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Best US Bank Accounts for Canadians Josh January 14, 2021

Best US Bank Accounts for Canadians

If you’ve been collecting points exclusively in Canada, the allure of US credit cards has probably piqued your interest. The vibrant American credit card market is full of high-value offers, and indeed many of them are accessible to us Canadians if we put in the work. 

Opening a bank account in the US is an essential first step of your US credit card journey. Let’s take a look at some of the best US bank accounts available to Canadians, while considering the unique challenges that we face in playing the game from north of the border.

Canadian Bank Partners in the US

To pay your US credit card bill, you need a US dollar account at a US-based institution.

Now, Canada’s Big 5 banks – BMO, CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank, and TD – all offer Canadian-domiciled US dollar accounts. However, you generally can’t pay your US bills from these accounts for two reasons.

First, you can’t make a “push” payment, as a bill payment initiated by the bank. For the most part, Canadian banks and bill payment services don’t have US credit card issuers, or any other US billers, listed as payees. 

(There are some exceptions here, but they’re few and far between – for example, BMO’s Premium Banking Plan allows you to pay US credit cards, but only over telephone banking and with a $6,000 minimum balance to waive the $30 monthly fee. Still, you’d want a US bank account to act as address verification when applying for credit cards.)

Second, you can’t make a “pull” payment, as in a pre-authorized payment initiated by your US credit card issuer. The Canadian and US banking systems use different formats for routing numbers to facilitate inter-bank payments, and one won’t work with the other. US credit card issuers are only able to pull from US routing numbers.

You can also pay cross-border bills with a bank draft, but that method is prohibitively expensive, slow, and at a poor exchange rate.

Instead, it’s necessary to open a US-domiciled account, buy and transfer US currency at an acceptable rate, and make US-dollar payments to US payees from there.

Luckily, most of Canada’s major banks have counterparts over the border. If you already bank with one of them here, it’s easy to open an account with their American partner institution. You can apply as a Canadian, and you don’t need any US identification to be eligible.

These American divisions are targeted at Canadians who split time in both countries, have recently moved south, or otherwise have strong connections on both sides of the border. In any event, assuming you only use the account as a staging area for bill payments and don’t need extensive US banking features, any of these basic checking accounts will get the job done.


TD Bank

TD Canada Trust is partnered with TD Bank in the US. Their basic account, TD Convenience Checking, is free for anyone 23 or younger, or free with a minimum balance of $100.

This account includes unlimited everyday transactions, with a $15 fee for incoming wire transfers. The wire transfer fee for the initial deposit is waived if you fund the US account from one of your Canadian TD accounts.

Canadian clients can open an account by using TD’s Cross-Border Banking services. You can also see the balance of your US-domiciled accounts on your Canadian profile online, but you need to log into the US website to pay bills and view or change account details. It’s easy to move US currency online between your own TD accounts on either side of the border, although the transfer may take 1–2 days.

I had trouble with TD’s online application, so I opened my US-based account at a TD Canada Trust branch. A few days later, I called the Cross-Border Banking phone line to complete the initial funding from my Canadian-based US-dollar TD Borderless Plan, and to set up online access before my debit card arrived.

I’ve heard that TD sometimes freezes your account as a security measure if you try to update your address within 30 days of opening. I initially used my Canadian address, and updated it to my American address online a month later.


RBC Bank

RBC Royal Bank is partnered with RBC Bank (also known as RBC Georgia) in the US. Their basic account, RBC Direct Checking, has an annual fee of $39.50, covering 10 outgoing transactions (bill payments) per month. Each incoming wire transfer costs $15.

You can waive the fee for the first year by opening an RBC Bank credit card, such as the RBC Bank Visa Signature Black card. Note that while this card makes a good no-fee keeper as your oldest US credit card, it also counts against Chase’s “5/24 Rule” (where Chase won’t approve you for new credit cards if you’ve opened five or more personal credit cards in the past 24 months) without many benefits.

