What should expats know about the best banks in Australia?

Relocating to Australia? To help you stay on top of your finances while making the move, our guide lets you know about the best Australian banks for expats, and what types of accounts you can set up.

Xe Consumer APAC

June 10, 202112 min read

When making an international move, taking control of your finances is one of the first things that you’ll need to do. Even more so, if you’re moving to the country as a business owner or a working professional who’s going to receive an income there, or if you have any outstanding payments in your previous country of residence

The first thing you’d need to do is open a bank account in Australia, even if you still haven’t arrived there. In fact, taking care of this step before making the big move Down Under, it’ll make it easier to start making purchases and payments related to your move, so you can hit the ground running.

To help you through the process, we’ve prepared a guide to the best Australian banks for expats, how you can open an account, and what types of bank accounts can be set up as an expat customer.

What documents do I need to open a bank account as an expat?

If you haven’t moved to Australia yet, you can still open an account online 3 to 12 months before you arrive. The whole process won’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes.

You just need to provide:

  • The date on which you’re leaving your home country for Australia

  • The date on which you’ll be arriving in the new country

  • The address in Australia where you’ll be living

  • A valid identity proof or your passport

  • Your work, residence, or student visa with which you’ll be entering Australia

  • Your employment and income details

  • At least 100 points worth of identity documentation. Each document you produce (like a passport, driver’s licence, utility account, tenancy agreement, and so on) is worth a specific number of points. As per government regulations, you need to satisfy at least 100 points for opening an account with an Australian bank.

It’s okay if you’ve already shifted to Australia without opening a bank account there before arriving.

All you’ll need for setting up an account is your passport, if you do so within 6 weeks of showing up in Australia. You won’t even need to satisfy the 100 point-check, then.

What types of accounts are available for expats?

Some of the most common bank accounts for expats in Australia are:

  • Savings accounts. You’ll get a high interest rate for your savings balance.

  • Everyday banking accounts. These accounts are meant for daily deposits and withdrawals, for, say, groceries and entertainment. Everyday banking accounts are similar to savings accounts but offer a lower interest rate than the latter.

  • Joint accounts. If you’re moving to Australia with your spouse, business partner, friend, or any family member, you can open a joint account with them.

  • Foreign Currency accounts. Even after you’ve made the move to Australia from overseas, you might still be receiving income in another currency. Larger Australian banks help you in opening Foreign Currency accounts where you can keep your money in a different currency under lock and key, till you should need it.

  • Term deposits. With term deposits, you agree to keep your money locked up for a specified period of time.

  • Credit Card accounts. Credit Card accounts in Australian banks, like banks in other countries, allow you to access money that isn’t readily available.

What kinds of bank fees should I look out for?

Luckily, you won’t find many Australian banks that offer unlimited transactions in exchange for monthly fees. Even if you do, these banks will charge very low fees, unless you deposit a minimum amount in your bank account each month. This minimum amount is typically fixed at $2,000 AUD (or approximately $1,547.49 USD).

Some banks in Australia may charge overdraft fees as well, while others don’t.

You’ll also have to be aware of fees charged on ATM withdrawals. Withdrawing money from your own bank’s ATMs is usually free. But if you’ve opened an account with a certain Australian bank, and you’re using another bank’s ATM, you may have to pay about $2 AUD (or approximately $1.55 USD) for each transaction.

The best way to find out about a bank’s charges and fees is to visit the bank’s official website.

You can also book a telephone consultation with them or drop by their branch to better understand about the exact fees and charges you should expect to pay when banking with them.

How do I compare banks?

It’s important to compare banks in Australia by paying attention to these aspects:

  • Time taken to open accounts. Each bank in Australia will take their own time in opening accounts. Some banks may allow you to apply online from overseas and set up your account within a day or two. However, they may require you to activate your bank account once you arrive in the country. Others may ask you to visit one of their physical branches to initiate the account opening process. In this case, it’ll take longer to open an account, usually 1-5 working days.

  • International services. While Australian banks provide a range of banking services like savings accounts and mortgages, only some of them offer international services like foreign currency accounts.

  • Fees and charges. Would you have to pay any debit card fees or account maintenance fees? Find out if you need to pay for getting cheque book access as well. Ask for upfront information about any other fees and charges that may apply.

  • Online banking facilities. If you want to keep most of your basic banking transactions online, search for a well-known Australian bank providing digital banking facilities for expats. These facilities may include making bill payments and opening new accounts via online banking portals.

What are the best Australian banks for expats?

National Australia Bank (NAB)

With their headquarters in Melbourne, NAB is one of the biggest banks in Australia, founded in 1981. Their options include:

Transaction accounts

NAB provides two types of transaction accounts: NAB Classic Banking account and NAB Retirement account. Both of these everyday banking accounts provide flexible ways of paying online and withdrawing money from ATMs without any monthly fees.

If you’ve retired to Australia, or moved there as a student, you can open an NAB transaction account and get a Visa Debit card. Plus, you can withdraw money for free at over 7,000 NAB ATMs throughout the country.

Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be able to withdraw a maximum amount of $2,000 AUD ($1,547 USD) on each bank card per working day.

Opening an NAB Classic Banking account online won’t take even 5 minutes. The interest rate on this account is 0.01%.

To set up an NAB Retirement account, you’ll need to have retired (obviously) and be over 55. This transaction account offers a tiered interest, meaning that your interest rate depends on the tier in which your account balance falls.

For example, if your account balance belongs to the minimum tier, that is, between $1 AUD and $9,999 AUD, you’ll get an annual interest rate of 0.01%. But if your retirement account balance belongs to the highest tier of $250,000 AUD or above, the annual interest rate would be 0.36%.

