just by paying for your everyday needs.
Secured Credit Cards
If you don’t meet the requirements for a typical credit card as a newcomer to Canada, you can use secured credit cards to help you build your credit file so that you can later apply for a traditional card.
A secured credit card is designed to help people build credit. It works differently than traditional credit cards in that you will be required to provide a security deposit or collateral. This protects the lender if you default on your payments. The deposit is refundable and is held in a savings account. Usually, the amount of the deposit is equal to your credit limit. So, say you have a deposit of $ 1,000 that means you have $ 1,000 as a maximum spend on your credit card. To see all of the secured credit card options, you can use Hardbacon’s credit cards comparison tool.
Aside from the required deposit, a secured credit card will work the same as any other credit card. You can use it to make payments and then pay off the balance every month.
Pre-paid Credit Cards
Another type of card that is popular with Canadians are pre-paid credit cards such as the KOHO Mastercard® Prepaid card (formerly KOHO prepaid Visa). These cards are offered by financial institutions but it’s up to you to load the money on the card yourself. This means no high interest rates since you are spending the money you loaded on. Most pre-paid credit cards have no annual fees as well, which is another perk.
In many ways, pre-paid credit cards are more like a debit card (a card linked directly to your bank account) than a credit card. However, pre-paid credit cards go further than your basic debit card as several pre-paid credit cards have perks, benefits, and rewards programs. No credit history check is required for a pre-paid credit card, making it an easy option for new Canadians to get, however, it’s important to note that pre-paid credit cards will not help you build your credit like a secured or traditional credit card will. The exception is the KOHO prepaid Mastercard which has a credit building add-on for a monthly fee.
How to Manage Credit Cards
Getting a credit card and using it properly is a fast and easy way to help build your credit score.
As mentioned above, if you don’t qualify for an unsecured credit card in Canada then you can get a secured credit card to help you build credit.
No matter what type of credit card you end up with, the key is to utilize it properly so that you can build your credit quickly. How do you do this? It’s pretty straightforward. Best credit card practices include:
- Use it often
- Pay your bills and credit card balance on time. Any missed or late payments will lower your credit score
- Use, at the most, 30% of your credit limit at a time
- Don’t apply for too many credit cards. Only apply for what you need.
Converting Your Currency to Canadian Dollars
When you come to Canada you will want to convert your local currency into Canadian dollars to be used here. There are multiple ways to do this, but your best bet will be to get in touch with a bank ahead of time and discuss your transfer options. You can bring cash into Canada but if you have more than $10,000 CAD worth then it needs to be declared when you arrive or else the money may be seized and you can pay a fine. Please be mindful of currency exchanges. The ones in airports especially tend to have high fees.
Sending Money Home
Sending money home is pretty easy and straightforward. The issue comes with the hefty fees that are associated with sending money abroad.
Canadian bank accounts will offer international wire transfers, but the fees are quite high. With most bank accounts, wire transfer fees are a minimum of $15 dollars per transfer while some even go up to $40 per transfer.
In addition to the fee, some institutions may also charge you a percentage of the total amount of money you send. That can add up really quickly, especially if you are sending money on a regular basis.
HSBC is one Canadian bank that can waive the wire transfer fees. This is valid for transfers from select HSBC Bank Canada personal accounts for values under $10,000 CAD.
Of course, there is Simplii Financial’s Global Money Transfer (GMT) which has $0 transfer fees to send money to 130 different countries. You can send money securely and in your choice of Canadian or US dollars.
Another option to look into is a fintech company called Wise (formerly known as Transferwise). They are known to have some of the best rates for online money transfers.
They have no hidden fees and use real-time exchange rates. It’s free to create an account and the transfer process is very straightforward.
You can often save 50% or even more in fees by using Wise over wire transfers. For example, if you were to send $1000 CAD to India, the fee would be $7.93.
There is also PayPal. If you send money from your bank or PayPal account to the USA or parts of Europe, you’ll be charged $2.99 CAD. If you pay from a credit card, you’ll be charged $2.99 plus 2.90% on the amount plus a fixed fee.
For all other countries, you’ll pay a $4.99 fixed fee to send money from a bank or PayPal account.
Add 2.90% + fixed fee if you are paying by credit card. Keep in mind PayPal’s conversion rates are added on top of that and they are a minimum of 4%.
Finally, there is Western Union which also allows you to send money online. Rates will vary depending on how much you send, how you send it and what currency it’s converted into, but can range from $3 up to $100.
Western Union typically bundles all fees into one ‘transfer sum’. Western Union rates can be lower than wire transfers with a bank, but you need to be mindful of origin and landing fees from your and your recipient’s banks. Also, note that the exchange rates offered by Western Union tend to be quite high.
Buying or Renting a Place to Live in Canada
As a newcomer to Canada, you will need a place to live. You can either buy or rent a house or apartment. The cost of finding somewhere to live varies widely across Canada depending on province or territory, what city or town, and what type of building you choose.
If you choose to buy a house you will need a minimum 5% down payment to purchase most homes.
However, if you can afford a 20% or more down payment, then you will have the advantage of being able to avoid mortgage loan insurance.
Note that if you are self-employed or have a poor credit history, you will need a higher down payment.
How to Get a Mortgage as a New Immigrant
The rest of the cost of the home will be covered by a mortgage which is a loan by a financial lender. There are plenty of variables when it comes to your mortgage and it is quite a process so you will want some expert advice to help you navigate this process. You can get a feel for what type of mortgage might work best for you by using Hardbacon’s mortgage comparison tool. A real estate agent can help you find the home of your dreams and work through the home buying process with you.
