Daily life (healthcare, bank, phone and media)

In this article, I’ll go through the most important things to know of when setting up a home and a new life in Australia. Read about how the Australian health care system works, how to organize a bank account in Australia, and get a brief overview about telephony and where to look to find more international news and weather.

Healthcare system

The Australian health care is divided into two parts, the public and the private. The universal health care (public) part providing basic free care to all Australians is called Medicare (humanservices.gov.au/individuals/medicare). Medicare subsidises the cost of many non-emergency treatments (such as pharmaceutical medicines, various general practitioners and specialists). In addition to the public part, the remaining health care is provided by the private sector which you pay for. There are many private hospitals and doctors who, in return for payment, offer more luxurious care options. For example, if you need a non-emergency surgery, you can get medical treatment faster if in a private hospital compared to a public hospital. If you prefer being in your own room when at the hospital, then choose a private hospital (which you must pay more for).

For travellers included in the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA)

Australia have a reciprocal agreement with (at time of writing) eleven other European countries guaranteeing that those citizens travelling in Australia will receive free emergency medical care on the same terms as Australian citizens (humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/medicare/reciprocal-health-care-agreements/visitors-australia/medical-care-visitors-australia).This only applies to care that is absolutely necessary (so-called medically necessary treatment) and you cannot expect to get a free operation if it can wait until you return back to your home country.

This agreement is called Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA). You do not need to bring a European patient card to get medical treatment, just show your passport in the hospital, and ask for care under “the reciprocal health care agreement” between Australia and your home country.

Most people need an overseas student health cover to come to Australia on a student visa. But for some countries included in the reciprocal health care agreement, it is valid both for students and tourists. But keep in mind that ambulance transport never is included in the agreement. Meaning that if you are unlucky you may be required to pay for an expensive ambulance service (between several hundreds to thousands of Australian dollars), so complementing with a proper travel insurance that covers such things is a good idea. Also note that on the RHCA, you are not entitled to healthcare in private hospitals, but only state-owned public hospitals.

If you are going to stay in Australia for a longer period you should rather soon after your arrival go and apply for your own Medicare card (humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/medicare/medicare-card/enrol). Then any public hospital visit for you and your family will go much smoother. You should also consider buying a private health insurance that provides additional benefits beyond what the public state-owned system offers.

For travellers NOT included in the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA)

When travelling to Australia everyone needs to apply for a visa. Some visas require that you provide evidence of an adequate health insurance before getting your visa granted (immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/help-support/meeting-our-requirements/health/adequate-health-insurance). Check the requirements of the visa you are applying for. To have a health insurance when visiting Australia might in the future be mandatory for all visitors (health.nsw.gov.au/news/Pages/20190131_00.aspx).

When purchasing a travel insurance there are some things to consider depending on the chosen visa, like if to choose a cover that includes hospital only cover or hospital with extras (extras can help cover the cost of other types of treatment, such as dentist, physiotherapist or optometrist during your stay).

Always check the full terms and conditions of a policy since restrictions normally apply to healthcare policies for overseas visitors. For example, what happens if you are injured in an accident? Does your policy include treatment covered by compensation or damages? And will treatment of a pre-condition that needs constant management be covered? What are the policies waiting periods (the minimum time you need to have held your policy before it will cover any medical expenses)? Any age restrictions?

Frequently Asked questions about healthcare in Australia

Question: Can I bring medicine with me, for example contraceptives or anti-depressants?

Answer: In most cases, yes. Arrange a certificate and recipe written in English from your doctor (although your name is on the packaging). At the border control and your Arrival Card, don’t forget to declare that you have medication for personal use with you. If you are a traveller from a country being part of the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) and are planning to be in Australia for a longer period, you should consider acquiring a Medicare card, then go to a local doctor, show your certificate from your home doctor and ask to get a new prescription locally. For everyone else, find out what your health travel insurance covers and its procedures and out of pocket expenses if in need of getting a local prescription and medicine whilst in Australia.

Question: If I need to do a doctor’s visit to Australia, either to do an examination or to get regular treatment (for example for diabetics, adjustment of prescription for depression, or for correction of contraception). How do I proceed? What are the costs?