Canadians can open an RBC Bank account online. If you start with your Canadian address, you can change it immediately to your US one. You can link your Canadian- and US-domiciled accounts online, and instantly transfer funds back and forth.


CIBC US

CIBC is partnered with CIBC US. They offer a free checking account, but it’s only available if you have a US driver’s license, job, and social security number.

Instead, cross-border applicants can open a CIBC Bank USA Smart Account online, with verification by phone. The monthly fee is $4.95, currently with a First Year Free offer. The account includes 12 outgoing transactions (bill payments) per month and free incoming wire transfers.

Online transfers between your linked Canadian and US accounts are immediate. Also, you can create the account with your US address. No need to start with your Canadian one and update later.


BMO Harris

The Bank of Montreal is partnered with BMO Harris in the US. Their basic account, the BMO Harris Smart Advantage Account, has no monthly fee (if you choose paperless statements) and no minimum balance. It includes unlimited free bill payments and incoming wire transfers.

Canadians can open an account over the phone. Once you’re set up, you can easily change to a US address online. You can then seamlessly send money over the border from your Canadian login, usually by the next business day.

The account requires a minimum opening deposit of $25. This initial deposit is completed by money order. BMO Harris sends you a package, and you complete and return it by mail.


Scotiabank

Scotiabank doesn’t offer retail banking in the US. Boo, Scotiabank! If you primarily use them for your Canadian banking, I’d look to open an account with another bank here as you prepare for your US transition.


HSBC

As a brand that emphasizes their international presence, HSBC can open accounts for clients around the world. In the US, they offer a Basic Banking package with a $1 monthly fee, as well as higher tiers that align with their global offerings like Premier or Advance.

However, HSBC may ask for proof of address, which is one of the functions that opening a US bank account is supposed to serve in the process of getting US credit cards.

For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend them unless you do in fact have significant parts of your life on both sides of the border and value a comprehensive international banking solution.

That said, they’d be a good choice for existing Premier clients, if you’re able to get the account set up easily. Transfers between your Canadian and US accounts are free, and there are no incoming wire fees.

Choosing Your First US Bank Account

Each account has its strengths, but there’s not one that unquestionably stands above the rest. So what features should we look for when choosing a US bank account?

Most likely, if you’re keen to get your first US credit card quickly, you should stick with your primary Canadian bank and use their US partner. Once you’re set up, you can switch to a different one at any time.

While RBC and CIBC charge ongoing fees, they do have some advantages. They’re the fastest to attach a US address. It’s important to update your address as soon as possible, so you can use the bank to verify your identity when you begin applying for US credit cards.

Also, RBC and CIBC offer instant cross-border money transfers. This can be critical if your US-based account is running low and you’re scrambling to avoid missing a payment deadline.

On the other hand, banks often give poor rates on foreign currency conversions. You may prefer to buy US dollars from other online services at a better rate than what the bank offers. This would negate any benefit of the seamless integration at RBC and CIBC.

Depending on your funding method for your US bank account, you may receive money either as a domestic or international transfer. Domestic transfers usually use a US routing number and are included for free with basic bank accounts as an everyday transaction, akin to a cheque deposit.

However, incoming international wire transfers often incur a fee. This is where CIBC and BMO shine if you expect to receive US funds this way. When I send money from Canada to TD Bank in the US, I’m careful to avoid using platforms that ask for a SWIFT code.

Day-to-day banking features, such as free ATM withdrawals and cheques, don’t move the needle for me. There are other convenient ways to get cash while travelling. I wouldn’t choose a US bank account just for this – all I need is a no-frills bill payment vehicle.

In case you do need a feature like Zelle (basically the US version of Interac e-Transfer), the scales tip in favour of TD or BMO. They both offer more comprehensive US banking options, whereas RBC or CIBC are mostly aimed at cross-border Canadians.

