Individuals who have received their PR visa and moved to Canada / completed soft landing, and those who will be moving soon.
This post is purely based on personal experiences and should not be treated as formal/legal/financial advice in any form. I urge you to do your own research, speak to your banking advisors, scan through available options, and then make a decision.
I did my soft landing in March 2018 and stayed in Toronto until the end of May. During this time, I opened an account with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Meanwhile, back in India, I have accounts with three leading banks viz., ICICI, HDFC, and Axis. The plan was to convert these accounts to NRO/NRE after I return back to India.
In this post, I am going to detail out how I went about converting my accounts and my experience with each of the banks. I’ll also try to clear out some confusion and doubts along the way.
Before starting the process with any of the banks, I did some research online for the supporting documents that will be required. Generally speaking, a similar set of documents is required across all banks. You will need self-attested copies of –
- Passport (first and last pages)
- Immigrant visa – in your passport and/or PR card copy
- Overseas address proof (bank statement OR credit card statement OR employment letter OR utility bills etc.) – not more than 3 months old
- SIN number
- PAN card
- AADHAAR card
- Canadian phone number – for OTP (optional)
Once I had all these ready, I started approaching the banks. Please note that it may be difficult to get this process started if you do not have Canadian address proof and so in my opinion, it may not be possible to get this done before you do your first landing in Canada. You can discuss with your banking advisor to know your options if you intend on converting your accounts without providing address proof.
How does this account conversion work?
Your resident Indian savings account will first be converted to an NRO account. This allows you to receive Indian income, shop online, make payments via NEFT/RTGS etc. (basically do everything that you were doing with your savings account). In addition, an NRE account is opened. This account will allow you to receive and park your foreign currency in India. Note that you can always move money from one NRE account to any other NRE or NRO/savings account but you cannot move money from NRO or savings account to NRE account. In simple words, you can only add money to your NRE account from your foreign bank account via wire transfer or cheque or draft. Click here to read more about the difference between NRE and NRO account.
Firstly, the NRE account requires a minimum balance of INR 10,000 (approx. CAD 200) to be maintained at all times. Lesser or zero balance attracts charges. So when you open a new NRE account be prepared to transfer some CAD from your Canadian account to your NRE account. If you have some CAD in cash with you, you can also use that to open an NRE account. In my case, I used a third-party money transfer service called TransferWise. I wasn’t very sure about transferring money directly from my Canadian account so I used my RBC credit card instead and also opted for instant transfer on Transferwise, which literally took seconds. This is also one of the expensive options because of money being transferred instantly. Typically cross-border money transfer will take up to a week before the money shows up in your Indian bank account. Basic funda: the quicker the transfer, the higher the charges.
Secondly, while converting your account, be mindful of which phone numbers you provide for OTP (you will need the OTP while activating your debit cards online) and which mailing address you provide for receiving all communication from the bank (will be required to receive your welcome kit along with debit cards). Make a note of these when you submit your application. For starters, most banks will allow you to provide an Indian mobile number and then later update it to a Canadian number via net banking.
Thirdly, your existing debit cards for savings account will be blocked and you will be issued new debit cards for your savings/NRO account as well as for your NRE account. The debit card for NRO account will be valid only for domestic use and the one for NRE account can be used internationally.
My experience with each bank is outlined below:
I had by far the best experience with ICICI – it was quick, I did not need to visit the branch even once, customer service was great and proactive, and I can confidently say that anyone could have accomplished this task even while they were based in Canada.
Since I already had a savings account with ICICI, all I had to do was raise a “service request” for conversion of savings account to NRO account, after logging into net banking. This will generate a service request number and you will receive guidelines to fill out a form and upload scanned self-attested documents online. Alternatively, you can submit a request online on this webpage without logging into net-banking. This is helpful if you don’t have an account with ICICI.
