How to Open a Bank Account

Whether you’re looking at a chequing account or a savings account, the process to open a bank account in Canada is the same. And, fortunately for you, they are the easiest banking products to open and start using. Here’s some information on how to do so, including what kind of ID you’ll need to provide, what information the lender needs from you and what to do if a lender won’t open an account for you.

Who can open a bank account?

Unlike with a credit card, you can open a bank account even if you don’t have a job, have no money to put in it, and even if you’ve claimed bankruptcy. It’s every Canadian’s right to have access to at least one personal bank account, so they can deposit their money somewhere and not have to keep cash on hand.

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Bank account application requirements

Depending on which lender you decide to open a bank account with, the process may work one of two ways:

  • You may be able to submit a short application online (which you can do through our website), or
  • If that’s not an option for the account you want, you’ll have to go into a branch to do it in-person.

Either way, you’ll need to include some basic information about yourself, such as your name, date of birth, social insurance number and contact information. As well, you may need to provide up to two pieces of identification (ID).

What type of ID can be provided?

If you apply online, you will likely already have had to include 1 piece of ID: your social insurance number. However, you may be required to provide 2 pieces, and you have a number of options to choose from, including:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Current Canadian passport
  • Birth certificate issued in Canada
  • Old Age Security card
  • Certificate of Indian Status
  • Provincial or territorial health insurance card
  • Certificate of Canadian Citizenship, or
  • Permanent Resident card

If you can’t provide 2 pieces of ID from the list above, you may be able to show other debit/credit cards with signatures and/or even have the lender call someone who knows you to confirm your identity.

What if I’m new to Canada?

Depending on what stage you’re at in the moving process, there may be some extra steps you’ll need to take to open a bank account in Canada.

  • If you’re still in the process of moving, and have not yet arrived, you may be able to open a bank account up to 75 days before you arrive. To do so, you’ll need to get your current lender to fill out two forms (Letter of Direction and Certificate of Identity), have a lawyer sign the two forms and mail them to the branch of whatever lender you want to open an account with.
  • If you’ve just arrived to Canada, or have been here for some time, you will need to apply for a social insurance number before you can open a bank account. As long as you have that and at least one other piece of identification (a passport is best), you should be able to walk into any branch and open an account.

Information provided to you about your bank account

As part of the application process, your lender has to provide in writing, or electronically, information proving that you agreed to open the account and the terms in its agreement. This package of information may include:

  • a copy of the account agreement
  • information about any fees/charges associated with the account
  • information about how you will be notified about changes to the account
  • information about the lender’s complaint-handling procedures

It’s the lender’s responsibility to get this information to you within 7 days of opening the account.

Bank account application approval time

Once you finish your application and agree to the terms in the account’s agreement, your bank account should be approved instantly. If you applied in-person, you’ll be given a debit card right away. If you applied online, however, you may be able to start using the account online but have to wait a few days for your debit card to arrive in the mail. Once it does, call the toll-free number on the card to activate it.

What happens if a lender declines my application to open a bank account?

Under Canadian law, you have the right to open at least one bank account, even if you’re unemployed and have no money to put in it. However, the bank can still refuse to open an account for you, if you show false ID, harass or threaten a bank teller, if they suspect you’re going to use the account for illegal or fraudulent business or if they suspect you’ve committed a crime related to a bank in the past.

It’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself in this situation but, if you do, make sure the lender provides a written letter stating that they will not open an account for you and give you the contact information for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).