Finally, I personally value customer service whenever foreign exchange is involved. The more moving parts there are in a system, the more likely something will go wrong. Few things are scarier than money in limbo. I’ve found TD’s teams, both at Cross-Border Banking and at TD Bank in the US, to be highly competent and efficient at addressing any problems I’ve encountered.

Long-term and on balance, I’d say that BMO Harris is the most attractive option, between no monthly fees, no minimum balance, no incoming wire fees, and ease of use. The only drawback is that it’s not the fastest to set up.

Other US Banks

Once you’ve got a bit of US presence, it’s time to consider branching out to other institutions. You know, the ones that Americans actually use.


Chase

One of the most popular and lucrative credit card issuers in the US, the Chase ecosystem can nevertheless be a little delicate for Canadians to navigate.

Before approving a new client for premium cards, Chase likes to see responsible credit history. While the criteria aren’t precise, it’s generally advised to have at least a year on file with another issuer, at least two credit cards, and a healthy record of repayment on a card with a $10,000 limit.

However, due to their 5/24 Rule, opening new credit cards at any financial institution makes it temporarily harder to open Chase cards. But as Canadians, we need to start at other issuers to build our US credit history. We don’t have the luxury of starting young with Chase student cards to easily establish ourselves as clients.

Instead, we can build a relationship with Chase by opening a checking account. On your next trip to the US, you can do this at a branch with your Canadian passport – no ITIN necessary! There is some evidence to suggest that this may help with eventually getting approved for their premium credit cards.

The same principle could apply to any US credit card issuer that you’re interested in: see if you can open a bank account to strengthen your relationship.


US Bank Accounts with Welcome Bonuses

The US banking industry is incredibly competitive. It’s nowhere near as monopolized or centralized as our financial systems in Canada.

Instead, there are hundreds of institutions across the country, ranging from regional credit unions to banks like Chase that operate on a nationwide scale.

Fortunately for consumers, American banks of all shapes and sizes are often offering large cash bonuses on new checking accounts. The perks are almost as complex as the banking system itself, with all sorts of eligibility and qualification requirements.

For example, Canadians with an ITIN may look to the no-fee Capital One 360 Checking account, currently offering a US$400 bonus for doing two direct deposits totalling $1,000.

As you delve deeper into the US rewards scene, you might want to explore any interesting opportunities available to you, depending on your location, identification documents, and US dollar cash flow.

Conclusion

A US bank account is necessary for Canadians with US credit cards, but not all cross-border banking arrangements are created equal. It’s easy enough to get started with any of them, but there’s more to consider than simply defaulting to the American partner of your Canadian bank. Over time, as your strategy develops, you can even look to expand your rewards ambitions to other American banks as well. 

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22 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Joe

    Hello:
    I have a USD checking account in here in Canada. If I write a USD cheque and deposit it to a bank in the US, will they take it? Thank you.

    1. Josh
      Josh

      I suspect you can do this, but I’d check with both banks first and confirm any fees or hold times.

      1. Avatar
        Jimmy

        Hi Josh I had a problem trying to open the account online they I had a message that they couldn’t verify my identity then I went to a TD Canada branch and I couldn’t open it te reason is over the phone it not allowed to verify information they suggest me go to the closer US Branch to do it personally. Please can you explain me what did you do and it was your case ? Thanks

        1. Josh
          Josh

          I made an appointment with a banking specialist – not sure if tellers can do it properly. I’ve been with TD forever – they’re known for valuing long and stable client relationships.

  2. Avatar
    BG

    How do you deal with the bank bonus as they issue an tax receipt? do you declare it on Canadian tax and ignore US? or have to do both?

    1. Josh
      Josh

      I am not a CPA, but:

      The CRA treats these bonuses like rebates or discounts. They’re not taxable.

      The bank may issue a 1099 form, but you won’t owe the IRS anything unless your income is over a certain threshold, which you’re extremely unlikely to reach if this is your only source of US income.

      1. Avatar
        Nick

        I am a CPA and Josh you are spot on with your comment on the reason for it being non-taxable, you must have been a CPA in a past life.