Initially, I didn’t know that I could raise a request via net-banking so I filled out the request form online. In about an hour, a customer service executive called me and explained the process, required documents, and told me the next steps to be done. He asked me how long I would take since I had to self-attest all the copies, scan it, and upload it online. I requested a follow-up call after 2 hours or so. By that time, I’d completed the necessary activities and even filled out the form online, uploaded the documents, and submitted the application. When the agent called me up again, he was all ready to walk me through each option on the form and tell me where to click. I had misunderstood this initially and assumed that he wanted me to submit the application BEFORE the follow-up call. Instead, he only wanted me to have the scanned copies ready for upload! Anyway, he found it very surprising that I had completed all the steps by myself (perhaps, they don’t get a lot of customers who do this on their own?). He seemed happy that he didn’t have to spend another hour on the phone explaining each parameter. Since I’d completed the application, he asked for the reference number that was generated. After providing that, he quickly viewed the application on the system and confirmed that everything was in order and good-to-go!
Within 2 business days, I received confirmation that my savings account was converted to NRO and a new NRE account was linked to my original customer ID. So now when I log into net banking, I can see both my accounts on one single dashboard. I found that to be pretty cool!
In another 2 or 3 days, I received the welcome kit via mail. The kit had 2 debit cards – one for the NRO account which can be only used domestically and the other for NRE account which can be used internationally. Both cards can be activated online; no need to visit an ATM.
Last but not least, as explained above, I used TransferWise to wire money from RBC to ICICI. Since I have two more Indian bank accounts to be converted to NRO/NRE, I transferred a slightly larger sum so I can later split it from my ICICI NRE account to HDFC and Axis NRE accounts to maintain the minimum balance of INR 10,000.
Overall, this entire process was done in about 5 business days and it was a smooth, hassle-free experience. One of my reasons for choosing ICICI was also the fact that they have a branch in Toronto. So in case of an emergency, I felt comfortable with the idea of having access to a physical branch in a city where I will be moving. If it had not been for this reason, I would have probably considered closing my Indian account with ICICI.
The only feedback I have for ICICI is that they should provide more clarity on the minimum balance that is required to be maintained for the NRE account and also elaborate on how the system works for cross-border money transfer. For instance, the customer service executive I spoke with did inform me about the minimum balance but I was under the impression that my savings account had more than enough money so I wouldn’t need to transfer any additional amount to my new NRE account (especially since the NRE was linked to my original customer ID online). I realized it later (after interacting with the branch manager of Axis Bank) that I would have to actually wire the CAD to my newly created NRE account since it is not possible to transfer money from NRO/savings account to NRE.
After completing the process for ICICI online, I browsed through the Axis Bank website to see if I could complete it online here as well. While I did find an option to apply online and even started entering the details in the online form, it wasn’t the best of experiences. I found some things confusing and then felt it would be better to just walk into a branch and get it done. So I dropped the application mid-way and visited the bank. The staff as well as the branch manager was very helpful and provided a lot of guidance. I felt this personal touch was missing with ICICI since I got the entire process done online. Not that it matters greatly, but talking to someone in-person and getting all your doubts cleared definitely feels better and more assuring. Another important difference was that I didn’t have to actually fill out the forms at the branch. They just asked me to sign at a ton of places, provide the necessary documentation, and the staff filled up all the details on the form. Axis Bank is also the only one that did not ask for my Social Insurance Number (SIN). All other banks have it as a mandatory requirement on their forms. I checked with the branch manager twice and even told them about other banks demanding it but they were clear that it’s not required. As an afterthought, I like the idea of not having to share my SIN.
A good thing is that Axis provides the welcome kit for NRE account over-the-counter. So before I left from the bank, I had the debit card, cheque book etc. for my new NRE account. The debit card needed to be activated, for which I had to wait for the confirmation of the NRE account to be active. The drawback – debit card cannot be activated online so I will compulsorily have to visit an Axis ATM to get it done. This might be a problem if you’re based overseas and trying to open the NRE account.
