Three Things They Don’t Tell You about Banking in Canada

So last week I tried to pay a bill from a US company using my Canadian accounts.

Big mistake. Huge.

And it’s a legitimate bill! One I want to pay. The company that helped me get my work permit has finally charged me for their services. I want to pay them as soon as possible. They deserve it!

And yet.

I went into the bank, spent about half an hour there, and in the end still wasn’t able to send the money. Why not? Well, let me share some of the things I discovered…

Nothing is Free

Back in the States, I was used to — spoiled by — all the free banking services available. Free checks! Free accounts! Free credit cards!

Not so in Canada. Canadian banks are apparently unable to tap into Wall Street’s billions to make them solvent, and so they actually charge for things.

There’s a monthly charge just to have an account. Any account. For each account.

You want checks? Yeah, those will set you back $50CAD just for basics.

Pulling money from an ATM? That’ll cost you, if you’ve gone over your transaction limit.

Yes, transaction limit. There’s a limit to how many times you can use your account, before they start charging you more fees.

So when I went down to the bank naively thinking I was going to wire the money, they sat me down and explained that each wire transfer (I needed to send three) would cost $50 to send. Not $10. Not $20. $50. A piece.

Needless to say, I did not end up sending the money by wire!

Nothing is Simple

My bank in the US was entirely online. Need to send a wire transfer? Fill out this web form, submit it, done. Need to pay a bill? Add the bill’s account info to this list of payees, choose how much to send, done. Everything, and I mean everything, was done via the online interface.

In Canada? Not so much.

At first, I thought it was much the same. I was able to open an account entirely online. Even managed to put money in it, once I’d figured out how to send an international wire (again, without having to go into a bank anywhere).

But then I got a notice that my account(s) would be closed if I didn’t present myself, in person, to a bank in Canada by X date. Said date was a full month before I was planning on being finished packing and moving up from California.

So I had a bit of a scramble to get everything packed and shipped from the US so I could get up here in time to walk into a bank and prove that yes, I am a real boy.

That turned out to be just the start of the things I needed to do in person.

Opening a credit card? Go in to the bank, because you don’t have any Canadian credit.

Sending a wire transfer? Go into the bank, we don’t trust you to do that online.

Need a debit card? Go into the bank and have them print one for you, because we’re not going to send you the one we promised.

Need that debit card to actually work? Hahaha, oh my sweet summer child.

Granted, every one I’ve interacted with at the bank has been lovely. Not rushed, genuinely interested in helping, just great people. But the fact that anything beyond giving my account information to other companies so they can auto-deduct money from my account requires at least three steps, one of which is always going into a branch, really slows me down. Speaking of which…

Nothing is Fast

Okay, I take that back. If another company has your debit info, they can take money out of your account very quickly.

But anything else takes lots and lots of time.

My credit card application took six weeks, seven tries, and an hour-long visit to the bank to be completed and approved.

The checks I ordered to pay the US bill will take two to three weeks to get here.

The debit card I was supposed to get when I opened the account never came.

Sending money back home to my wife takes a week (not the promised 48 hours).

Conclusion

In short, banking in Canada requires a lot more patience and time than I’m used to. Not that I can’t get used to it, mind you, and I know I should be grateful that — so far — everything has worked out, just not in a timely fashion. Things could definitely be worse.

But again, something I wish I’d known before moving here, so I could have better prepared myself for it.

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