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5 Best Banks for International Students in Canada (2024)

Best Banks for International Students in Canada

5 Best Banks for International Students in Canada (2024)

Are you an international student looking for a reliable student bank account?

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), more than 450,000 new international students came to Canada in 2021.

That is a substantial amount of people!

And surely, every single one of these people is thinking about which Canadian financial institution to bank at. That’s where this post can help.

Today’s article will go through some of the best banks for international students in Canada that have special offerings. From no-fee banking to unlimited international money transfers, I’m confident that something in this list will be able to fit your banking needs.

CIBC
Discount Perks
  • Free SPC membership that gets you special student discounts of up to 30% off in hundreds of Canadian stores
  • No-fee GIC Program to help you meet the requirements for your study permit (can cost up to $200 with other banks)
Scotiabank
Money Transfers
  • Get unlimited no-fee international money transfers
  • Participate in the Scene rewards program with Scene debit and credit cards
BMO
Credit Cards
  • No annual fees
  • Excellent rewards (including cashback and Air Miles)

Features You Should Consider Before Choosing a Bank As an International Student in Canada

There are some things you should consider as an international student before opening a bank account in Canada.

These include your personal banking needs and how you will satisfy the Canadian study permit requirements, specifically your proof of financial support.

If you’re coming to Canada as a student (without dependents), you will need to show a minimum of $10,000 per year to prove you can financially support yourself while you are studying. This excludes your tuition costs.

There are a variety of ways you can prove your funds, including:

  • A Canadian bank account in your name
  • A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) from a participating Canadian financial institution
  • Proof of a student or education loan from a bank
  • A bank draft that can be converted to Canadian dollars
  • Your personal bank statements for the past four months

For more details on study permit requirements, you can head to the Government of Canada website.

You should also be asking yourself the following questions about your banking situation:

  • How many transactions will I be conducting each month? What kind of accounts will best suit my needs (i.e. chequing, savings, investments, etc.)
  • Do I need access to credit, such as a line of credit or a credit card?
  • How much will I be shopping, and would access to special student discounts be helpful to me?
  • How will I prove my funds to obtain my study permit? Will I be going the GIC route?
  • How close should my chosen bank branch be to my place of residence/campus?

Your answers to these should give you a good benchmark as you go through your options as an international student in Canada.

Best Banks in Canada for International Students

5 Best Banks for International Students in Canada

Here are some of the best international student bank accounts in Canada. I’ve included a mix of some online bank accounts as well as some accounts offered by Canada’s big five banks.

Online bank accounts can be just as good as larger brick-and-mortar banks for proving your financial means. However, keep in mind that larger banks typically offer a wider range of ATMs you can use and usually have better customer service if you run into any problems.

Before signing up for any of these banks, it’s always a good idea to double-check if the bank has any branches are ATMs nearby your university campus.

1. CIBC: Best for Student Discount Perks and International Student GICs 

cibc investor’s edge

Why it’s great:

  • Free SPC membership that gets you special student discounts of up to 30% off in hundreds of Canadian stores
  • No-fee GIC Program to help you meet the requirements for your study permit (can cost up to $200 with other banks)

CIBC is one of Canada’s largest banks and offers fantastic deals for international students in Canada.

If you’re going the GIC route to prove your financial status for your study permit, CIBC is a great option as they charge no handling fees for this offering.

Their partnership with SPC is also really attractive for students, as they can save substantial amounts of money throughout their study years.

As an international student, you also get access to:

  • Absolutely no banking fees + free Interac e-transfers during your studies
  • International money transfers with a $0 transfer fee to more than 120 countries with CIBC Global Money Transfer
  • A no-fee student credit card that requires no existing credit history (do note that the interest rate is quite high for this card (20.99%), so be careful not to carry a high balance month after month. Otherwise, you may have better options later on in this list)
  • A refer-a-friend program that offers you $25.

Find out more about this program here.

2. Scotiabank: Best for International Money Transfers and Movie/Cash-Back Rewards

Scotiabank logo

Why it’s great:

  • Get unlimited no-fee international money transfers
  • Participate in the Scene rewards program with Scene debit and credit cards

Also known as the Bank of Nova Scotia, Scotiabank is the third-largest Canadian bank by deposits and market capitalization.

