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Migrant banking: Opening a bank account in Australia

Having an Australian bank account is crucial in order to access and manage your funds in your new home country.

If you’re moving to Australia, you need to have access to cash when you arrive. From buying food and supplies to organising accommodation, you can’t achieve much if you don’t have access to funds.

It’s sometimes said that money makes the world go round. If you’ve ever been stranded overseas without access to any funds, you’ll know that this statement is pretty accurate.

With this in mind, opening an Australian bank account and perhaps arranging a credit card are essential tasks. Rather than wait until you arrive in Australia to do so, sorting out your finances before you leave New Zealand can save you a lot of stress in the long run.


Australian bank accounts

Australian bank customers can choose from a wide range of account options. These include:

  • Everyday transaction accounts. As the name suggests, these common bank accounts are used for your daily transactions. You can typically deposit and withdraw money whenever you like, allowing you to take care of any purchases or expenses that may arise.
  • Savings accounts. These accounts are very similar to transaction accounts but offer a higher interest rate to help you boost your savings balance. You can sometimes even take advantage of bonus interest rates if you deposit a certain amount into your account regularly, so it’s worth comparing the available offers. Savings accounts typically let you access your funds whenever you wish and can be linked to your transaction account.
  • Credit card accounts. Credit cards in Australia work the same as they do in New Zealand, allowing you access to funds that might not otherwise be readily available. It’s worth researching what options are available as some cards come with low rates and low annual fees, while others offer reward programmes to help you make the most of your spending.
  • Foreign currency accounts. Typically offered by many larger banks, these accounts are designed for those still receiving income in another currency. A foreign currency account lets you keep funds in another currency to take advantage of fluctuating exchange rates.
  • Joint accounts. If you’re considering opening an account with your spouse or business partner, joint bank accounts are optional. These accounts allow anyone linked to them to make deposits and withdrawals.
  • Term deposits. These are similar to savings accounts in that they may offer a higher rate of interest, but the difference is that you can’t access your funds while they are held in a term deposit. Instead, your funds are locked up in the account for a fixed period. Once the account has reached maturity, you can access the initial deposit and its interest.
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Organise your banking before you arrive

Sorting out your banking needs before you arrive in Australia is a sensible approach. It means you won’t have to worry about finances when you get there and can instead concentrate on finding your feet and exploring your new home.

Some banks offer handy bank migration programmes to help new Australians sort out their financial situations before they arrive on its shores. These include:

  • ANZ
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    ANZ aims to make the financial transition to Australia as hassle-free as possible. The bank has more than 800 branches and hundreds of ATMs or cashpoints. ANZ can help you set up a bank account before leaving New Zealand, either online or through one of its regional contacts here. You can transfer money before you leave New Zealand and can then access money as soon as you activate your account when you arrive in Australia. Activation typically takes just five minutes, and you’ll soon receive an ANZ debit card. Other features at ANZ branches include complimentary personalised banking advice and bilingual personal bankers.

  • Commonwealth Bank
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    Commonwealth Bank’s migration programme allows you to open an account quickly and easily online up to three months before you arrive in Australia. There are two account types to choose from: one for those who want to live and work and one for students. Before you arrive, you can transfer money and view your balance online. Once you step onto Australian soil, you have to visit a branch to be identified before withdrawing your money. You’ll also receive a Debit Mastercard, which allows you to make purchases in situations when a card is the only payment option.

  • Westpac
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    Westpac has almost 200 years of experience helping Australians with their banking needs, and it has dedicated migrant banking specialists to help make your financial transition easier. You can apply for an account online in just 10 minutes without supplying an Australian address and open an account up to 12 months before you arrive in Australia. You can also take advantage of no monthly service fees for the first 12 months, unlimited transactions at Westpac branches and some 2,800 ATMs, plus you’ll receive a Debit Mastercard once you arrive in Australia.

  • Bankwest
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    Unfortunately, Bankwesk does not have a dedicated migrant team and you can no longer opens accounts before you arrive in Australia. You will have to contact them online or in a branch once you arrive. You can then deposit funds into your account and monitor your balance online, plus you’ll have free access to Australia’s largest bank ATM network.

  • NAB
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    NAB aims to make it as easy as possible to open a bank account before you arrive in Australia. It has a dedicated migrant banking team to provide the financial knowledge you need for a smooth transition. You can open Australian bank accounts up to 12 months before you arrive. There are migrant accounts available with no application fees and no monthly account-keeping fees.

