Over the years, a lot of people have asked me if it’s worth opening a U.S. dollar investment account. I couldn’t really comment on this as I didn’t really have a solid argument for the pros and cons. Instead, I just told people that I didn’t want to bother with one since I preferred to keep my investing accounts simple. That said, I know U.S. dollar investment accounts can be useful, so I had James Gauthier, Chief Investment Officer at Justwealth explain things in this guest post.
Many Canadians are aware that you can open a U.S. dollar bank account at most Canadian financial
institutions. But did you know that you can also open a U.S. dollar investment account through many
different investment companies? The following are reasons why you may wish to consider opening a
U.S. dollar investment account.
Reduce the cost of U.S. dollar conversion
Every time that you convert Canadian dollars to U.S. dollars (or vice versa), you will pay a fee to the
financial institution that makes the conversion for you. That fee is known as the currency spread, and
can usually be noticed by looking at the difference between the “bid” and the “ask” prices displayed by
the financial institution. For example, if the current spot exchange rate is quoted as $1.35 Canadian for
each U.S. dollar, the bid (or price that you will receive for selling U.S. dollars) might be $1.32 and the ask
(or price that you must pay to purchase U.S. dollars) might be $1.38. So, every time you buy or sell U.S.
currency you lose 3 cents per dollar. If you are regularly converting currency, that becomes very
Buying or selling U.S.-listed securities in a Canadian dollar investment account is a common example of
Canadians paying unnecessary currency conversion costs, allowing the broker to pocket the currency
spread on buys and sells, dividends or interest paid. The more that you buy and sell, the more that you
lose. These costs can be eliminated by simply owning your U.S.-listed securities in a U.S. dollar
investment account, since there is no need to convert currency on every transaction.
Hedge the impact of currency exchange rates
Have you ever felt like you had to limit your spending on travel to the U.S. because the value of the
Canadian dollar was depressingly low? Or how about not ordering that item located in New York on
eBay because it was priced in U.S. dollars, which made it too expensive? The value of the Canadian dollar
relative to the U.S. dollar has fluctuated greatly over time. In the past few decades alone, the exchange
rate has ranged from more than $1.60 Canadian per U.S. dollar to less than $1.00 – yes, the Canadian
dollar has, on occasion, been worth more than the U.S. dollar!
But why leave it to chance? If you have a portion of your investments denominated in U.S. dollars, you
can always draw from it when you need it. You won’t pay conversion costs, and the current exchange
rate should not matter because you don’t have to convert anything. For folks who require the frequent
use of U.S. dollars for business, travel, or shopping, a U.S. dollar investment account can make a lot of
For a simple illustration, consider a shrewd Canadian investor who vacations in Orlando, Florida for one
week in February every year. The typical expense for this trip each year is about $5,000 U.S. dollars. If this
investor opened a U.S. dollar investment account and invested $100,000 U.S. dollars in an income-
oriented investment portfolio that consistently earns 5% per year. This investor should never have to
worry about exchange rates or conversion costs since $5,000 U.S. dollars can easily be withdrawn every
Eliminate PFIC reporting (for U.S. citizens living in Canada)
Unfortunately for U.S. citizens living in Canada, Uncle Sam requires you to continue filing U.S. income tax
returns. Also, unfortunately, the I.R.S. requires additional reporting requirements for Passive Foreign
Investment Corporations (PFICs), which may result in additional taxes owing. If you own any mutual fund
or exchange traded fund issued by a Canadian company, it is considered a PFIC. Regulations require that
all mutual funds purchased in Canada, must be issued by a Canadian company. Unless you enjoy the
extra reporting requirements, this can be problematic for some investors.
Fortunately, however, this is a reasonably easy solution to the problem: invest in U.S.-traded exchange
traded funds in a U.S. dollar investment account. While you cannot buy U.S. mutual funds in Canada,
you can buy U.S. exchange traded funds and they are not considered PFICs. Problem solved!
Not all investment firms will offer U.S. dollar investment accounts, or have expertise in managing U.S.
dollar-based investments. Justwealth is able to offer U.S. dollar accounts for just about every account
type: RRSP, RRIF, LIRA, TFSA, and non-registered. Furthermore, Justwealth offers more U.S. dollar
portfolio options than most firms have available in Canadian dollars!