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US credit cards that we’re unabashedly jealous of in Canada

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Updated: April 13, 2023

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Maple Syrup. Beavertails. Tim Hortons. Ryan Gosling. These are just a select few of the many reasons to be proud to be Canadian. But let’s face it, when it comes to credit card selection, the Americans unfortunately leave us in the proverbial dust. Not only do our neighbors to the south have hundreds of more credit card choices than we do, their cards often have more perks, faster point and cash back accumulation and more generous sign-up offers.

American consumers enjoy better credit card benefits for a variety of reasons, the main one being fierce competition. In Canada, we essentially have only a handful of major banks dominating the country’s financial marketplace. In the US, there are hundreds of federal and state-specific banks all vying to be consumers’ credit card issuer of choice.

Unless the banking market becomes more competitive in Canada, we’ll likely never get to experience the credit card bonanza and bonuses that our neighbors do. But that doesn’t stop a girl from dreamin’, does it? Here are five of my favourite US credit cards that I’d love to see hop over the border to Canada.

Cash back cards

What we want: Chase Freedom

What we’ve got: Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

Cash is certainly king with Chase Freedom. In Canada, there are few no-fee cards that offer more than 2% cash back on a wide array of purchase categories after the initial promo period ends. Chase Freedom, however, offers a jaw-dropping 5% cash back throughout the year on a series of revolving categories that, depending on what time of year it is, include gas, groceries, drug stores, cable services and more. On top of that, the card always runs generous sign-up offers and features premium perks like rental car insurance and extended warranty and price protection. All for no annual fee!

For Canucks, the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card is the best cash-back card with no annual fee and consistent rewards beyond the promo period. It offers 2% cash back in two categories of your choice (three if  you have your Money-Back Rewards deposited into a Tangerine Savings Account) and .5% for all other purchases. It also has purchase and warranty protection, but alas, no rental car insurance. For more details, you can check out our full Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card review.

If you're approved, get an extra 10% cash back in the first two months, valid on up to $1,000 in everyday purchases for a maximum $100 in cash back.* That's on top of the usual 2% in your 2-3 selected categories and 0.5% on everything else.

*Terms and Conditions apply

Flexible travel

What we want: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

What we’ve got: BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®*

Since it was first introduced nearly a decade ago, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card consistently garners rave reviews among frequent fliers looking for travel rewards without a steep annual fee. It always has a huge sign-up bonus offer, and users earn 2X points on every dollar they spend on travel and dining. Points are redeemable at a remarkable value of 1.25 on Chase Ultimate Rewards (considered one of the best rewards programs for point value) for flights, hotels and rental cars. What adds to this card’s allure is that points are also directly transferable (on a 1:1 basis) to dozens of leading airline and hotel loyalty programs. There’s also no foreign transaction fee and the annual fee of $150 is waived for the first year.

As a flexible travel credit card, Canada’s BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®* does share some similarities with the Chase Sapphire. Cardholders get 5x the points for every $1 spent on eligible travel purchases,* 3x the points for every $1 spent on eligible dining and entertainment purchases and recurring bill payments,* 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else.* The card offers some of the most comprehensive travel and medical insurance* and also gives users complimentary membership in Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass,* with four annual complimentary passes, but points can be redeemed only via BMO Rewards and are not transferable. One definite upside to the BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®* is its welcome offer: New Cardholders get up to 60,000 points and the annual fee waived on your first anniversary for both the primary cardholder and authorized users.*

For more details you can check out our full BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®* review.

*Terms and conditions apply

Secured credit card

What we want: Discover It Secured Credit Card

What we’ve got: Home Trust Secured Visa

For people trying to establish or repair a credit score, a secured credit card is a real boon. And the Discover It Secured Credit Card is a clear standout in the US. For a refundable security deposit of as little as $200, cardholders can start establishing a credit score. Discover even reviews your account periodically to see if you qualify for an upgrade to an unsecured card. Not only does the card have no annual fee, but users actually earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Canada’s secured card offerings are generally not as impressive and none offer cash back. The Home Trust Secured Visa is nonetheless a respectable offer. Cardholders must provide a security deposit of at least $500, but the good news is that almost everybody gets approved. There’s no annual fee if you elect to go with a 19.99% interest rate. For more details you can check out our full Home Trust Secured Visa review.

Student credit card

What we want: Discover It for Students Card

What we’ve got: BMO CashBack® Mastercard®* for Students

Specialized student credit cards—aimed at easing scholars into the complex world of credit—are growing in popularity. In the US, Discover is once again a leader with the Discover It for Students card. Cardholders get 5% cash back on categories (like groceries and gas) that change every four months and 1% cash back on everything else. Students reap additional rewards of $20 annually for GPAs of 3.0 or higher. As a major bonus, Discover actually matches the cash-back that cardholders earn in the first year. Not only is there no annual fee but the penalty fee is waived on the first late payment.

Canada’s top-of-the-class student card is the BMO CashBack® Mastercard®* for Students. It also has no annual fee but and awards 3% cash back on grocery purchases*, 1% cash back on recurring bill payments and 0.5% unlimited cash back on all other purchases*.

Read More: Canada’s Best Student Credit Cards

*Terms and Conditions apply

Don’t run for the border just yet

Yes, those Yanks have us beat when it comes to credit card selection. But don’t be too envious. We do have one or two cards that are as categorically Canadian as Rush.

The uniquely Canuck card garnering the most buzz at the moment is the American Express Cobalt® Card. The perfect card for travel-loving foodies, it earns 5 points per $1 spent on eligible eats and drinks in Canada, including groceries and food deliveries (spend cap applies); 3 points per $1 spent on eligible streaming subscriptions in Canada; 2 points on eligible ride shares, transit and gas in Canada; and 1 point on all other spending. Also, earn 1 additional point on eligible hotel and car rental bookings via American Express Travel Online.

The Cobalt has a great welcome offer too: In your first year as a new Cobalt Cardmember, you can earn 1,250 Membership Rewards® points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $750 in net purchases on your Card. This could add up to 15,000 points in a year. That’s up to $150 towards a weekend getaway or concert tickets. Conditions apply. Points accumulated from the American Express Cobalt® Card can be redeemed on an incredibly broad range of items via Amex’s loyalty program partners, which include Amazon.ca.

The American Express Cobalt® Card has an annual fee of $155.88 ($12.99 monthly fee), but unlike most Canadian credit cards it’s payable in monthly installments. Indeed, the fact that only Canadians have access to the American Express Cobalt® Card is likely to have American credit card mavens feeling more blue than red and white. For more details you can check out our full American Express Cobalt® Card review.

This post was not sponsored. The views and opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details and current product information click the Apply now link. Conditions apply.BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information.

Sandra MacGregor Freelance Contributor

Sandra MacGregor has been writing about finance and travel for nearly a decade. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, Forbes.com and the Toronto Star.

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