Canada’s foreign exchange reserves play a crucial role in the country’s economic and financial stability. These reserves help the Bank of Canada and the federal government manage financial shocks and honor the country’s international financial commitments. This article will provide an in-depth look at Canada’s foreign exchange reserves.


Foreign exchange reserves are assets held on reserve by a central bank or monetary authority in foreign currencies. These reserves are used to back liabilities and influence monetary policy. Reserves are divided into foreign currencies, bonds, other government securities, and special drawing rights (SDRs).

For Canada, foreign exchange reserves offer liquidity in foreign currencies, help maintain confidence in monetary policy, limit external vulnerability, and promote orderly currency markets. The Bank of Canada holds its reserves in the Exchange Fund Account.

Current Foreign Exchange Reserves

As of August 2023, Canada’s foreign exchange reserves total around US$95 billion. This includes around US$68 billion in U.S. dollars, US$26 billion in SDRs, and around US$1 billion in currencies like the euro, yen, and pound sterling.

Overall, Canada’s foreign exchange reserves have trended upwards over the last two decades, rising from around US$36 billion in 2000. Reserves peaked at nearly US$106 billion in 2021 before declining somewhat in 2022-2023.

On a per capita basis, Canada’s reserves are lower than countries like Japan and Switzerland but higher than Australia or New Zealand. As a percentage of GDP, Canada’s reserves equate to around 3.5% – on par with similar advanced economies.

Key Drivers of Reserves Growth

Several factors have driven the steady growth in Canada’s foreign exchange reserves over the past 20 years:

  • Current account surpluses – Canada has run consistent current account surpluses since the early 2000s, driven by oil exports and a competitive manufacturing sector. These surpluses boost foreign asset holdings.
  • Exchange rate policy – The Bank of Canada occasionally buys foreign currencies to weaken an excessively strong Canadian dollar that hurts exports. This builds up reserves.
  • Safe haven appeal – During periods of global uncertainty, the Canadian dollar tends to appreciate as global investors seek safe havens. The Bank of Canada buys U.S. dollars to offset this.
  • Issuance of debt – Federal and provincial governments issue more debt denominated in foreign currencies, requiring higher liquid reserves.
  • Higher commodity prices – Booms in oil and other commodities have boosted Canada’s export earnings and current account at times.

Composition of Foreign Exchange Reserves

Canada’s foreign exchange reserves include a mix of asset classes and currencies:

U.S. Dollar Assets

  • The U.S. dollar makes up around 72% of Canada’s foreign exchange reserves. Dollar assets are held in cash and highly liquid U.S. Treasury bills.
  • Reserves in USD provide liquidity, stabilize CAD/USD exchange rates, and backstop the Canadian economy.
  • Dollars can be used for foreign exchange intervention and international payments.

SDR Assets

  • Special drawing rights (SDRs) are international reserve assets created by the IMF.
  • Canada’s SDR reserves have grown to US$26 billion, making up 27% of total reserves.
  • SDRs provide liquidity and diversification to hedge risks from U.S. dollar holdings.

Other Currencies

  • A small portion (~1%) is held in reserves such as the euro, yen, pound sterling and Swiss francs.
  • Other currency reserves provide flexibility to conduct interventions across currency pairs.


  • Gold reserves back liabilities and offer diversification but make up a minimal portion of Canada’s reserves.

Foreign Exchange Policy and Intervention

Canada maintains a flexible exchange rate system where currency values are market-determined rather than fixed. However, the Bank of Canada will occasionally intervene in foreign exchange markets to calm disorderly conditions.

Some examples of past intervention include:

  • September 1998 – The BoC and Federal Reserve coordinated massive interventions to stabilize the CAD/USD exchange rate after Russia’s debt default.
  • 2000 – The Bank of Canada intervened to buy Canadian dollars after the currency slid to record lows below 62 U.S. cents.
  • March 2011 – Japan’s tsunami led the BoC to intervene to stabilize the yen/CAD rate.

Overall, the Bank of Canada views foreign exchange intervention as a last resort option given Canada’s free-floating currency regime. Any intervention aims to alleviate dysfunction, not target a specific exchange rate level.

Foreign Exchange Reserves Policy

Canada’s foreign exchange reserves policy aims to meet the following objectives:

  • Maintain confidence in the Canadian dollar’s integrity
  • Allow Canada to meet international payment obligations
  • Provide foreign currency liquidity to the government
  • Help stabilize conditions in forex markets
  • Limit external vulnerability to shocks

To meet these goals, Canada’s reserves are actively managed by the Bank of Canada. Some key management policies include:

  • Holding at least US$25 billion in high-quality liquid USD assets
  • Allowing reserves to fluctuate flexibly depending on market conditions
  • Rebalancing currency composition as needed for diversification
  • Matching the maturity structure of assets and liabilities
  • Maintaining eligibility to borrow from the IMF as a backup

Financial Impacts of Holding Reserves

Maintaining over US$90 billion in foreign exchange reserves carries both costs and benefits:


  • Reserves provide insurance against financial crises or trade shocks
  • They allow Canada to reliably service its foreign currency debts
  • Reserves help stabilize exchange rates and fund interventions when needed


  • Carrying large forex reserves can impose opportunity costs
  • Reserves provide low yields compared to other assets
  • Funding reserves through debt issuance raises interest costs

Overall, Canada aims to balance the insurance benefits of reserves against their financial costs. The optimal level of reserves reflects Canada’s unique exposure to trade flows, capital flows, and exchange rates.

Foreign Exchange Reserves Risks

While reserves provide stability, they also carry portfolio risks that must be managed:

Currency risks – Reserves are exposed to fluctuations in the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and other currencies.

Interest rate risks – Changes in yields affect the valuation of fixed income assets held in reserves.

Liquidity risks – Reserves must have sufficient liquidity to be readily available when needed.

Counterparty risks – Default risk must be minimized by maintaining high credit quality holdings.

To mitigate these risks, Canada’s reserves are maintained in safe liquid assets. The currency composition is also optimized to balance risks and returns.

Canada’s Reserves Relative to Other Countries

Canada maintains a moderate level of foreign exchange reserves relative to other advanced and emerging economies:

  • On a per capita basis, Canada’s reserves are higher than Australia but lower than Switzerland or Japan.
  • As a share of GDP, Canada’s reserves are smaller than China’s but larger than the UK or New Zealand.
  • Canada’s reserve adequacy, as measured in months of import coverage, is lower than emerging markets but higher than the U.S. or Japan.

Overall, Canada’s foreign exchange reserves are appropriate given its flexible exchange rate, developed financial markets, strong fiscal position, and reliance on international trade.


In summary, Canada’s foreign exchange reserves have grown substantially over the past two decades and now stand at around US$95 billion. These reserves help maintain Canada’s economic and financial stability in an uncertain global environment.

The Bank of Canada actively manages the reserves to provide liquidity, promote orderly currency markets, and limit risks. Given Canada’s strong macroeconomic fundamentals, its current reserve levels are adequate relative to both advanced economy and emerging market peers.

Going forward, the optimal size and composition of Canada’s reserves will continue to evolve based on global economic conditions, financial interconnectedness, and the relative role of the U.S. dollar. With prudent reserves management, Canada will remain well equipped to handle any future volatility in currency and capital markets.