Savings accounts

NAB savings accounts are ideal if you want to start saving for a home loan deposit or some other goal.

You’ll get bonus interest (up to 0.30%) if you keep depositing money regularly, without making any withdrawals.

No matter which savings account option you prefer, you can open your account online in just a few minutes.

Personal loans

Personal loans from NAB are available for one to seven years, allowing you to repay the loan on a weekly, monthly, or fortnightly basis.

Depending on your needs, you can borrow any amount between $5,000 AUD ($3,874 USD) and $55,000 AUD ($42,615 USD).

On applying for a personal loan, you’ll need to pay a fee of $150 AUD, along with a $10 AUD monthly fee.

Other products

Apart from the banking products we’ve outlined above, NAB offers business transaction accounts, online business banking, specialized accounts, international services, and insurance.

Westpac

Based in Sydney, Westpac Banking Corporation (or simply Westpac) is one of the country’s first banks offering personal and business banking services for expats.

Everyday bank accounts

Have you moved to Australia in the last 12 months? The bank offers a Westpac Choice everyday account specifically designed for expats living and working in Australia, as well as international students.

You’ll be able to open this account online within 3 minutes and receive a Debit Mastercard. There won’t be any withdrawal fees, either, at any large bank ATM in Australia (including Westpac, NAB, CommBank, and ANZ) and at more than 50,000 ATMs outside the country.

If you’re aged 18-29, you can earn a variable interest of 3% p.a. on your savings with this account and a Westpac Life savings account.

Westpac Choice account holders pay a $5 AUD monthly fee. But the bank will waive this fee for expats (for the first 12 months).

Term deposits

New Westpac customers will get a fixed interest rate of 0.35% p.a. on a term deposit spanning 12 months. You can deposit any amount between $5,000 AUD and $2,000,000 AUD.

In order to apply for a term deposit at Westpac, you need to be aged over 18, have an Australian address, and be in Australia at the time of opening a term deposit online.

Savings accounts

A Westpac Life Savings account lets you earn variable interest up to 0.40%. After opening this account online in just 3 minutes, you can set 6 different savings goals per account.

Within a couple of weeks, you’ll receive a debit Mastercard that you can add to your wallet on Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay.

Moreover, keeping this account doesn’t require any monthly fee or overdrawn fee.

Business Foreign Currency accounts

Such accounts enable you to make and receive payments in 12 different currencies without converting those to AUD (unless you choose to).

You can open foreign currency accounts in US Dollar, Euro, Canadian Dollar, Japanese Yen, South African Rand, and a handful of other currencies.

If you wish to open an account in a currency that isn’t available online, you’ll have to visit your nearest Westpac branch.

There won’t be any monthly account fees, but you would be charged fees for related services. For instance, an electronic transfer from Australia to overseas in Australian dollars would cost $20 AUD. The same transfer, in a foreign currency, would cost you $10 AUD.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia

Tailored towards expats, migrant banking accounts at CommBank are available for people aged 14 and more. You can apply for these accounts if you’ve shifted to Australia in the last 3 months, or you’ll be arriving there in the next 3 months.

In case it’s been more than 3 months since you’ve made the move to Australia, you’ll require at least one form of identity proof (your passport, Medicare card, an Australian driver’s licence, or your birth certificate). It’s also best to keep your Tax Identification Number (TIN) handy.

Student bank account

Meant for international students, opening a student account with CommBank would mean you can withdraw money from any CommBank ATM without using a card or paying any fees.

The CommBank app also lets you track your expenses using its Spend Tracker feature.

Everyday bank account

Nearly all features and benefits of this account are similar to those of a student bank account. The only difference is that you don’t need an Australian address to open an everyday account with CommBank.

If you want to cut down on your expenses, or you’ve lost your CommBank Debit Mastercard, you can lock the card via the bank’s mobile app.

Are there any online banks in Australia?

Yes, many online-only banks have come up in Australia, including:

ME Bank

It provides online savings accounts, transaction accounts, business savings accounts, personal and home loans, and term deposits.

RaboDirect

It offers regular and notice savings accounts, as well as high-interest ones. You can use term deposits and Self-Managed Super Funds (SMSF) accounts, too.

In case you don’t know, an SMSF is a superannuation fund you can manage on your own, where you’ll be able to save money for your retirement. You call the shots on the insurance and the investments.

UBank

It comes with savings accounts, home loans, SMSF accounts, plus combined transaction and savings accounts for expats.

What’s a more convenient way of sending money to and from Australia?

Some of the best Australian banks for expats provide fantastic banking services, there’s no denying that. But if you ask us, having to reach out directly to your Australian bank branch to send money abroad or receiving money from overseas doesn’t quite cut it.

For instance, if you want to make an international money transfer with CommBank, you’ll have to send them an email - and keep waiting for a reply (say goodbye to money transfers during emergencies).

There’s also the fact that banks tend to offer unfavourable exchange rates and numerous additional fees—which could make your money transfer much more expensive than you anticipated.

What we mean to say is, you’d need a faster, more convenient and cost-effective way of sending money to Australia or transferring money abroad.

And what more suitable method than an online international money transfer service like Xe?

How to send money to Australia with Xe

  1. Sign in to your Xe account or sign up.

  2. Enter the currencies to exchange and the amount to get a quote.

  3. Enter your recipient’s name, address, bank name, bank account number, bank code, and BIC/SWIFT code. If you’re transferring money between your own bank accounts, that will be your own information.

  4. Select your payment method and enter in that information. You can pay by bank transfer, card payment, or direct debit.

  5. Does everything look good? Confirm your transfer and let us handle the rest.

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All currency conversions mentioned are based on the AUD/USD mid-market exchange rate on June 1st, 2021.