The best banks and cards for Canadian travellers

AccountNetworkTypeOverseas foreign ATM feesInternational ATM surcharge rebatesForeign currency transaction feesannual/ monthly feesnotes
Koho Premium (Peoples Trust)VisaPrepaid01 per 30 days rolling0$9 monthly or $84 annually
Stack (Peoples Trust)MastercardPrepaid0-00not available in Quebec. No load fee. Max 2 ATM withdrawals per day.
Tangerine No Fee Daily Chequing
(Scotiabank)
CirrusDebit in Canada, ATM card abroad0 for Global ATM Alliance (40+ countries), $2 elsewherenone, but surcharge free at Global ATM Alliance00card payments not possible overseas
Manulife Bank Advantage AccountMaestroDebit0-00need to keep $1000 min. balance to avoid all transaction fees. account can now be opened online.
SBI Canada Chequing AccountMaestroDebit0-0$4 monthlymonthly fee can be waived with $1000 min. balance or being over 60, under 18 or a student.
ICICI Bank HiVALUE PLUS ChequingMaestroDebit0-0$9.95 monthlylow daily withdrawal limit of $250, but can be inreased
Brim FinancialMastercardCredit$5 + 1.64% interest per month-00
Home Trust PreferredVisaCredit1.50%, min. $5.50 + 1.53% interest per month-00not available in Quebec
ICBC Dual Currency SelectChina UnionPayCredit$5 + 1.66% interest per month-0$19 annually, waived for first yearannual fee can be waived with $1000 in transactions
Rogers Bank Platinum MastercardMastercardCredit$5 + 1.74% interest per month-2.5% (see note)03% cash back on foreign currency transactions, so in effect you don't pay. you have to notify them before December 1st each year to get a credit to your account. see terms
Scotiabank Passport InfiniteVisaCredit($3.50 at Global ATM Alliance, $7.50 elsewhere) + 1.74% interest per month-0$139
HSBC World EliteMastercardCredit$4 + 1.74% interest per month-0$149

Recommendations:

The best card for withdrawing depends a bit on where you’re going.

Scenario 1:

You’re going to countries where ATM surcharges are prevalent (Americas, parts of Asia) and there are Global ATM Alliance participating banks. Tangerine is best because it guarantees fee free access to ATMs.

Scenario 2:

You’re going to countries where they aren’t prevalent (most of Europe for example) or a country where the Global ATM alliance has no ATMs. A card that never charges for ATM withdrawals is the better choice then. Out of those Manulife and SBI Canada have the lowest min. balance requirements to avoid all fees. I’d prefer Manulife, because you don’t have to keep $1000 in the account to avoid monthly fees when you’re not traveling.

The new Stack prepaid card is also a great option in this scenario.

Scenario 3:

You’re going to countries where there are no Global ATM Alliance ATMs and they all surcharge. In this case the Koho Premium card is the best. Simple maths tells you that unless you use an ATM every month that surcharges at least $9 you’ll be in the red. But say you used an ATM that charges $5. You’d be $4 out of pocket, but with a different card it would actually be $5. And if you then factor in the 2% cashback (groceries, eating & drinking and transportation) and you see it’s not a bad deal. You can cancel and reactivate the Premium benefits on a monthly basis, which is great – no fees while your not traveling, the regular Koho version is free. Unless you’re traveling longterm I wouldn’t go for the yearly payment option.

For spending: the best credit cards are the Home Trust card and the new Brim card. Alternatively Maestro debit cards (like Manulife) can also be used abroad, see below.

To recap: if it was me I’d get Tangerine plus Stack, Koho or Manulife plus an optional credit card, and you’re good for every situation.

Notes:

