The best foreign currency accounts in Australia

Roberto Efflandrin
28.12.21
7 minute read

Foreign currency accounts — also known as multi currency accounts — are useful for people from all walks of life. For expats, or those working, studying or planning to retire abroad, they can be a handy way to manage money.

They’re also popular with business users and entrepreneurs who work with staff and suppliers in other countries. Having an account which allows you to hold your cash in a different currency can be convenient — and help you ride out fluctuations in the exchange rate.

There are a wide variety of different foreign currency accounts, from traditional banks, and specialists like Wise. Before you decide which is best for you, it’s worth doing some research — here’s all you need to know about the best multi currency accounts in Australia.

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The top foreign currency accounts in Australia compared

Here’s a handy comparison of the foreign currency account fees and services you need to know — for some of the major Australian banks. Click on the bank name for a more detailed article about the bank’s foreign currency account:

Provider Who can open a foreign currency account A$ Fee for incoming payments A$ Fee for outgoing payments (online) Available currencies A$ Intra account transfer fee (online)
Wise Both businessand private customers There’sno fee charged by Wise for receiving AUD, GBP, USD (free for ACH — SWIFT and Wires cost US$7.50), CAD, EUR, NZD, HUF, SGD, TRY A small flat fee, that differs per currency. For example: For AUD it’s A$0.57, For EUR it’s €0.28 For GBP it’s 32p More than 50 currencies available A variable percentage depending on currency pairs. For example: 1000 AUD to GBP, NZD or USD will cost 0.44%
NAB¹⁺² Business and private customers Up to $15 $10 (transfer in foreign currency) $30 (transfer in AUD) 16 currencies – USD, EUR, GBP, JPY, NZD, CAD, SGD, HKD, CNY, DKK, NOK, ZAR, SEK, CHF, THB and AED $30 Banker assisted
St George³⁺⁴ Business and private customers $15 $10 (transfer in foreign currency) $20 (transfer in AUD) $32 Staff assisted 10 currencies – USD, GBP, CAD, DKK, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, SGD, SEK, CHF, THB, ZAR $10.50 conversion fee on transfers to and from an account held in the same name
Westpac Business and private customers $12 $10 (transfer in foreign currency for business and private customers) $20 (transfer in AUD) 15 currencies – CAD, NOK, CNY, SGD, DKK, ZAR, EUR, SEK, GBP, CHF, HKD, THB, JPY, USD, NZD Fees may apply and Westpac may apply a spread to the exchange rate quoted (fees details available on request at the bank).
Commomwealth Bank⁶⁺⁷⁺⁸ Business and private customers Up to $11 per transfer $6 14 available for private customers USD, EUR, GBP, CAD, DKK, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, SGD, ZAR, SEK, CHF, THB – 19 available for businesses (All of the above + CNY, CZK, CNY, HUF, ILS, AED) Free transfers between linked Commbank accounts
Citibank Private customers No Citibank fees for inward payments No fee charged by Citibank, however they do state that other banks may charge a fee 9 currencies – USD, GBP, EUR, NZD, CAD, JPY, CHF, HKD, SGD No fee
HSBC¹⁰⁺¹¹ Private customers $10 $8 9 currencies – USD, GBP, EUR, HKD, CAD, JPY, NZD, SGD, CNY No information about fees available

What is a foreign currency account?

A foreign currency, or multi currency, account allows you to hold your money in one or more currencies other than Australian dollars. The exact terms and conditions of each account will vary, but banks will often offer different types to suit both personal and business customers.

It’s good to know that some accounts let you hold several different currencies simultaneously, while others only allow customers to select a single foreign currency to work in.

Why is a multi currency account useful?

A multi currency account can be helpful for a number of reasons. Maybe you’re a frequent traveller, or you work or study abroad. Or perhaps you’re an entrepreneur working with staff and suppliers all over the world. Whether it’s for personal or business use, being able to send and receive payments from your foreign currency account, in much the same way as you would a regular bank account, can be a convenient choice.

Having a foreign currency account can also help to mitigate some of the risk involved in foreign currency transactions, as you can receive payment in the foreign currency, and then only convert it to dollars when the market conditions are favourable. Some foreign currency accounts also have discounted fees and costs for sending money internationally — although it’s important to check the fee details when choosing a multi currency account, as the costs can vary significantly.

How to choose the right foreign currency account?

There is a fairly wide range of foreign currency accounts to choose from. Each has different terms and conditions and different costs. It’s a smart idea to research the pros and cons of each, to help you decide which will suit your needs. You’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:

Do you need an account for personal or business use?

Some of the foreign currency accounts on the market are designed specifically for either business or personal customers. Business customers might have access to products like a foreign currency overdraft, for example — and the fee structure for each account type could be different. Wise can also be a great tool for businesses working on a global stage, which need to pay international suppliers and staff. More on that, in a little while.

