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Planning on studying in Australia? International Student Banking 101

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Posted by Kirsty Timsans

G'Day! So, you're planning on studying in Australia? There are plenty of things you'll need to get sorted before you make the big move like deciding what university course you’ll be studying, where you’re going to live and how you will manage your finances.

At Mozo, we understand that studying in another country can be both an exciting and daunting experience. So before you book any sightseeing tours or hit up the local beaches, check out our guide on the ins and outs of banking in Australia from how to set up a bank account to what fees and features you should look out for. 

Bank Accounts 

One of the most important things you’ll need to organise when moving to Australia is opening up a transaction account which is your basic, everyday bank account and can be used to deposit funds (aka from your wages), pay your bills and manage your everyday expenses such as accommodation, textbooks, food and uni parties. Be aware these transaction accounts generally don’t pay any interest on the balance held in the account. 

Which banks in Australia offer a transaction account for international students?  

As an international student, you’ll be happy to hear there are a number of banks in Australia that offer transaction accounts from which you can choose.

Some of these banks include:

Can't decide which one is right for you? That's ok! Mozo has collected thousands of reviews by real customers who rated their bank accounts on everything from price and features to customer service and convenience.

How do I open up a bank account in Australia? 

The process of opening up a bank account in Australia is relatively quick and straightforward. Most banks allow you to open an account before your arrive in Australia (up to 3 months for some banks) through their website via an online application form. When completing this form it’s a good idea to have your passport number and expiry date handy and you'll also be asked to supply your personal details, a valid email address and details of your planned arrival in Australia.

When your application has been processed and approved, you will be notified usually via email and given details of your new account so you can start transferring money to have ready before you get here.

Mozo tip: Keep an eye on the exchange rate to ensure you’re transferring money at a time when you're getting the best value for your currency. You should also change some of your currency into Australian dollars prior to your arrival in case of an emergency.

Once you have arrived in Australia, you’ll need to pay a visit to your local branch and show them your passport so you can start withdrawing your money, receive your linked debit card and register for internet banking. Most banks require you to be identified within one year of submitting your application, otherwise your account will be closed.

If you prefer to wait until you're in Australia before opening a bank account you can visit your local branch and provide staff with your details and passport. It’s important that you do this within 6 weeks of your arrival as after this time you’ll need to provide more identification. 

What features should I be aware of when choosing a transaction account? 

  • No monthly service fees: Many banks in Australia offer specific student transaction accounts that automatically waive the monthly account service fees. In this case, you'll need to visit your branch and present your current student ID and proof of enrolment such as course start and end dates.
  • Linked debit card: You'll be issued a linked debit card so you can conveniently access the funds in your bank account. Debit cards in Australia come with either Visa payWave or MasterCard PayPass functionality which allows you to make contactless payments for purchases under $100 wherever Visa and MasterCard are accepted.
  • Online and mobile banking: You can easily manage your finances anytime and anywhere using your bank's online and mobile platforms. With most banks, you'll have to register with your bank and once you're registered you can login or download the app to your mobile or tablet for convenient banking.
  • Extensive ATM network: So you're never caught without cash after a late night or charged a processing fee for using another bank's ATM, it's important to choose a bank with an extensive ATM network.
  • No international fees for ATM withdrawals: Planning to go back home in your uni break and want to access the funds in your Australian bank account? Choose a transaction account such as Citibank Plus that doesn't charge a fee when you withdraw from an ATM overseas.
  • Fee free International Money Transfers: If you want to transfer funds to your overseas account, some transaction accounts such as Citibank Plus offer fee free international money transfers to any bank in any country. 

Savings Accounts 

Once you have your bank account ready to go, you may also want to consider opening a high interest savings account that is linked to your everyday bank account. Savings accounts are different from your everyday transaction account because you will earn interest on the balance in your account.

Which banks in Australia offer a savings account for international students? 

Whatever your savings goals while you're studying here in Australia, you can choose from a number of savings accounts to get you there.

If you're after an online savings account, these won’t disappoint:

What features should I be aware of when choosing a savings account?