  3. Avatar
    DC

    Hi TJ, I have to correct you on HSBC. You can open an US account with HSBC in Canada. The fee is waived for premier customer in Canada. The process is easy and quick.

    https://www.hsbc.ca/international-services/international-account-opening/

    Good thing for HSBC – free global transfer between accounts; no minimum balance; referral program; no incoming wire charge; approve US credit with Canadian credit history.

    1. Avatar
      ken

      I’m have a HSBC permier account. They never called me back, or email me back at all about opening a us side account.
      The HSBC teller actually told me their bank doesn’t like people just open that account for shopping, card payment purspose.

    2. Josh
      Josh

      Sounds like it’s easier for Premier clients, but maybe not for everyone else. I’ve updated the post to make a brief note of this. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    3. Avatar
      Kyrie English

      You can, but HSBC Canada’s international banking centre will never call you back no matter how many times you try.
      I instead called HSBC US premier to set up the account for me, it was easy.
      I believe HSBC premier is the best choice, instant global money transfer online is great.

      1. Avatar
        Kai

        I did the same thing and it went super frictionless.

  4. Avatar
    Alex

    With TD – you’d better have the USD account here in Canada, in addition to the USD account you’re opening in the US.
    It allows you free USD wiring between your accounts back and forth – very convenient.
    If you really want this whole setup to be “free” (no fees at all) – you have to maintain also $3500 USD in your Canadian USD account (maybe it is $500 more or less).

    1. Avatar
      Reed

      Can you give an example of when you would use this? I have had it before and never needed it, as all the best methods for currency conversion allow you to ACH straight to a US bank account.

      1. Avatar
        Alex

        I need to pay for my US based credit cards – so I use Knightsbridge to convert CAD to USD, deposit it here into my local USD account – and then wire it to my US based account from where I pay my bills.

    2. Avatar
      David

      There are rebated transfers from TD if the money is sent from a Canadian TD Bank account directly to a linked USA TD Bank account. The exchange rate by the bank will still apply but it’s convenient and quick.

      In the past, I used a Canadian USD account but they removed it as a perk from the premium banking package and started charging so I closed mine. Holding 3500 USD in a Canadian account without any interest gained did not seem worth having the account for “free” to me. The money just sits there doing nothing and if it goes below there is still a monthly fee to pay.

      1. Avatar
        Reed Sutton

        Looks like you can also open the US daily interest checking account. That one charges $1.25 per transfer, or $1500 to waive. It does earn interest. Anyway it’s simpler and gives you better rates if you just use Revolut.

      2. Avatar
        Alex

        You are right David – but you can’t really get a good interest for USD in Canada. Besides, the value I get for using this money to cover my USD credit cards and getting all those sign up bonuses is great and is better imho than any interest rate.

  5. Avatar
    Al

    My apologies J, I thought it was Ricky- read too fast. Ok thanks never heard of ACH transfer no fees. Could you direct me to those sites? I was trying to use everforex but it uses Swift codes and charges $20. Thanks Al

  6. Avatar
    Al

    Hi Ricky, nice write up. I’m a little confused why you avoid platforms that use a swift code? I have some currency exchange places in Vancouver that give superior exchange rates compared to the bank and only charge $20 to wire transfer. For large amounts of transfer like 3-4 g, I’m way ahead? Is it because you don’t like the fees for smaller amounts being transferred or am I missing something? Thx Al

    1. Josh
      Josh

      I agree it’s important to consider the total cost for foreign exchange – fees and spread. Yes, the ideal method may depend on the size of your transfer. Perhaps another article on foreign exchange strategies in the near future!

      To clarify, I was referring to wire fees charged by the receiving bank. For example, for the exact same SWIFT transfer, you’d pay more to receive it at RBC Georgia than if you received it at BMO Harris, irrespective of sending fees and rates.

    2. Avatar
      J

      Because there are platforms where they can send you through ACH transfer. No fee.

Josh

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