  • Citi
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    Citibank operates 20,000 ATMs and 4,000 branches in 42 countries, including 3,000 Citibank and partner ATMs across Australia. If you’re already a Citibank customer in your home country, the bank can set up your Australian account(s) before you leave. Also, Citibank provides a wealth of information on finding the right visa, studying in Australia and investing in Australia.

Wait, I'm visiting Australia on holiday and want to open a bank account there. Is that possible?

The simple answer to this question is: yes. Non-resident accounts (for tourists and visitors) exist with certain banks, such as the big four: Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, NAB and Westpac. Contact your desired bank directly with the details of your situation to discuss your options.

Bank comparison: how to choose your bank

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  • Rates and charges. The rates and fees your bank charges can have a big impact on your financial situation. Keep an eye out for application fees, withdrawal fees, monthly service fees and annual fees.
  • Currency conversion fees and international money transfer (IMT) fees. Some banks charge high fees for transferring foreign currency and for IMTs. These fees quickly add up, so look for a bank that charges minimal fees.
  • Minimum deposits. Some banks require you to make a minimum deposit to open an account. Others require you to make regular deposits of a specific amount to ensure your account remains active.
  • Eligibility criteria for certain accounts. You typically need to be 18 years or older to open most Australian bank accounts. Other eligibility requirements may include Australian citizenship or permanent residency, a good credit rating and a specific minimum annual income.
  • Do banks allow you to set up an account before you arrive in Australia? Some banks won’t allow you to set up an account before you arrive in Australia. Because it’s much more efficient to sort out your finances before you set sail, look for a bank that lets you set up an account well before leaving New Zealand.
  • Does your current bank have relationships with an Australian bank? The bank you use in New Zealand may have a relationship with an Australian bank or even have a branch in Australia. If they do, they might have a migration process that can make the financial transaction smoother.
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How to apply for a savings/transaction account

Applying for a bank account BEFORE you leave New Zealand:

Australian banks make it fast and simple to apply for an account online. You can easily research the features offered by competing accounts before deciding which financial institution to bank with. Of course, you need to meet the eligibility requirements and provide any information and documentation that the bank requests.

Once you arrive in Australia, you need to visit your chosen bank for identification purposes. Most banks request your details online when you apply but require you to physically produce identification at a local branch to activate your account. You may have to take forms of ID, including your passport, plus your plane ticket or a copy of the bank’s account-opening letter. Once you are positively identified, you can access your funds and receive a debit card and PIN.

Applying for a bank account WHEN you arrive in Australia:

If you decide to apply for a bank account when you arrive in Australia or have run out of time applying before you leave New Zealand, then it’s still worthwhile comparing your options online. When applying for an account at a local branch, you need to provide 100 points of identification, which may comprise a valid passport, a full birth certificate, a New Zealand driver’s licence, details of your Australian residential address.

International Money Transfers (IMTs): How to transfer funds to your Australian account:

Once you open an Australian bank account, you may want to transfer funds from accounts in New Zealand. This is known as an international money transfer (IMT), and there are a couple of ways you can do this: through your bank or via an independent company.

If you need to transfer money overseas, shop around for the best exchange rate and the lowest fees. The fees and charges applied can vary depending on the institution you use and how you make the transfer. For example, an IMT made via a branch may attract a higher processing fee than one made via internet banking. Some institutions also charge a receiving fee at the other end, so keep an eye out for any hidden charges that may apply.

To transfer funds internationally to an Australian account, you need to obtain specific details about the account and bank. These details usually include the Australian bank’s SWIFT/BIC (Bank Identifier Code) and IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and the address of the bank where you opened the account. You also need to know your Australian account’s BSB (Bank/Branch) number and account number. All these can easily be obtained by contacting the bank you open your account with.

Opening a bank account more than six weeks after arriving in Australia:

Some people may not open a bank account until more than six weeks after arriving in Australia. It’s okay to take this approach but bear in mind that you’ll probably need to supply more forms of identification than if you open an account earlier. This may include your birth certificate, marriage certificate, driver’s licence, or perhaps a New Zealand credit card.

Term deposits:

A term deposit is a type of account that lets you boost your savings balance. It offers a higher interest rate than transaction accounts, allowing you to earn more interest over time. A term deposit works as follows: you deposit money into an account for an agreed-upon period, and you cannot access the funds until the term ends. Once the term comes to an end, you can access your initial deposit and the interest you earn.

A wide variety of banks, credit unions and other financial institutions offer term deposits. You can typically apply for one quickly and easily online, and most have a minimum deposit limit.

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Australian credit cards

There are various credit cards available for different purposes. Shop around to find the one that best suits your needs and financial circumstance.

