New to Canada?
If you are a new immigrant or permanent resident to Canada, you are allowed (and encouraged) to open a TFSA as soon as you arrive, so long as you have a valid social insurance number and are at least 18. This is actually an advantage over having an RRSP, as in order to contribute to one you need Canadian income from the previous year (that’s how your RRSP’s annual limit is calculated), and if you are new to the country you won’t have any for at least the first year!
The year when you arrive in Canada determines when your TFSA contribution limits begin. If you arrived in Canada in 2015 but only opened your TFSA in 2016, your current contribution limit is based on 2015 ($10,000 in 2015 + $5500 in 2016 + $5,500 in 2017 + $5,500 in 2018 + $6,000 in 2019 + $6,000 in 2020 = $38,500). The time of year when you arrive is irrelevant…whether you arrived in March or November of 2015, you are allowed to contribute the full 2015 amount of $10,000 (in addition to the full 2015-2020 amounts).
Resident vs. non-resident
If you switch back-n-forth between being a resident and a non-resident of Canada, then the rules will switch too. While you are a Canadian resident, follow the resident rules. While you are a non-resident, follow the non-resident rules. This can get quite complicated and messy if you are switching back and forth a lot, so it’s a good idea to have a professional tax specialist look at your situation and advise you on how to handle your TFSA.
Temporary foreign workers
If you have a SIN starting with a ‘9’, you are most likely a temporary foreign worker or refugee claimant, and have a temporary SIN which will expire at some point. You are still allowed to open, contribute, and withdraw from a TFSA just like any other Canadian resident, but keep an eye on the expiry date. And if you transition from a temporary SIN to a permanent SIN you will have to notify the institution or brokerage firm holding your TFSA so they can transition your new SIN over.
While the CRA explicitly allows those with a temporary SIN to have a TFSA, there seems to be some confusion with some banks refusing to issue TFSA’s to those in this situation. If you fall into this category it’s best to check with the CRA to discuss the bank’s concerns.