by Mitch Watson - Group Manager of Research and Ratings at Canstar
Australia welcomes many international students to its golden shores every year, with recent data from the Department of Education and Training showing there were almost 700,000 international students in Australia in 2018. While exciting, moving your life halfway around the world requires a bit of planning, especially when it comes to finances.
We’re a country known for a laid-back lifestyle with (mostly) great weather, but also fairly high living costs and a number of rules and regulations that may affect your stay if not factored into your budget. To help you financially prepare for your time in Australia, we’ve put together seven key cost considerations.
In Australia, Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) is a mandatory condition of your student visa - with only a few circumstances being exempt. OSHC benefits are similar to the cover Australian residents and citizens receive through the public health system, Medicare, meaning you will be covered for some doctor visits, emergency ambulance transport, public hospitalisation and some prescription medicines.
Accommodation costs vary depending on your study location and your choice of accommodation (for example, living alone, on campus or in a share house).
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the average (median) weekly rent payments for some capital cities in Australia are:
Median weekly rent
To keep rent costs down, you might consider flat sharing or specialised student accommodation. You may also want to consider factors like accessibility to public transport, commute time to your campus, surrounding amenities (such as restaurants, parks or gyms) and whether the accommodation is furnished.
Bear in mind that your student visa may impose limits on how many hours you can work while studying in Australia, which means trying to find a good deal on rent could be a key consideration. It is a good idea to do your research to compare your options before deciding on your accommodation, to try to ensure you are getting value for money.
Australian banks offer a range of savings and transaction accounts to suit varying needs and circumstances. Not all are created equal, so it can pay to do your research to find the right one for your needs. When comparing accounts, you may want to consider things like accessibility (is the provider online only or are there branches?), ATM fees, account-keeping and set-up fees, and interest earning potential, which could include a bonus rate if you meet some criteria.
Interest rates are currently considered low compared to previous years, but there are still rates near 4% available for those who meet the conditional criteria.
While on the subject of bank accounts, you might also be considering getting an Australian credit card. Keep in mind that credit cards can have high interest rates, meaning if you do not pay the balance off in full each month, you may accrue a much larger debt. If you do not think you are able to pay the balance in full each month, it is a good idea to consider an alternative.
In Australia, there are strict eligibility requirements limiting the availability of credit cards to Australian citizens, permanent residents or temporary residents with skilled working visas and full-time employment. Some requirements might make it more difficult, although not necessarily impossible, for international students to be approved for a credit card.
If you think a credit card is suited to your payment habits, compare and assess your eligibility with the different lenders. If you are bringing a credit card from your country of origin, be aware of any potential international or conversion fees.
Will you likely use public transport or do you think you will need a car?
Australia is a large country with sprawling cities, so the public transport system isn’t always the most convenient option, or even available for some locations outside of the city. It’s worth checking out what’s on offer in and around the city you’re moving to. The good news is most capital cities offer reusable smart travel cards and student discounts, which can halve your travel costs in some cases.
If you’re not living close to campus and public transport isn’t convenient from your home, you may need to consider buying and maintaining a car, using a car sharing service or paying per trip with a ride share (like Uber or Ola) or taxi.
If you plan on working while living in Australia, note that it is mandatory for employers to pay superannuation (super) to all workers aged over 18 years earning more than $450/month. Your employer is required to set you up with a default super fund when you commence work, however, it may be a good idea to compare other funds and determine whether it provides value for you.
When comparing funds, you may want to consider factors like past performance, fees, insurance offered and additional benefits for members (note that past performance isn’t necessarily indicative of future performance).
You may be eligible to claim back your super if you choose to permanently leave Australia – your super provider can help you manage this process.
As your student visa may only allow you to work part-time during the academic year, it’s a good idea to budget for expenses like groceries, electricity (if it’s not included in your rent), entertainment and eating out costs before you arrive.
The MoneySmart website calculated the average weekly spend for Australian households throughout the country, including on groceries, appliances and health. You can also see the average costs of electricity to get an idea of how much you can expect to pay.
To give yourself the best chance of living comfortably and enjoying your time in Australia, we suggest you plan ahead, set a budget and do your research. There could be money to be saved and made by comparing your options and choosing products carefully.
About Mitch Watson
Mitch Watson is Group Manager of Research and Ratings at Canstar. He has been working in finance research for over 10 years. Over this time, he has developed a deep understanding of financial products and what consumers and businesses need to be looking for to get ahead.