Best credit cards for new immigrants
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Updated: July 18, 2023
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For new immigrants to Canada, it’s important to start building healthy credit as soon as possible. Credit is how banks measure your ability to spend and save responsibly. If you can build up a good credit score, banks will be more likely to loan you their money for significant financial investments later on, like buying a house.
One of the easiest ways to gradually improve your credit score is to obtain a credit card and pay off its balance each month. Credit cards can also help you make purchases online or over the phone, access money in case of an emergency, and earn cash back and rewards. Though most Canadians without any credit history might struggle to obtain a credit card, Canada makes life easier for new immigrants by providing them with special opportunities to easily obtain credit cards. It’s important to give new arrivals a helping hand, because it benefits the Canadian economy and promotes equality among all Canadian citizens.
How can immigrants get a credit card with no Canadian credit history?
It’s important to keep in mind that banks offer two main types of credit cards: secured cards, which require an initial deposit to cover any unpaid balance, and unsecured cards, which can be obtained without any deposit requirements. Canada’s top banks offer special programs specifically designed for the needs of immigrants, including providing them with access to unsecured credit cards. Access to unsecured credit cards is a privilege that other Canadians without credit history typically do not have.
If a new immigrant is only interested in obtaining a credit card and does not wish to join a bank’s complete banking program for new immigrants, they can obtain a secured card instead.
Unsecured credit cards via special bank programs for new immigrants
Becoming familiar with the Canadian banking system, choosing the right credit products, and setting up a solid financial plan can be intimidating tasks for a new immigrant. Thankfully, Canada’s top banks offer special bank programs specifically designed for the needs of immigrants, including providing them with unsecured credit cards.
Scotia Momentum® No-Fee Visa* Card
Earn 5% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases).¹ Plus get a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (22.99% after that, annual fee $0).¹ Offer ends June 30, 2023.
No annual fee.
As its name would suggest, the Scotia Momentum® No-Fee Visa* Card is inexpensive because it does not come with an annual fee. It’s unsecured, meaning you won’t need to give the bank a cash deposit in exchange for a credit limit. The card also comes with a welcome bonus.
Scotiabank American Express® card
Earn up to 7,000 bonus Scene+ points within your first year (that’s up to $70 towards travel).¹ Offer ends October 31, 2023.
Earn 3X Scene+ points for each dollar charged to your account on all eligible purchases¹ at Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, Foodland, FreshCo, Voilà by Sobeys, Voilà by IGA, Voilà by Safeway, Chalo! FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, IGA West, Les Marchés Tradition, Rachelle Béry and Co-O.
Earn 2X Scene+ points for every $1 CAD spent on eligible grocery stores, restaurants, fast food, and drinking establishments. Includes popular food delivery and food subscriptions.
Earn 2X Scene+ points for every $1 CAD spent on eligible entertainment, including movies, theatres and ticket agencies.
Earn 2X Scene+ points for every $1 CAD spent on eligible gas and daily transit. Includes rideshare, buses, taxis, subway, and more.
Earn 2X Scene+ points for every $1 CAD spent on eligible select streaming services.
Earn 1X Scene+ point for every $1 spent on every other purchase.
¹ Conditions Apply. Visit here for the Scotiabank American Express® Card to learn more.
Scotiabank® Scene+™ Visa* Card
Redeem your points for travel, shopping, entertainment, dining, banking, and more.
Obtain 1 Scene+ point for every dollar spent on your everyday credit card purchases.
Earn 2x Scene+ points for every $1 you spend on credit card purchases at Cineplex™ theatres or at cineplex.com.
Earn 2X Scene+ points for each dollar charged to your account on all eligible purchases¹ at Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, Foodland, FreshCo, Voilà by Sobeys, Voilà by IGA, Voilà by Safeway, Chalo! FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, IGA West, Les Marchés Tradition, Rachelle Béry and Co-Op.
Earn 5,000 Scene+ Points (5K with $750 spend in first 3 months).¹ Offer ends October 31, 2023.
New immigrants interested in these cards should contact Scotiabank about joining their Scotiabank StartRight® program. It is created for Canadian Permanent residents from 0–3 years in Canada, International Students and Foreign Workers.
¹ Conditions Apply. Visit here for the Scotiabank® Scene+™ Visa* Card to learn more.
The BMO CashBack® MasterCard®*
Get up to 5% cash back in your first 3 months, plus a $50 cash back bonus (when you spend $6,000) in your first year – that’s up to $175 cash back in your first year!*
Collect 0.5-3% cash back after the introductory rate expires*.
0.99% introductory interest rate on Balance Transfers for 9 months, 2% fee applies to balance amounts transferred*.
Car Rental Discounts*.
Take advantage of purchase protection and extended manufacturer warranties for applicable purchases*.
New immigrants interested in the BMO CashBack® MasterCard®* should contact BMO about its Newcomers to Canada program, which is designed for foreign workers, new immigrants and international students residing in Canada. People who plan on moving to Canada soon can also create bank accounts and execute wire transfers in advance of their arrival.
*Terms and conditions apply
RBC offers new immigrants both a cash back and rewards card.
The RBC Cash Back Mastercard
Collect up to 2% cash back on grocery store purchases²
Earn up to 1% cash back on all other purchases including pre-authorized payments²
The above card may be available to Permanent or Temporary Residents, international students, refugees and those who plan on moving to Canada soon via the RBC Newcomer Advantage Plan.
Refer to RBC Page for up to date offer terms and conditions.
TD offers a variety of unsecured credit cards to new immigrants, but the cards offered are ultimately the bank’s decision on a case-by-case basis for each applicant. Immigrants can find out which cards they can choose from by visiting a TD branch near them and expressing interest in the TD New to Canada Banking Package.
There are general requirements that you must meet before joining the above banking programs for immigrants. For example, you must provide proof that you’re a new immigrant—usually a Permanent or Temporary Resident Card. Also, these programs are for new immigrants only, so you must have recently moved to Canada—though the specific amount of time in the country varies for each program—and be at least 18 years old.
Secured credit cards for new immigrants
If you’re not interested in signing up for a complete immigrant banking program, but still wish to improve your credit score, we recommend getting a secured credit card. A secured credit card is an easy way to get access to credit without a credit history, or with bad credit. Banks simply ask applicants to match their desired credit limit (the maximum amount of money you can spend with the credit card) with a cash deposit beforehand.
Secured cards are great for improving your credit score, because their card issuers frequently report repayment performance to Equifax and TransUnion, the two Canadian credit bureaus that track Canadians’ credit histories. However, secured credit cards do have some drawbacks: they rarely offer the same level of rewards or cash back as unsecured cards, and they don’t have high credit limits unless you have a lot of spare cash to offer as the deposit. Some of the best secured credit cards in Canada are listed below:
$0 annual fee
Credit limit matched by cash deposit ranging between $500 and $10,000
Cash withdrawals from Visa-friendly ATMs around the world
Home Trust offers multiple versions of their secured card with differing fee and rate options depending on your budget and spending habits. We recommend the Home Trust Secured Visa with an annual fee of $0 and a Purchase APR of 19.99%. A higher interest rate isn’t detrimental as long as applicants are serious about paying off their card balances in full each month.
Welcome to Canada!
Canada is one of the most friendly and welcoming places in the world, and this characteristic extends to its treatment of new immigrants. Any of the above credit cards and banking programs will help you establish a healthy financial future in this country.
Interested in additional personal finance tips for new immigrants? We’ve set up a page that provides an overview of all the major financial concerns for new immigrants. Check it out and let us know if you have any other questions that we didn’t cover.
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