  • Almost all Canadian debit and credit cards charge a 2.5% currency conversion fee, the above are some of the exceptions.
  • Tangerine’s parent company Scotiabank also gives access to the Global ATM Alliance, but they will still charge 2.5%, while Tangerine does not (at least not on paper, see caveat below).
  • Desjardins and UNI offer free ATM withdrawals at Credit Mutuel in France and Desjardins Bank ATMs in Florida, but will still hit you with those 2.5%, so not a great deal. Same goes for TD and BMO both of which also have US subsidiaries.
  • The Canadian debit card system Interac does not work overseas, so Canadian debit cards come cobranded with international networks to ensure access overseas, with varying levels of functionality:
  • Cirrus or Plus only cards do not work for POS purchases abroad (with exception of the US where there are some arragements through NYCE and Accel), but many Canadian banks issue debit cards that are this limited (that’s Tangerine, Simplii, RBC, Laurentian, DC Bank, First Nations, ATB, HSBC, Desjardins, many Credit Unions etc.).
  • Maestro cards work fine overseas at ATMs and PIN based Point-of-Sale terminals, but Canadian Maestro cards apparently do not work for internet purchases (in theory that would be possible). Having a second card that definitely works online would probably be helpful, e.g. a credit card or prepaid card.
  • Scotiabank, TD, BMO and CIBC are expensive but issue debit cards with full Visa or Mastercard debit functionality, which can be used everywhere: ATM, POS and online.
  • ICBC distributes China UnionPay debit (also cobranded) and credit cards without currency exchange fees. China UnionPay works in some form in 162 countries, but especially POS is still limited except for North America and North Asia, where it cooperates with Discover and local networks.
  • If your bank/card participates in the Exchange network, you get surcharge free ATM access at around 900 Accel ATMs in the US.

A caveat:

Some of the banks mentioned above apparently use their own currency exchange rates for debit card transactions instead of the rates set by Mastercard or Visa as is customary – or at least do not make it clear which rates they use. That could mean that at least rate-wise you’re little better off than at banks that make their fee explicit. Feedback would be welcome.

This applies to:

Tangerine:

“A Permitted Transaction in a foreign currency will be converted to the currency of your Account at an exchange rate determined by Tangerine on the date the Permitted Transaction is processed.”

ICICI Canada:

“A Permitted Transaction in a foreign currency, if available, will be converted to the currency of your Account at an exchange rate determined by ICICI Bank on the date the Transaction is processed.”

SBI Canada:

“Any conversion from one currency into another in connection with the Customer’s use of the Account or Online Banking Services shall be effected in such manner as the Bank may in its sole discretion determine and at the Bank’s then prevailing rate of exchange.”

For Comparison:

Manulife:

“…exchange rate determined by Manulife Bank or the Bank’s third party service provider…”

Scotiabank:

“…an exchange rate set by the applicable payment network…”

Koho (Peoples Trust):

“We convert any transactions made in a foreign currency to Canadian dollars using a Visa conversion rate in effect on the day the transaction is posted to your Card.”

Stack (Peoples Trust):

“The foreign currency transaction is converted to Canadian dollars at Mastercard International’s rate on the date the merchant finalizes the transaction.”

RBC:

“…at our exchange rate that is 2.5% over a benchmark rate set by Visa International, a subsidiary of Visa Inc., and which Royal Bank of Canada pays on the date of conversion.”

BMO:

“…is the rate charged to us by Mastercard International on the date the transaction is posted to your account, plus 2.5% for purchases and minus 2.5% for refunds.”

ATB:

“ABM withdrawals are converted using an exchange rate that is 2.5% over the exchange rate set by MasterCard International Inc.”

National Bank of Canada:

“If you use the Cirrus™ or Maestro™ networks […] converted into Canadian dollars at the exchange rate established by that network when this Transaction is posted to your Account, to which a percentage of 2.5% is added.”

Alterna Bank:

“…the rate of conversion into Canadian currency will be fixed according to the rules of the electronic network through which the transaction is conducted.”

CIBC:

“…we will convert the amounts to Canadian dollars at our exchange rate, which is the rate CIBC is required to pay on the date of conversion, plus an administration fee.”

Term explainer:

Overseas ATM fee: The fee your own bank charges you for withdrawals when you use a foreign ATM abroad.

ATM surcharge rebate: How much of the fee the owner of the foreign ATM may charge you directly your bank will pay back to you. Not all ATMs charge a fee, but if they do it will show up on the screen at some point during the withdrawal process.

Foreign currency transaction fee: The fee your bank charges you for a transaction in a foreign currency. Unless otherwise noted this fee applies to both, ATM withdrawals and POS transactions in a store/ or on the internet.

 

Spotted a mistake, or know another card that doesn’t charge? Shoot me an email at webmaster [at] nofeesoverseas.com

Disclaimer

I’m not a financial advisor, everything you read on this website is for informational purposes only. While doing my best, I do not take responsibility for the accuracy of the information. Make sure you read all the fine print before you sign up for any of these products. If you have questions about fees or terms contact the bank/ card issuer.