Best Credit Cards for New Immigrants

Advertiser Disclosure This article/post contains references to products or services from one or more of our advertisers or partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products or services.
Last updated on June 2, 2022 Comments: 13

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.

Scotiabank

Scotiabank credit card offers for new immigrants include introductory cash back and rewards cards.

Apply Now

Scotia Momentum® No-Fee Visa* cardAs 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:

  • Cardholders earn 5% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases).
  • Plus, get a 0.00% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (22.99% after that). Terms and conditions apply.
  • No annual fee

Scotiabank®* American Express® card: This unsecured card is a good introduction to Scotia Rewards, which are points you earn that can be spent on a variety of travel benefits, merchandise and gift cards. When you are approved for the Scotiabank®* American Express® card, you gain the following benefits:

  • Earn 1 Scene+ point for each $1 spent on everyday purchases
  • Earn 5,000 bonus Scene+ points with your first $500 in everyday purchases in first 3 months, terms and conditions apply

Apply Now

SCENE®* Visa* card: When approved, you gain the following benefits:

  • Redeem your points for movies, music, and other events
  • Obtain 1 Scene+ point for every dollar spent on regular purchases
  • Get 5 Scene+ points for every dollar spent at Cineplex Entertainment Theatres or for online tickets
  • Earn 5,000 bonus Scene+ points with your first $750 in everyday purchases in first 3 months (terms and conditions apply)

New immigrants interested in these cards should contact Scotiabank about joining their StartRight program. To be accepted for the StartRight program, applicants must have been in Canada 3 years or less.

BMO

Apply Now

The BMO CashBack® MasterCard®*: The card offers new members the following benefits:

  • 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*
  • Gain an impressive 25.00% discount when renting a car from National Car Rental or Alamo*
  • 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

RBC offers new immigrants both a cash back and rewards card.

Apply Now

The RBC Cash Back Mastercard: This simple credit card allows you to earn cash back at a competitive rate, without paying an annual fee. Other benefits include:

  • Collect 2% cash back for every $1 spent on grocery store purchases
  • Receive up to 1% on all other purchases

Apply Now

The RBC Rewards+ Visa: Also without an annual fee, this card introduces you to the RBC Rewards program, which offers several great advantages for new subscribers:

  • Collect points that you can redeem toward travel, gift cards, merchandise, and more
  • Receive 1 RBC point for every $1 spent on gas, groceries, and drug store purchases
  • Earn 1 RBC point for every $2 spent on other purchases
  • Earn up to 3,500 additional RBC Rewards points by going digital in the first 60 days.

The above cards are available to Permanent or Temporary Residents, international students, refugees and those who plan on moving to Canada soon via the RBC Newcomer Advantage Plan.

TD

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:

Home Trust

Apply Now

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. The card’s key features are:

  • $0 annual fee
  • Credit limit matched by cash deposit ranging between $500 and $10,000
  • Cash withdrawals from Visa-friendly ATMs around the world

Refresh Financial

Apply Now

The Refresh Financial Secured Card differs from the Home Trust Secured Visa, in that the Refresh Financial Secured Card comes with a $48.95 ($12.95/annual fee + $3/maintenance fee per month) annual fee. This may be off-putting for those who want to avoid an annual fee at all costs, but the Refresh Financial Secured Card does have some advantages, including guaranteed approval for those who meet basic requirements (e.g. be at least the age of majority), a comparatively low purchase interest rate, and a low minimum deposit. The card’s most notable features are:

  • $48.95 ($12.95/annual fee + $3/maintenance fee per month) annual fee
  • 17.99% purchase interest rate
  • $200 minimum deposit
  • Guaranteed approval for those that meet eligibility requirements

* This card is owned and issued by Digital Commerce Bank pursuant to license by Visa International. Use of the card is governed by the agreement under which it is issued. The Visa Brand is a registered trademark of Visa International. All credit and approvals are provided by Refresh Card Solutions Inc. Digital Commerce Bank provides no credit or loans. All funding and lending for this program is provided by Refresh Card Solutions Inc.

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.

Author Bio

GreedyRates is Canada’s go-to resource for all things personal finance. Our expert articles and videos cover every topic under the financial sun, including credit cards, credit scores, loans, bank accounts, budgeting, investing, RSPs, TFSAs, GICs, taxes, and more. Want our advice on a personal finance issue? Send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll gladly give you some free tips.

Article comments

13 comments
Bedford says:

Hi,
Excellent website! Very informative, thanks a ton!
Specific to this post, I was wondering if the Scotiabank Gold Amex would also be (really) available to newcomers? I see it listed on Scotiabank’s StartRight website. Would be a great card to get when paired with the BMO Mastercard IMO. What do you reckon? 🙂

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Bedford,
Thanks so much for the compliment. The Gold Amex Travel Rewards card is advertised on the StartRight Program website and it is categorized under newcomers, so I do imagine it would be available. The best way to find out is to apply. Yes, I would pair it with the BMO Mastercard since Amex isn’t accepted at a lot of retailers still. But if you like traveling (and are wanting to rack up points until the travel industry returns after the pandemic) it would be good to collect both Air Miles and Amex Travel Rewards. Plus, Amex cards come with a number of perks that just aren’t available from any other card issuer.

Bedford says:

Ah right, cheers! Could there be a problem if a newcomer applies to two different banks (or more, perhaps) simultaneously for their newcomer programs, do you think?

