The Newcomer's Guide to Handling Money in Canada

April 25, 2024


  • Shireen Fisher

Landing in Canada is thrilling. There is so much to explore, from the majestic mountains to the bustling cities. But navigating your finances in a new country can feel daunting amidst the excitement. This comprehensive guide is your roadmap to mastering money in Canada. We break down the essentials – from understanding the currency to setting up your bank account – so you can feel confident managing your finances and focus on building your amazing Canadian life.

Understanding the Canadian Currency

When it comes to Canadian currency, Canada uses the Canadian dollar (CAD). Bills come in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Canada boasts unique names for some of its coins. The one-dollar coin is affectionately called a "Loonie" due to the image of a loon, a common Canadian bird, on its face. Similarly, the two-dollar coin is nicknamed a "Twonie." You will also find coins in denominations of 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), 25 cents (quarter), and one dollar.

It is important to note that while Canada is increasingly moving towards a cashless society, carrying some cash for smaller purchases or emergencies is still a good idea. It is also important to be familiar with exchange rates. You will find that many banks and currency exchange offices offer currency conversion services.

Here are some helpful tips for managing Canadian currency:

  • Download a currency converter app for easy on-the-go conversions.
  • Ask about exchange rates before converting your money. Banks typically offer better rates than airports or convenience stores.
  • Familiarize yourself with Canadian bills and coins to avoid confusion at checkout counters.

The Canadian Bank Account

Opening a bank account is crucial for managing your finances in Canada. It lets you deposit your income, make payments, and access your funds quickly. Here is a breakdown to help you navigate the process.

Types of Bank Accounts in Canada

There are a few types of bank accounts to consider in Canada:

Chequing Account

This is your everyday transaction account. It comes with a debit card for making purchases at stores and online, as well as cheque-writing capabilities, although cheques are becoming less common.

Savings Account

This account is ideal for saving towards your financial goals. You will earn interest on the money you deposit, which can help your savings grow over time. Some banks offer high-interest savings accounts with limited transaction flexibility, while others provide more accessible accounts with lower interest rates.

Low-cost and No-cost Accounts

A low-cost account in Canada will have a monthly banking fee of around $4. This is part of the Government of Canada and various financial institutions' commitment to ensure that low-cost basic banking services are available.

Meeting the set criteria will make you eligible for a low-cost account without paying for it.. These No-cost accounts offer the same features and services as low-cost accounts - without the monthly fee.

You can qualify for this type of Canadian bank account if:

  • You fall into the youth age category
  • You are a student
  • You are a senior citizen benefitting from Canada's Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)
  • You are a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) beneficiary

Documents Required to Open Your Canadian Bank Account

To open a bank account in Canada, you must provide the following documents:

  • Passport or Permanent Resident Card: This serves as proof of your identity and immigration status.
  • Proof of Address: This can be a rental agreement, utility bill, or other document that verifies your current residence in Canada.

Tips for Choosing a Bank in Canada

With several banks operating in Canada, it is important to compare options before deciding. Here are some key factors to consider:

Banking Feature Description
Monthly Account Fees Some banks charge monthly fees for maintaining a chequing or savings account. Look for accounts with low or no fees, especially if you're just starting out.
Transaction Charges Banks may charge fees for specific transactions, such as using a non-bank ATM or making international money transfers. Understanding these fees can help you avoid unnecessary costs.
Online Banking In today's digital world, user-friendly online and mobile banking options are essential. Ensure the bank offers a secure and convenient platform for managing your finances remotely.
Branch Network Consider the convenience of having physical branches near your residence or workplace. While online banking is prevalent, having access to a branch can be helpful for certain situations.

Learn how to open a bank account in Canada.

Payment Methods in Canada

Debit Card

This is the most widely used payment method for everyday purchases in stores and restaurants and for drawing funds. When you use your debit card, the funds are deducted directly from your account. In most cases you pay a banking fee when using your debit card.

Credit Card

Credit cards allow you to borrow money from the bank to make purchases. Using credit cards responsibly and paying your balance in full each month is important to avoid accumulating interest charges. Responsible credit card use can also help you build your credit score, which will be necessary for securing loans and mortgages in the future .


While Canada is fast becoming a cashless society, using cash is still a payment option. This means that most businesses still accept cash. You may also find that certain businesses might not accept debit or credit cards. Paying cash for something means you can purchase without providing your financial information.

Mobile Payment Options

Paying for something using your mobile can be quite convenient. Mobile payment is made using a mobile device. You can make a mobile payment in several different ways, including:

  • Contactless payment
  • Tap payment
  • Mobile wallet
  • Text message
  • Email money transfer


A cheque - also spelled as a check in the United States - is a paper document instructing your bank to transfer a specific amount of money from your checking account to the person or business named on the cheque (the payee). It is a written order for your bank to pay on your behalf. While cheques are becoming less common, they are still accepted by some landlords and businesses.

Taxes in Canada

Understanding the tax system in Canada is essential for newcomers. Canada has a progressive tax system, meaning the more you earn, the higher the percentage of your income you pay in taxes. Here is a breakdown of the critical components.

Income Tax

The federal government levies income tax on all income earned in Canada. There are different tax brackets, and your pay rate depends on your total taxable income. For example, someone with a lower income will pay a lower tax rate than someone with a higher income.

Provincial Tax

Besides federal tax, each province or territory in Canada has its own provincial or territorial tax rate. This is applied on top of the federal tax you already paid. The provincial tax rates vary across Canada, so it is important to research the rate applicable to your province of residence.

Tax Deductions

Fortunately, the Canadian tax system allows you to deduct certain expenses from your income, thereby reducing the tax you owe. Common deductions include medical expenses, charitable donations, and employment-related costs. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website comprehensively lists eligible deductions.

Tax Return

Every year, you must file a tax return with the CRA to report your income and claim any deductions or credits you may be entitled to. You can file your return electronically or on paper. The CRA website offers resources and step-by-step guides to assist you with filing. If you are unsure about filing your taxes, consider consulting a tax professional for personalized advice.

Learn more about filing taxes in Canada.

Building Your Financial Future

Now that you have grasped the essentials of managing your money in Canada, here are some strategies to build a secure and prosperous financial future.


Creating a budget is the cornerstone of responsible financial management. A budget allows you to track your income and expenses, ensuring you do not spend more than you earn. Allocate funds for expenses like rent, food, transportation, and utilities. Remember to factor in savings and some fun money for entertainment! Many free budgeting apps and online tools can simplify this process.

Saving for Emergencies

Life throws curveballs sometimes. An emergency fund can help you weather unexpected financial storms, such as car repairs, medical bills, or job loss. Aim to save three to six months of living expenses to create a safety net.

Building Credit

Establishing a good credit score is crucial in Canada. Your credit score determines your creditworthiness and impacts your ability to secure loans and mortgages in the future, often with more favorable interest rates. Consider using a credit card responsibly for everyday purchases and pay your balance in full each month. This demonstrates your ability to manage credit effectively and helps build a positive credit history.


Can I Open a Bank Account Before I Arrive in Canada?

Yes, some banks in Canada allow you to pre-register for an account online. However, finalizing the setup often requires personally visiting a branch to verify your identity and documents.

How do I File a Tax Return?

To file a tax return, you must:

  • Find out the exact dates to do a tax return on time
  • Obtain a Social Insurance Number (SIN)
  • Find your tax package
  • File Electronically or via a paper tax return

The CRA website provides a wealth of information and resources on filing your tax return. They offer online filing options and step-by-step guides. For more complex situations, consulting a tax professional is recommended.