Answer: Go to a local health clinic – GP (General Practitioner) and ask to meet a general practitioner there. They can print out prescriptions, suggest different forms of treatments, and if necessary, they can give you a referral to meet a specialist. A doctor’s appointment usually costs a small amount of money, but if your situation looks like getting expensive (for example, the cost for a specialist or an operation in a private hospital), do not forget to check what costs your health insurance covers. Don’t forget to save your receipts in case you later need to ask for money from either Medicare or your health insurance.

If you are a traveller from a country covered under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA); A visit to a local GP is free (if you keep your receipts and later claim them back or have a Medicare card). Arrange to get a Medicare card before a doctor’s visit to avoid paying money out of pocket instead of later claiming it back via Medicare. Check if the clinic passes all Medicare costs directly to Medicare, which is called Medicare Bulk Billing to avoid out of pocket expenses.

For a traveller not covered under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA); You must pay full for a visit to the doctors within the public healthcare system, unless you are covered by an insurance. The only chance for you to get your money back is via your insurance company. Check with your insurance company in advance about procedures getting your money back and out of pocket expenses.

Banks and money

Banks

There are four large and several smaller banks in Australia. The four major banks are almost identical in terms of size, turnover, number of offices and offers, and in addition to these there are many smaller banks trying to compete with the larger ones. The four largest to know of are:

ANZ Bank (anz.com.au)

Commonwealth Bank (commbank.com.au)

NAB (nab.com.au)

Westpac (westpac.com.au)

The banks sell different types of accounts. A Checking Account or Transaction account is a low-interest account that you can make payments from. Almost everyone has such an account, it’s where your salary lands and from where you can pay your bills. It is common to get a debit card (Debit Card) linked to this account which you can use to make withdrawals on cash dispensers, aka ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines). A Savings Account is a savings account with higher interest rate, one which you cannot pay the bills from.

Australia has a payment system called BPay (bpay.com.au). You enter the amount you want to pay, plus a Biller code which identifies the recipient, as well as a reference number that identifies you as the payer and your account.

Things to consider when choosing a bank

  • How much does it cost to have a checking account with the bank (for your salary)? A good bank, of course, gives you a free checking account.
  • How much does it cost per year to have online banking with a payment option (BPay)? Some banks charge for the internet bank, in others it is free (because they make money on you having your salary money on their account).
  • How much does it cost to transfer money to your home country? The cheapest one I have found costs about $20 per transfer.
  • How much does it cost to withdraw money in an ATM? In which ATMs is it free to withdraw funds from this account? For example, if you have an account with Westpac, it is free to withdraw money in all Westpac and St George teller machines as they belong to the same group.
  • What is the interest on the savings and checking accounts at the bank? The interest rate on savings accounts is relatively low at the time of writing (October 2018) and is at its best just over 3%. But check if it applies to a locked standard rate or a bonus rate. The highest interest rates are usually bonus rates or applies only to the first initial months, alternatively the bank requires you to deposit, for example, $200 in the account or do not withdraw funds for a certain period for the higher interest rate to apply. Most checking or transaction accounts only provide minimal interest rates, but some offer a relatively high bonus rate.
  • Can you trade stocks/funds through the bank?
  • Does the bank have a safe and user-friendly internet bank solution where you can see your account’s balance and easily pay bills and transfer money?

Opening a local bank account in Australia

For most people who move to Australia, the process looks something like this;

  1. The first few weeks you use your home country’s bank card everywhere (check the overseas cost for your local bank) until you have fixed a cheaper local banking solution. Withdraw a few hundred dollars in cash so you can manage.
  2. At your first week in Australia, go to a chosen bank (or do it online) and open a checking account (don’t forget a withdrawal and debit card) at a local bank. You will need to enter a postal address when you open your account. If you do not have a permanent place to stay at, it is often possible to enter a C/O address of any friend or a hostel where you live (but make sure they are OK with receiving your mail before you provide the bank with their address).
  3. Once your account is set up, write down and safely save the account details you get from your bank;
    1. Your account number for your checking account. (Do not confuse this with your customer account number.)
    2. The bank’s BSB-number. This stands for Bank State Branch- number and is a 6-digit number that uniquely (within Australia) identifies the bank and the bank office where you have your account. Your future employer needs this and your account number in order to deposit funds into your account. A money transfer is simply called bank.
    3. Ask for a SWIFT-code (also known as a BIC-code or SWIFT-BIC-code) for your bank branch. This is a code of 8 or 11 digits that uniquely identifies your bank and you need it when you transfer money from your home country so that your home country’s bank knows to which foreign bank they should send the money.
  4. Transfer money from your home country’s bank to your new Australian bank account via your home country’s internet bank (if you have one, this is the easiest way). The process might be slightly different for different banks, but you need your account number and your SWIFT code above. If you get a question about what currency you should transfer in, then enter Australian dollars (currency code AUD), because it is the currency used on the destination account.
  5. In the same way as above, you can transfer money to your home country if you know your account number and your home country’s bank’s SWIFT code. If you get a question about what currency you should transfer the money in, then use your home country’s currency.

