Credit cards for immigrants: Information for recent immigrants to Canada

Learn how to apply for a credit card if you're new to Canada.

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There is a limited number of credit cards that you can apply for as a landed immigrant or a temporary resident in Canada.

That said, big banks like RBC and Scotiabank offer banking packages catered toward newcomers to Canada that include access to a credit card with a low credit limit, should you meet the eligibility requirements. Before you can get approved for a credit card, you’ll need to meet a range of specific requirements that relate to your residency status, employment and income.

Here, you can learn about the different details and steps you need to take to get a credit card as a landed immigrant or temporary resident in Canada.

What requirements do I need to meet to apply for a credit card as an immigrant to Canada?

If you’ve recently relocated to Canada, here are the key requirements you usually need to meet to get a credit card:

  • Residency status. When you apply for a card, you will need to provide details of your residency status, such as your visa details. Make a copy of your visa or landed immigrant documents and provide it to the credit card issuer when requested so they can complete your application assessment.
  • Residential address. You will likely need to have a stable residential address in Canada to successfully apply for a credit card.
  • Employment. Most credit card providers that accept applications from new immigrants will require you to have permanent employment and a stable income.
  • Finances. Depending on the card you apply for, there may be different financial requirements for immigrants when compared to Canadian citizens. You may need to have a certain amount of savings in a Canadian bank account to be approved.

Compare credit cards for temporary residents and landed immigrants

Name Product Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee Minimum Income Benefits with this card Description
BMO World Elite Mastercard
$0 annual fee for the first year ($150 thereafter)
Get 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining and entertainment purchases (up to $50,000 spend annually), and get 2 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases (and once you reach the $50,000 annual spend).
Earn a bonus of up to 35,000 BMO Rewards points with a minimum spend of $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership ($250 travel value to be used towards a flight booked through Plus, get the $150 annual fee waived in the first year.
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
Take advantage of an introductory balance transfer offer, annual fee waiver in the first year, and low purchase and cash advance interest rates.
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Shell AIR MILES Mastercard from BMO
Get 2 AIR MILES for every $20 spent at participating AIR MILES Partners, and get 1 AIR MILE for every $20 spent on eligible purchases elsewhere.
Earn up to 800 AIR MILES Bonus Miles.
Shell AIR MILES World Mastercard from BMO
Earn 1.25 AIR MILES reward miles at Shell stations in Canada and 1 mile per $15 spent for all other purchases.
Earn 1.25x Miles on card purchases at participating Shell stations in Canada and 1 mile per $15 spent for all other purchases.
BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard
$0 annual fee for the first year ($120 thereafter)
Earn 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases.
Get up to 5% cash back on all eligible purchases made within the first 3 months (up to a maximum spend of $4,000). Plus, get the first year annual fee of $120 waived.

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Establishing a credit history as an immigrant in Canada

While you may already have credit history in your country of origin, lenders in Canada will not take this into account when you apply for credit cards or other financial products here. This means you have to establish Canadian credit history by opening and maintaining credit-based accounts. Some of the most common options include:

  • Bills. Paying cable, home phone, Internet and cell phone bills on-time can help build up a positive credit history.
  • Utilities. This includes electricity accounts, water, gas and other energy accounts.
  • Loans. Apply for a variety of different types of credit such as personal loans, car loans, lines of credit and mortgages.
  • Credit cards. Consider secured and unsecured credit cards to help build up your credit history.
  • Bank account. Although a bank account won’t help with your credit score, it can aid you when you want to apply for a credit product with your bank.

What about my old accounts and credit cards?

It’s often practical to keep your credit cards and bank account from your country of origin, especially if you don’t have to pay very much to maintain them. That way, if you ever return to your country of origin, you’ll still have your finances in order.

What about secured credit cards?

There are a few secured credit cards on the market in Canada. A secured credit card requires a deposit as collateral to “secure” the card. This deposit will serve as the line of credit for the card. So, if you provide a deposit of $500, your monthly credit limit will be $500.

When you want to close your secured credit card account, you’ll need to pay off the balance in full in order to receive your deposit back. Secured cards tend to have higher interest rates and fees, since they’re usually catered toward those who have poor credit – but they also have higher rates of approval.

Compare secured credit cards

Prepaid credit cards are another option when you need access to credit without meeting difficult eligibility requirements. A prepaid card allows you to load money onto it and then use it for your spending. However, a prepaid credit card will not affect your credit score whatsoever, so it’s not a good option if you’re looking to build your credit history.

Moving abroad credit cards

Some card companies offer moving abroad transfers, such as the American Express global transfer program. They allow you to transfer your card to and from another country, and they make the transfer as painless as possible. All that is usually necessary is a current and eligible credit card with American Express and an address and phone number in Canada. This transfer excludes existing credit card balances, which must be repaid before the transfer is complete.

Other factors to consider

If you’re moving to Canada, you may also want to consider the following details to help with the transition:

  • Banking packages. The big banks, like RBC and Scotiabank, offer banking packages to newcomers. These packages can help you get started with bank accounts, credit cards, loans, lines of credit, financial assistance, advice and much more.
  • Mail Forwarding. Mail forwarding services allow you to manage correspondence from your country of origin to Canada – or anywhere in the world.
  • Foreign currency transfers. Many specialized online money transfer services allow you to move money from one country to another with low transfer fees and competitive interest rates. This can be very useful if you have funds from your country of origin that you would like to move to Canada.
There are all kinds of factors to consider when you immigrate to Canada. Keeping these details in mind will help you get your finances in order so that you can apply for a new credit card that suits your needs.

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