After a day or so of receiving an SMS confirmation about my NRE account being active, I was able to view the account details via my existing login for NRO/savings account. So basically, I didn’t need to use a separate login for NRE account. On similar lines as ICICI, there’s a single dashboard to view both NRE and NRO accounts. With that said, I feel like the bank authorities should have clarified this aspect at the beginning; it would have saved me the worry.
Overall, the processing time at Axis was much longer than ICICI (I think it took about 6 business days for my existing debit cards to be blocked and my savings account to be converted to NRO account). The time spent at the branch wasn’t long – I guess I got done in less than 30 minutes. In one additional day i.e. in 7 business days, my NRE account was made active. That’s when all the fun began!
I received an SMS saying that my NRE account was active so I got all excited and tried to log in to net banking to transfer funds from my ICICI NRE account to Axis NRE account. Unfortunately, I couldn’t log in because no matter what I did, I wasn’t receiving the OTP on my India number or Canadian number. The OTP is essential to register as a new user. After multiple attempts, I decided to call the (kind) branch manager. She informed me that I should be receiving the OTP on my email as well but in my case, there was a problem there too as I hadn’t received any emails. The other confusion was about my NRO account debit cards. As per standard protocol, my existing savings account debit cards were blocked but there was no information provided on new debit cards being issued. Ultimately, the manager asked me to visit the branch on the next business day so that the issue could be sorted.
I visited the branch on the next business day. By that time, the new NRE account was linked to my original savings account so I could view both on a single dashboard. I didn’t actually need to get the OTP. So that resolved my first problem. The branch manager said that sometimes there is an issue with the OTPs being delivered [another thing to be aware of if you have an account with Axis Bank]. Next, for the NRO debit card, it seems that another form had to be filled and submitted. Somehow they didn’t think of doing this when I visited the bank the first time. Anyway, I then filled out the form and the formal request for a debit card was then processed. It took me another 6 working days till I received the card. The story does not end here. Both debit cards – NRO and NRE – have to be activated at an Axis ATM. What fun!
Overall, I had to visit the bank twice to get work done and once for activating the cards, making it a total of 3 visits. With these issues, it would have been a problem if I was trying to get this done while being in Canada.
Why did I choose to continue with Axis Bank when I had an excellent experience with ICICI? – I was expecting some money to be credited to my Axis account from a few sources and since it was my main salary account in India, I use it for all major and minor day-to-day transactions. I also have a decent value credit card linked to my account. Hence, preferred to keep it active.
The most chaotic experience of all banks!
Similar to Axis Bank, the online link wasn’t clear enough for me to proceed with applying online so I decided to visit the branch. In comparison to ICICI and Axis, HDFC seemed more bureaucratic and required multiple copies of all documents when other banks only asked for one. HDFC was also the only bank that asked for photographs. At the branch, I didn’t feel like I was getting the best experience because everything was so messy and there were so many people walking in and out (I was seated next to the entrance door as I completed all formalities with the banking advisor). And unlike Axis bank, I never had a chance to interact with the branch manager or anyone at a level higher than the banking advisor – who was the first person sitting next to the door. Thankfully, I didn’t have to fill out all the forms; they just asked me to sign (like Axis bank did) at relevant places on the form and the staff fills out the rest of the application. My existing debit card was blocked immediately. Other banks do this as a part of the process and no action is required from the customer but HDFC asked me to go ahead and manually block out the card through netbanking – which I found weird.
