Australia is not usually seen as an offshore banking center and that is exactly why it is one of the best offshore banking center. The fact that it is also one of the easiest countries in the world in which to open a bank account on a tourist visa does not hurt. In this article, I provide an overview of Australian banking and explain how to open accounts.
As a location independent entrepreneur / individual, you should look at places like the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore for your personal banking. The banks in those jurisdictions offer products specifically tailored for our lifestyle and are used to dealing with non-residents. There are some circumstances in which you may want a bank account in a major English-speaking country that is not the US, however, but that offers access to similar services and Australia fits that bill perfectly. There may also be situations where you simply want to receive payments from services that only allow withdrawals to Australian bank accounts or where you want to purchase from a site that only accepts orders with Australian addresses. For some, opening Australian bank accounts might also be about diversification and safety.
In any cases, Australia’s banking sector is one of the most developed and solid in the world and the local banks offer a wide range of services and products that will fulfil most needs.
How to open accounts
What makes opening Australian bank accounts possible for non-residents is a piece of legislation authorizing banks to open accounts without requiring a local proof of address for those who have been in the country for less than six weeks. This means that in effect, you can open an account with only your passport (and stamp / receipt proving that you have been in the country for under six weeks). Conveniently, most banks will even allow you to open an account online before you arrive in Australia. When you arrive, you simply show up at the branch of your choice with your passport to collect your debit card.
My favorite “immigrant-friendly” banks are the Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac. You can open an account with any of them today, directly on their website.
Do note that you must fill in your details accurately as they will be verified when you visit the bank. For the visa, select “Other” and write “ETA” or “Tourist” (whichever applies to you). Once you have submitted your application, the bank will review it and then approve it in principle. If approved, you will receive your account number and an invitation to visit the branch you selected during the application process to collect your debit card. You can now book a plane ticket to Australia and prepare yourself for the last and most important step, activating the account.
Once you arrive in Australia, simply visit the branch you selected during the application process. Remember to bring along your passport. You will receive your debit card and internet banking security token on the spot. If asked about the purpose of the account, simply say that you are going to visit Australia very frequently and that you are considering relocating there / purchasing property. In my experience, they are perfectly happy with that.
Before leaving Australia, get a local SIM card. Australian banks tend to make heavy use of SMS-based two-factor authentication and not being able to receive the codes could mean being locked out of your account. It is usually possible to use an overseas number but that is not ideal and may throw a red flag in the long-term.
The importance of a foreign address
When you open the account, you can use any address you want. The bank will not ask for a proof of address. It is very important for the address to be outside of Australia, however, as using a local address will make you lose your automatic “non-resident” status for tax withholding purposes. This can be appealed but you might as well save yourself the trouble. Also, make sure that your address is legit. The banks have compliance experts whose job is to spot fraud and deceit. They will close your account if they suspect any.
There are no reports of problems and the account opening success rate remains excellent.