  • Specialist credit cards. These cards are specially designed for migrants who don’t have a credit history. These cards offer an easier application and approval process.
  • Open application cards. Stores typically offer these cards without reviewing your credit history. An annual fee and high-interest rates usually apply, so make sure to pay off your balance in full each month.
  • Secured credit cards. To qualify for one of these cards, you need to offer an asset as security.
  • Prepaid credit cards/debit cards. These cards work because you load money onto a card and then spend it, but you cannot exceed the amount you have deposited onto the card. This choice helps you avoid high-interest rates and can help ensure that you don’t get into debt.
  • Moving abroad credit cards. Some card providers, for example, American Express, allow you to transfer your existing credit card to another country. The whole process is designed to be as smooth and hassle-free as possible.
  • Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards charge you hefty fees for overseas transactions. However, you may be eligible for a card that waives charges on these types of purchases.
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How to apply for a credit card

In addition to a bank account, it may be just as important to consider signing up for a credit card when you get to Australia. A credit card gives you access to funds when you need them and allows you to purchase goods and services you might not otherwise be able to afford. So it’s worth comparing cards to find one that suits your spending habits.

Credit cards can also:

  • Act as a handy form of identification
  • Be used for online purchases if debit payments aren’t accepted
  • Help you build a credit history
Establishing credit

Establishing a good credit history allows you to apply for loans and other finance in the future. It’s a good idea to keep credit cards from New Zealand and continue to pay off the balance on those cards regularly. Some banks even have branch networks that stretch right across the globe, so signing up for a credit card from a bank with which you already have a relationship can be a sensible option. Even if you need to endure a higher interest rate or fewer rewards, this can still help you establish your credit history in Australia.

Banks that issue credit cards for temporary residents

If you’re an Australian temporary resident, it may be harder to access credit. However, it is still possible to get a credit card from the following companies:

  • HSBC. To qualify for a credit card from this global bank, you need to earn over $50,000 each year, have a valid 457 working visa and be contracted to work in Australia for at least two years.
  • Commonwealth Bank. This bank offers its credit cards to temporary residents of Australia. Still, you need to have an eligible visa, have full-time employment in Australia and earn more than $50,000 per year.
  • ANZ. To apply for a credit card with ANZ, you need to provide a permanent/temporary resident visa or a working permit, and your employment agreement must have at least six months remaining.
  • Westpac. To qualify for a credit card with Westpac, you need a minimum yearly salary of $50,000 or a minimum deposit of $250,000 in a Westpac account or another ongoing source of income when you arrive in Australia. You also need an eligible visa and an Australian residential address, which cannot be a hotel or hostel.
  • NAB. If you have been working in Australia for a minimum of three months and completed a probationary period at work, you can apply for a credit card with NAB.
  • American Express. People who have long-term working visas are typically eligible to apply for cards from American Express. Minimum income requirements start at $35,000. Individual eligibility requirements are outlined for each card.
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Banking in Australia: What you need to know

Dealing with a new country’s currency and banking system can be confusing and sometimes daunting, so read on to discover the ins and outs of banking in Australia.

Currency and conversion rates

The Australian currency system came into existence in 1966, replacing the British system of pounds, shillings and pence. Each Australian Dollar is divided into 100 cents.

In terms of money, you’ll soon come across Australia’s brightly coloured notes. You can get currency in $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 notes. In terms of coins, there are $2 and $1 coins in gold, plus 50-cent, 20-cent, 10-cent and five-cent pieces in silver. When taking out money from an ATM, most machines dispense only $20 and $50 notes, although some also dispense $100 notes.

As exchange rates obviously fluctuate regularly, it’s worth waiting for conversion rates that suit you. You can obtain these rates from your bank or xe.com.

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How to access your funds

Across Australia, there are around 28,000 ATMs where you can complete banking transactions. However, remember that you may be charged a small fee if you use an ATM that your bank or financial institution does not own.

In today’s world, you can manage a huge number of your banking needs online, including everyday transactions, direct debits, scheduled payments, bill payments and much more. All Australian banks provide their own internet banking systems.

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Bank fees to be aware of in Australia

When comparing banks, it’s worth checking what fees and charges come with your account. With this in mind, make sure you’re aware of any hidden fees attached to your account. These fees can include:

  • Fees for using an ATM not owned by your bank
  • Transaction fees for EFTPOS or online transactions
  • Monthly account-keeping fees
  • Annual fees
  • Overdraft fees if you overdraw your account balance
  • Foreign exchange fees
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