ATM:s and paying by card

The different banks have their own ATMs and sometimes charge (around $2) to allow competing Australian bank’s customers to use their cash machine. Check with your bank what it costs to withdraw money and which ATMs are free to use for your bank card. You can pay with Visa or Mastercard/Maestro in most places, regardless of whether the card is from overseas or is Australian. Some cafés only accept cash, and other stores do not tolerate card payments for small amounts (for example, café visits under $10). Diners Club and American Express are not accepted in as many places, as it costs more for the stores to charge with these cards. Some stores want you to pay an extra card fee if you are going to pay with these “more expensive” bank cards.

The Australian card payment system is called EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale). When a store has a sign that says they accept EFTPOS, this means that you can pay by debit or credit card.

In recent years, it has become more common with withdrawal cards that you charge before your trip and then can use in any ATM, such as a prepaid Electron card. When the card is charged it is used as a normal credit card or debit card. You can top it up as needed during your journey. If you lose your card, you can block it like any other debit card and your balance can be transferred to a new card.

Many residents choose to acquire Australian credit cards through a local bank. Some credit cards give you bonus points for purchases, which you later can use to purchase airline tickets or to receive gifts. Other cards can, for example, give the owner advantageous warranties- and or insurance conditions on certain purchases.

100 ID Points System

You need to be able to identify yourself before setting up an account in Australia. Australia does not have social Security numbers or national ID cards but use a combination of documents to identify someone on. An identification method that has become increasingly common is the so-called 100-points test (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_point_check). In short, by showcasing different types of documents, you collect at least 100 points to prove who you are. For example, you get 70 points by showing a passport, 25 points for a credit card with your name on and another 25 points for an overseas driver’s licence.

If you are applying to open a bank account immediately after your arrival in Australia, it is generally enough for you to show your passport to prove who you are (the time limit varies depending on the bank from 6 weeks to 3 months). So, you don’t necessarily need to open a bank account your first week in Australia, but don’t wait too long to avoid unnecessary paperwork.

Transfer money between your home country and Australia

Via your bank’s online bank, you can transfer funds between your home country and Australia but read the bank’s price list before you transfer money. There are two costs that you should investigate before choosing how you want to transfer your money:

  • Telegraph Transfer Fee; Your bank charges for arranging the transfer for you, i.e. buying currency for you and transferring the new currency to your account in the other country. (A bit like brokerage fee when buying stocks.) For an example, most fees seem to be around $20 from Australia to Sweden, and around 200 SEK from Sweden to Australia (prices vary between banks).
  • Exchange Rate; Not all banks offer a good exchange rate and there is a lot of money to save by using the bank that gives you the most value for your money. The exchange course also changes over time, so if you manage to transfer the money when the course is as advantageous as possible there is money to save.

Exchange rate Australian dollar

For those who are interested in economics, the Australian dollar is an interesting currency to follow. The Australian economy is highly dependent on raw materials, and Australia is exporting large amounts of coal and iron to China and other rapidly growing economies around Asia. When for example China wants to buy iron ore, they must exchange their money for Australian dollars (AUD), and thanks to dealings with large amounts of money this results in the AUD’s exchange rate getting strengthened. The global financial market has in recent years been unstable and when many other countries lowered their interest rates in times of crisis, Australia still had a relatively high interest rate, which led to further demands for AUD; Many people exchanged their money for AUD and put them on the bank book in Australia where the interest rate was higher.

