Opening an Account
Having a bank account is essential to leading a convenient life in Australia. As most transactions are conducted as electronic transfers, it’s important to have an account for your salary or other payments to be deposited into, and to pay your bills from (using BPay, as discussed in the Utilities Section).
As an expat new to Australia, you will be required to provide 100 points worth of ID. The points system may vary slightly from bank to bank, but is based on the relative merit (points) allocated according to the reliability of an identifying document. A bill for utilities in your name, showing your current residential address will generally warrant 10 points (ask your utility company for a pre-bill printout if you have yet to receive one). A passport will usually be worth 70 points, and additional points can come in the form of your credit card, or drivers license from your home country.
To apply for an account, it’s usually unnecessary to make an appointment, however you will have to visit in person. Visit the nearest branch of the bank of your choosing in person with the proper identification, but be prepared to spend up to 2 hours speaking with a bank representative, providing information and filling out paperwork. If possible, ask to setup phone and internet banking services in this initial visit. Some banks will be happy to help you do this once they have issued your account number, others will require you to do this yourself from home once you have received information they will post to you. Minimum opening deposits are nominal ($1-$25), and fees will be less or waived if you meet a defined minimum deposit threshold every month (usually $2,000).
Although each bank will have different names associated with the accounts they offer, any basic account you establish will fall into one of the following three categories:
The most common type of account providing you with a Key Card, which allows you to withdraw funds at ATMs and pay for purchases with EFTPOS. Its also growing more common for banks to supply Key Cards with MasterCard or Visa symbols that allow you to use them for purchases anywhere that those credit cards are accepted (including online purchases). Depending on the bank and their policies, savings accounts may be an everyday transactional account, or a secondary account with an established interest rate.
Don’t let the name fool you, as written paper cheques are almost unheard of in Australia. These accounts tend to be rarer than Savings Accounts, but in effect work in the same way. You will be provided with a Key Card that allows you to withdraw funds at ATMs and pay for purchases with EFTPOS. These commonly feature a MasterCard or Visa symbol, that allow you to use them for purchases anywhere that those credit cards are accepted (including online purchases), and can be linked to both Savings and Credit Accounts.
Credit Accounts are only issued secondarily to established Savings or Chequing Accounts. They usually involve a Visa or MasterCard, or will be linked to your Savings or Checking Account Key Card with a Visa or MasterCard symbol. It is unusual for a bank to open a Credit Account for an expat unless they have significant holdings (over $10,000) deposited into a savings account with the bank.
Once you have opened an account at a bank branch, the bank will post a PIN (Personal Identification Number) for your Key Card to you. Depending on your bank, your Key Card will be mailed separately from your PIN (for security reasons), or you will be required to pick it up from the branch in person.
Once your account is established and your Key Card has been activated and used, you can expect to receive bank statements monthly, and to receive interest accrued in Savings Accounts quarterly.
While banks do not tend to have services specifically for expats, all major banks will be able to advise you on their process for transferring funds overseas, exchange rate issues, current interest rates, and local investment opportunities.
Dual / Multiple currency accounts are extremely rare in Australia, and usually only exist in larger investment banks for purposes of currency trading. However, most major banks have an online service allowing you to schedule international money transfers to overseas accounts of your choosing without having to visit a branch or speak to a bank representative.