How to open a business bank account in Canada

TransferWise content team
06.03.17
6 minute read

In a time when Google searches for “how to move to Canada” are continually increasing and the northern nation’s immigration website has been continuously crashing, it appears that many are examining the possibilities for establishing a more permanent presence in Canada.

Canadian banks are world-renowned for their stability, remaining mostly untouched by the credit crunch and with stock prices recovering quickly. The Canadian government makes it relatively difficult for foreign banks to enter the Canadian retail banking market. At this point, many large foreign banks are only authorized to operate in the country as online-only, high interest savings accounts without normal personal chequing account privileges. These types of bank accounts, however, are mostly unavailable to foreign companies.  

American companies looking to open business bank accounts in their neighboring country are lucky as they will find a system much like their own, including a lot of crossover policies. For all the rest, read on to learn more about the process of and requirements for opening a business bank account in Canada.

What kinds of corporate entities typically exist in Canada?

Canada supports several types of businesses, including sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, and co-operatives.

Can I open a business bank account in Canada as a foreign entity?

Yes - you don’t have to be a Canadian resident or citizen to open a Canadian bank account. You also do not necessarily need to intend to immigrate to Canada.

The banking industry in Canada is significantly more centralized than its cousin in the U.S. Five banks control 90% of the retail banking industry in the country. Those banks include:

How do I open an account? What documents do I need?

Opening a bank account in Canada is fairly simple, and lacks much of a formal process. As long as your company meets the requirements set out in the Access to Basic Banking Services Regulations under the Bank Act, all you’ll need to do is submit your paperwork.

The required documents will vary depending on the company type. All company types will require the following personal documents:  

  • Two valid forms of identification for the business owner (including at least one photo ID and at least one document that is issued by the government)

Each business type will require at least the following business documents:

Sole proprietorships

  • Trade name registration
  • Master business license

Corporations

  • Two pieces of identification of those who will be the corporation’s signing authorities
  • Articles of Incorporation/ Association
  • Certificate of Status
  • Corporate Profile Report
  • Certificate of Existence
  • Certificate of Compliance
  • Corporate Annual Government Filing
  • Notice of Assessment for Income Tax
  • Business Number
  • Business License

Partnerships and Limited Partnerships

  • Registered declaration of partnership
  • Copy of partnership agreement
  • Trade name registration

Can I open an account in Canada as a non-resident?

Yes - there are no residency requirements for opening a business bank account in Canada.

Do I need to be physically present to open my account?

While some banks require your presence to open a business account, others may allow you to complete the process without ever visiting Canada, though this often comes with much greater requirements and account restrictions. Because this varies bank to bank, it makes the most sense to either call the bank directly or visit one of their branches that is local to you, if applicable.

Many international banks have operations in Canada, and with those institutions you may be able to open an account in your home country that can be transferred to Canada. Some of these international banks, however, will have more expensive fees for holding the account internationally, and may require a high minimum balance.

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What bank should I open an account with?

Canada is home to five major banks, and each individual institution has its own set of features. The five banks include:

  • RBC Royal Bank (Royal Bank of Canada)
  • TD Bank (Toronto-Dominion)
  • Scotiabank
  • BMO (Bank of Montreal)
  • CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce)

The banks’ offers are broken down as follows:

RBC Royal Bank

  • Business bank accounts at RBC include monthly fees between $25 and $75 per month, however that fee can be waived if the minimum balance requirements are made.

  • RBC also extends their new business account owners the Newcomers to Canada package, including a $50 credit for your business.

TD Bank

  • TD Bank offers a range of options, from the simplest business account carrying an $8 fee and no minimum balance, to the most comprehensive which allows you to combine your business deposit and personal balances to meet minimum balance requirements.

  • Customers using the most comprehensive business package can have their monthly fees waived if they’re using any of TD Bank’s financial services, including Merchant Solutions, TD Digital Express, or TD Small Business Lending.

Scotiabank

  • Scotiabank makes it easy for you to access your funds. The bank allows same-day availability for in-branch deposits, electronic payments from daily operations, and next day business availability for night deposits.  
  • The flexible business bank account also helps you save money by tailoring your fees to your usage, and features one free transaction per every $1100 kept in your account.
  • For U.S. companies, Scotiabank offers a US$ account option to help you avoid dealing with exchange rate fluctuations and currency conversions.

BMO

  • BMO is one of the most flexible banking solutions for businesses, offering a range of five different plans with varying levels of comprehensiveness, features, and fees.
  • A mid-range plan, for example, carries a small fee of $45 per month, but doesn’t carry a minimum balance and allows 70 transactions per month. This account option also features two e-transfer interactions, unlimited Moneris (Canada’s major debit/credit card processor) transactions, and unlimited transfers to other BMO accounts.

CIBC

  • A business account at CIBC comes packed with features, and allows you to choose the option that works best for your business.
  • Small businesses, for example, may choose the Basic Business Operating Account featuring a low monthly fee in which you only pay for what is used.
  • Customers can also access transaction reporting on CIBC’s Cash Management Online, assign financial transactions to individuals within the business, and receive unlimited CIBC small business convenience cards at no additional cost.

What types of bank fees will there be?

Anywhere you open a bank account, you can expect it to come with a long list of fees. Canada is no exception; in fact, the northern country’s banks have raised fees in previous years across a huge range of account types.

Typically, fees are pretty standard; monthly or annual maintenance fees, debit fees, ATM fees, and deposit fees. If you’re planning to transfer money abroad from Canada, you may also want to look out for foreign transfer fees. Sometimes these are nominal, like RBS’s $13.50 per transaction. Other times the fees can be quite large-- TD Bank charges between $30-80 depending on the amount of your transfer.

Unfortunately, these fees also go the other way, and you will likely be charged for incoming international SWIFT transfers into your Canadian bank account, as well. TD Bank, for example, charges $17.50 for incoming international transfers. Generally if you’re receiving international transfers, there are also additional fees deducted by the sending bank and 1-3 additional intermediary banks, as well.

If you’re frequently transferring money internationally, using TransferWise is likely the easiest and most cost-effective solution to avoid some of those painful international fees. By splitting your payments into a series of local transactions instead of a single international transfer, you’ll save on fees-- and TransferWise always exchanges your money using the real mid-market exchange rates (meaning that, unlike with regular bank transfers, there’s no hidden markup on the currency conversion rate).

All in all, opening a Canadian business banking account should be a painless process with plenty of options for choosing the right account for your business. With the correct documents in place, you can likely open an account in less than a day.

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