Several of the world’s major economies are or have been facing financial problems, but the Australian economy has managed to avoid these (compared to the European and United States’ debt crisis) thanks to the dollar being a relatively stable currency. The Australian dollar’s value reached a peak around 2012 but has since slowly moved downwards and at the time of writing (October 2018), it has ended up at a rate like what it was before 2004. The conversion rate on AUD largely follows the exchange rate and the value of the Australian dollar in comparison with most other country’s currency therefore varies.

The easiest way to see what the daily exchange rate is to use the built-in currency converter in Google. Do a search for example “100 AUD in GBP” (or your home country’s currency code) (google.com/search?q=100+AUD+in+GBP) and you will see what 100 AUD equals to your chosen currency.

Your bank at home

The bank in your home country normally does not notice that you are moving abroad, and if you do not cancel your accounts, you continue to be a customer of your bank back home. Your bank’s internet banking should still work in Australia. Bills and balance excerpt and information normally being sent to your home address will continue unless you inform your bank.

You are not obliged to close your home country’s bank accounts when you move to Australia, but it can be difficult to open a new account in your home country once you have reported to your local population register (or equivalent) that you have emigrated. Therefore, it may be a good idea to set up a good banking solution (if you need one) at home before you emigrate. Most banks charge a combination of fees when using their bank card in a foreign cash machine.

The costs for using your home country’s bank card in Australia is generally affected by a few factors. Especially, consider these factors when choosing which bank to buy a withdrawal card from;

  • The annual fee for the card. Even if you don’t use the card, most banks will charge an annual fee to give you a card. Compare the fees between different banks.
  • Withdrawal fee. Every time you make a withdrawal in an ATM in Australia, this fee is debited from your account. Also, this fee could vary between banks.
  • Exchange Rate or Currency surcharge. Bank might make a further profit by giving you a slightly worse exchange rate than the bank’s own exchange rate. This usually is between 1-2% of the purchase amount.

Note that some banks automatically block their cards for purchases and withdrawals outside their region. It might be a good idea to make sure that your card is not locked before you travel to Australia. Multiple debit cards have a “contactless payment function”, and in Australia the maximum amount for contactless payment, known as payWave or PayPass, is $100 per withdrawal.

Frequently asked questions about banks and money in Australia

Question: How do I best transfer money between Australia and my home country?

Answer: If you have a bank account in both countries, you can make a transfer directly between the accounts through your online bank in each country. You can also use a service such as TransferWise (transferwise.com) who claims to offer a better exchange rate than many banks. When comparing options, compare both the exchange rate and the transfer fee for your money transfer. Don’t be fooled by a bank or an exchange office that offers you free transfer, but instead at a bad exchange rate. Also, do not forget to compare the exchange rate with the international currency market, for example via Google (Google search for the cost of 100 AUD in GBP).

Question: Can I pay a bill in my home country from my account in Australia?

Answer: First transfer money to your bank account in your home country unless you already have enough funds there, and then pay your bill through that internet bank service.

Question: Can I get my salary in Australia inserted into my home country’s bank account?

Answer: Most employers in Australia will prefer to pay your salary to a local Australian account. You should get a local account as soon as you move to Australia.

Telecommunications

Although Australia likes to call itself an IT nation, Australia have for a long time been behind several western countries in terms of infrastructure for telecoms. (This, of course, has much to do with the great distances and its small population.) In recent years, Australia has invested more in its telecommunications network. In October 2006, Telstra (the largest telecom operator) launched a new high-speed network called NextG for mobile phones that provided greater coverage than other 2G (no longer used in Australia) and 3G networks in Australia. In 2010, NextG was the fastest mobile network in the world, which was then updated to 4G. In 2015, the 4GX (with compatible devices) were said to be able to achieve speeds of 75Mbit/s. At time of writing (2019) a 5G network are being rolled out by Telstra which already has been launched across CBDs in some major cities. Also, the sitting Government is making a big effort to build a fibre network covering the whole country and thus drastically increasing domestically data rates –  the National Broadband Network (nbnco.com.au).

Technologies that travellers from most western countries are accustomed to are available in Australia, and most households are connected via telephone line (ADSL2), fibre, cable TV or mobile broadband. Wi-Fi is available free of charge in many state-owned institutions (such as libraries), in shopping centres, and at private companies such as cafés, youth hostels, and restaurants.

