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How to open a bank account as an international student

7 min read

How to open a bank account as an international student

Written By

Ben Bejster
Ben Bejster

Rounding it up

  • As an international student in Canada, opening a bank account is relatively quick and simple.

  • Just make sure to do your research so that you pick the right bank and account to meet your needs.

  • Prepare the right documentation ahead of time so that you can open your bank account in one quick visit.

  • If you need additional help, both banks and your academic institution should offer advice for international students who want to bank in Canada.

So you’ve decided to attend University in Canada — congratulations! An exciting journey awaits you. But before you make the move, it’s important you have your financial situation organized. For many international students, opening a Canadian bank account is a necessity, but it can also be a bit confusing. Fortunately, numerous Canadian bank accounts offer deals for international students, as well as advice on budgeting and good money management practices.

Moreover, their educational institutions may also provide international students with help setting up their financial situation in Canada. The good news is that if you have already been accepted to university in Canada and have all of your permits in order, you should have no technical problems getting a bank account set up.

How to Open a Bank Account in Canada

1. Research and choose a bank

The first step every student should take is to carefully research and look into their banking options. Some students prefer to go with the big 5 banks, while others prioritize looking into credit unions or digital-first alternatives like KOHO. The choice is a personal one, and there are pros and cons to both options. Whatever you choose, you certainly won’t have a shortage of choices when it comes to choosing a Canadian bank. The best way to narrow down your choices is to research which banks offer the best deals for students. For the most part, you’ll likely find several bank accounts that waive monthly fees for students or offer rewards programs, point systems, or other perks. Why not take advantage of these student benefits while you can as a student?

Additionally, international students should bear in mind that you will be charged a transaction fee each time you withdraw money from an ATM that isn’t owned by your bank. Therefore, it’s a good idea to consider choosing banks where you won’t struggle to find an ATM. If you choose to go with KOHO, however, you can rest assured that we won’t charge you any fees for using another branded ATM.

Once you have narrowed down your initial bank or credit union options, look into which ones offer rewards or offers that will be the most beneficial to you. You can also check to see which banks might offer specific discounts for different degree programs.

KOHO Signup Link

2. Choose your account

Once you have chosen a bank or financial institution, you need to choose the type of bank account you want to open. In Canada, there are several account types including chequing accounts and savings accounts.

Chequing accounts allow the user to deposit and withdraw money whenever they would like, although many accounts put a daily limit on the amount that can be withdrawn. Upon opening one, you should also receive a debit card so you can easily spend money from your chequing account. These accounts are the most common option for Canadian students as they are fairly easy to set up and access and allow them to pay for their living expenses. If it’s of interest, a credit card can usually also be set up through the bank where you open your chequing account.

Savings accounts, on the other hand, are a good option for those who want an account to stash away money for the long run. If you intend to work while in Canada or want to put money aside for emergencies or traveling, opening a savings account is highly recommended. Many banks make it easy for you to have both a savings and chequing account. You can ask about setting up one or both when you meet with your financial institution.

Foreign currency accounts are another type of account that is ideal for those who want to keep some money in a different currency. This makes them something to consider for international students.

3. Prepare the right documents

In many cases, you may be able to open a bank account over the phone or online before you arrive in Canada. However, it can often be easier to open a bank account in person, as it also allows you to ensure you understand all details of your bank account and ask questions. It’s also advised that international students try to open a bank account in person in case any complications arise. When you are ready to open your Canadian bank account, make sure you have at least two of any of  the following forms of documentation:

  • Passport or Study Permit

  • Letter of Acceptance

  • Temporary Permit (IMM Form 1442, 1208, 1102)

  • Canadian or US Driver’s License

  • Canadian Government Identification Card

  • Traveler’s cheques

Keep in mind that different banks or institutions may require different forms of identification, so it’s best to check with your chosen bank what paperwork they will need. Make sure that the information you provide to the banker when setting up your bank account is completely correct.

KOHO Signup Link

Moving forward

Once you have opened your Canadian bank account, your banker should provide you with your bank card or debit card. You will also be given a personal identification number (PIN), which will be used to access your account when you need to withdraw funds from an ATM or pay for items using your card. Your PIN should be kept private and confidential at all times. Additionally, your banker should explain to you how to use your chosen bank’s internet banking platforms and apps so that you are able to check your account balance, pay bills, and transfer funds.

If you opened a chequing account, you should also be provided with a chequebook. Although cheques are mostly a thing of the past, keeping some on hand is a smart way to ensure you always know your banking information and so that you avoid getting stuck without cash or a dysfunctional credit card.

Signing up for a credit card

If you think a credit card may be useful or of interest to you, then you can look into signing up for one. Just as with bank accounts, the majority of banks offer some sort of special credit card specifically designed for students. Usually, these student credit cards are a great option, as they have considerably lower interest rates than other options. There may also be credit cards that offer special rewards or points systems for students.

In Canada, Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are the most common types of credit cards. Visa and Mastercard tend to be the best options as they are accepted at the largest number of stores both in Canada and around the world. Credit cards can be a good option for students who want to build their credit. They’re also very convenient as they allow you to make purchases without the need to carry around cash or a debit card with direct access to your money.

However, it’s important that international students do their due diligence in researching credit cards before applying for one. It’s critical that you understand all the terms and conditions associated with your credit card. Be aware that you will need to make sure your bill is paid by the due date.

You can also look into reloadable prepaid credit cards as well, such as KOHO’s. As the name suggests, you load funds into your account so you can only spend what you have. That means you don’t have to worry about credit card bills or interest rates. Plus, you can earn 1% cash back on groceries and transportation with KOHO Easy, and even more when you shop with their cash back partners like Indigo and Frank and Oak!

Many international students may also find that banks offer them a loan or line of credit when they open an account. If you need a loan or line of credit to cover your living expenses, then make sure that you are very aware of the associated terms and conditions. It’s recommended that loans are avoided unless necessary. When you get a loan or line of credit, Canadian banks will require you to provide some form of safety deposit or collateral; this might be cash or goods. If you fail to make payments on your loan, you will forfeit your collateral to the bank. You will need to repay loans or lines of credit on time and in line with the payment terms outlined by your bank. Make sure that you discuss your options with a financial advisor if you are unsure about taking out a loan.

Moving to Canada to study is an exciting time for international students, but also requires some planning and preparation — especially in the personal finances front. So, if you’re an international student, try to prioritize finding a bank and getting your accounts set up. That way, you can pay for your day to day expenses, save for the future, and receive your wages in case you decide to take up a part-time job! All in all, just make sure that your finances are in order and you get set up with a Canadian bank account as quickly as possible.

Note: KOHO product information and/or features may have been updated since this blog post was published. Please refer to our KOHO Plans page for our most up to date account information!

Ben Bejster

Ben is a freelance writer and law student at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. He previously worked in various marketing positions before launching his own content writing agency.



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