For many international students, arriving in Australia marks the first time they’ve ever lived away from their parents. It can also be the first time that they are responsible for things like paying for rent, electricity and food.
This kind of responsibility can end up being almost as stressful as your studies. It’s only when you’re out in the world on your own that you realise how many things you have to pay for, and how expensive those little conveniences you take for granted can be. But with a little bit of planning and research, and a lot of self-discipline, you can keep things from getting out of control.
Although international student visa holders are permitted to work up to 20 hours a week during study periods, don’t rely on your wages from part-time work to live on. It can be very difficult to find part-time work, and even more difficult to find well-paid part-time work. You should treat any income you earn while you’re in Australia as a bonus, not a necessity.
Research before you arrive — put yourself on a budget
The best way to avoid falling into financial stress is to come up with—and stick to—a basic budget. Here are some tips to help you manage your bank balance:
- Identify those things that you have to pay for every week or month (like rent, phone bills, gym membership) and see if you can set up an automatic payment from your bank account on the due date. In Australia, this is called direct debit, and because it’s automatic you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble for making late payments or standing in line for an hour to make the payment in person.
- If you don’t set up direct debits, make sure you pay your rent and utilities on time. Late payments often attract additional charges in your next statement.
- Try to give yourself a budget to ‘live on’ each week, and stick to it. For example, withdraw $120 at the beginning of the week to cover all your food, transport and entertainment expenses.
- Be aware of how much money you have in your account at all times.
- Don’t use a credit card. They’re usually more trouble than they’re worth. If you absolutely must have one, shop around for the best card for you (interest rates can vary from as low as 5.99% to as high as 24.99%) and try to use it only in emergencies. These emergencies don’t include new shoes you don’t need, concert tickets or a top-of-the-line mobile phone.
- If you buy things online, use a debit card (which is like a credit card, only using money you already have) or BPAY (paying through your savings account). It offers you more protection online, and you won’t have to pay interest on the purchase like you would using a credit card.
- Minimise the fees your bank charges by only using one of their ATMs, minimising the amount of withdrawals you make and your use of EFTPOS.
- Live economically. The choices you make can make a big difference to your weekly budget and overall costs of living. For example, you can pick up second-hand furniture and clothes in good condition at places like the Salvation Army or weekend markets.
- Look in free street press magazines (you can pick them up in places like music stores, cinemas and student refectories) for details of upcoming cheap or free activities, like concerts, art exhibitions, markets, sporting activities and festivals.
Banking and insurance
You will need to open a bank account when you arrive in Australia. There are dozens of banks and credit unions in Australia to choose from, all with slightly different fee and interest rate structures. You can work out which bank is best for you at www.infochoice.com.au. Normal trading hours are 9.30am to 4.00pm Monday to Thursday and 9.30am to 5.00pm on Friday. Some banks are open on Saturday mornings, but all are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are readily available for withdrawals 24 hours a day. Most stores and supermarkets also have Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS) terminals where you can pay for goods directly from your bank account and make cash withdrawals.
Once you’ve decided which bank to use, opening an account should be easy, so long as you have all the required identification and documentation. Each bank and credit union will have different policies about how much identification you need to provide them with, but generally your passport will be sufficient for your first six weeks in Australia. After this time, you may also need to provide your birth certificate and something that has your current address on it (such as a copy of your tenancy agreement). As an international student, you will also have to show your student visa. If you are under the age of 18, you might also need to show a school photo ID and a letter from your school principal.
When opening your account, advise your bank of your Tax File Number (see Tax and Superannuation). This will help you avoid higher tax rates on the interest you earn.
The most commonly accepted credit cards are MasterCard, Visa, Bankcard, American Express and their affiliates. Most businesses accept credit cards as payment. It is not necessary to carry large amounts of cash with you.
Money can be transferred to Australia by bank drafts or cheques and telegraphic transfer. Bank drafts from overseas will take a few days to arrive and can take up to 10 working days to clear through an Australian bank. Telegraphic transfers usually take shorter time, but cost more. Cheques take about five working days to clear.
Tipping is not customary in Australia and service charges are not added to accounts by hotels and restaurants. At any time, tipping is a matter of choice in recognition of good service. You can tip food and drink waiters up to 10 per cent of the bill for good service. You are not required to tip taxi drivers.
As an international student you will already have Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) insurance, but you might also want to invest in other types of insurance to protect you. Travel insurance will offer protection if your airline cancels your flight, loses your luggage, or if you are somehow injured on your trip. Contents insurance will cover your valuable items in your home, such as your TV, jewellery, game consoles and furniture.
Third party car insurance is mandatory if you own a car or motorbike. This means that you are insured against damage you might cause to other cars. Comprehensive insurance covers damage to your car as well.