If you’re planning on moving to Australia, you’re probably feeling excited, but also a bit scared. Australia is an awesome country, with lots to explore. But it’s also really far away. And while it shares the same language as the UK, it’s still quite different. It’s even got its seasons the wrong way round! Thankfully, though, there’s one thing you can be sure of: opening a bank account is a straightforward process. Here’s what you need to do.
When it comes to documentation, Australian banks use a points system. There’s a given list of documents, and each document is assigned a set number of points. In order to open a bank account, you’ll need to present a number of documents that, together, add up to 100 points.
Confused? You don’t have to be. It’s way easier than it sounds. Here’s the list:
- Birth certificate, passport or citizenship certificate - 70 points
- Drivers’ licence, shooters’ licence, public service employee ID card or a Commonwealth or State Government financial entitlement card - 40 points
- Land Rates (This applies only to homeowners) - 35 points
- A card with your name on it. This could be a credit card, or even a store account card or a library card - 25 points
- A document with your name and address on it, such as a utility bill or bank statement - 25 points
As you can see, fairly straightforward. Even if you’re new to Australia, making up the requisite 100 points shouldn’t be too hard. Your passport and driving licence, for example, would add up to 110 points, which is more than enough. Even better, if you open your bank account within 6 weeks of landing in Australia, you can open an account with just your passport. But that’s not all.
You don’t have to wait until you’re physically present in Australia to open a bank account. Just pick a bank and do it online. The ‘big four’ Australian banks - ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac - all have tailored migrant banking facilities that make it possible to open a bank account online up to 12 months before you arrive.
The process should take about five to ten minutes. However, you’ll still need to go to your local branch with 100 points’ worth of documentation once you arrive in Australia. Until you do this, you’ll be able to make deposits into your account, but no withdrawals.
It’s hard to say which bank is best for you, because this is largely a matter of personal preference. Whether you’re a student, a professional or a business, most banks have broadly similar products. Most accounts are equally straightforward to open, but tend to have very low interest rates and not many perks.
That said, your best bet is probably one of the big four banks, as these have the most extensive branch and ATM networks in Australia. This is an important thing to consider, for reasons we’ll get into shortly. But first, let’s have a look at what Australia’s big four banks have to offer.
The National Australian Bank, or NAB is the largest bank in Australia. It has over 1,500 branches and more than 3,400 ATMs across Australia.
NAB’s classic account has no monthly fees and comes with a contactless visa debit card as standard. You can use contactless to pay for purchases up to AUS$100. There are also no overdraft fees or minimum deposit amounts. Unfortunately, NAB doesn’t have accounts made specifically for students. However, it does have three business bank accounts to choose from, depending on the size of your business.
Unusually for a business bank account, the business everyday account is free. You can also link your account to interest-bearing products and integrate it with major accounting platforms, including Xero and Reckon.
The Commonwealth Bank’s Smart Access Account is made specifically for people who are new to Australia. You can open it online up to three months before your move and transfer money in instantly. However, you’ll need to verify your identity in branch once you’re in Australia. The account costs AUD$4 a month, but it’s free if you deposit at least AUD$2,000 a month. You’ll also get a contactless mastercard debit card.
If you’re a student, you can apply for a Student Smart Access Account. The account is available for both part-time and full-time students. Its advantage is that it offers a number of discounts. The monthly fee and minimum monthly deposit requirements will be waived and you’ll get a credit card free for the first year. In addition, you won’t be charged any fees when you take out a loan; and you’ll get a free travel money card.
Finally, the Commonwealth Bank’s business account comes with a mastercard debit card, no minimum balance requirements and access to linked interest-bearing products.
You can open an ANZ bank account online up to a year before you move to Australia. The account is free for 12 months and costs AUD$5 a month thereafter.
However, the fee will be waived if you’re under 25, you deposit at least AUD$2,000 a month or you’re a full-time student. You’ll also get a visa contactless debit card.
Besides two business bank accounts, ANZ also offers a relationship manager service specifically for business people new to Australia. If you’re planning to start your own business when you move to Australia, this service is really helpful.
Westpac’s Everyday Bank Account is free for the first year (or completely free if you’re a full-time student) and comes with a mastercard debit card. You can apply for one online up to a year before you arrive in Australia.
You can also apply for a business bank account. These start at AUD$10 a month and can be linked to an overdraft and interest-bearing products. You’ll also get unlimited free electronic transactions and a business debit mastercard.
Most Australian banks either don’t charge monthly fees or have a low monthly fee which is waived if you deposit at least a given amount each month. The minimum is normally set at AUD$ 2, 000 which is lower than the average Australian salary.
In the past, many banks only gave you a limited number of free transactions a month, which meant you’d incur a fee for any card payments or even ATM withdrawals over this limit. Thankfully, these days, it seems this is no longer the case; and most banks offer unlimited free transactions. However, it’s still a good idea to make sure of this, in order to avoid any nasty surprises.
In any case, you’ll need to keep in mind that ATM withdrawals in Australia are only free if you use your bank’s ATM machines. Making a withdrawal from another bank’s ATM will often cost you in the region of AUD$2 per transaction.
You’ll also have to keep in mind that most Australian bank accounts don’t come with overdraft facilities, so you may risk fees and charges if you withdraw more money than you have in your account.
Some banks don’t charge overdraft fees at all; while others may decide not to charge you under certain circumstances, for example if it’s your first time being overdrawn. Once again, it’s best to check your bank’s policy on this, so you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.