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Overseas student? Here’s how to find the right bank

There are more than 100 banks in Australia. Don't compare them alone! We're here to help.

You've chosen the university, you've picked your course, you've decided on where you want to live… now you need to choose the right bank!

It sounds like a minor consideration, but the bank you choose can make all the difference. And with so many options out there, it can be overwhelming. But there are some important things to look at when picking the right bank for you and some extra considerations to think about when you're coming from overseas.

What kinds of banks are there in Australia?

There are around 120 banks to choose from in Australia. There are big banks, medium-sized banks, regional banks, digital banks and community banks.

All will offer transaction accounts, savings accounts and online facilities.

The Big 4: It sounds ominous, right? The Big 4 (or the Major Banks) are, you guessed it, 4 banks and they are the biggest banks in the country. These banks are Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ANZ, Westpac and NAB. They will all have physical branches. They also own some smaller banks in the categories below.

Second-tier banks: These banks don't have as much business as the big 4, but they're still pretty big names. These banks include the likes of ING, Suncorp, Bankwest and Macquarie. They may or may not have physical branches.

Digital banks: As the name suggests, these banks have no physical presence but are completely online. Many of them rely mostly on their apps and easy, instant online services. They include banks like Up Bank and Ubank.

Community banks and credit unions: These are banks designed more to support the communities they're in. They don't seek to make profits to make rich bankers richer; instead, the profits they make goes back into community programs.

What products do Australian banks offer?

As an overseas student there are a few products you will need and some that you might:

Transaction accounts

A transaction account is a secure place to keep all of your money. You will be given a bank card to access the money, although some banks now issue virtual cards instead of physical ones! You can deposit money into the transaction account, withdraw cash from an ATM or spend via your card, online purchases or direct debits.

Savings accounts

Savings accounts are typically linked to your transaction account. You can set aside money you'd like to save and earn interest on the money in the account. Some savings accounts are really easy to access via mobile and online banking, but others make it harder to access funds. Some accounts also offer higher savings interest rates as long as you meet certain conditions.

Credit card

As an international student you may be able to access a credit card. You need to check eligibility with each bank, but you likely need to have a certain period left on your visa to be approved.

Personal loans

You may also be eligible for personal loans. Again, you would only be able to get a loan for less than the time you have left on your visa.

How to compare banks in Australia

Any bank you look at will provide transaction accounts and savings accounts, so you need to look a little deeper than that.


Residency criteria.

First things first, before you waste time looking at a bank account you can't open, check you're eligible. Some banks require you to be an Australian resident. For many banks this just means you need to be residing in Australia at the time you apply. But some banks require you to provide your driver's licence, Australian passport or Medicare card and you may not have any of these things if you're opening up your account on day one.


Account-keeping fees.

You're a student, you can't waste your money on things like unnecessary bank fees. There are accounts with no or low monthly account keeping fees. Or even accounts where you can get the fee waived by depositing a certain amount of money into the account each month. Just be sure on that student income that you can actually deposit that amount!


Deposit conditions.

Banks can require you to deposit anywhere from $200 to $2,000 a month. You just need to make sure it's an amount you can easily manage. As a student it may be worth avoiding these conditions, as any income may be changeable.


ATM fees.

Some banks still charge ATM fees, which is not ideal. As an overseas student you should also check if the bank will charge you to use an ATM overseas. Those fees can be very high.


Overseas fees and charges.

Whether you're sending money back home, continuing to pay for things back home or you know you'll be travelling back, you don't want to spend more for the privilege of spending your own money. Choose a bank without international transaction fees.


Savings account.

There can be a fairly big difference between the rates banks offer on their savings accounts, and as a student you want to get as much bang for your buck as possible. Some banks offer higher rates when you meet certain conditions. For example, ING requires you to deposit at least $1,000 a month, make at least 5 card payments and grow your savings account each month before it gives you the highest rate it advertises.


Payment options.

Not all banks offer the capability to have their cards on smartphone wallets and some only on certain devices. If you want to make contactless purchases with your phone, check that the bank account supports Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay. If you want to make instant bank-to-bank transfers, looking for an account that offers instant payments with PayID and Osko.


Customer service.

Consider if you'll ever need to go into a physical branch or if you're happy with a fully digital and intuitive app.


Offers and deals.

Some banks offer cashback or discounts with partner brands, other banks offer perks like money back on your morning coffee. What would you get the most out of? Just make sure you keep an eye on the fees.

Setting up an account before you get to Australia.
If you want to set up your bank account before you head over to Australia, that's easier to do with some banks more than others. That's because to set up a bank account with a lot of banks you need an Australian residential address. Some banks allow you to set up ahead of time though. For example, Commonwealth Bank allows you to apply up to 2 weeks before you arrive. You just need to verify your ID at a branch when you arrive.

Which bank account is the best for international students?

Every year Finder runs awards for various products. Although we don't have an award for the best student bank account, we do have an award for the best overall transaction account and we think our runner-up could be a great fit for overseas students.

Here's why we like the HSBC Everyday Global Account:

  • There are no account-keeping fees
  • It has no ATM withdrawal fees, including when you're overseas
  • It has no international transaction fees
  • You can hold up to 10 currencies in one account
  • You can earn 2% cashback on tap and pay purchases
  • It's available on both Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • Track your finances and switch between currencies

Another option for overseas students could also be the ING Orange Everyday Account. There are no monthly account-keeping fees, no international transaction fees and when you meet certain conditions you get ATM fees paid back to you.

Frequently asked questions

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