They are a great option for international students in Canada because of their Scene rewards program as well as free international money transfer options.

If you are planning on sending money abroad to your friends and family during your studies or even to your own bank account in your home country, Scotiabank can be a really good option for you.

In general, here are all of the perks you can take advantage of as an international student at Scotiabank:

  • Free chequing account with no monthly fees
  • Free, unlimited Interac e-transfers
  • Scene rewards with debit and credit card use
  • Unsecured credit card with a limit of up to $5,000 and movie rewards (through the Scene program)
  • Scotiabank Student GIC Program is available to international students from China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia

For more details, head here.

3. BMO (Bank of Montreal): Best for Student Credit Cards

BMO

Why it’s great:

  • Great student credit card options with no annual fees, rewards (including cashback and Air Miles) and a standard interest rate (19%)

Bank of Montreal is a winner when it comes to student credit cards. As an international student, you are eligible for these cards for the duration of your studies (with proof of enrollment.)

BMO also offers other special perks for international students in Canada, including:

  • Free banking during your studies + one additional year after you graduate
  • Free e-transfers
  • Free and unlimited international transfers (for one year only)
  • International student GIC program (available only for students coming from China or India)
  • Free safety deposit box for one year

4. RBC (Royal Bank of Canada): Best for Free ATM Access

RBC logo

Why it’s great:

  • No RBC fee to use another bank’s ATM in Canada

If you think you will need regular access to cash and ATMs during your studies in Canada, RBC’s free ATM access can make life quite easy for you.

In addition to that, RBC has other international student perks in place, such as:

  • Free banking account during your studies
  • Free Interac e-transfers during your studies*
  • Get a credit limit of up to $2,000 (when you bank with RBC)
  • International Student GIC program is available to those coming from India, Antigua & Barbuda, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, or China. (Note: there is a handling fee of $200 for this GIC service)

*Go here for details on how to cancel your RBC e-transfer.

For more details on the RBC international student program, head here.

5. TD Canada Trust: Best for No-Fee Study Permit GICs and Student Savings Accounts

TD Logo

Why it’s great:

  • No application fees for international student GICs
  • No-fee student savings account with a bonus interest rate for six months

TD is another giant in Canadian banking. International students can enroll in TDs International Student Banking Package and receive $100 for free, and qualify for the following perks:

  • Unlimited monthly transactions
  • No transfer fee for Interac e-Transfers
  • No processing fee for study permit GICs (up to $200 at other banks)
  • Credit cards available
  • No monthly fee for Overdraft Protection

For more details, head here.

6. Simplii Financial International Student Program

Why it’s great:

  • Fee-free banking
  • No-fee student GIC program that meets SDS requirements
  • Use any CIBC ATM without fees

Simplii financial is an online bank owned by CIBC. The fee-free digital bank has developed a great reputation since it launched in 2017, and offers a variety of products to customers, including:

  • Traditional chequing and savings accounts
  • High-interest savings account
  • US Dollar saving account

Most notably, Simplii financial also offers a no-fee student GIC program for international students. This program meets all of the requirements outlined for international students to qualify for Student Direct Stream (SDS), and you can complete an application in under five minutes.

Once you’re enrolled in university and living in Canada, you can expand and take advantage of Simplii Financial’s student banking solutions, which gives you an even greater range of freedom. Since Simplii Financial is owned by CIBC, you’ll also be able to use any CIBC ATM without any additional fees.

7. HSBC Student Account

Why it’s great:

  • Easy-to-apply-for student GIC that meets SDS requirements
  • You can open a student chequing account from overseas
  • No monthly maintenence fees

Like Simplii Financial, HSBC offers an incredibly simple international student GIC program that meets all of the requirements laid out by the SDS, so you don’t have to worry about your residency approval.

After enrolling in HSBCs student GIC program, you can open an HSBC student bank account (even if you haven’t moved to Canada yet). Some of the key benefits include:

  • No Interac e-Transfer fees
  • No monthly maintenence fees
  • Free mobile cheque deposit
  • Unlimited transactions
  • No minimum balance requirement

Additionally, you can apply for an HSBC student Visa credit card and get up to a $1,000 spending limit (subject to credit approval, of course). This is a great way to start building your credit in Canada, which will help you if you intend to pursue a further career in Canada or apply for off-campus housing.