Mukesh Mangla says:

I will be migrating in July. Is it wise to open an account from India and activate after landing. Is yes then which bank should be my priority? Also which credit card to apply for

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Mukesh,
It will be difficult to get approved for a Canadian credit card from India because you don’t have a Canadian credit history. My advice would be to research Canadian banks “new immigrant” or “New to Canada”accounts. Every major bank, including Scotiabank, RBC, TD, BMO and CIBC have a new immigrant account and they will give you a basic credit card or help you apply for onr without a Canadian credit history. Just walk into a bank and say you ant to look into a newcomer account and you’d like a starter credit card. From this starter card,your activity on the card will help you establish a credit history and once you have enough history and a credit score, you’ll be able to apply for a better card.

Mahesh says:

I am a new immigrant to Canada from Mar-18. I opened a bank account TD and also got TD Infinite unsecured card. Later I also procured TD Cash Bank credit card which I also share with my children hence lower credit limit. I frequently alter my credit limit to perform certain transactions and lower them to reduce risk exposure. Now in Sep-19 after building a good credit history, when I requested for a small credit limit update, TD denied stating that they cannot change my credit limit anymore as I on work permit and can only do that on a secured card. Bank admits they made a mistake in issuing an unsecured card. Even then, can the bank deny the privilege after being in force for more than 18 months? I am frustrated and intend to switch my bank account and credit card. Which bank and credit card would you recommend?

Nate Siegel says:

Hey Mahesh,

Thanks for posting your interesting conundrum. If you’re a new immigrant here on a work visa, then it’s possible that you were indeed issued an unsecured credit card by mistake, so capitalize on your luck and keep it! If TD isn’t going to cancel it and reissue you a secured card, then make do with the credit limits you have and complement them with secured credit cards. You can make a cash deposit to a card like Home Trust’s Secured Visa, which counts towards your credit and gives you a bit of breathing room for bills and the like.

Make very sure you keep the utilization ratio on your total credit limit between those two TD cards as near 30% as possible, meaning don’t let more than 70% of your limit come due at the end of the month every month. Adding a secured card to the mix and doing the same will see your score rise, and then soon you won’t need to rely on TD for unsecured credit, you’ll simply go elsewhere! If you’d like any other tips then just email us at [email protected] and we’ll get on it immediately. Best of luck and welcome to Canada!

GreedyRates

SAJ says:

Hi,
Is it possible to have to Credit Card from a bank (like Scotia or CIBC) without having any Chequing A/C in these banks ?
In my case, I have well managed handsome salary (more than average) account in RBC plus well managed RBC Credit Card from 3-months (Score 730) plus well managed saving account in RBC with very good amount. But still Scotia & CIBC did not approve the Credit Cards, at least online.
Do you think if I open Chequing A/C in these Banks then it might increase the chances of Credit Cards approval ? BTW, I am interested in “Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card” due to 4% cash back option.
Thanks.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey SAJ,

Thanks for the great question. You can absolutely get a credit card without having a chequing account from the same bank, as lenders really only care about your credit score, income, outstanding debt and other financial obligations. A credit score of 730 is good, but as you can see on our review of the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card, we recommend an ‘excellent’ score between 740 and 850 to be more certain of approval. Keep in mind that you’re applying for what is one of Scotiabank’s highest-tier cards, so applicants will be scrutinized more thoroughly.

You also didn’t mention if you’re carrying any balances on your RBC card or not, which is a factor that’s very relevant. Either way, you can always call Scotia and inquire why they didn’t approve your application, and in our experience the customer service representatives over there are polite and knowledgeable. If you want, we can also recommend some other alternatives that could work for you. The Tangerine card, for example, earns 2.00% cash back on two purchase categories of your choice, instead of being pigeonholed into just gas or groceries. However, if you’re set on the Infinite card, try to improve your credit score before reapplying. Best of luck!

GreedyRates

MXXX says:

Is the above information verified or just for marketing, coz I am a newcomer and I applied to RBC Cash Back MasterCard and they refuse – Unfortunately, you currently do not meet the requirements for the RBC Cash Back Mastercard at this time.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hi MXXX,

Thanks for showing your concern and informing us about your need for a card like the RBC Cash Back Mastercard. If you’re a new immigrant then you should be working to build your credit score and establish a healthy credit history in Canada before taking on new debt. The RBC card you applied for in unsecured, meaning the bank will need to trust you with their money (credit limit) before approving your application. You need credit, so begin with a secured card like the Home Trust or Refresh Financial secured cards on this page.

You’ll deposit a few hundred dollars with either bank and then be given a matching credit limit, which you can use responsibly to improve your score over time. Banks report your behavior with the card to your credit bureau, who will start a file on you that banks can reference when determining your worthiness for their financial products. We recommend the Refresh Financial card primarily because you only need to put $200 as a minimum security deposit. Let us know if you need any further assistance!

The GreedyRates Team

Iwan Ng says:

Do i need to open bank accoint with them ? I have only TD bank but really interested with Scotiabank Card.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Greeting Iwan,
Good to have you on GreedyRates! If you’re looking to get a credit card in Canada, then the bank that approved your application and will send you your card will also open a revolving credit account for you. This isn’t exactly the same as a chequing account, which only draws cash from money that you already own. The credit account simply keeps track of how much credit the bank has entrusted to you, how much you’ve used, and how much to repay (as well as how much that will cost based on your timeliness). A credit account normally exists in the periphery of a chequing or savings account, because the bank wants to know that you can repay the money you’ve borrowed from them.

If you don’t have a bank account yet, but want a credit card, then open a chequing or savings account with the bank that issues your preferred card. They’ll be able to reference your finances during the application process, and will likely give you a greater chance of approval accordingly. If your account is with TD, then it won’t hurt you to apply for Scotiabank’s card, and it won’t mean you have two bank accounts. Let us know if we made sense or if you need any extra help, and we’ll be happy to provide.

GreedyRates Staff