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Banking for Expats in Australia

Author: Gavin Adie
Submitted: July 2013

The steady influx of new expatriates looking to immigrate to Australia each year has led many Australia-based banking institutions to set up specialist teams to cater to their needs. As a consequence, establishing a bank account in Australia is relatively simple but, as any person investigating life Down Under quickly finds out, the cost of living in Australia is high, and banking services are no exception.

Generally speaking, it is simple to establish an Australian bank account, either in person on arrival or prior to departure. Most banks accept applications from expatriates, particularly from those who intend to stay for at least twelve months. Depending on the type of bank account you wish to open, the process can take around 5-10 business days for all the required information to be collated, checked and verified by your chosen bank. Those applying prior to departure will be required to attend the bank in person shortly after arrival, as explained later.

When applying for a bank account remotely, some banks may accept photocopies of your identification - be it a passport or driving license - but may require that it be certified by a person in a position of responsibility, such as a doctor, teacher or civil servant, etc.

Many banks offer prospective expat customers lots of flexibility when looking to establish a bank account before departing from Australia. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), for instance, allows immigrants to submit an application up to one year prior to departure. Most also allow some degree of flexibility with regard to your intended living arrangements in Australia. Most ask that you provide the name of the city in which you intend to live, but will not require you to provide a physical address, or proof of such, at least until you are established in Australia. Regardless of where you decide to bank, you will be required to attend the local branch of that bank, generally within six weeks of your arrival to finalize the process, verify your identity, and provide more permanent contact details.

Setting up a bank account in person is simple. Most banks, particularly in urban areas, are open five days a week, generally between 9am and 4pm and from 9.30 until 5pm on  Saturdays. To set up an account, most banks require you to furnish a few documents, generally: one form of identification, for instance a passport; a boarding pass to prove your arrival date in Australia; and potentially proof of address. As mentioned previously, many of the larger banks have specialist teams responsible for overseeing the provision of banking advice to expats, such as the Commonwealth Bank and its International Customer Services team, to ease the process.

The largest banking institutions in Australia are Westpac, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the National Bank, St George's Bank and the National Australia Bank (NAB). There are also a number of international banking groups that operate in Australia, including: Citibank, Standard Chartered, HSBC, and ING. Manta has published a comprehensive list of 45 branches and agencies of foreign banks that have operations in Australia, here: https://www.manta.com/world/Oceania/Australia/branches_and_agencies_of_foreign_banks--A1051/

If you intend to maintain an international footprint despite relocating to Australia, you may find it instead beneficial to investigate what international banking solutions these companies offer in Australia. Establishing a bank account in Australian dollars in your home country, for instance, may be particularly beneficial if you anticipate you will continue to receive income from the country from which you are emigrating from. Other banks, such as NAB, have arrangements established with currency exchange companies offering fee-free transfers. Establishing an account to transact in Australia from your home country will allow you sort out your account before leaving your home nation, allowing you to activate it upon arrival. Likewise, a number of large Australian banks have subsidiaries with physical operations in a number of other nations, in particular throughout Asia.

A number of other businesses in Australia offer banking services, including Australia Post from over 3,000 outlets.

While the process of choosing a bank account in the United Kingdom generally concerns what interest rates a banking institution might offer, in Australia banking charges and fees can be significant. Most simple bank accounts allow a fixed number of ATM transactions (normally less than ten depending on the package agreed,) and withdrawals from ATMs operated by other banking groups, too, may incur a charge for each transactions (normally of two or three dollars.)

On fees, the Australian Banking Association advises "Most transaction accounts have a monthly fee. Generally, a higher monthly fee is charged if the account offers unlimited transactions. If you don’t think you will be making many transactions, an account with a lower monthly fee may be better for you."

"Some transaction accounts don’t have monthly fees, but these accounts usually have less features, such as only online access, and if you need to use other services, such as branch withdrawals, you’ll usually have to pay additional fees."

It adds: "If you make very few transactions - say four to eight transactions each month - you may be better off with an account that charges you for each transaction. But if you make a lot of transactions - say more than eight transactions each month - it might be cheaper to pay a single monthly account service fee, rather than a fee for every transaction you make."

The Association provides more advice on choosing the right account, here: https://www.bankers.asn.au/ArticleDocuments/192/ABA-111080-v1-Fact_Sheet___How_do_I_minimize_the_cost_of_banking.PDF.aspx

The most common form of bank account in Australia is a transaction account, allowing the account holder to pay bills, set up direct debits, and write checks. These  carry low rates of interest, typically below one percent. Savings accounts carry higher interest rates but may require a higher maintained level of deposit, restrict instant access to these funds, and cap minimum withdrawals.

Basic bank accounts, which may include no monthly service fee, and no minimum and unlimited free transactions, are reserved for low-income earners and pensioners in Australia. Most cash cards are also debit cards - known in Australia as Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale (EFTPOS) cards - which are accepted by most retailers and mail-order businesses in Australia, and have largely replaced checks.

A number of high-interest accounts exist including term deposit accounts. Term deposits require that you relinquish your deposited amount for a fixed length of time in return for a greater rate of interest. Banking interest is normally paid quarterly and incurs a 10 percent withholding tax rate.

 

 

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