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Opening a Bank Account

Last modified: 20 June 2016

Canada's banks offer a variety of bank accounts to help consumers manage their money. When choosing an account, it's important to think about what services you require to meet day-to-day and long-term financial needs, and to shop around for the best account to meet these needs. Choosing the right service plan can provide added convenience and save you time and money.

For those who conduct a large number of transactions (withdrawals, transfers, cheques, bill payments and debit card purchases), there are accounts with packages that allow a specified number of transactions for a fee (most fees are waived if you keep a minimum balance in the account). For those who require other services, such as certified cheques, money orders, overdraft protection or cheque return, there are account packages that include these services as well.

Basic banking accounts are also available for $4 per month, and at no cost to youth, students, seniors receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) beneficiaries.  At a minimum, these accounts have the following features:

  • a minimum of 12 debit transactions per month, at least two of which can be done in-branch (if available),
  • cheque writing privileges, and
  • authorized payments, monthly printed statement and either cheque image return or online cheque imaging 

In order to choose an account that suits your needs it is a good idea to assess which account features you use and how often you to use them. You can find this information in your current passbook or account statement.

Check out the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s Account Selector Tool to help you compare different accounts and find the one that suits you best.

How to open an account

You can open a bank account in Canada if you meet the requirements that are set out in the Access to Basic Banking Services Regulations under the Bank Act.

As for their part, when opening any type of bank account, banks and other financial institutions must comply with the requirements of a number of laws and regulations. The identification requirements under Canada’s anti-money laundering legislation (AML), the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and its various regulations, are the main consideration.  

To open an account, you must present two pieces of identification from those listed below, with at least one piece from Part A. Alternatively, you may present only one piece of identification from Part A, if your identity is confirmed by a client in good standing with the bank or by an individual of good standing in the community where the bank is located.

Acceptable Identification

Part A

Part B

  • A drivers’ licence issued in Canada, as permitted to be used for identification purposes under provincial law
  • A Canadian passport
  • A Certificate of Canadian Citizenship or Certification of Naturalization, in the form of a paper document or card but not a commemorative issue
  • A Permanent Resident card or Citizenship and Immigration Canada Form IMM 1000 or IMM 1442
  • A birth certificate issued in Canada
  • A Social Insurance Number card issued by the Government of Canada
  • An Old Age Security card issued by the Government of Canada
  • A Certificate of Indian Status issued by the Government of Canada
  • A provincial health insurance card, as permitted to be used for identification purposes under provincial law
  • A document or card, bearing the individual’s photograph and signature, issued by any of the following authorities or their successors:
    • Insurance Corporation of British Columbia
    • Alberta Registries
    • Saskatchewan Government Insurance
    • Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations
    • Department of Transportation and Public Works of the Province of Prince Edward Island
    • Service New Brunswick
    • Department of Government Services and Lands of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador
    • Department of Transportation of the Northwest Territories
    • Department of Community Government and Transportation of the Territory of Nunavut
  • An employee identity card, issued by an employer that is well known in the community, bearing the individual’s photograph
  • A bank or automated banking machine or client card, issued by a member of Payments Canada in the name of, or bearing the name of, the individual and bearing the individual’s signature
  • A credit card, issued by a member of Payments Canada in the name of, or bearing the name of, the individual and bearing the individual’s signature
  • A Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) client card bearing the individual’s photograph and signature
  • A foreign passport

 

Additional identification

Additional identification containing photograph and signature may be required if bank staff have reason to question your identity as presented.

If the identification presented to open the account does not contain your name, date of birth, address and occupation, the bank may request and you must provide that information, except where you do not have an address or are not employed.

Reasons why a personal account may not be opened

A bank does not have to open a personal account for you if:

  • It believes that you plan to use the account for illegal or fraudulent purposes.
  • You have a history of illegal or fraudulent activity in relation to financial services providers within seven years prior to your request to open the account.
  • It believes that you knowingly made false statements in the information provided.
  • It believes that opening the account would subject other customers or employees to physical harm, harassment or other abuse.
  • You refuse to consent to the bank verifying the identification presented or whether any of the above conditions apply.
  • The request is made at a branch or point of service where the only accounts offered are linked to an account at another financial institution.

If the bank cannot open the account, it will advise you in writing and provide you with information on how to contact the regulator.

Bankruptcy

If you have been bankrupt, you will generally be able to open an account as long as there is no evidence of fraud or any other illegal activity in relation to the bankruptcy.

Income tax reporting requirements

The Income Tax Act requires banks to ask you for your Social Insurance Number (SIN) when you open an interest-bearing account, so the bank can report your interest income to the government. Any account, however, can be opened without your SIN.

Credit bureau check

Banks may conduct, with your consent, a credit bureau check to help determine the conditions for the account, such as ABM withdrawal limits or hold policies on non-electronic deposits. Your positive credit history could allow the bank to offer you higher limits or other enhanced terms.

Holds on funds deposited by cheque

When you have a bank account, you may cash most cheques, subject to applicable hold periods. Banks may apply a hold on funds deposited by cheque to allow time for the cheque to clear. This protects banks and their depositors from losses due to fraud. Banks will explain their hold policies clearly to you during the account opening process. The best way to minimize holds is to establish a stable relationship with your bank branch.

Direct deposit

Having funds deposited directly to your account is the easiest way to guarantee immediate access on the date of payment without concerns of late, lost or stolen cheques, or holds on funds.

The Government of Canada will increase the use of direct deposit by phasing out federal government cheques by April 2016. More information can be found on the federal government’s website at: directdeposit.gc.ca.

Cashing cheques for non-customers

If you do not have an account or a credit card with a bank, you can cash federal government cheques to a maximum value of $1,500 at that bank if you can provide:

  • Two pieces of identification from those set out in Part A and B above.
  • One piece from Part A or B if it bears your signature and photograph.
  • Confirmation of your identity by a client in good standing with that bank or by an individual in good standing in the community where the bank is located.

Banks are not required to cash a cheque if:

  • There is evidence that the cheque has been altered in some way or is counterfeit.
  • The cheque is not an item that will be accepted under the Canadian Payments Association rules.
  • The bank believes there has been illegal or fraudulent activity involved.

If the bank cannot cash the cheque, it will advise you in writing and provide you with information on how to contact the regulator.

The banks also have agreements with B.C., Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick where a non-customer can cash a provincial government cheque as long as they have the appropriate identification.

If you receive social assistance benefits paid by a municipality and do not have a bank account, you are encouraged to open an account and have the funds deposited directly to your account. This ensures that the funds are safe and deposited on time, and you can have immediate access to the funds. Even without an account, however, you may be able to cash your benefits cheques if your municipality has made a special agreement with its bank. You can find out which bank is contracted to serve you by contacting your social services office.

If you encounter difficulty

If you encounter difficulty and are not satisfied with the response from a bank, you can contact the bank’s ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments. Please see our Resolving Problems with Your Bank section for more information.

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