Best Australia bank/credit union?
September 13, 2014 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Me and my partner are spending October through March on a working holiday in Australia. Our goal is to save money to bring back to the USA with us. What should we know about banking in Australia? How will we go about getting our money back into our US credit union while minimizing loss due to fees & exchange rates?
posted by aniola to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Citibank won't give you much if any interest, but it's the only bank that will then let you transfer money to a USA account without fees or percentages. That will possibly be worth more than interest to you, if you aren't saving very much.

They are a bit of a pAin to open accounts with though. It took us three months from first application to actually having a working account.
posted by lollusc at 5:48 PM on September 13, 2014

Oh and if you don't mind the hassle, you could open a second Account to keep your money in during your stay, earning interest, and just use the Citibank one for the transfer at the end.

Google comparative interest rates in australia. You'll find you can get opening offers of around 4% for the first four months followed by about 2 thereafter. The best interest is from online banks usually, of which my best experience has been with bankwest, and mebank. Most physical credit unions and banks will offer less interest than inflation at the moment. In terms of customer service and general crappiness if you do go with a physical bank, I have had terrible experiences with both NAB and Commonwealth.

As a foreigner, you probably won't be able to open a bank account at all until you are in Australia and can show proof of residency.
posted by lollusc at 5:52 PM on September 13, 2014

I have a bank account with ANZ (convenient bit nothing special, basically the Australian version of BoA) and I periodically transfer money back into my US account using a company called Ozforex. They have good exchange rates and a flat $15 fee per transfer. I get dinged another $35 by BoA for receiving the transfer. There are probably more financially favorable ways to do this but it's super easy.
posted by emd3737 at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2014

Have you considered Bitcoin? Not saying you should do this, but maybe it would work for you in this situation. I'd look into it.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2014

We opened Citibank accounts in Australia and the US when we were moving back from Australia, and they really didn't deliver on the promise of being able to move money easily/quickly/cheaply between countries. It turns out that they are run like two separate banks, and it was no different than if we had used any other bank. Perhaps it's different now (that was 6 years ago). HSBC worked well for us when we moved between the US, UK, and Australia. Now we are back in Australia and use USAA as our US bank and are very happy with their ability to handle international transfers efficiently.

You may find it impossible to get a credit card in Australia, though that usually isn't too much of a problem if you're happy to use a debit card for everything. It's a good idea to make sure you have a US credit card that doesn't charge a fee on international transactions that you can use as a backup in case of emergencies.

I don't know about credit unions in Australia, and for such a short period of time, I'd just go with whatever bank seems to offer the best package. Don't neglect to look into how to close out your super when you leave, so that the money withheld can be returned to you (9.5% of your earnings).

Last note, when you open an Australian account, you will not be offered paper checks (which can feel a bit weird for an American). You can get a small number of them if you want them, but no one uses them. You can handle rent and bills via electronic B-pay, online account-to-account transfers or debit card.
posted by amusebuche at 2:34 PM on September 16, 2014

Response by poster: I walked around to the half-dozen banks in Mareeba (NAB, ANZ, Bendigo Community Bank, Suncorp, WestPak, Commonwealth Bank) and narrowed it down to NAB & Suncorp Bank. We went with Suncorp.

We won't be paying any monthly fees, and international transfers are free after you pay $20 one time for a physical internet security token. They have great customer service here in Mareeba, and their savings account has 2.5% interest. They offer a super account so it's easy to find all the superannuation money out when we leave. We can use both their ATMs and Bendigo Community Bank's ATMs with no fee. We each had to show two forms of photo ID.
posted by aniola at 7:51 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As it turns out, we don't even have to pay the $20. You can request they mail you an "external transfer password" instead of the more secure token, and it's free. So by going with Suncorp, we hopefully shouldn't be paying a dime in banking fees.
posted by aniola at 1:38 AM on January 26, 2015

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