Understanding the intricacies and getting used to a foreign country’s banking system can be daunting. Fortunately, banking in Australia is straightforward, especially when it concerns savings accounts. Every prominent bank in Australia provides savings accounts that you can open as an expat. Some financial institutions let you open these accounts online, even before you arrive.
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An expatriate, or expat, is an individual who lives in a country other than that of his or her citizenship, temporarily or permanently, as an immigrant. The word comes from the Latin term ex patria, which literally translates to ‘out of country/fatherland’. In modern day parlance, use of the term expat is common when referring skilled employees or professionals deputed overseas by businesses.
Expats tend to reside in their host countries temporarily. However, an increasing number of expats now choose to continue living in their host countries because of reasons such as higher standards of living, career opportunities and marital relationships.
As long expats don’t become permanent residents of Australia or get Australian citizenship, they remain, for legal purposes, non-residents.
How does an expat or non-resident open a savings account before arriving in Australia?
If you wish to apply for a savings account before you get to Australia you can do so online. Some banks don’t require Australian addresses for you to complete the application. Some let you apply for an account up to three months prior to your arrival. Once the bank opens your account you can transfer funds into it from anywhere in the world. You should get access to online banking, which lets you view your account balance at any time.
You’ll have to complete an identity verification process before you can access funds from your new savings account. You can do this by visiting a branch of the bank you choose, in your country, if it has one there. You can also through an approved certifier, an Australian consular officer or an Australian diplomatic officer. Alternatively, you can verify you identity after you reach Australia.
What are the types of savings accounts available for expats and non-residents?
As an expat or a non-resident you can open different types of savings accounts:
Everyday bank accounts.These accounts give you access to your money in different ways, which include Visa or Mastercard debit cards. You may have to pay ongoing monthly fees, although you may also qualify for fee waivers. These accounts tend to provide access to online and phone banking. They normally don’t offer interest.
Online savings accounts. With a typical online savings account your money stands to earn interest. You may not get access to a debit card. However, you should get access to funds in your account using online and phone banking.
International student bank accounts. Some financial institutions offer bank accounts for overseas students that they can apply for even before arriving in Australia. Access to your money can come in different ways such as a debit card, online banking and phone banking. Students can find accounts that don’t charge ongoing account keeping fees.
When you’re comparing expat savings accounts, pay due attention to these aspects:
Sending money back home.If you plan to send money back home every now and again, look for an account that lets you make international electronic fund transfers easily. Find out how much you’ll have to pay as fees.
International services. Find out if the bank you choose offers international services such as foreign currency accounts, foreign exchange services as well as foreign cheques and drafts.
Foreign exchange services. While many Australian financial institutions provide foreign exchange services, not all are equally good. They vary in terms of the exchange rates they offer as well as turnaround times.
Ability to open instantly. The time taken to open a savings account can vary from one financial institution to the next. Some that let you apply online before you arrive open your account on the day you submit your application.
Online banking facilities. While most Australian banks offer online banking facilities to their customers, what you can use these platforms for requires your attention. For example, in some cases you can use online banking platforms to pay bills.
Fees and charges. Find out if the account you wish to open attracts any ongoing account keeping fees or debit card fees. You may have to pay to get cheque book access. Other fees and charges can also apply.
What are the pros and cons to opening a savings account as an expat?
Access funds easily. Opening a local bank account in Australia ensures that you have access to your money any time you need it. If you want, you can open an account that comes with a debit card.
Earn interest. If you pick the right account your money can earn interest. Some Australian savings accounts provide interested using tiered systems, where higher balances earn greater interest.
Save on fees. If you plan to use your overseas bank account when you’re in Australia you may end up paying a tidy sum as fees. These can come in the form of overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fees.
Limited choices. When you’re looking to open a savings account in Australia as an expat you get limited options to choose from. This is because financial institutions don’t provide non-residents their complete range of offerings.
Before you apply for an account take some time to go through its terms and conditions. This should give you a clear indication of all applicable fees and charges you may have to pay in different scenarios. Avoid applying for an account that you think charges unreasonably high fees. Look for other options instead.
The cash rate is at a record low of just 0.75%, but Australians can still earn up to 2.75% p.a. on their savings account. Read more…
Frequently asked questions
How quickly can I apply for a savings account?
If you have all the required information close at hand the process should take around five to 10 minutes.
What do I have to do to verify my identity after I arrive in Australia?
If you get to a branch within six weeks of your arrival you’ll have to provide an Australian residential address, your passport and a valid Visa. Any later, and you’ll have to provide two forms of ID which can include your driver’s license, passport, birth certificate or Medicare card.
I’m already in Australia. What documents do I need to apply?
You can apply using two valid forms of ID that can include your passport, Australian driver’s licence and Medicare card.
Shirley Liu is Finder's global program manager. She was previously the publisher for banking and investments and has also written comparisons for energy, money transfers, Uber Eats and many other topics. Shirley has a Master of Commerce and a Bachelor of Media, Journalism and Communications from the University of New South Wales. She is passionate about helping people find the best deal for their needs.
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