How to set up an Australian Bank Account- a backpacker’s guide

Are you off travelling to the land down under?

Most likely you’ve been working your backside off before you go, trying to save as much as possible to put towards your awesome adventure. I certainly have. And you know what? When I work hard for my money the last thing I plan on doing is giving it away….

Giving it away to banking fat cats for their annual bonus.

If you want to keep hold of your cash and stop lining the pockets of inner city bankers you will want to remove, or certainly reduce any bank charges and fees incurred from using your home banks’ debit card whilst in Oz.

How can you do this?

There are a few options and some banks may offer debit cards that will not charge you to use ATM’s abroad, but in my humble opinion the best way to keep hold of your dollar is to open an Australian bank account.

Read below for a helpful step by step guide as to how I went about doing this:

1) Research the banks available

The main 4 banks that I came across in my research were ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac. I had a little look at conversations in Expat forums and in various other places on the web to see which ones were recommended and why.

I then visited the websites of each bank to see what they could offer me and how easy the process appeared to be to set up an account. Let’s face it, for me simples is best! I looked at the FAQ’s, any alliances with other international banks and I also looked to see where there branches and ATM’s were within Australia.

2) Choose a bank that’s right for you

After all of this I decided to open my account with Westpac.

Why Westpac?

Westpac had a “Moving to Australia?” page which had pretty much all the info (or links to info) I could possibly want. Easy to navigate and perfectly informative at the same time.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 21.51.01 copy

3) Open your Australian bank account

Input your personal details

How to open a westpac account for my blog screen shot

 

Westpac screen shots for blog

 

If you want to open an eSaver account you can do so, although I decided not to at this point

3rd westpac photo for blog

 

Once you have confirmed your details are correct and read the terms and conditions you will get a page telling you what the next steps are:

Opening a westpac account blog

Although I am hoping to travel around the whole of Australia I decided it was best to set my home branch to Perth as that is where I’m headed first.

Once you have received your confirmation e-mails with your account number and BSB number (sort-code) you can either transfer money across from your UK account before verifying your identity, or verify your identity whilst still in the UK. If you transfer money and do your identity checks in Oz you will NOT be able to withdraw any funds until you have done so.

I decided that I wanted to verify my identity before arriving because I had read that if I did so I could arrange to have my debit card waiting for me at my home branch in Perth when I arrived. This means not waiting around for my debit card to arrive, being unable to access my money and incurring HSBC charges on my UK debit card (BOOO!!) in the meantime.

4) Verify your identity

To do this before you arrive in Oz you need to visit Westpac in London at:

Camomile Court, 23 Camomile Street, London EC3A 7LL

You will need:

  • Your passport
  • Driver’s licence
  • Proof ok UK address
  • Print out of confirmation e-mail and account details

They’re open Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.00pm (or by appointment) and are easy to get to. I took the tube to Liverpool Street station, took the exit onto Bishopsgate and turned right. You then need to walk to the intersection of Bishopsgate and Camomile and Wormwood Streets (Heron Tower on corner), and turn left into Camomile Street. The entrance to the building is on the left side of the street.

The entrance is just like any other office building with a main reception desk (names of companies in the building above the desk). The chap on reception confirmed I was in the right place and buzzed me through a glass gate and told me it was the door on the left. I then had to ring the bell and was let in by a very nice Westpac lady!

sneaky picture of Westpac lady's desk!

Perhaps naively, I was expecting a bank…it was more of an office with one reception desk and a seating area. I explained to the lady (I so wish I had taken her name for this post because she was awesome) that I had set up an account as I was going to Oz on a working holiday visa and wanted to verify my identity before I left. Gave her all my documents and she set to work on the computer. Whilst she was working she told me that she was from Melbourne and was on a working holiday visa in the UK…coincidently I also found out we were the same age, with birthdays only a few days apart. After a minute or two she printed off the necessary forms for me to sign and then told me she would order my Westpac debit card and e-mail my chosen branch in Perth in regards to me collecting it there (as I’d explained I wanted to do this). Westpac lady then set up internet banking on my account and gave me a business card with the initial password to log in, which is great as I can keep tabs on my account online.

