New in Waterloo: Need bank account, credit card, grocery stores, auto insurance, and snow tires

When I moved to Canada I had trouble getting credit cards and auto insurance.

One of my friends, who was a postdoc at McGill, told me that I should first get an American Express card in the USA.  After a few months AmEx will let you apply for a global transfer of credit, converting your US credit card to a Canadian one.  I got a no-fee Canadian card with some airline benefits.

I also had trouble finding reasonable auto insurance, because I didn’t have a Canadian driver’s record.  Eventually one of the guys in my building recommended Dan Proctor, an agent at Keil Dadson Insurance Brokers, who got me a good rate from Dominion of Canada.   As I recall, I had ordered a copy of my driving record from the state of Massachusetts before I came to Canada.  I also had to provide a statement from my US auto insurance company about my claims history.   

If you get Canadian auto insurance then consider asking them about extending coverage to any rental-cars you rent, since this isn’t automatic. BTW, if you’ve just moved to Canada from someplace sunny like California or Hawaii, be warned that it’s a good idea to have some snow tires for the winter.  The rubber doesn’t stand up well to summer use, but they’re better on ice than all-season tires.  (Don’t even think about using California summer-only tires, or you’ll crash for sure.)

I found a free checking account from PCfinancial, which operates psuedo-branches out of Zehr’s supermarkets. (Zehr’s is cheaper than Sobey’s supermarket but nowhere near as good as the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market or Herrles for produce.)  PCfinancial has no monthly fee, free access to CIBC ATMs. Their debit card also gets you a little money back from shopping at Zehr’s. In the end PCfinancial annoyed me with fees for international transfers, so I opened a second (dual) account with the more friendly Education Credit Union, not far from the University of Waterloo campus.  I used currencyfair to transfer money to from Canada to the USA.

After I left Canada I regretted not having an existing relationship with a financial institution that could move my Canadian pension to a US-friendly self-directed LIRA (Locked in Retirement Account), but that will be the subject of another post.  I might have considered trying to set up nominal checking, brokerage, or credit card accounts with BMO if I had foreseen this problem.

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