The best banks and cards for Canadian travellers

AccountNetworkTypeOverseas foreign ATM feesInternational ATM surcharge rebatesForeign currency transaction feesannual/ monthly feesnotes
Koho Extra (Peoples Trust)MastercardPrepaid01 per 30 days rolling0$9 monthly or $84 annuallylong list of restricted countries
Manulife Bank Advantage AccountMaestroDebit0none, but surcharge free at Allpoint ATMs abroad00need to keep $1000 min. balance to avoid all transaction fees.
SBI Canada Chequing AccountMaestroDebit0none, but surcharge free at Allpoint ATMs abroad and 50000 SBI ATMs in India0$4 monthlymonthly fee can be waived with $1000 min. balance or being over 60, under 18 or a student.
Wealthsimple Cash (Peoples Trust)MastercardPrepaid0-00long list of restricted countries
EQ BankMastercardPrepaid0-00not available in Quebec
Interactive Brokers Prepaid CardMastercardPrepaid$0.50-00
Brim FinancialMastercardCredit$5 + 1.64% interest per month-00does not support autopay, see here
Home Trust PreferredVisaCredit1.50%, min. $5.50 + 1.53% interest per month-00not available in Quebec, inactivity fee after 12 months without usage
ICBC Dual Currency SelectChina UnionPayCredit$5 + 1.66% interest per month-0$19 annually, first year free
Scotiabank Gold American Express CardAmerican ExpressCredit($5 at Global ATM Alliance, $7.50 elsewhere) + 1.74% interest per monthnone, but surcharge free at Global ATM Alliance abroad0$120 annually, first year free
Scotiabank Passport InfiniteVisaCredit($5 at Global ATM Alliance, $7.50 elsewhere) + 1.74% interest per monthnone, but surcharge free at Global ATM Alliance abroad0$150 annually

Recommendations:

Tangerine used to be the Canadian travellers’ favorite, but they started charging a 2.5% currency conversion fee, which makes them less attractive. Best alternative is Manulife or the new EQ Bank prepaid card.

If you’re going to countries where ATM surcharges are the norm the Koho Premium card is worth thinking about. Simple math 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 you’re not traveling, the regular Koho version is free. Unless you’re traveling long-term 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.

Notes:

  • Almost all Canadian debit and credit cards charge a 2.5% currency conversion fee, the above are some of the exceptions.
  • Scotiabank and Tangerine are members of the Global ATM Alliance and offer free ATM withdrawals at their partner banks worldwide, but still charge the 2.5% conversion fee
  • Desjardins and UNI offer free ATM withdrawals at Credit Mutuel in France and Desjardins Bank ATMs in Florida, but will also still hit you with those 2.5%. 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 arrangements through NYCE and Accel), but many Canadian banks issue debit cards that are this limited (that’s RBC, Laurentian, DC Bank, First Nations, HSBC, Desjardins, many Credit Unions etc.).
  • Maestro cards work fine overseas at ATMs and many PIN based Point-of-Sale terminals, but Canadian Maestro cards do not work for internet purchases. Having a second card that works online would 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. A few others now issue such a card as well.
  • ICBC distributes China UnionPay debit (also cobranded) and credit cards without currency exchange fees. China UnionPay works in some form in 174 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 40000 Allpoint ATMs in the US.

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.