Rounding it up
Much of what is required to open a bank account revolves around identity verification. For example, you’ll most likely need to provide a Social Insurance Number (SIN).
While not always the case, proof of legal residency may also be required.
The type of bank account you open, and the financial institution you open the account with, can dictate what documents you need in order to open a bank account.
It’s not difficult to open a bank account in Canada. What you need in order to open one, and what documents should be kept handy, depends on the kind of account you want to open. Generally, all that’s needed in order to open a Canadian bank account is proof of identity and, possibly, proof of legal status. You don’t need to be employed, credit-worthy, or even have a lot of money to put away. As a legal resident of Canada, access to a financial institution via banking is something to which you are entitled.
What documents to bring when opening a bank account in Canada
Whether you need to show up in person to open a bank account depends on the bank and possibly, the type of account. Financial institutions typically impose identification requirements for opening an account. Most of the time, this documentation can be provided online but the bank may still require that you come in person to supply this documentation when opening a bank account with them for the first time.
If the type of account you seek to open is for business and not personal reasons, the financial institution is likely to ask for additional information when opening a business account. This would include business registration and incorporation documents in addition to the identification information typically required to open a personal bank account.
In order to verify your identity, the financial institution will typically ask for two forms of identification. The identification documents must be original documents, not copies.
You may present two forms of identification from the following list:
A current Canadian driver’s license
A current Canadian passport
A Canadian birth certificate
A Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN) card
A certificate of Indian Status
A provincial health insurance card
A Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Canadian Citizenship
A Permanent Resident Card for Canada or Form IMM 1000, Imm 1422, IMM 5658 or IMM 5292 to denote your Immigration, Refugees or Citizenship status in Canada (IRCC)
Alternatively, you may present only one form of identification from the above list in addition to any of the following options:
An employee card with your photo
A Canadian debit or credit card with your name and signature
A current foreign passport
A card for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind with your photo and signature
In special circumstances, you may be able to verify your identity with only one form of identification listed in the first list above. This is an option only when the bank allows you to use a personal reference to verify identity in lieu of a second form of identification.
Whether or not you decide to use your SIN card as a form of identification, you must typically still provide your SIN to the financial institution where you open your account. By law, the bank is required to keep track of any interest earned in your account and then report it to the Canada Revenue Agency for tax purposes.
Proof of legal status
Proof of legal residency may be required in order to open a bank account in Canada. Many of the personal identification documents listed as potential options of what to bring when opening a bank account in Canada are by default of Canadian origin. So it’s generally true one needs to prove legal status when opening a bank account in Canada. However, it should not be seen as a hard-and-fast rule.
If you’re not a citizen or legal resident of Canada but still would like to open an account with one of its banks, you may need to visit them in person. Alternatively, you may bypass the resident requirement by applying completely online, which is easiest with digital-first financial institutions. You can apply for KOHO account here. It can be done in just a few minutes.
Other requirements when opening a bank account
While the categories mentioned above cover most of the documents needed under normal circumstances, there may still be a few additional things you need to take care of before you can open a bank account.
An initial deposit: Some banks may require you to make an initial deposit equivalent to their minimum balance requirement in order you you to be able to open an account with them.
A co-owner/co-signee: In case the person trying to open a bank account is less than 18 years of age, a parent or legal guardian must sign their documents for them with the bank.
Identification documents for other applicants: In case of a joint account, the bank may require additional identification documents and personal details for other applicants as well.
Different types of bank accounts you can open in Canada
When you decide to open your first bank account, you can choose from a traditional bank, such as The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Toronto Dominion Bank (TD Bank), Bank of Montreal (BMO), and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) or digital-first fintech company, such as KOHO. No matter what financial institution you choose to open your bank account at, double-check that the institution where you plan to deposit your funds is CDC-insured (FYI KOHO is!).
There are multiple types of bank accounts to choose from, including various options for savings and chequing accounts. While both account types provide similar types of services, such as ATM cash withdrawals, fund transfers, direct deposit, etc., savings account helps you save save money over time by paying interest on your savings and a chequing account is better-suited for your daily transaction needs.
Let’s start by looking at the 3 different types of savings accounts that are common in Canada:
The Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA): In short, you don’t have to pay taxes on the interest you earn on the money kept in this type of a savings account. Anyone who has a valid Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN) and is over the age of 18 can open a TFSA.
The High-Interest Savings Account (HISA): As its name implies, a HISA yields high interest. Because of this, it is a great option for accumulating compounding interest. Due to the compounding interest, a HISA is often used as a financial investment product. Unlike a TFSA, however, a HISA is taxed.
The Joint savings account: A joint savings account is one that is ‘joint’ or shared between two people. The primary benefit of a joint savings account is its shared nature — two people are able to access the account.
Moving on to the types of chequing accounts you can open, they can be broadly categorized as:
Student/Youth chequing accounts: Student or youth chequing accounts are a great tool for young Canadians to get a head start on banking. Generally, they offer features like bill pay, savings account links, and debits for free.
Newcomer chequing accounts: Newcomer chequing accounts generally feature low or no fees and plenty of flexible features. They’re also often paired with financial literacy programs to help newcomers better understand the realm of personal finances in Canada.
Senior chequing accounts: Retired Canadians are generally on a fixed income as they pull from Registered Retirement Savings Accounts (RRSP) or pensions. It’s a bit hard to swallow having to pay a high monthly fee just to access your money.
VIP/Premium chequing accounts: For customers who conduct a higher volume of transactions throughout the course of the month, this one’s for you. In addition to trading a monthly fee for additional services, these types of accounts often come with other benefits, such as free safe deposit boxes, fee waivers for certain transactions, and special rewards.
Standard chequing accounts: No frills, nothing fancy, just your standard chequing account. These accounts typically offer debit cards from which you can make purchases directly. They also have a network of ATMs where you can withdraw cash, either for free or for a small fee.
The documents needed to open both these types of bank accounts in Canada fall under similar buckets, but can vary from financial institution to financial institution.
Wrapping it up
Opening a bank account is an important step in securing your financial health. A bank account offers benefits, such as safety of funds, efficient and easy money management, and can even help you build your credit score and accumulate interest.
It’s not necessary to have a certain amount of money to fund the account, nor is it necessary to even have a job or be credit-worthy. All that is usually required is multiple forms of identification to cross-reference your identity.
Yekaterina Galanova enjoys writing about personal finance, as well as aesthetic topics, though she is open to discovering new niches. She enjoys reading, traveling and beautiful landscapes.