Banking Differences in the U.S. | RBC Bank

RBC Bank | Equal Housing Lender

As a Canadian visitor to Florida, a student, or a professional living and working here, chances are you have encountered some difficulty navigating the American banking system. There are many differences between the way you can manage finances in Canada and the banking methods observed here in the U.S. At RBC Bank®, we want to help you fully understand those differences so you can avoid common pitfalls, take advantage of unique opportunities, and create financial success.


One of the fundamentals of managing your finances successfully during your stay in the United States is to become acquainted with typical American banking terms and how they compare to those you are familiar with in Canada:

ATM – Automated Teller Machine
PTB – Personal Touch Banking
ABM – Automated Banking Machine
CD – Certificate of Deposit
TD – Timed Deposit
GIC – Guaranteed Investment Certificate
Check – Written instrument to draft money from a demand deposit account.
Cheque – Same as U.S. term
IRA – Individual Retirement Account
401(k) – Employer sponsored retirement account
IRP – Investment Retirement Plan
RRSP – Registered Retirement Savings Plan
PIN – Personal Identification Number; 4 digits
PSC – Personal Security Code; 4-6 digits
ABA/ACH Number
Transit & Branch Number
SSN – Social Security Number
SIN – Social Insurance Number

Visa* Check Card – A debit card used to make purchases, access cash, and complete online transactions. The amount of the transaction is deducted from a corresponding checking account

Debit or Client Card – a debit card, commonly referred to as Interact, used for all banking center, Personal Touch Banking machine and many merchant transactions

Automated Teller Machine (ATM) Capabilities

While U.S. ATMs work the same as PTBs do at home, there are limitations to how you’re able to use them. U.S. ATMs allow you to:

  • Withdraw funds
  • Make deposits (at compatible machines only)
  • Transfer funds to and from certain account types
  • Obtain ledger account balances and a brief transaction history

Unlike with PTBs, you can’t pay your utility bills. In addition, ATMs considered ‘out of network’ relative to the type of card you use, only allow you to access one checking and one savings account and you may be charged for your transactions.

Visa Check Card Advantages & Limitations

In the United States, Visa check cards are convenient tools that let you:

  • Make purchases in-store and online wherever Visa is accepted
  • Access cash & transfer funds at ATMs
  • Earn rewards points for signature based transactions

When comparing U.S. check cards to the debit cards or client cards you’re accustomed to using in Canada, there are several meaningful differences.

U.S. check cards do not:

  • Earn rewards points for PIN based or debit transactions
  • Require a PIN to complete credit transactions
  • Carry personal or account information that can be scanned at bank locations

One unique feature of U.S. check cards is the liability protection they offer the cardholder. Through federal regulations and Visa policies, most U.S. check cards protect cardholders from the liability that arises from fraudulent use or theft.

When using a U.S. check card, it’s wise to always carry a picture identification card as you’ll often be asked to present one prior to having transactions approved.

Everyday Banking Distinctions

As you become acclimated with daily banking activities in the United States, there are several distinctions that, unless you’re aware of them, can cause unnecessary stress. The following are some of the most important:

  • Post-dated checks are not honored in the U.S. – If you post-date a check and the party to whom you wrote it deposits it earlier than you had intended, the check will clear and the amount deducted from your account
  • Utility bills can’t be paid at banking offices or via ATMs – Utility bills can be paid via check, credit or check card, or online bill pay services directly to the utility company
  • The U.S. clearing system is often times slower than Canada’s – While a check clears in one day in Canada, a check can take up to 14 days to clear in the U.S.
  • Account balances are not shown in ‘real-time’ – U.S. bank accounts display 2 balance types. The ledger or book balance is the dollar amount reflected at the end of a business day after deposit transactions are posted and checks clear. The available balance reflects the amount of money in your account actually available for use. The available balance may be lower than your ledger balance as check items in your deposit may not have cleared. Check card transactions that haven’t cleared yet will reduce your available balance but many times not for the exact amount. Tips at restaurants, gas pump purchases, and hotel deposits or reservations are typically not accurately reflected until the entire transaction clears.
  • Overdraft protection lines are not automatically repaid – While an overdraft protection line will automatically advance funds to cover overdrafts, you must call orl, visit a branch, or use online banking to pay back the principal and interest
  • Debit and check cards may authorize purchases causing you to overdraw – This can occur due to overstated available balance based on checks or transaction holds that haven’t cleared. An overdraft line of credit can help prevent this.

At RBC Bank, our team of dedicated Cross Border Banking Specialists fully understands the unique financial services needs of Canadian citizens living in or visiting the United States. We’re committed to putting our clients first in everything we do; from delivering practical advice and relevant U.S. banking solutions to providing the personal service and relationship you’ve always enjoyed in Canada. Our goal is to help you create whatever is important in your life here in the U.S. while offering a seamless financial connection to Canada.

Locate one of our branches at and contact us. We’ll give you the confidence to create your path forward.

Frederic Potvin | Director of Cross Border Banking - Florida Market at RBC Bank USA RBC | Equal Housing Lender

© RBC Bank (USA) 2009. Member FDIC. Equal Opportunity Employer. ® Registered trademark of Royal Bank of Canada. Used under license. RBC Bank is a trade name used by RBC Bank (USA) and its branch offices operate under this trade name. * RBC Bank is licensee of trademarks.