8. ICICI Bank Canada For International Students From India

Why it’s great:

  • Specialized loan program for international students from India
  • GIC program that meets SDS standards
  • Makes it easy to transfer money between Canada and India

ICICI Canada has a specialized “Canada Select” education loan program designed for international students, specifically designed to benefit international students from India (due to ICICI’s strong presence in the country).

It also offers a GIC that complies with SDS standards and could help expedite Visa processing.

With ICICI accounts in both India and Canada, students can enjoy streamlined, cost-effective fund transfers across borders, which can be particularly helpful if your family back home is supporting your education.

9. EQ bank Savings Plus

Why it’s great:

  • You can purchase SDS-compliant GICs from EQ Bank
  • EQ Bank offers a high-interest savings account

EQ Bank is another online bank that’s similar Simplii Financial and offers great rates on GICs. While EQ Bank doesn’t offer specialized international student GICs, you can still purchase a GIC from EQ Bank that meets the minimum SDS requirement of $10,000.

The only downside of EQ Bank is that it’s not a great choice for everyday student banking since it doesn’t offer a chequing account.

That being said, you can use your EQ Bank account to hold an SDS-compliant GIC and take advantage of EQ Bank’s excellent high-interest savings account rates.

Should I Consider Digital Banks as an International Student in Canada?

Many international students prefer to sign up for one of the special student accounts offered by major banks like RBC, BMO, CIBC, TD Bank, and Scotiabank.

These student bank accounts often come with special perks, such as:

  • Free bill payment
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Free/unlimited Interac e-Transfers
  • Unlimited debit transactions
  • No monthly fees

Student bank accounts offer an incredible value proposition upfront. The flipside is that you’ll lose many of these benefits after you graduate, at which point you’ll often be required to pay monthly maintenence fees, maintain a minimum balance, and adhere to other stringent requirements.

Online bank accounts are often fee-free and don’t have as many limitations as traditional banks, making them great for students and graduates alike.

If you’re looking for a risk-free way to earn good interest on your cash during your studies, you could also check out EQ Bank to supplement your traditional banking, which is an online bank that offers 2.50% on your balances.

How Can an International Student Open a Bank Account in Canada?

You will need certain documents in order to open your bank account in Canada.

If you are planning on opening your account before you land (which is possible with most banks), do note that you will still have to make an in-person appointment in order to bring in some documents and prove your identity.

Making sure you have everything you need before showing up for this appointment is key in ensuring that you are set up with your banking as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

Some of the documents that you may have to provide include:

  • Your study permit
  • Proof of enrolment in a post-secondary program
  • A valid passport, a Canadian Driver’s License, or a Canadian Government Identification card

There may be different sign-up requirements with each bank. Please double-check before going into your appointment.

What fees should I expect when opening a bank account as an international student in Canada?

Monthly account maintenance fees are common, although many banks offer plans that waive these fees for students. Transaction fees for operations beyond the free transaction limit, ATM withdrawal fees (especially for ATMs outside the bank’s network), and fees for international wire transfers are other potential costs.

Are there any special promotions or discounts for international students when opening a bank account in Canada?

Canadian banks often run promotional campaigns and offer discounts specifically aimed at attracting international students. These incentives might include a period of free banking services, welcome bonuses like a cash deposit into the new account, waivers for monthly fees for a certain period, and even non-monetary gifts such as small electronics, school supplies, or entertainment tickets.

Since these promotions can be time-sensitive and vary by bank, it’s smart for international students to research current offers from various banks and compare them to find the most advantageous deal. It’s also wise to look beyond the initial perks and consider the long-term benefits and costs of maintaining the account.

Conclusion

Best Banks for International Students in Canada

Those were all of the best banks in Canada offering special perks for international students.

No fees, free international money transfers, and discount perks are truly hard to come by with these traditional banks if you are not a student.

That’s why I’m a big believer that you should take advantage of them while you are studying in Canada.

If you’re looking to send money overseas, do note that there are several options that may be quicker than traditional banks and significantly cheaper once you graduate, as well.

For a run-down of these options, check out this post on the Nine Best Ways To Transfer Money Internationally From Canada.

And, most importantly, welcome to Canada. I wish you the best in your new journey. 

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