I think it’s best if I’m straight with you from the very beginning of this article.
The bank accounts I list here are not the best accounts in Australia with the highest interest rates. To open one of the higher interest accounts you need to be living in Australia.
Once you have moved and are settled into your new life in Sydney, then definitely look into one of those accounts.
We have a high interest UBank Account that we love, but that’s not the only bank with high interest savings accounts. A good resources for checking out banks are CANSTAR and Rate City but again, don’t worry about that until you are here.
Australian Bank Accounts for Expats Moving to Australia
I have listed the main banks in Australia that allow you to open your account before arriving in Australia. Check each out and make an educated decision on what bank works best for you.
Why You Should Open Your Bank Account Before You Move
The first two weeks in Sydney are hectic.
Opening a bank account was one of the many tasks we had to get done our first two weeks in Sydney.
I refer to those two weeks now as the “Two Week Scramble” as, many expats on a sponsored visa, have only two weeks booked in a hotel before they are out on the streets. Don’t worry. You won’t be out on the streets but that worse-case scenario is playing on repeat in every expat’s mind when they first arrive.
It felt like we were on some sort of reality TV show like “The Amazing Race”, but for expats.
(Hope I’m not making you nervous. Don’t worry because you’re going to be way more prepared than we were. That’s the whole point of Sydney Moving Guide, giving you the inside track so there aren’t any surprises when you arrive. Well, not big surprises anyway. There will always be a few surprises.)
Even after we opened our bank accounts and transferred funds from back home, we still had to wait on our stupid bank cards that took 10 business days to arrive at the branch which meant no ATM. If we needed cash, we had to go into the bank and make a withdrawal.
Yes, it was a pain especially since banks close earlier in Australia than in the States and most are not open on the weekends. As a result, we ended up using our US credit cards more than we should have, out of convenience.
The only thing that saved us was my husband’s request that he get a “signing bonus”, as the company called it, that was paid to him up front when we arrived. The bonus is was really more of a reimbursement for our relocation costs. Even so we were happy to have that check in Australian funds, to open our bank account with and use straight way for our first apartment.
It was a fast “here today, gone tomorrow” sort of thing. Still it got us our first apartment in Elizabeth Bay. Mission Accomplished.
If we didn’t have that check waiting for us, we would not have been able to pay for our apartment deposit plus first month’s rent until our money transfer had gone through.
If that had been the case, we would have had to extend our hotel stay an extra week. At our own cost since the company that sponsored our visa was paying for just two weeks.
When you’re looking for an apartment in Sydney, timing is everything. If you see a place online that you like, make sure all your funds and paperwork are ready to go so you can jump on it.
Any delays and the agent will move on to the next person who has the money ready to go.
This is one of the reasons setting up your bank account and transferring money to Australia before you arrive in Sydney is so important. Running around the city, trying to fit in as many viewings as possible, is stressful enough. There is no need to add to your stress by having to wait for your money to appear in your account or have to wait on your bank cards.
You have enough to get done before you get to Australia. Make it easier on yourself. I certainly wish we had.
A Common Banking Mistake Expats Make
“International” banks are not really international in terms of serving you.
What do I mean?
Citibank in the USA is not the same as Citibank in Australia. Yes, it’s the same bank but if you have an account with Citibank in the States it does not mean you also have an account with Citibank in Sydney.
This might seem obvious but I’ve heard it many times that a new expat arrives in Sydney and goes to the Citibank branch to access their accounts only to find out that they actually need to open completely separate bank accounts. Then transfer money from their US Citibank account to their Australian Citibank account.
Not only is this frustrating but time consuming to set then wait for your transfer to go through.
The other “international” bank is HSBC.
HSBC does have bank accounts for expats but you have to contact them to open one of those accounts. You cannot just transfer over you current accounts at HSBC to an international banking account.
I’m guilty of this mistake too as I thought I could transfer my Etrade.com account back home to an Etrade.com.au account. Instead, I ended up with two different accounts.
If you currently have an account with one of these banks, Citibank or HSBC, and want to stay with them, I’m sure they would LOVE to help you out.
But don’t use them to transfer money overseas!
They will you tell about how convenient it is to transfer money back and forth because you’re doing so within the same bank.
Don’t buy it.
Bank to bank transfers, even within the “same” bank, have the worst rates of exchange and they charge you a fee for the transaction plus a percentage of the transfer.
Instead, check out OFX for better exchange rates, 0% commission and free transfers for LIFE, a special offer only for SMG readers.
OFX also allows you to lock in your rate of exchange.
Why is locking in an exchange rate something you should consider? Well, if you are selling your house, cashing out your pension or retirement fund, or just transferring any large sum of money to Australia, then locking in that rate of exchange can make a huge difference.
And, just in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter if you are not presently in Australia.
When you sign up with OFX, fill out the form online with your current location. You will then be referred to OFX-US or OFX-UK or OFX-NZ or another similar site. They are all the same company just different locations worldwide.
The free transfers for life promotion and 0% commission for SMG readers will still apply, just make sure you don’t clear your web browser cookies and that my promocode is in the url. For more about this promotion from OFX, click here.
After you fill out the signup form, you will receive an email from a customer service rep asking you what your plans are. Nice getting personal service especially when it comes to your money.
Trust me on this.
We have transferred money back and forth a number of times and have made all the mistakes, some of them very costly, like international bill pay. What a racket!
Really, learn from our mistakes. Please.