Practical Life in Montreal

Bank services in Montreal

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Canadian currency is the Canadian dollar (sign: $, code: CAD). It is abbreviated with the dollar sign $, or C$ to distinguish it from other dollar-denominated currencies. It is divided into 100 cents, currently issued in denominations of 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), 25 cents (quarter), 50 cents (50 piece) (rarely used), $1 (loonie), and $2 (toonie). The 1¢ (penny) is being faded out with the last struck on Friday, May 4 2012.


Canadian banks have an excellent reputation for protecting their investments and users. Canada's federal government has sole jurisdiction for banks. Provincial governments regulate credit unions, caisses populaires, securities dealers, and mutual funds. In addition, Canada has the world's highest per capita membership in the credit union movement, with over 10 million members, or about one third of the Canadian population. Each of the largest banks in Canada has a dedicated division that can assist newcomers with their financial transition with materials in a variety of languages.

There are 70 banks operating in Canada and over 8,000 bank branches across the country. Canada has five major banks, also know as "The Big Five".

Open an Account

Banking in Canada is usually easy to set-up in person or online. Most banks offer similar quality services and online banking is standard. However, do shop around to find the best fit for you with agreeable fees.

To open a bank account as an expat, you must present two types of identification. At least one piece of identification must be one of the following:

  • Permanent Resident card (IMM 5292 - Confirmation of Permanent Residence)
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada Form IMM 1000
  • IMM 1442 (Student Authorization; Employment Authorization; Visitor Record; Temporary Resident's Permit)
  • Driver's license issued in Canada
  • Provincial photo ID card issued in Canada
  • Provincial health insurance card issued in Canada
If you cannot produce two of these pieces of identification, you may present one of the aforementioned identity documents, and your foreign passport. If the identification presented to open an account does not contain your name, date of birth, address and occupation the bank may request that you provide this information, except if you do not have an address or are unemployed.


ATMs (guichet automatique) are plentiful and can be found throughout the city, and the country at large. In addition, there are machines in grocery and convenience stores. ATMs allow you to withdraw cash, transfer funds, deposit cash and cheques, and check account balances. If you use services at a bank's ATM that is not your bank, you may be charged fees.

Bank Cards

Debit Cards - Debit cards are the most frequently used form of day-to-day banking in Canada with about 94% of Canadians holding a debit card to use at retailers and ATMs. Regardless of transaction or debit card type, debit card users are always protected against fraudulent activity, and receive reimbursement if they are a victim of fraud. Most Canadian debit cards can be used at any ATM (bank-owned or private) that displays the INTERAC symbol in Canada, and the PLUS symbol internationally. You can get a debit card by opening an account at a Canadian bank.

Credit Cards - Credit cards in Canada provide interest-free credit from the time of purchase to the end of the billing period. For those who carry a balance, there are more than 70 low interest rate credit cards available in Canada, and 40 that carry an interest rate of less than 12%. Credit card users in Canada enjoy excellent fraud protection, with zero liability to the consumer in cases of fraud. The major credit card companies in Canada are Visa and Mastercard, followed by AMEX and Discovery.
If you are an expat applying for a credit card in Canada for the first time, with no established credit history in Canada, talk to your bank manager and ask if the bank will recognize your foreign credit history and give you a regular (unsecured) card. Be sure to present copies of any credit information you have outside of Canada. It may also be useful to present a letter from your employer that outlines your annual salary or apply for a joint card with a friend or family member who has credit history in Canada. To build credit in Canada, you can get a secured credit card. For this type of card you must make a security deposit (usually $500-$1000) with the credit card company. You can also get a retail credit card from a non-financial institution (e.g. a supermarket, gas station, or department store). You can use retail credit cards to purchase things at some retailers, but you cannot use them to borrow money. Such credit cards often have very high interest rates (25%+).

Cheques - Cheques are not accepted at most major retailers in Canada, and are typically used to transfer payments between individuals or small businesses, to pay for rent, utilities, etc. When depositing a cheque, you may be required to authenticate the cheque by signing it on the reverse side.

Remote Banking

Online Banking - Most banks in Canada offer some form of online banking. Almost any service you can access at a bank branch in person, you can also access online, 24 hours a day. To set up online banking services, contact your bank either in person, by phone, or directly online (contact information is generally listed on the reverse side of your card).

Telephone Banking - Almost all banks offer some form of telephone banking services, toll free and accessible from anywhere in the world. Telephone banking contact numbers are generally listed on the reverse side of your credit or debit card. When calling, you will be required to input your debit card number and a PIN number.

Mobile Banking - Many banks in Canada are moving towards offering mobile banking solutions. Mobile banking apps allow you to access most services on your phone/mobile device. As with online banking, you will be required to input your debit card number and a password to access these services.


Changing money is frequently required when traveling, but different rates can be confusing and lead to your losing money. To secure the best rates, determine a baseline exchange rate before converting your money. Next, decide what is the best way for you to exchange your money.

ATM - ATMs are one of the safest ways to receive foreign currency and usually have low fees. Some banks offer these services for free, while some banks may have exorbitant charges for international charges. Check with your bank for rates, but expect to pay 3-8%. If you do have to pay international fees, minimize your exchange costs by withdrawing larger denominations less often.

Hotel/Airport/Exchange Desks - People frequently use these services as they are the most convenient. However, these desks usually offer the worst rates. It is not unusual to pay fees as high as 20%. Watch out for hidden fees by reading the terms closely.

Bank - Exchange rates for banks may be slightly better than elsewhere as the bank receives wholesale rates which aren't directly available to you. Exchanges can be made over the phone or online with just a few days notice. Delivery fees may be charged, but ask if they can be waived if you are a longtime customer.

Online - Purchasing cash online is among the more expensive methods to obtain currency. Although you have the convenience of ordering cash in advance of your trip, delivery fees can be large and eat into the total amount you receive. Search the internet for exchange websites and be sure to compare providers and fee lists to be sure you are getting the best exchange rate possible.

Credit Card - Credit cards used abroad are convenient, but may require fees of 2-3% for international transactions. This is best reserved for the majority of your large purchases.

Update 21/05/2013


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