  • High interest rate: An important feature to consider when choosing a savings account is whether it has a competitive interest rate because this is what’s going to grow the balance in your account. Some savings accounts even offer bonus rates if you are a new customer or make regular deposits and maintain a minimum balance in your account.
  • Online access: If you want to spend more time focusing on your studies rather than your savings account, you’ll appreciate the convenience of an online account where you can manage your funds online or over the phone.
  • Unlimited deposits and withdrawals: Some accounts such as NAB’s iSaver allow you to make unlimited deposits or withdrawals while your interest rate remains the same. Remember the purpose of a savings account is to actually get you to SAVE so ensure your deposits outnumber your withdrawals.
  • No minimum balance: If you don’t want to transfer money immediately after you open the account, you may want to consider a savings account that doesn’t have any minimum balance requirements

International Money Transfer

So you’ve got a bank account for your everyday spending and a savings account for your long term cash stash - great! But how do you get your current savings into your Australian bank account? And if you’re lucky, how do your parents send you a cash present every once in awhile?

The answer to your dilemma might just be an international money transfer.

Just as the name suggests, an IMT allows you to transfer funds from an overseas bank account into an Aussie one, and convert to Aussie dollars while you’re at it.

Who does overseas money transfers in Australia?

There are two main options for transferring your savings from an overseas bank account to an Australian one.

Bank transfer - You probably already have a bank account in your home country, which will allow you to transfer money into your new Aussie bank account. This is a simple option, because your account is already open. The downside is that banks tend not to be as competitive in terms of how many Aussie dollars your foreign currency will ultimately net you.

IMT specialist - The other option is to use a provider who specialises in international money transfers. Makes sense right? Generally based online, these providers can usually offer up a better deal and bag you hundreds if not thousands of Aussie dollars more than a bank transfer. The catch? Well, you’ll have to sign up for a separate account with them, but this is usually a pretty easy and painless process.

For a full rundown of your options for getting your money to Australia (or getting it back overseas again later, for that matter!) check out our IMT vs Bank transfer comparison.

What should I look for?

You don’t want to start off your Aussie study experience on the wrong foot, and a surefire way to do that would be to lose a bunch of your hard earned savings with a sub-par money transfer. So, to make sure you’re getting the most bang from your buck, make sure you look for these 4 things in your IMT:

A top notch exchange rate

One of the most important things to look at when choosing an IMT deal is what exchange rate is on offer. Exchange rates change with the global market and the value of the Aussie dollar, but as a general rule of thumb, you’ll almost always get a better exchange rate if you opt for a specialist IMT provider over a regular bank.

There are also a bunch of handy features on offer from most IMT providers and banks to help you get the best deal on your transfer, including forward contracts, limit orders and spot rate contracts. You can read more about them in our guide to the features and benefits of IMT.

  • Low (or no) fees

Fees are the silent killer that will drain your bank balance faster than you can say “throw another shrimp on the barbie.” Again, IMT specialists come out on top here - their fees are generally much lower than banks. If you’re confident enough, it's a good idea to do the transfer online yourself, rather than over the phone or in a bank branch, because the fees will be much lower, or non-existent.

Read up on what international money transfer fees to look out for in our dedicated guide.

Top tip: Many IMT providers will waive the fee on transactions over a certain dollar value, so if you were planning on making a lot of little transfers, think about combining them into one big one to snag this deal.

  • Speedy transfer time

If you’re relying on your savings for things like textbooks, ramen noodles and you know, paying rent, then you don’t want to get stuck waiting weeks on end for a money transfer from overseas to come through. The good news is that most providers and banks can complete a transfer within 1-5 business days.

  • Convenient transfer limits

Be aware that some IMT specialists and banks have minimum and maximum amounts you can transfer in a single transaction, and some also have monthly caps. Usually, the minimums are as low as $200-$500, but the maximums can be a little more tricky. They can range between $25,000-$1,000,000, and if you go with a bank, will often be the daily withdrawal limit of your bank account.

Once you’ve got all those things checked off, you’re well on your way to a cost-effective international money transfer.

How do I set up an international money transfer?

Once you’ve picked a provider, you’ll need to set up an account with them. Then, you can get on top of scheduling a money transfer. For that, you’ll need a few details, including:

  • The full name, address and account number attached to your Aussie bank account
  • The currency you’re converting from and how much you’d like to transfer
  • The IBAN or bank account number of your overseas bank account
  • A SWIFT code or BIC for your overseas bank

By now you should have a good idea about the basics of banking when it comes to bank accounts, debit cards and savings accounts in the land down under. Keep in mind, generally credit cards and personal loans from Australian lenders aren't available to international students. But we will be providing more helpful tips in our upcoming student guides, so watch this space and you’re sure to score a HD in keeping your finances on track (no study required). 

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