Banking in Canada? Don’t bank on it…

Cheque sample for a fictional bank in Canada. ...
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Banking in Canada is completely different from banking in the UK. Aside from  the novelty of drive-thru ATM’s, here, it is still usual practice to build a relationship with your account manager. Face-to-face meetings to find the best banking solutions are the building blocks of a relationship that may open doors for you in the future. A year down the line, as an existing customer, you may benefit from your bank manager waiving monthly fees and free transaction limits, or matching a competitors rates on a credit card.

When we first went to open a bank account, we filled out the usual forms and our account manager gave us temporary cards with our account number written on the back in black marker pen, to use while we waited for our permanent ones to arrive in the mail. We were surprised to learn that even the most basic account was not free ($4 a month) and you are limited to 15 debits (uses of your card at a shop, ATM, paying bills, any card use). Can you believe that? Then you are charged for accessing YOUR money, 65¢ per extra transaction! No more pulling out that debit card without a care in the world! Your account might be in the black but your transaction limit might not look so healthy. You have to stop and think…” Right, I paid the gas and water bills the other day, the rent went out a couple of weeks ago, how many coffees/trips to the grocery store have I had….?” Don’t know about you, but my memory is not that good.

Of course you can always upgrade, and pay $11 a month to have unlimited transactions, or go all out and pay $30 a month for the top-of-the-range, all-singing, all-dancing VIP bank account (yes, it really is called VIP!) that brings you multiple bank accounts, unlimited transactions, a free premium credit card, free personalised cheques?? and free use of ATMs! Aaahhhhhh, it’s a different world, isn’t it?

Drive-thru ATM
Access your cash from the comfort of your car...

Good old ATM’s, first introduced to the world in 1967 at Barclays Bank in Enfield, UK! Using an ATM in Canada is free at your own bank, but can cost you anything from $1.50 per transaction with the Interac system, if the ATM belongs to a different bank, to a minimum of $3.00 a pop if it’s using the PLUS Visa system, which is significantly smaller than Interac in Canada. The free use of an ATM (in the UK at least) is now a distant memory! And don’t get me started on cheques…that lovely little cheque book, you take for granted as part of your account start-up package back home? You have to specially order cheques here, and they can cost $1.50 for a sheet of three!

Don’t expect too much of the online banking system and you won’t be disappointed. We have to go into our branch (no other) to electronically transfer money back home, or make any changes to our account. And for God’s sake, don’t expect to be able to pay for anything in a bank with a debit card that is not issued by that bank – you’ll be directed to their ATM to get some cash and charged for the pleasure.

Typically, as with banks anywhere in the world, once you’ve got the Golden Ticket, by which I mean access to some form of credit, they will fall over themselves to THROW money at you. Some things are universal…

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. I was just about to write about banking here as I opened a new account which was straight forward but when I first moved here it was a hassle. Beat me to it. Anyways, in Canada it depends on the bank. At PC Financial there are no fees for their accounts however there aren’t as many branches around and most transactions are done online. But since they are owned by CIBC you can access one of those branches when needed as well. The fees for accessing an interac machine other than your bank is however a great annoyance and something I appreciate here but some banks are updating their accounts and are no longer allowing that for some (why I opened a new account).

    1. Oh no! I guess things are changing in Britain. I just hope all the things I miss about the place aren’t obselete by the time I get around to coming back for a visit! Loved your post on the roast btw!

  2. My local bank here in the US encourages us to use our debit cards. With 12 or more debit purchases a month they not only waive most fees (including those for ATMs owned by other banks), but they also pay a small amount of interest on your balance!

    1. Hi, that sounds like a sweet deal! However, with some banks not being regulated by the government in the US, how would you know a good one to go with? What’s to stop them “losing” all your savings?

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