The total time I spent at the branch was almost an hour (excluding wait time) so that was double the time taken at Axis. I visited Axis and HDFC Bank on the same day and while Axis has almost finished processing my requirements, I’ve still not heard from HDFC. The executive had informed me that I will receive the welcome kit (along with the debit cards) at my India address and that the debit cards can be activated online so I won’t have to visit an ATM (thank God!). My existing debit card was already blocked and the new kit wasn’t delivered even after 7 business days. So I followed up with my banking relationship executive and 4 phone calls later, they asked me if I could visit the branch and collect the Welcome Kit. When I asked them why hadn’t it been mailed yet, their response was very vague and they just said they wanted to avoid further delay by mailing it. Anyway, so I visited the bank on the next working day. My point of contact at the branch noticed me and asked me to wait. After about 20 – 30 minutes, he finally re-appeared and handed me the ‘coveted’ Welcome Kit. I was borderline angry by this point because this Kit wasn’t even personalized with my name and address on the main letter. So if this is a generic kit they give everyone, why not hand it over at the first instance like Axis Bank does?! Their way of operating made no sense to me! Also note that even after 8 business days, my savings account had not been converted to an NRO account. After finally obtaining my NRE debit card, I asked the executive about the NRO card and my account conversion. To that, he replied – the account conversion will be done with the Welcome Kit and it should be processed in the next 2 business days (I have no idea how! and if that was the case, why did they not initiate it on my first visit?!) and my debit card will arrive in the mail after 4 business days. Finally, as told to me, my account was converted to NRO in 2 days. However, my agony did not end there. When I didn’t receive the debit card in another 2 days, I called up the executive at the branch. He inquired the status and told me that the card has already been dispatched and I should have received it by now. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. After further investigation, he informed me that I would positively receive it the next day. And I received it alright. However, the mailing date on it was just 1 day prior – which meant that it was dispatched after I reached out to them regarding the status.
HDFC’s torment did not end there. I logged into net banking to set the PIN for both cards. When I tried to do it for my NRE card, I couldn’t find it linked to my account online. So once again, I got on the phone with this extremely knowledgeable executive who I’ve been interacting with so far and he informs me that unlike my savings account, the NRE account is new and so I will have to activate it at any ATM instead of online. That’s when it will show up on the dashboard in net banking. I decided to do that when I visit the bank to activate my Axis Bank cards. I then tried to set the PIN for my NRO debit card, which was fine. BUT, then instead of the dashboard showing 2 cards, it now showed 3 debit cards linked to my account. I was in possession of 2 cards and I have no idea about the third one. And yet again, I reach out to the executive at the bank to fix it. [By this time, I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I had to call HDFC].
For net banking, just like ICICI and Axis, both – the NRE and NRO accounts – can be viewed on the same dashboard and it does not require a separate login. For those who have only one bank account and that’s with HDFC, please be aware of all these processes that HDFC has.
Maybe it was just that one branch that I visited that was chaotic.
Funny thing – I asked the executive about the mobile number to be provided for OTP – whether I can provide the India number now and then later update it to the Canadian number. He informed me that it is not possible to receive OTPs on a Canadian number so I will have to keep my India number active. I was rather surprised at this response as all other banks had the facility to provide OTPs to an international number. Again, another factor to consider if you intend to discontinue your India number after immigrating. I’m not sure if the executive was simply unaware of the possibilities or this is how HDFC operates. Therefore, I’d recommend checking with your HDFC banking advisor once again.
Since this wasn’t the best of experience, why did I decide not to close my account with HDFC? Answer: I have a high-value credit card linked to my HDFC account, the value of which has been increasing every year. After doing the math, I felt there was too much to lose if I closed the account and since it’s an international credit card, in an emergency, it can be very helpful in Canada too.
And HDFC once again disappointed me! 6 months after I moved to Canada, one morning I received a text message saying my credit card has been blocked and that I have to submit an application for a new credit card based on my NRE account. Another requirement for obtaining the new credit card was to have a minimum of INR 4-5 lakhs of fixed deposit with the bank. I found that completely ridiculous and absurd because none of the other banks have that rule. I finally closed my account with HDFC when I visited India in April 2019.
I hope I was able to provide some insight into the process to convert your resident Indian savings account to an NRO/NRE account. If you have any comments, personal experiences, or suggestions to share, please feel free to leave a comment.
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