If like me you have moved to Canada and had a decent credit rating in your home country, you could be forgiven for thinking you have taken a step back to being 18 trying to get your first credit card in Canada. For a lot of people like myself who have come to Canada in their late 20’s or early 30’s it can come as quite a shock that you can’t get an unsecured credit card from a Canadian bank without being a Permanent Resident or Dual Citizen, especially if you have a decent paying job.
For those that don’t know what the difference is between a secured and unsecured credit card, it is that for a secured card you have to lock away funds, often to the value of the credit limit, which essentially makes your credit card a debit card. Banks often will do it for people on Working Holiday Visas to enable people to build a Canadian credit history although it seems pointless considering you don’t actually get to take out any credit because the funds are locked away.
Frustratingly, my bank, TD Canada Trust changed their rules shortly before I arrived last year to make it that you can only get a secured credit card, which was even more frustrating when I had friends who are younger than me and arrived a few months before me who got an unsecured credit card with them with a decent credit limit.
After applying online for a couple of credit cards with different banks and talking to other people some of whom who are older than me and having the same issue, I was starting to lose hope but then I thought about going to the Canadian equivalent of my bank back home. Back home I bank with Barclays Plc., the Canadian equivalent of which is Scotiabank. As an almost last-ditch attempt before applying for a store card or online only card I thought I would go to them, hoping that having a history with their UK side for over 20 years for a current account and nearly 10 years for a credit card I would at least have some more credibility.
Well to my surprise I didn’t even have to worry about that. I had an appointment with the bank this evening and walked out with an approved credit card with a decent credit limit, no fees and 2% cash back. The whole process took 30 minutes and they were extremely helpful without the usually trying to sell you a ton of other things you don’t want.
What you will need to set up a credit card with them is your visa, which needs to have at least 6 months left on it, your letter of employment as this will determine the pre-approved limit you get, your SIN number, and 2 pieces of government issue ID (passport and 1 other).
After they take down a few details, make a few photocopies of some of your documents it’s 2 signatures as they talk you through the terms and conditions, and you’re done, easy as that. The other great thing is you can setup an automatic direct debit to pay part of all of your balance off when it is due. I personally recommend you pay it off in full if you can as this will help you avoid paying any interest. I told the bank clerk that I couldn’t even tell him what the After Payment Rate (APR – interest in laymans terms) is on my UK card because I have always paid it off in full. You also don’t have to have a current account with them to be able to do this.
Overall, my confidence in Canadian banking has been improved and I thank the clerk I saw for making it so easy, it is massively appreciated.
Update (May 2018) – After becoming a Permanent Resident in Canada I went back to the bank and got a much better credit card with twice the credit limit where I could earn travel points. It also gives me lounge access for 6 international flights a year. I just cashed a load in and saved over $300 on my flights for October to go to Montreal (points are not restricted to use with Canadian flights)! Win win and I earned more points on the remaining amount I paid.