Waiting area

Super?

The great thing about this lady being from Oz was that I was able to ask her about Superannuation and whether I would need an account set up. As far as I can tell (yes I haven’t looked into it too much yet!) a super account is an account that all of your employers in Oz pay the equivalent of a UK pension into. Legally they have to pay you super for any work you do and you get to keep it when you leave the country for the last time…which is super awesome! Westpac lady told me it was very easy to set up and that I could speak to them in the Perth branch about it when I collect my debit card, which is what I plan to do.

All of this literally took 15 minutes (if that) once in the building and has given me peace of mind that I won’t be waiting ages without access to my dollars!

5) Transfer your funds

One of the things that drew me to Westpac, was that they had a simple form available to print off, fill in and take to your home bank to request transfer of funds. All the banking codes needed for the transfer (except acc. no. and BSB number) were already there.

transfer funds

So I happily printed this off and took it into my local HSBC branch today and requested the transfer.

The very kind lady explained to me it would cost me £30…yes £30 for her to do the transfer in the branch OR £17 if I did it myself using “make an overseas payment” on my online banking. No guesses needed as to the decision I made!!!

Only problem was, that when trying to make the transfer I found that HSBC was asking me for an IBAN number for the Westpac account (which I did not have and I think…don’t quote me here, that they are only applicable to European bank accounts) instead of the Swift Code. With most things I would probably try to just put in the code I had and see what happens, however when it comes to moving fairly large sums of money (and being on a tight time schedule) I didn’t fancy the gamble! Instead I turned to trusty google to try and find out how I could source my IBAN number.

During this search (god bless you google) I stumbled upon a discussion in an Expat forum about using a third party HiFX to transfer the money between accounts. According to those posting in the forum, it reduced (if not eliminated) any charges and gave you a better exchange rate than your bank ever will! Good reviews all over the inter web definitely made me consider this as an option.

I decided to set up an account to compare the two. I found that by using HSBC I would incur a fee of £17 and would get $2055 dollars for the amount I wanted to transfer. Using HiFX I would be charged £9 and get $2112.99 for the same amount. That’s a big difference! What really impressed me was that whilst I was inputting all my info on the HiFX website it was keeping up to date with the current exchange rate and adjusting itself as I went along. Once you have confirmed with them they then hold the transfer at the agreed rate.

HiFX for the win!! I have to point out here that at the time of writing this I cannot tell you how pleased I am overall with the whole service, as it will take time for the transfer to happen and I am yet to encounter any teething problems in the process. Really hoping that it will be smooth but will update if not, and I may write a more in depth review for you all at a later date.

This is where this post will have to end as anything else will be hypothetical at this point. Hopefully my money will be sitting in my Australian account in a few days (thanks to HiFX) and when I get to Perth I can go into my chosen Westpac branch and collect my debit card (obviously taking my passport as ID).

Choosing a bank account will always be a very personal thing but I hope that this will have been of some use to you. I realise that I have mainly focused on Westpac but I should have given you some things to think about and maybe it will have prompted some questions in your own noggins about what is important to you personally.

Edit 01/07/2015: I am pleased to say that all went very much according to plan! My Westpac debit card was waiting for me on arrival and HiFX had transferred my money across no problem, so it was sat in my account waiting for me to withdraw my first ever Australian dollars! Definitely recommend HiFX and so far I have not had any problems with Westpac.

Take care and happy spending/saving!

Hannah x

 

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About The Author

Hannah

Creative unicorn ninja; Travel vlogger/blogger. Green tea enthusiast and lover of dance and art. Currently be found back in England planning the next adventure! Southeast Asia Odyssey coming very soon!

Where I can be found: UK

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