Find out what you need to set up a bank account and how to go about transferring funds if you've come to UBC from another country.

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Almost everyone in Canada has an account at a bank or a credit union. It allows you to transfer money from your home country, receive money (such as a scholarship, pay from work), and pay for expenses securely. 

  • Major banks in Canada include Bank of Montreal (BMO, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Scotiabank, and TD Canada Trust.
  • A credit union is a cooperative finanical institution in which individuals pool their money to provide loans and services to other members. They are non-profit entities, and their cooperative structure is designed to ensure fair dealing. Credit unions in Vancouver include Vancity and North Shore Credit Union.


Credit Unions


  • More loan, investment and account options
  • Better accessibility
  • Better online banking
  • More robust customer service at any time
  • Members = part owners
  • Higher interest rates
  • Fewer fees
  • More personal customer service


  • More maintenance fees
  • Commonly profit driven
  • Small size = fewer branches and ATMs 
  • Lower quality online banking

Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) - Account Selector Tool

Find the right account for you. Compare features for different bank accounts, including interest rates, monthly fees, transaction fees and services.

Opening a bank account

To open a bank account, you’ll need identification, such as your UBCcard, passport, and local address. If you don’t have a local address yet, you can use the International Student Advising office address temporarily. Some banks may ask for a letter of reference from your bank at home. If you don't have such a letter, go to a different bank to open an account.

When you visit a bank, ask about accounts that offer lower service fees for students. Be sure to ask for details concerning all the possible fees that might apply for services, such as:

  • monthly administrative service
  • withdrawing and depositing money
  • using Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) at other institutions
  • writing cheques
  • online banking
  • using debit cards

If you do not have a bank account yet and need to withdraw cash from your home country's bank, you can access your bank through the Plus or Cirrus international banking networks at an ATM. Additional fees will be charged on top of the currency transfer rates.

Cash advances from credit cards carry high interest rates and should usually be avoided.

Debit Card

When you open an account, the bank will issue you a debit card (also known as your ATM card). Your debit card can be used in bank machines around the city, and is protected with a Personal Identification Number (PIN). Charges to debit cards are deducted from your account immediately, unlike a credit card.

Credit Card

Credit cards are a convenient method of paying. Amount spent accumulates on your account, and should be paid off once a month. Most online purchases are carried out with credit cards. Payments will affect your credit score. You can also withdraw cash from it like a debit card, but there are high interest charges so it is not commonly done.

To apply, go to a bank with two pieces of government-issued ID. You may want to ask if they have cards with no annual fee for students.

Getting a credit card can be difficult for new international students, including US citizens. The limits for international students may be very low (around $250) for 6 months or more, or they may “lock in” an amount in an account tied to their credit card. This creates problems when making big purchases, such as buying plane tickets to go home. In this case, you can talk to your bank and they may help with individual purchases. However, if you develop a good credit score (which is very important in Canada), you may be eligible to raise the limit.

To develop good credit, you must:

  • Pay bills on time, in full-balance to avoid interest charges
  • Avoid credit-seeking behavior
  • Not have multiple credit cards 

How to access cash

  • Automated Teller Machines
  • From your bank/credit union
  • Cashbacks from stores (i.e., if you were to buy an item for $3, you can ask that they put $5 on your debit card and you'll get $2 in return, in cash

Borrowing money

Bank loans are not usually available to people on a study permit. Some finance companies may lend to international students, but be aware that these companies charge a high interest rate and usually ask for some form of security before granting a loan.

Anyone who co-signs or endorses a loan on your behalf will be responsible for repaying your loan if you can't make your payments. If you don't make your payments on a bank loan or credit card, you may acquire a poor credit rating, which could make borrowing money difficult in the future.

Accessing your account

For almost all banks in Canada, you can access your account online or through a smart phone. Through both online and mobile banking, you can manage your accounts, pay bills, send money, check your transaction history - any time, any day. 

Transferring money to and from Canada

Your bank can advise you on the best way to send money home or have money transferred to Canada. Money transfer firms can also send your money electronically to any destination within a few minutes. Fees can be high, so find out the cost before you use the service.

Before you leave your home country, you can transfer funds to Canada by:

  • Obtaining a bank draft for the amount you wish to transfer and bringing it with you to Canada. It can take anywhere from 10 to 20 days for a bank draft to be processed.
  • Obtaining an electronic bank card from your home bank and bringing it with you to Canada. You may have to pay service charges for using a bank card outside your country and exchange rates change daily, so find out about fees before choosing this option.

Once you’ve arrived in Canada, you can transfer funds from your home bank by:

  • Wiring funds from your local bank to a Canadian bank. This method ensures that your money is available immediately once transferred to Canada.
  • Using a bank card from your home bank to withdraw money at ATMs in Canada.

Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you while en route to Canada. ATMs and currency exchange services are available at Vancouver airport and at any of the major banks or credit union banks in the city. Traveller’s cheques and credit cards are widely accepted in Vancouver.

Potential fees and charges

You may be charged additional bank fees for:

  • Withdrawing cash from other banks' ATMs
  • Withdrawing or debiting your savings account directly
  • Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF), which means not having enough money in your account
  • Going over monthly debit transactions allowed - Transaction fees and the number of transactions allowed per month vary according to the bank and type of account, so it is necessary for a person to decide what their requirements are before choosing an account.
  • Paper statements - some banks charge about $2/month if you request paper bills. You can choose to receive online e-statements instead to avoid this charge
  • Monthly maintenance fees - monthly fees for banking transactions will depend on the type of bank account chosen. However, some banks offer no-fee bank accounts.

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