Are you preparing for a move to the land down under? Offering beautiful beaches, a laid-back lifestyle and unique landscape, Australia can be a great seachange for some U.S. expats. If you make the migration south, you will find many cultural similarities between Australia and the US and the shared use of our common language – with the addition of some fair dinkum lingo.
However, there are still some notable differences, including those relating to personal finances. From checking accounts (known in Australia as transaction accounts) to health care, here are five key financial considerations to help you prepare for a move to Oz.
One of the first decisions you might need to make is whether you will rent or buy, and your choice will likely depend on what you can reasonably afford and what best suits your situation.
Some people may first choose to live in temporary accommodation while settling in and discovering which areas of their new city they would like to live.
Rent prices vary between cities and suburbs, but the average is currently $436 per week. Something to keep in mind is you usually need to pay a bond for any rental property as security for the owner. Common practice is approximately four weeks’ rent but this varies depending on the state.
If your move is more permanent and you’re in the position to consider buying your home, then you’ll probably want to research the local property market and different lenders to compare things like interest rates and borrowing restrictions. This process could help you determine which loans you’re eligible for, and which ones may be the most suitable for you.
Australia has a range of savings and transaction (checking) accounts to suit a variety of needs. Some banks may even let you set up your account before you arrive. When choosing your bank account, you’ll want to compare things like fees (if any), interest earnings potential, and any bonus rates that banks may offer.
Be sure to consider any conditions that may be attached to some accounts, such as special bonus rates or no-fee deals.
These can vary between institutions but could include requirements to deposit a certain amount each month (such as your salary) or make a certain amount of transactions, or may be for a limited time period.
Australia’s official cash rate (the equivalent of the US federal funds rate) is currently sitting at a historical low of 1%, and as such, many banks have lowered their interest rate on savings accounts, although there can still be value to be found if you look carefully.
An Australian credit card might also be something you’re considering, however, they are usually only available to Australian citizens, permanent residents or temporary residents with skilled working visas and full-time employment. If you are eligible, it’s typically a good idea to compare all your options and consider the costs and your ability to keep on top of repayments before signing up.
Keep in mind credit cards are not for everyone and provide the best value when paid off in full each month to minimize interest payments. If you are bringing a credit card from the US, be aware of any potential international or conversion fees.
Tax And SUPER
Australia’s IRS equivalent is the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). If you work in Australia, you’ll need to report your earnings and file a tax return after each financial year (July 1 to June 30). To do this, you will need to apply for a tax file number. Generally, if you earn over a particular threshold, your employer will withhold money from each payslip to cover the approximate costs of your tax, however the total amount will be calculated when you complete your tax return which could result in a partial refund or the requirement to pay extra.
Additionally, employers in Australia are required by law to contribute a portion of your salary to a superannuation fund, or SUPER for short.
This is a retirement savings scheme, similar to a 401(k) in the US. Your employer will provide a default fund for your super contributions to go into, but you aren’t required to stick with this. If you would like, you can explore other funds, considering factors like fees, past performance, and insurance, and choose one that provides the best value for you (keep in mind that past performance isn’t necessarily indicative of future performance).
Australia’s major cities offer a range of transport options, including trains, trams, ferries, and buses, depending on the location, with many using a tap-and-go commuting card for payment (such as the Opal card in Sydney, myki in Melbourne and go card in Brisbane). However, many residents still choose to have a car for the freedom it provides both day-to-day and to explore the country. Side note: if you’re going to drive, make sure you drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Legally, all cars must be registered and have compulsory third party insurance (CTP) to cover personal injuries or death to other drivers, passengers or pedestrians in the event of an accident. Other forms of car insurance are optional and can provide extra cover, such as comprehensive (full coverage), third party (only covering property belonging to other people) or third party, fire and theft insurance. Compare what’s available to find the best price and cover for your car type and needs.
Australia has both a public (Medicare) and private health care system. Medicare is only available to permanent Australian residents and citizens and provides access to free or subsidized treatment by public health professionals.
If you are a temporary resident, your visa may require you to carry private health insurance, which can provide coverage for emergency and non-emergency health issues, depending on your policy.
There are several private health fund providers to choose from, and some even offer specific overseas visitor policies. When considering a health insurance policy, check the inclusions and premiums to confirm you’re eligible and ensure it is a fit for your circumstances.
Whatever your motivation may be to relocate to Australia, by pre-planning and taking into consideration some of the above, you can make your move to this beautiful county as smooth as possible.
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