If you don’t want to buy, you can also rent in Canada. There are lots of websites you can browse to look for homes or apartments to rent including rentals.ca, rentseeker.ca, and even Kijiji.
A quick Google search of “homes for rent in (city name)” will also give you some more local options. Note that each province and territory has its own rules and laws for renting and what landlords and tenants are responsible for.
Essentially, your landlord collects the rent and in return provides you with a safe building in good condition along with essentials like a stove, heating system, and a refrigerator.
As the tenant, it’s up to you to pay full rent on time and keep the home clean. If the landlord wants to come into your home, he/she must let you know ahead of time.
As mentioned above, there are lots of rules and regulations regarding rentals in Canada so your best bet is to visit the CMHC provincial and territorial fact sheets to learn more about these details. Please take the time to educate yourself on your rights as a tenant.
Getting Insurance as a Newcomer to Canada
Living in Canada means you will also probably want to look into insurance. There are several different types of insurance available to Canadians, some are mandatory and some are not. As a new immigrant to Canada, you will probably want to look into life insurance, home & auto insurance.
Life insurance is not mandatory but is something most Canadians choose to get, especially if they have young children or dependents.
Home insurance will cover any losses or damage to your property. Things like fallen trees, weather damage, and theft are included in these policies. It’s not legally required in Canada but most Canadians choose to get it.
Car insurance is mandatory in Canada if you plan on driving here. It is illegal to drive without it so this should be one of the first tasks on your to-do list.
Health insurance is not something most Canadians have to worry about as we are covered by Medicare as residents of Canada. As a new resident, you can apply for Medicare as well for yourself and any family members that will be residents as well.
There are dozens of insurance providers across the country. Each has different inclusions and offers so it’s really up to you to shop around and see what best suits your needs. There are a few online portals that will allow you to compare pricing and offers from different providers which makes it easy to look for insurance from the comfort of your own home.
Here are some insurance resources that you may find helpful:
- PolicyMe (life insurance – available in Quebec and in New-Brunswick)
- InsuranceHotline (multiple types of insurance)
- ClickInsurance (home and car insurance)
Paying Your Taxes in Canada
Tax time in Canada is typically April 30th. On this date, your Canadian taxes should be completed and filed with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Any income you make, worldwide, needs to be reported when you file your taxes. Even if you didn’t make any money it’s still in your best interest to file as you may qualify for some government benefit programs.
Taxes can be daunting, especially as a new immigrant to Canada, but there are resources to help you. The CRA website has lots of helpful information online as well as contact information where you can get in touch with an employee to help you with any questions or concerns you may have.
You can hire an accountant to file your taxes for you. Costs will vary depending on the service provider you choose. If you are uncomfortable doing your taxes on your own or have complicated taxes, then this is probably the best option for you. However, if your taxes are pretty straightforward and easy, then you can do them yourself.
There are many popular online tax programs for Canadians. TurboTax is a paid program but the cost will depend on how complicated your taxes are. The basic package is free but it also has pricier packages that offer help from professionals as well. H&R Block also offers a software to help you file your taxes. You can choose between four packages: free, deluxe, premier and self-employed. Prices range from 0$ to $34.99. If you need extra help, H&R tax experts will be on standby.
Another option is Wealthsimple Tax which works on a pay-what-you-can basis (it asks for donations at the end but is technically free to use). Wealthsimple Tax has a more Do-It-Yourself approach, it does have plenty of tips and information online in blog format. However, you can’t pay extra to hire someone from Wealthsimple Tax to help you like you can with TurboTax. All of these software have options for self-employed individuals as well.
You may also qualify for a free tax clinic in your area. Learn more about that here.
Is Your Money Safe in Canadian Banks
Your money is important to you and it’s understandable that moving to a new country with all new banking, investment, and financial options can be daunting and bring up safety concerns.
In Canada, most major financial institutions are registered with the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation or the CDIC. CDIC protects Canadians with deposit insurance up to $100,000 across several categories should the financial institution fail.
The coverage categories are as follows:
- Chequing accounts
- Savings accounts
- Guaranteed Income Certificates or GICs
Most major financial institutions are covered by CIDC, but if you are unsure you can always look for the CDIC logo on the bank’s website or in the window of the physical location of the financial institution. Credit unions are not covered by CDIC. They typically have their own insurance but it varies by credit union.
While the CDIC coverage is great, it’s also up to you to protect your money as well. Here are some helpful tips to avoid financial fraud in Canada.
- Use difficult passwords that are not easy to guess. Keep them private and update them on a regular basis.
- Familiarize yourself with any common scams. These include CRA scams, employment scams, romance scams, phishing scams, immigration scams, etc.
- Be cautious of opening links in strange emails. Check the email address of the sender before clicking.
- Do not give your SIN or any banking information to strangers over the phone. If you are unsure of whether the caller is legitimate or not, hang up and call the official number yourself to follow up.
- Avoid any get rich quick schemes
- If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud, take action immediately.
- Get in touch with your bank to freeze the account (you may also be able to do this online or via your banking app)
- Contact Equifax Canada and Transunion Canada to have them freeze your credit profile
- File a report with the local police
- Get in touch with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
Note that not all financial products are covered by CDIC. Investment products, like registered savings plans, that are held in certain financial firms are covered by another organization: The Canadian Investor Protection Fund or CIPF. You should make certain that your investment dealer is a member of the CIPF.
The CIPF protects your investments in case your investment dealer is no longer able to pay off its debts and is no longer able to return you your money. If this happens, your account is covered up to $1,000,000. There are, of course, limits to CIPF protection.
Moving to a new country can be a daunting experience, especially when it comes time to figuring out your finances. We hope that this guide and the link to our other resources here on the Hardbacon blog will prove helpful as you plan your arrival to Canada.