Banking between US & Australia
June 8, 2005 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I am moving from the US to Australia (Sydney) in a few weeks and am interested to know if anyone has advice and experiences in managing bank accounts between countries.

I know that Citibank offers a traveler's account that is set up for working holidays, but I will be there at least one year, maybe much longer. Some of my questions are the ease of transferring money cheaply, easy access, accounts that might work in both countries, issues with fees or regulations, amount brought over - amount left in US, etc.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has specifically made the move from the US to Australia and how they handled finances as an expat. Since I will be living in Sydney, it would be great if information was specific to banking there.

So, have any of you done this? How did it go? Anything you would have done differently in hindsight? Thanks!
posted by qwip to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of my best frends made a similar move -- to West Australia. Keeps most of his money in US accounts managed online. He finds this all very simple and straight forward.
posted by horseblind at 8:08 AM on June 8, 2005

not us to australia, but uk to chile.
good: giving my parents power or attorney over our accounts in the uk. opening accounts locally with the bank that gives the best service. using online banking to manage things when possible.
bad: using citibank because it was in both countries. way too much red tape and poor service.
so in my experience, it's better to go with the best you can find locally, rather than trying to find a single solution that spans both places. banks work together all the time - using a single bank didn't have enough advantages to compensate for the bad service. but you may be richer than me - i was close to the minimum wage citibank would deign to talk to.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:11 AM on June 8, 2005

I keep all my earnings and daily use money in a local account. I still maintain a US account but use it only for emergencies or for buying thing on-line or over the phone where it's easier to look like I'm living in the states. I use Citibank but think it sucks for the reasons described above by andres cooke. Any US bank with good telephone and Internet banking services should be fine.
I'm in Japan
posted by mexican at 11:38 PM on June 8, 2005

I just moved to Sydney from the US and simply kept my citibank account. I'm not quite sure what andrew means by red tape, as I have not experienced any of it.

There is a Citibank building right in the CBD across from Town Hall station and is easily accessible. I can also use my citibank debit card at any ATM (but it doesn't work as a debit card when making purchases -- I have to tell the salesperson to treat it as a credit card). I don't know about switching to an OZ citibank account, but I can't imagine that it would be difficult.

But...since citibank lets you manage all your accounts online (make transfers, etc) and your account is basically electronic anyway there seems to be little reason to switch. HSBC is also here and has a building in the CBD. I haven't used them, but I hear that their customer service isn't great. The citibank Australia customer service number is 13 24 84 or 61 2 8225 0615 when outside AU. Also, the web page is

Hope this is helpful.
posted by ebeeb at 12:17 AM on June 9, 2005

ebeeb, so you are using your US Citibank account in Sydney and your ATM card works without any additional fees? I have no problem managing my accounts online rather than at a branch, so that would be fine. What about your pay check? Do you have it deposited to your US account, and if so how does that work? Can you make deposits to AUS ATM's as well? Are there fees for making the change in currency?
posted by qwip at 4:25 AM on June 9, 2005

Moved from the US to Sydney. I kept my account in the US at a local savings bank that had an ATM/Check Card, online billpay, etc. I gave my mother Power-of-Attorney rights over my financial transactions in the US as a "just in case" cover. Opened an account at Commonwealth Bank on the North Shore (where I was living), since they have branches all over. My pay was originally being put into my US bank account via direct deposit since I was still being paid in US dollars and was working over the internet for my US company while in Sydney. Every month or so, I'd go to the Commonwealth Bank and withdraw a big chunk of cash via the ATM from my US bank. I was hit with fees from both CB and my US bank. I just sucked it up since the exchange rate was in my favor. I'd then just deposit the cash into the CB account.

Later, when I got a job in Sydney and was being paid in AU dollars, I had that paycheck direct deposited into the CB account. Used that for my day-to-day living, and since there are so many of them around, I used their ATM to get cash when needed and there were no fees. They also have "Netbank" which is their version of online banking. You can pay bills, check balances, etc. Very useful service, as most major companies (like phone, electricity, etc.) have a "billpay" number that you input when paying the bill. Australia also has a lot of "EFTPOS" which is short for EFT (electronic funds transfer) and POS (point of sale). Consider is exactly like using an ATM/Check Card. But it's EVERYWHERE - moreso than in the US, although we're finally catching up. The only folks who have checking accounts are usually businesses. Doing everything electronically should be very easy for you.

Keep your US account open to pay your US bills, if you still have any. You're not really going to need to try and find a one-stop bank that covers you in both countries. Expect to pay the fees, but be smart about how you manage your money and bills in each country and keep those transfers and transactions to a minimum. You can go into CB and get a draft in US dollars to send to your US bank if you need to send money that way. Will cost you about $15, plus the exchange rate, and then your US bank can process it like normal, since it will be drawn on a US bank.

I lived this way for over 7 years. It's really not that hard once you get a system. I eventually got a personal loan and credit card in Australia as well and again, just kept everything separate.

There are some big banks in Australia: Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, National Australia Bank (NAB), and ANZ. Do a Google search for them and check out their services.

Things to do: if you keep your US bank account, be sure to contact them and ask for an increase in your ATM and POS withdrawal amounts. You don't want to be stuck with a $400 USD limit if you're trying to take money from your US account. They usually have smaller amounts set to protect themselves if your card is stolen. You can get a permanent increase, though. Also, check your current ATM card and see what international symbols are on the back. You may see something like "maestro" which looks like a mastercard symbol, but it blue and red. That means you can use that card in an ATM machine that handles that type of card. ATMs are on different networks - in the US and abroad, so be sure to check that your card is compatible for the banks you choose.

Good luck - hope everything makes sense. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions about this or anything else about moving between the US and AU. Most of all - enjoy yourself while you're in Sydney .... it's a FANTASTIC city and I miss living there!

(on preview - sorry for the length!!)
posted by cyniczny at 7:26 AM on June 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Great, cyniczny, that was very thorough and helpful. It is definitely looking like we should just keep an account in the US to handle incidentals and then open local bank account in Sydney

Also, I appreciate everyone's comments. They really helped make some informed decisions! Mucho Appreciado!
posted by qwip at 8:30 AM on June 9, 2005

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