Banking & Currency Advice for a Canadian moving to the USA

I received an email from a reader (and got permission to repost it anonymously). I'm sure it is a situation familiar to many that end up on this website:

Blue is my writing, green is the reader's.

Banking Question and Answer for a Canadian moving to America

From reading a few of your blog postings, it appears that you have a good grasp on the US/Canada banking systems and how to best utilize both. So, I am wondering if you could provide some advice. I am going to be relocating to the U.S. in the next few months (2-6 months I would say) when my Green Card/work eligibility arrives (Buffalo or Chicago area depending on where I can find a job). I currently bank (in Canada) with PC Financial (kind of restrictive) but am open to any banking options to make things work. My problem is converting my Canadian savings to USD. It will be somewhere around $15-18K Canadian that I need exchanged. The dollar is favourable right now and I am looking to do it soon to take advantage of this. I have a US chequing and savings account at [name of small community bank]  in Illinois. I have the ability to open up a US account at a larger bank as well if needed. What is my best bet to make this happen without getting nailed with service charges, fat commissions, long delay/processing times (increasing my risk with regard to the exchange rate), etc.

I can't offer any guarantees about their service, but many have used XEtrade to do such a thing. They electronically debit your Canadian CAD$ account, and then electronically credit your US US$ account. Doing it the first time can take a while (where many can get nervous). Do some research online to see what their current rates are.

Another option is to call Custom House, they're a pretty good currency exchanger where you bring them a certified cheque (not sure if you can order one from PC), they'll verify it and write you a US$ cheque the same day (I think). Only problem with that is that many US banks will place long holds on Canadian cheques, as well as charge extra for cashing, even if denominated in US$. You could cash this by opening up a US$ Account at a Canadian bank and then depositing cash (or wiring money) to your US$ Account.

Finally, some people use what's called "Norbert's Gambit", search Google for details, but it involves buying and selling a stock that's traded in the US and Canada (the same stock that is).

One thought I have is opening up a US$ account in Canada.  Do you have any advice on what would be the best account (bank-wise) in Canada where I would have the least fixed and transaction costs?  This way I could exchange a large sum of CDN$ to my USD$ account when the exchange rate was favourable (minus inevitable commission charges) and then send that to my US bank account.  I would not care how long it took to clear necessarily (as long as I did it far enough in advance of my move to the US) because it would already be in USD$ and I would not be carrying any exchange risk.  Also, if you know of any US banks that could facilitate a straightforward exchange without long wait times (and settling for whatever the rate is on the day it clears) that would also be helpful.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Take a look at this first:

RBC does have a US operation which is semi-integrated with their Canadian operations which lets you send money between the US RBC and Canadian RBC accounts easily.
TD's Select Service Account (Min deposit on-hand of $5k) has a free US$ Account which gives you a preferred exchange rate, but you may be better off through a currency broker for one-off conversions. TD doesn't have their Canadian and US operations integrated at all.

Keep in mind that foreign currency deposits at Canadian banks aren't CDIC insured

Does anyone else have any comments to add on this? I'm sure plenty of people have experience, so please leave a response!


Unfortunately, unless you are in vancouver or a bank employee, you will likely have to find a local currency exchange store that has the lowest rates for you. Otherwise, you're at the wim of the financial institutions.

We've used VBCE for USD but my partner works for Vancity and sometimes the rate is better (very 0.001). With this, at least he doesn't have to leave the office.
For non-USD currencies, VBCE is the best for Vancouverites.

Good luck!

these guys have storefronts in vancouver and do large currency exchange wires/bank drafts. just email them and ask they're probably cheaper than any bank.

No comments!?

There have to be other individuals out there who are in this situation as well... If so, please comment on your experience with this!

Thank you.

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