Canadians have always been early adopters for innovative things like debit cards and tap payments, so it’s not surprising that digital wallets are increasingly popular up here in the Great White North.

Generally supported anywhere that supports tap or contactless payments, digital wallets are both secure and convenient. Most banks’ credit cards and debit cards are supported on at least one platform, and using them is as easy as tapping your phone on a payment machine. What’s not to love?

A quick introduction to digital wallets

But first, let’s go over the basics.

What is a digital wallet?

A digital wallet is an application that securely stores your payment information on your phone or mobile device, allowing you to complete purchases by using near-field communication (NFC) technology.

NFC is a fancy term for what are commonly called “tap payments” nowadays, and the stored payment information is normally for your credit card or debit cards.

The idea of digital wallets is simple. Instead of carrying physical cards around with you in your actual wallet, you add your cards’ information to your digital wallet on your mobile device. You can then leave your cards at home and still be able to use them for purchases. Easy as pie.

How do digital wallets work?

Digital wallets, also known as mobile wallets, work by securely storing your payment information on your device. When you want to make a purchase, the merchant’s point of sale machine will simply read the information from your phone, and the payment is completed.

It’s really no different than using your credit or debit card to make tap payments, you’re just using your phone instead.

Are digital wallets safe?

Digital wallets are arguably more secure than regular wallets.

The information stored on your device is heavily encrypted and is locked with some form of authentication, usually a passcode, password, or biometric identification, such as your fingerprint.

Even if you lose your phone, whoever finds it won’t be able to use your payment info because they won’t be able to unlock your digital wallet. And with the high grade encryption, they won’t be able to hack into it, either.

Compare this with your physical wallet. If you lose that, whoever finds it can use your cards to make tap payments or online purchases without much difficulty at all.

Digital wallets available in Canada

So, what are some of the digital wallets commonly used in Canada?

Apple Pay Google Pay Samsung Pay Fitbit Pay Garmin Pay
Available on * iPhones
* Apple watch
* Macbook Pro with TouchID
* iPads since 5th generation
* iPad Pro
* iPad Mini
* Android mobile devices that have NFC
* Supported smart watches
* Samsung Galaxy phones since Galaxy Note 5
* Galaxy watches
* Fitbit devices including Versa 2, Versa Special Edition, Ionic, and Charge 4 * Select Garmin watches
Authentication and security * Passcode
* Touch ID
* Face ID
* PIN
* Pattern password
* Fingerprint
* Retina scan
* PIN
* Fingerprint
* Iris scan
* PIN * Passcode
Where does it work Anywhere with Apple Pay or NFC (tap) payment support. Anywhere with Google Pay or NFC (tap) payment support. Anywhere with NFC or Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) payment support. Anywhere with NFC (tap) payment support. Anywhere with NFC (tap) payment support.
Supported payments * Credit cards
* Debit cards
* Credit cards
* Debit cards
* Gift cards
* PayPal
* Credit cards
* Debit cards
* Gift cards
* PayPal
* Credit cards
* Debit cards
* Credit cards
Special features None None * Add your AIR MILES or Scene collector cards * Supports payments for some transit systems * Supports payments for some transit systems
Supported banks List here List here List here List here List here

Apple Pay

Apple Pay is the digital wallet system created by Apple and is supported on most Apple mobile devices like iPhones and Apple Watch.

How to use Apple Pay

To use Apple Pay, you simply need to open the “Wallet” app that is included on your Apple device.

When you first open the app, you will be prompted to secure it with a passcode and your Touch ID (fingerprint), or Face ID if you have that enabled on your device.

You’ll then be able to add whatever credit cards or debit cards you like, although you will have to go through the process of authorizing each with your bank.

This is a really straightforward process – when I set it up on my iPhone, I simply had to use my bank’s mobile app to do the authorization, and it took a matter of seconds for each card.

Participating Canadian banks

Apple Pay works with the majority of Canadian banks and credit card issuers. You can find the full list here, but here’s a quick rundown.

Bank Debit Card Support Supported Credit Cards
American Express N/A All
Bank of Montreal Yes Mastercard
Brim Financial N/A Mastercard
Canadian Tire N/A Mastercard
CIBC Yes Mastercard, Visa
Desjardins Yes Mastercard, Visa
HSBC Yes Mastercard
MBNA N/A Mastercard
National Bank of Canada Yes Mastercard
RBC Yes Mastercard, Visa
Scotiabank Yes American Express, Visa, prepaid cards
Tangerine Yes Mastercard
TD Yes Visa

Best cards to use with Apple Pay

The best credit card to use with any digital wallet is really up to you, and – assuming it’s supported by the digital wallet you want to use – depends entirely on what rewards you collect and what other perks you’re interested in.

If you’re not sure, now might be a perfect time to go take our creditcardGenius Challenge. Answer a few questions, and we’ll help you find a few credit cards to consider.

In the meantime, some of our favourite cards to use with Apple Pay are:

  • Best Aeroplan: ,
  • Best cash back for perks: , and
  • Best no annual fee: .

Google Pay

Once known as Android Pay, this Google-developed digital wallet system was rebranded as Google Pay and is supported on most Android mobile devices that have NFC capabilities.

How to use Google Pay

If you do not already have Google Pay on your device, you will have to download it from the Google Play store.

Once you have it, open the Google Pay app and follow the set up instructions. During this process, you’ll be prompted to add a card.