Deposit or every day current account?

Some banks offer several different foreign currency account types, including term deposits in a foreign currency, and accounts which are more similar to a day to day current account. It’s important to check out the details of each account type, as the fees and benefits will vary.

Which currencies do I need to hold?

As we mentioned above, some foreign currency accounts only allow you to hold cash in a single foreign currency — while others are more flexible. Usually major banks will support global currencies like USD, GBP and EUR, but smaller currencies might not be offered.

A Multi-currency account from Wise lets you keep your money in any ofover 50 different currencies, including all major world currencies, and common local and regional currencies, too.

Can I get a debit/credit card with the account?

This is an important question, as most bank foreign currency accounts don’t offer a credit or debit card. If you need one linked to your foreign currency account, make sure you check the terms of the accounts you’re considering. You can also check out Wise's debit card which allows you to spend from your multi-currency account.

Wise Card

Is there a minimum deposit, minimum balance or service charge?

While many everyday accounts come with few strings attached, there can be conditions applied to foreign currency accounts, such as a minimum balance. In some cases, there will be a service charge applied for every month your balance falls below the required level, which can become costly.

It’s good to know that the Multi-currency account from Wise doesn’t have any minimum deposit level, opening costs, or service fee.

What are the fees I need to know about?

Before you choose a foreign currency account, it’s important to understand the fees you’ll be charged for using it. You might find that there is a monthly service fee, as we mentioned above, but there could also be a charge for receiving payments, or making international bank transfers from your multi currency account.

While you’re checking out the small print for fees, also look for details of how exchange rates are set. It’s not uncommon for banks to add a markup to the exchange rate they offer their customers, which they can then keep as their profit. That means that some of the costs of any international transaction are hidden, and that’s seldom good value for customers.

Ask your bank if they use the mid-market exchange rate for international payments. That’s the only real and fair exchange rate. If your bank won’t offer the real exchange rate to manage your multi currency account, and make international payments, try a different provider.

Wise always use the real exchange rate for international payments, and for any transfer made through their Multi-currency account — so you know you’re getting a fair deal.

How to exchange money between your foreign currency accounts

To move money in or out of your foreign currency account, you’ll need to arrange a wire payment, or bank transfer. You may be able to arrange this online, or on the telephone, or you might have to call into your bank branch to make the transfer. To make sure your money is secure, there may be checks which have to be carried out before you can start making online payments.

If this is the case, you’ll need plenty of time to get everything set up. If you’re moving your money from an account in a currency other than AUD, into your regular AUD account, there could be costs associated with the currency conversion and international payment.

As you can see from the fees table above, different banks charge different upfront amounts for transferring money to or from their foreign currency accounts. The amounts vary widely. So Bankwest will charge $5-$10 to receive a payment to a foreign currency business account, and it’ll cost you up to $35 to send a payment. Westpac, on the other hand, charge $12 for incoming payments, and up to $20 for outgoing, depending on the account type you hold.

There could well also be a cost for the currency conversion, as shown in the table above. This is a markup added to the real exchange rate, by the bank, and is part of their profit.

Finally, there may also be additional charges if the payment is made through the SWIFT network. In this case, your bank will work with partner institutions to arrange your transfer, but those other banks can also charge for their service which can become pricey. Before you decide to move money from your foreign currency account, you’ll want to be clear on all the potential upfront or hidden costs.

Wrapping up

A better alternative for many customers, is to use Wise to move their money for a low upfront fee, using the real exchange rate. You could save even more time and money if you grab yourself a Multi-currency account from Wise. Transfers with Wise are carried out entirely online, making them very convenient, with no need to worry about high charges or hidden costs.

If you’re considering getting a foreign currency account in Australia, it certainly pays to do some research. Not all banks offer multi currency accounts — and some only offer these accounts to business customers, or those with high levels of savings and investments. But the high street isn’t the only place you can find a foreign currency account.

You could look at a specialist provider like Wise, for a flexible and convenient account with fair fees, and no scary hidden costs.

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Sources:

  1. NAB foreign currency account page
  2. NAB account fees and charges personal and business
  3. St.George Business International page
  4. St.George fees and charges PDF fees on page 5, offered currencies page 12
  5. Westpac foreign currency account T&C PDF – currencies page 5, fees page 6
  6. Commonwealth bank personal foreign currency account info page
  7. Commonwealth bank business foreign currency account info page
  8. Commbank standard fees and charges for international payments PDF
  9. Citibank global currency account info page
  10. HSBC Everyday Global Account
  11. HSBC personal banking booklet showing fees
    Sources checked on 28 Dec 2021

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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