Congratulations! You've decided to study in Australia. There are a million things you'll need to get sorted before making the big move, such as getting your immigration documents in order and finding a place to live, but it's also important to think about how you're going to manage your finances.
This guide will help you navigate the complexities of the Australian banking system, ranging from choosing the right bank account to gathering all the information you'll need to open an account.
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Whether you're paying your weekly rent, receiving income from your casual job or even paying for the train to university, having an Australian bank account is essential. If you're constantly receiving money from overseas or paying with an overseas credit card, it's likely that you'll be incurring enormous and unnecessary fees. Opening an everyday bank account in Australia is one of the best things you can do to make your move to Australia as smooth as possible, and you don't need to wait until you land to open one. Some accounts will even give you access to exclusive discounts and rewards.
What types of accounts are available?
As an international student you'll be happy to know that you have lots of short-term options to choose from for your banking needs, each offering different features and benefits. You can choose from two different account categories: a transaction account or a dedicated student account.
A transaction account is a basic, day-to-day account for daily expenses. You can use it to pay your bills, deposit (or put in) your income, pay for goods and services or make daily transactions. It can also be the account that you use to transfer your overseas savings into for the time you're studying in Australia. With this account, you'll receive log-in details for online and mobile banking and a debit card to withdraw money at ATMs (cash machines) and make everyday payments. Compare bank accounts that offer special features for students below.
International student account
Most banks will also offer an account specifically designed for students moving to Australia to study. This account will give you a lot of the same things as a transaction account with some added benefits. If you open an account and you're a full-time student, you'll most likely be able to skip the monthly and/or annual account fees. Many dedicated student accounts also provide student rewards. For example, Westpac Choice provides students with a one-year international student card, and the Bankwest Student Account allows customers to access discounts at McDonald’s and other outlets.
What are the fees associated with transaction and student accounts?
Your student bank account shouldn't come with any monthly fees for the first 12 months and should also give you an unlimited number of transactions, whether you make a transaction online, via EFTPOS or in a branch.
The fees you'll need to look out for are the unconventional fees, such as overseas transaction fees and overdrawn fees. In some cases, there may be limits on the number of ATM transactions which you can make per month so you should ensure the permitted number of ATM transactions suits your banking habits.
If your student bank account runs out of cash, you can expect to pay a fee. To avoid this, you may be able to request an account with no overdraw facility so that you can't accidentally spend more than what’s available in your account and get stuck with fees.
International transaction fees
If you're travelling or going overseas, using your debit card might incur international transaction fees and foreign ATM fees. These can add up, so before travelling you might want to look into debit cards with low foreign transaction fees.
Overseas or foreign ATM fees
These are often fees charged to your account when you use an ATM that's outside your bank's network. To avoid this, you might want to look for the banks with the widest ATM networks.
What is the best Australian bank for students?
There is no single best Australian bank for students. The best bank for you may not be the best for someone else. The following are some of the factors to consider when choosing a bank:
How many ATMs and branches does the bank have in your local area?
What options does the bank have for transaction or student accounts?
What are the fees attached to each account?
Is there a banker that speaks your language?
Are you required to deposit a certain amount in order to open the account, or is there a minimum ongoing account balance requirement?
Does the account offer any special discounts or deals for students?
Does the bank offer any other services which you might need, such as international money transfers and savings accounts?
You should compare a range of accounts when deciding which provider is best suited to your everyday banking needs.
How do I set up a bank account online from overseas?
Setting up an account is a simple process, and if you have all the information in front of you, it should only take five minutes. Remember, you don't have to be in Australia to open a bank account; you can complete the whole sign-up process online before you hop on the plane.
Date of when you expect to arrive in Australia
Current mobile phone number + country code
Personal details, such as your name, date of birth and residential address
Arrival details, such as your visa type, the Australian state you're migrating to and the closest bank branch to your new residential address in Australia
Your expected yearly salary (in Australian dollars)
How do I set up a bank account online in Australia?
Setting up an account online is simple and, if you have all the information in front of you, should only take five minutes. There is no need to visit a bank branch to sign up for an account.
Mobile phone number
Personal details, including your name, date of birth and residential address
A method of verification, such as your passport
Foreign tax details (if you are a tax resident in a country other than Australia).
Who can open a student account?
Registered student at an Australian university
In Australia or arriving in Australia within the next 12 months
Able to complete an identity check at a bank branch
What features come with Australian transaction and student accounts?
Debit cards. Once you sign up with a bank, you'll be issued a debit card linked to your account, so you can access your funds while you're out and about. You can use this card to pay for goods and services in stores and online. In Australia, you can use PayPass, which allows you to make contactless payments of up to $100.
Online and mobile banking. Most Australian banks now allow you to manage your finances online anytime, anywhere via online and mobile banking. You can also save time by setting up recurring payments to pay bills. Once you've registered for an account, download the app and sign in.
ATM network. Australia has an extensive network of ATMs (or cash machines). You can use your debit account to take out cash. Depending on which bank you choose, you may be charged an additional processing fee.
24/7 access. With online banking, you'll get unlimited 24/7 access to your account online.
How much should I transfer into my Australian bank account?
“To give you an idea of the answer, at the time of writing (2014), the University of Technology estimates that an international student requires AU$14,786 to AU$25,680 to cover their living expenses for one academic year. These expenses include rent for shared accommodation near your educational institution, groceries, phone and internet bill/s, home utilities like electricity and water, textbooks and other study materials, and transport.”
How can I transfer money into my Australian transaction or student bank account from overseas?
The following are a few of the available options to transfer money:
Most banks will send money to an Australian bank account and exchange your currency into Australian dollars. This method is also known as an international money transfer, a telegraphic transfer (TT), a wire transfer or a SWIFT transfer.
However, using a bank will come at a cost. Most banks will charge a flat fee and poor exchange rates, which can have a huge effect on how much the transaction ends up costing you. Additionally, your bank and the bank at the other end of the transaction could charge "sending" and "receiving" fees.
Alternatively, you can use an online money transfer or foreign exchange company such as OFX, WorldFirst and InstaReM. Simply tell the company you choose how much money you want to send to Australia and they’ll quote an exchange rate, convert the funds, and send them to your nominated bank account. You’ll need to set up a separate account with a transfer service, but these services are often much cheaper to use when you are receiving between $1,000 and $1,000,000 and will almost always offer a better exchange rate than the banks.
What happens once I arrive in Australia?
Once you arrive in Australia you must complete an identity check at a local bank branch. Make sure you bring the following with you to the bank:
Your Australian residential address
Your valid visa documents
A letter from the institution where you are studying on an official letterhead as proof that you are a full-time student.
Remember to check the bank's opening hours before you leave the house. Australian banks are generally open between 9:30am and 4pm.
Alison Banney is the banking and investments editor at Finder. She has written about finance for over six years with her work featured on sites including Yahoo Finance, Money Magazine and Dynamic Business. She has previously worked at Westpac, and has written for several other major banks including BCU, Greater Bank and Gateway Credit Union. Alison has a Bachelor of Communications from Newcastle University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She also has an ASIC RG146 compliance certificate for financial advice, an ASIC RG146 compliance certificate for securities and managed investments and an ASIC RG146 compliance certificate for superannuation.
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