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.
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 ChequingMaestroDebit0-2.5%$9.95 monthlylow daily withdrawal limit of $250, but can be inreased
Tangerine No Fee Daily Chequing
(Scotiabank)
VisaDebit0 for Global ATM Alliance (40+ countries), $2 elsewherenone, but surcharge free at Global ATM Alliance2.5%0card payments not possible overseas
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:

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

If you’re going to countries where ATM surcharges are the norm the Koho Premium card is worth thinking about. 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.

Notes:

  • Almost all Canadian debit and credit cards charge a 2.5% currency conversion fee, the above are some of the exceptions.
  • 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 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.

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.