You will be asked to set up a screen lock on your device, either:

  • PIN,
  • pattern,
  • password,
  • fingerprint, or

retina scanning…depending on what your device supports. Google Pay does not work with facial recognition or screen locks like “Knock to Unlock.”

If you’ve added a card and it doesn’t seem to be working for tap payments, you may have to enable NFC on your device. Check your device support to learn how to do this.

Participating Canadian banks

With Google being as huge a company as it is, Google Pay has some pretty wide support from banks and credit card companies. You can see the full list here, but here’s a short list of the bigger players.

Bank Debit Card Support Supported Credit Cards
American Express N/A Consumer, small business, and corporate cards issued by Amex Bank of Canada
Bank of Montreal Yes Mastercard personal credit cards
Brim Financial N/A Mastercard
Canadian Tire N/A Mastercard
CIBC Yes Mastercard, Visa
HSBC Yes Mastercard
National Bank of Canada Yes Mastercard
RBC Yes Mastercard, Visa
Scotiabank Yes American Express, Visa, prepaid cards
Tangerine Yes Mastercard

Best card to use with Google Pay

As with Apple Pay, since Google Pay supports so many different cards, the “best card” to use with it is really up to you. If you already have a favourite card that’s supported, obviously use that.

If you’re not sure, however, now’s a great time to take the creditcardGenius Challenge. Answer a few simple questions and we’ll help you find some credit cards that might be perfect for your wallet.

And don’t forget – digital wallets aren’t restricted to just one credit card. You can put as many cards as you like in one, and maximize your rewards and cash back with a customized credit card combo.

That said, we do have some favourite cards to use with Google Pay:

  • Best cash back: ,
  • Best flat rate cash back: , and
  • Best AIR MILES: .

Samsung Pay

Samsung mobile devices are a very popular alternative to Apple and Google branded phones. They also have a digital wallet system they’ve developed that is supported on Galaxy phones and smart watches that have NFC or MST capabilities.

How to use Samsung Pay

If you don’t already have Samsung Pay on your device, you will have to download and install it from your smartphone’s app store.

Once it’s installed, open the app and sign into your Samsung account, which is required to use Samsung Pay. If you do not have a Samsung account, you’ll be prompted to create one.

After that’s all set up, you’ll have to set up an authentication method, either by using your fingerprint or a PIN.

Then it’s just a matter of adding and authorizing the cards you want to use.

Participating Canadian banks

Samsung devices are pretty common in Canada, so there’s a fair number of big banks that support them, plus a couple of smaller ones we haven’t seen on the lists above.

Bank Debit Card Support Supported Credit Cards
American Express N/A All
Brim Financial N/A Mastercard
CIBC Yes Mastercard, Visa
KOHO N/A KOHO Prepaid Visa, KOHO Premium Prepaid Visa
RBC Yes Mastercard, Visa
Scotiabank Yes American Express, Visa, prepaid cards
Stack N/A Stack Prepaid Mastercard
Tangerine Yes Mastercard
TD Yes Visa

Best card to use with Samsung Pay

If you have a favourite credit card that is supported by Samsung Pay, you should use that, of course. But if you’re not sure, here are a few of our favourite cards that will work with this digital wallet:

  • Best travel: ,
  • Excellent no fee cash back: , and
  • Best no foreign exchange: .

Fitbit Pay

While not as commonly used as digital wallets on smartphones, Fitbit Pay is another option available for Canadians. It is available on a limited number of Fitbit devices at this point, including the:

  • Versa 2,
  • Versa Special Edition,
  • Ionic, and
  • Charge 4.

How to use Fitbit Pay

To use Fitbit Pay, you’ll have to use the Fitbit app on your phone to set it up. Open your app, tap on your profile, then select which device you want to set Fitbit Pay up on.

Select “Wallet,” and you’ll be prompted to enter a 4 digit PIN.

Once that’s all set up, you’ll be able to add supported credit cards from the following list.

Participating Canadian banks

Being less commonly used, Fitbit Pay unfortunately doesn’t have as many supported banks. Here’s the list so far…

Bank Debit Card Support Supported Credit Cards
ATB Financial N/A Mastercard
Brim Financial N/A Mastercard
RBC N/A Mastercard, Visa
Manulife N/A Visa
Stack N/A Stack Prepaid Mastercard

Best card to use with Fitbit Pay

Our favourite supported cards for the Fitbit Pay are:

  • Best RBC: ,
  • Best flat rate cash back: , and
  • Great no fee prepaid: .

Garmin Pay

Garmin is similar to Fitbit in that it is a fitness tracking device that has branched out to support mobile payments. And like Fitbit, you can use it anywhere contactless payments are accepted.

How to use Garmin Pay

If you have one of the Garmin watches that supports Garmin Pay, you set up your digital wallet through the Garmin Connect mobile app. Once you ask it to “Create Your Wallet,” you’ll be prompted with a series of instructions that will get you all set up.

Participating Canadian banks

The list of participating banks here is even shorter, but they say there will be more added soon.

Bank Debit Card Support Supported Credit Cards
ATB Financial N/A Mastercard
Brim Financial N/A Mastercard
Manulife N/A Visa

Best card to use with Garmin Pay

Garmin Pay still doesn’t support a lot of cards, but you can use all of the Brim Financial cards with it, which we like quite a lot.

  • Best flat rate cash back: ,
  • , and
  • .

Bottom line

Digital wallet is a convenient way to pay when you’re on the go and is arguably safer than your physical wallet.

Do you use one? If so, which one? If not, would you?

And do you have a favourite card to use for on-the-go tap payments, and why?

Let us know in the comments.