Mobile telephony

The Australian mobile network is influenced by worldwide standards but check your device’s settings and compare to Australia’s network at time of your planned travel to know if it is compatible and functional in Australia. You will need an adapter for your battery charger. Make sure your phone is unlocked if you want to buy a local prepaid sim-card. All operators offer subscriptions (post-paid) and prepaid cards (pre-paid).

The main operators to know of are (in addition to these, there are several smaller “virtual” operators selling capacity of any of these three major networks);

Phone numbers

All phone numbers in Australia consist of a 2-digit area code followed by an 8-digit local phone number, resulting in all phone numbers having 10 digits.

Area codes

  • Under 00 are all the numbers for emergency calls (000) and international calls (0011).
  • Central East Region (New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory)
  • South East Region (Victoria, Tasmania)
  • Mobile phones (all over Australia). If you buy a prepaid card, your phone number will start at 04.
  • North East Region (Queensland)
  • Central and West Region (Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory)
  • Different domestic numbers that are not linked to any geographical area. Examples are free-of-charge numbers (180 xxxx and 1800 xxx xxx), numbers that cost as local calls regardless of distance (13 xx xx and 1300 xxx xxx) and payment service numbers (190x xxx xxx).

The Australian country code is 61. If you are calling Australia from your home country, skip the 0 in the area code. To dial out of the country, you must dial an international call prefix (also known as international access code) which in Australia is 0011. On your mobile phone, in all countries you can enter a + before the country code and the mobile network will take care of adding the correct international call prefix.

The emergency call number for fire brigade, police and Ambulance is 000 (known as 000 Emergency or Triple-zero) (triplezero.gov.au). On mobile phones, 112 also works (thanks to this emergency number being programmed into all GSM systems regardless of country).

Frequently asked questions about telephony in Australia

Question: Where do I easiest buy a SIM-card for my overseas mobile phone?

Answer: You can buy SIM-cards in the shops already at the airport in Australia.

Question: Can I use my overseas phone with my oversea subscription in Australia?

Answer: In general, yes, but beware of expensive roaming charges. If you stay for a longer period, consider bringing a phone that is unlocked and then buy a local SIM-card instead.

Question: Can I use my overseas computer in Australia?

Answer: In general, yes, but you will need an adapter when inserting the charger into the electrical outlet.

News and weather

Australia’s governmental funded broadcasting channels are the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) (abc.net.au) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) (sbs.com.au), which are jointly responsible for the public broadcasting channels. ABC produces more general programs, while SBS especially focuses on the international and multicultural (SBS broadcasts, for example, foreign films from time to time).

The largest commercial digital TV channels are Channel Seven (7plus.com.au), Channel Nine (9now.com.au) and Channel Ten (tenplay.com.au). For example, on the website Freeview (freeview.com.au/tv-guide), you can see which channels and programs are available right where you are staying.

The largest cable company is called Foxtel (foxtel.com.au), and the largest online services with streaming movies and TV shows are Netflix (netflix.com), Stan (stan.com.au), and Foxtel Now (foxtel.com.au/now).

Almost all major newspapers are owned by one of the two groups News Corp or Fairfax Media. The only nationwide morning newspaper is The Australian (theaustralian.com.au), and it competes with several regional newspapers such as The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney) (smh.com.au), The Herald Sun (Melbourne) (heraldsun.com.au), Daily Telegraph (Sydney) (dailytelegraph.com.au), The Age (Melbourne) (theage.com.au), The Courier Mail (Brisbane) (couriermail.com.au), The West Australian (Perth) (thewest.com.au) and The Advertiser (Adelaide) (adelaidenow.com.au).

You’ll soon notice that it’s not quite that easy to stay tuned in of what’s happening outside of Australia since the local news is very focused on local events and sports. Some great websites and newspapers to read some more international news on are; The Guardian (British) (theguardian.com/au), BBC (bbc.com/news/world/australia) and The Economist (economist.com).

The main radio stations are ABC’s various stations and a variety of commercial stations that broadcast rock and top list music. Worth mentioning is ABC’s youth station Triple J (abc.net.au/triplej) that plays more alternative music. Very nice listening to on a road trip along the coast.

You can find weather forecasts for the whole country on Bureau of Meteorology’s website (bom.gov.au).