Opening my first Canadian Bank Account

So I’m a recent immigrant in Canada, having landed here from the UK.  Specifically I moved to Waterloo, Ontario, to work for a software company that had offered me a job.

On my first full day in Canada, I opened a bank account. The bank nearest to me was The Bank of Montreal, so I popped into the branch and spoke to a customer service rep.  After waiting for a few minutes, I was invited into an office to speak with an account rep.  That’s when she gave me the first of several lessons in Canadian personal finance

Lesson Number One: What’s known as a current account in the UK is known as a chequing account in Canada

Lesson Number Two: You get charged for opening personal Bank accounts in Canada. In the UK you don’t pay for personal bank accounts.

The account rep asked me which of several account plans I wanted to open – the Practical Plan, the Plus Plan, the Premium Plan or the Performance Plan. Now, each of these plans cost anywhere from $8.50 to $14 a month.  However, as long as I never let my balance slip below a specific amount, this fee would be refunded on a month by month basis.

Each of these plans also limited the number of “free” account transactions I was allowed each month.  If I went over this limited, I would be charged for each transacion.

Since I was jetlagged and stressed-out (remember, this was my first full day in Waterloo), I opted for the Plus Plan without thinking about it too much.  This cost $8.50 a month and allowed me 30 free transactions. I would, however, need to keep $1500 in my chequing account, otherwise I would be charged for the account (this limit was later raised to $2000)

Lesson Number Three: You can walk out of a bank with a Debit card immediately. This was a pleasant surprise because you generally have to wait to get one mailed to you in the UK.

I was also given something called a Direct Deposit form.  This was a form I would give to my employer (together with a blank cheque) and would let them pay my salary directly into my bank account.  In the UK, all you would need to do is give your employer your sort code (known as a bank transit number in Canada) and account number.

Having succesfully filled in all the forms, I bid my farewell to the account re, walked to the main part of the bank, and waited to see a teller.  I was surprised to find that the tellers were not sat behind plexi-glass shields, but were simply sat behind a counter – completely unheard of in (the lawless) UK.  Having paid in $1000 I’d bought with me, I exited and wanted out to an ATM to try my flashy new debit card (of which I’ll have more stories later, including the mysteries of Interac)

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