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One of the first things you will want to do when arriving is to open a bank account if you don't already have one set up in BC. There are two types of financial institutes in the Kootenay/Boundary; banks and local credit unions and both are regulated by the federal government.

How it works

Both banks and credit unions have benefits and before you choose a place to look after your finances, find out if it has an account set up for newcomers and if it will suit your needs. Credit Unions are classified as cooperatives and owned by members (you) with the purchase of a limited amount of shares when opening an account, which pay small amounts back to you annually. The region has three of the five largest banks that dominate the banking industry of Canada; the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), the Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

The RBC has a banking package for newcomers that offer a banking account with no monthly fee for 6 months and unlimited debit transactions, an annual fee RBC Cash Back MasterCard and a small safe deposit box (lock box) with fees waived for one year. If there aren't any RBC banks in your new community, take into consideration whether you would be paying ATM fees of up to $2 a transaction if you would have to use another bank to access your cash.

Ask questions about banking charges and interest on your money. Most banks pay you interest on the money in your accounts and charge you for the services it provides.

The easiest and best way to get cash or pay for items is with a debit or bank card; you get these cards from your bank or credit union when you set up your bank account. You can get cash with your debit card from any ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a "cash machine" or a "cashpoint." Debit cards can be used to purchase most everything in retail stores. When you purchase items with a debit card, the money comes out of your account immediately.

If you will be setting up house and purchasing a large number of items, be sure to let your banker know when you are opening your account to ensure you will not be charged service fees for going over budget on your daily limit, which is generally $500 per day, or for using your ATM to pay for purchases.

It is important to note that it can be difficult to establish credit in Canada; therefore a credit card is a way to fast track a credit rating so that you can borrow money (and pay interest) for large purchases. The idea is you "purchase" a $1,000 credit card from the bank, use it and pay it off regularly and you will establish a credit rating, so that you can qualify to borrow more.

Acquiring a mortgage is also a fast way to gain a credit rating in Canada, as you don't bring your credit rating with you from your homeland.

If you are planning to purchase a home or business let your banking agent know while you are setting up your bank account. They will be able to make an appointment for you to speak with a loans officer who will explain mortgage financing, business accounts or real estate options. There are also private mortgage brokers that can provide loans at competitive rates, so be sure to research all of your options before purchasing your home. Ask your realtor for a recommendation for a broker they are familiar working with.


Canadian currency is counted in dollars and cents, just like the currency system in the U.S. However, pennies were just removed and in addition to nickels, dimes, and quarters, there are one- and two-dollar coins (there are no dollar or two-dollar bills). Dollar coins are bronze-plated coins and bear the picture of a loon -- hence their nickname "loonies." There's also a two-toned $2 coin sometimes referred to as a "toonie." Paper currency begins with $5 bills. Retailers are set up to receive a mix of cash, debit cards, credit cards, and traveler's checks.

Exchanging currency is pretty straightforward and most banks will exchange both U.S. and Canadian currency even if they don't normally advertise as foreign exchange services.

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What you need to apply

To open a banking account you will need two pieces of identification such as one or more of the following:

- bank card from a reputable financial institution
- credit card
- passport
- Canadian driver's licence
- residential address
- proof of landed immigrant status
- Social Insurance Number (law requires banks to ask for you (SIN) when you open an account that earns interest)

When opening an account, you will have to sign an account agreement that outlines the rules of the accounts, what kind of an account you are opening, interest to be paid on the account and service charges.