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You should also prepare a budget so that you know how much money you can spend while you’re here. 

Budgeting for basics

Budgeting your money is all about planning ahead. What income do you have coming in and how much are you spending while studying? This is an important part of your experience living abroad.

Paying for rent and university fees are essential items, but don’t forget to put money aside for things like going to see a movie with friends or doing some sightseeing on the weekend. After all, Queensland is home to many beautiful places and you’ll likely want to visit as much of these as possible while you’re here.

When it comes to recreation and fun, some restaurants and cinemas offer discounts for students, so be sure to ask about these. There are generally discounts offered during quieter times of the week, so take advantage of these days and times.

You should also set aside some money for an emergency fund just in case you need to travel home at short notice.

A helpful online resource is the MoneySmart budget planner.

Cost of living in Queensland

Below is an example of general living costs in Brisbane, according to Numbeo. Note that these costs are a guide only. They are in Australian dollars and do not take into account your personal spending habits.

  • Milk (1 litre) - $1.74 
  • Loaf of fresh, white bread - $3.04
  • Eggs (carton of 12) - $4.79
  • White rice (1KG) - $2.61 
  • Eating out at an inexpensive restaurant (a meal for two) - $40.00
  • Fast food takeaway / combo meal - $12.50
  • Coffee - $4.50
  • Gas, electricity - $223.50/month
  • Phone and internet - $74.70/month
  • Public transport (one-way ticket) - $4.00
  • Fuel - $1.51/litre 
  • Cinema ticket (international release) - $16.00
  • Gym membership - $62.70/month

Currency

The Australian currency is the Australian dollar (AUD). A common term used for money in Australia is bucks e.g. “10 bucks”, which means 10 dollars.  

There is a mix of bank notes ($100, $50, $20, $10 and $5), gold coins ($2, $1) and silver coins (50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents and 5 cents). Australia does not have a 1 cent coin, so prices are always rounded up or down to the nearest dollar. For example, if something costs $9.99, it is rounded up to $10. If something costs $4.51, it is rounded down to $4.50.

Banks

Although it is not compulsory, setting up a local bank account will make your life in Australia much easier. Employers generally prefer to pay your salary directly into a bank account unless you are getting “cash in hand”. Likewise, real estate agents like to see bank account statements from prospective tenants before approving a rental property, and other bills such as phone and internet are generally paid through direct debit from your bank account.

There are many banks in Australia to choose from, but the biggest four are:

Other major banks include Suncorp Bank and Bank of Queensland. Some international banks that operate in Australia include ING, Citibank and HSBC. Some Australian online-only banks perfect for international students include Up Bank, Xinja and 86 400.

Opening an account

Many banks offer short and long-term bank accounts for students that can be set up online in just a few minutes. Some banks even let you open an account before you get here, so you can transfer money in and hit the ground running when you arrive. However, you’ll likely need to visit a branch to do an ID (identity) check before you are able to withdraw funds, so make sure you factor this in before trying to pay for expenses.

Once your bank account is set up, you will receive a debit card linked to your account, which you can use to pay for items or withdraw money from an ATM.

Most banks also have telephone and internet banking options which allow you to easily transfer funds between accounts and make payments. Just register with your bank of choice and they will help you set this up.

ATMs

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available throughout Australia. You can check your account balance, withdraw money and sometimes even make a deposit at an ATM. The minimum amount you can withdraw is $20. If you are using an ATM that belongs to another bank or financial company, there can be a fee of about $2 to $4 so make sure you are aware of this before going ahead. You can also use foreign bank cards at most ATMS but, again, a fee will usually apply.

Fees

If you are transferring funds between countries, be sure to check the exchange rates first so you have an idea of the best time to transfer, especially if you will be doing it regularly. Also ask your bank about any unconventional fees such as overdrawn charges, international transaction fees and ATM fees. 

Loans and Interest Rates

Living abroad as a student can be expensive and stressful. To help cover expenses, you might decide to borrow some money from the bank. This is called a loan and should be considered carefully so you do not end up in debt.

If you do decide to borrow money from the bank, you will not only pay back the loan but also a percentage of the total amount of the loan. This is called an interest rate. The higher the interest rate, the more expensive the loan repayments will be. 

Interest rates can also be an amount of money paid to you by the bank. Some savings accounts come with high interest rates to entice you to deposit money into it for a long period of time, and banks will pay you interest to keep the account open.

Term Deposits

If you have a large amount of money and wish to invest it into a high interest savings account, you might consider opening a term deposit. This is an account where your money is locked away for a certain period of time that you decide (this is called the term) and it earns a fixed rate of interest. Opening a term deposit can be useful if you have a big savings goal, like buying a car or going on vacation. However, keep in mind that if you decide to withdraw the money before the term is up, you will be charged a fee – so if you need to access your money quickly, then a savings account might be a better option.

Common payment methods

EFTPOS

Bank debit cards can be used almost everywhere in Australia. This is called EFTPOS, and is a fast way to pay for items – in most cases you simply tap your debit card to the EFTPOS machine and go, or you can enter a PIN (Personal Identification Number) for additional security. 

Credit Cards

Credit cards allow you to buy things now and pay it back later. The most commonly accepted cards are Visa, Mastercard and American Express. A student credit card can be an option for some international students who want to have more flexibility with their cash flow. Student credit cards often have a lower minimum income requirement, making it easier to get approval if you are not working full time. However, some cards are only available to those who have full time employment, so enquire about your options at your local bank branch.

Afterpay and Zip Pay

If you are shopping online or in retail stores, you might see Afterpay and Zip Pay offered as a payment option. This means you can purchase something now and pay it off over a period of time (usually 8 weeks) without incurring any interest, if repayment terms are met. These payment methods are usually connected to your transaction account or credit card. When using buy-now-pay-later services such as these, there are overdue fees to be aware of and impacts of not paying the amount due on time. These services are technically credit accounts so will be taken into account if you’re applying for loans or other services that require a credit rating or credit check. Bad credit ratings and debts are not necessarily cleared when you leave the country so it’s important to be aware of this and only buy what you can afford to repay. 

Tax 

GST

Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a 10% tax on most goods and services sold in Australia. You don’t need to worry about calculating this, as businesses will include GST in the total price they charge for goods and services.

Tax Returns

If you have worked in Australia and had income tax deducted from your salary, you must lodge a tax return with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) at the end of the financial year (30 June). You can do this online or through a tax agent.

If you are returning home, you must lodge a tax return before you leave the country. You can do this electronically, or by filling out a paper tax return:

  1. Lodge an electronic tax return online via the Australian Tax Office website
  2. Fill out a paper tax return by downloading this form and lodging it by mail.

If you paid more tax than you need to, you may receive a tax refund. However, note that any tax refund received can only be paid to a nominated Australian bank account, not into an overseas bank account.