Banking for Canadians at US OD schools For the benefit of all my fellow canucks headed to optometry school in the USA this fall I though Id share some of what Ive learned about managing money in another country. Checking Accounts: If you live in close proximity to the border you may find it helpful to open an account before you head off to school. Unfortunately, the US banks that I have looked at will not allow you to open a checking account online. Thats okay though, because you will want to select a bank that has locations and ATMs in close proximity to where you will be living and attending school helps to avoid unnecessary fees. Unlike the big Canadian banks, US banks tend to me more regional and less widely distributed so youre not always guaranteed to find an ATM near you (there area few exceptions of course). Youll find there are plenty of institutions offering free checking (err chequing) accounts to choose from once you start looking. These accounts typically come with what is called a Visa (or Mastercard) Debit Card. These are not credit cards in the traditional sense: While they allow you to make purchases like you would with a credit card (online buying, signing ) they actually function the same as the interact debit cards you are accustomed too and have no influence on your credit rating. Social Security Number: Eventually you will want to get one of these. The SSN card serves the same function as a Canadian SIN, it is the number that identifies you for the purpose of employment and credit history. How do you get one? Good question, the process is a little convoluted. First you must get a job offer from some one. Sounds pretty bleak, eh? Well not so, you should have no trouble getting a job on campus, and even if you dont want/need a job you 1st few months of optometry school all you need to do is get a job offer in writing from your school. Second fill out the necessary forms, head to the SS agency office, and finally wait for you card to arrive in the mail. What do you need your SSN for? US taxes returns, credit card applications, getting approved to rent an apartment, getting a cell phone plan, and sometimes opening an account with utility companies. US Credit Cards: Now that you have your SSN you are all ready to start applying for a US Credit Card. Why do I need a credit card form a US bank you ask? Well, because using you Canadian credit cards in the US can be a little expensive (they can charge you a 2.5%+ currency exchange fee on top of giving you not so wonderful exchange rates) and they dont help you build a credit history in the USA. Also, some optometry schools will allow you to pay your tuition by credit card; if you can get a card with decent rewards (cashback, airmiles, etc.) you could either save a little money or get some free travel (hey those flights to Canada can be pricey!). That brings me to another point, Canadian credit history doesnt mean much at all in the US unless you can find a really helpful someone at a US bank, so actually getting a credit card in the US can be very difficult. However, HSBC USA will apparently help HSBC existing HSBC customers from other countries with this. (http://www.us.hsbc.com/1/2/3/international-services/student) Here are my suggestions: 1. Dont apply to very many cards at one time the credit card companies see this as a very bad sign. 2. Dont 1st apply to cards that require a good and long credit history (those will attractive rewards programs) because you wont have any credit history and the multiple applications will only look bad 3. Quite a few Canadians I know, including myself, had luck applying for student cards with Citi Cards (www.citicards.com) 4. US credit card companies will only issue cards to US citizens and residents .I trust you all know what to do with the checkbox that? Canadian Credit Cards: As I mentioned above, you bank could charge a lot of extra fees to your card if you use it a lot in the US. However, most Canadian banks offer US Dollar credit cards that could be especially helpful if your school accepts tuition payments by credit card. This RBC card (http://www.rbcroyalbank.com/cards/personal/gold_us.html) looks like it would be a good one if plan to pay your tuition this way. Otherwise the $65 annual fee might eat up all your reward points. Foreign Exchange: The great news is that the Canadian dollar continues to sit at pretty high levels relative to the USD. However, finding an inexpensive and easy way to convert your funds can be difficult. My favorite is an online service called Vantage by Custom House (http://www.customhouse.com/services/chOnline/forPersonal.htm) or the identical www.xe.com/fx which allow you to exchange between CAD and USD without any commissions, while transferring the funds from a CAD account to a USD account or vice versa again without and fees and processing time from initiation to delivery of funds of just a few days. Both services have online demos to show you how its works I suggest having a good look. Ive so far managed to transfer a lot of money this way without any problems. Savings Accounts: Depending on how you are financing your education you may find large amount of cash sitting in your checking account from time to time. Dont let it just sit there make it work for you! There are a number of online savings accounts that will give you a great rate and you always have access to your money when you need it. ING direct (http://home.ingdirect.com/) is probably the most familiar to Canadians, relatively hassle free and currently pays 4.266% per annum. www.HSBCdirect.com offers 4.95% per annum but restricts you to 6 electronic interbank transfers per month (which shouldnt be a problem) but has unlimited ATM withdraws (the catch is that they dont have many ATMs in the US). I hope this sloppy and not so brief summary was of help to at least someone, feel free to ask further questions or clarifications and try to enjoy whats left of your summer!