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Moving American Dollars to Australia

So, let’s say you have a slightly sizeable pile of money (larger than the above pile, which came out of Ali’s wallet) that you want to move from the U.S. to Australia. Think, a few months’ rent worth of cash. How would you do that?

The first step is opening a bank account in Australia. If you are already in Australia and have been in the country for less than 6 weeks, it’s mostly a matter of walking into a branch of any bank (we went with Westpac for no real compelling reason) with your passport, a residential address, and a smile. If it’s been more than 6 weeks, you need to play the “100 points of identification” game. A passport is worth the bulk of those points. Other pieces of ID–credit cards, lease, driver’s license–make up the balance. Open an account, wait a few days, and get your new Australian debit card to use. Anticipate using it plenty at the ATM, as plastic is not universally accepted here, especially for fast food purchases.

(Note: If you’re on top of your game, you can apply for the account before you move, but you still have to play the identification game once you arrive.)

If you have a Bank of America account back in the U.S., the transfer to Australia is straightforward. A fixed fee of $35 per wire transfer allows a transfer of nearly any amount to nearly any account anywhere in the world.

But, let’s say you’re lucky enough to have a Wells Fargo account (which was a Wachovia account, but really a First Union account…) with the cash in it. Or, actually, the money you want to transfer is in the linked ING Direct account, but international transfers out of that account are a non-starter.

So, here are all of the options we could come up with for a transfer from Wells Fargo to Australia:

1. Write yourself a check on the WF account. Roadblocks: $50+ in fees and takes 6 weeks.

2. Transfer the money to a Bank of America account via the “super easy and convenient” online transfer offered by WF. Roadblocks: Daily limits (several hundred dollars), monthly limits ($2k, unless you’ve used the service for some unspecified time in the past,) WF fees, and then the fee for the BoA to Westpac transfer on top of that.

3. Write a check for the full amount from WF to the BoA account, deposit it using BoA’s phone app, and then transfer from BoA to Westpac as above. This would have worked perfectly, except that you cannot install the BoA app on a phone registered on an Australian cell network. Score one for hindsight there.

4. Move it all through Paypal to yourself. Roadblocks: Loads of fees, plus the chance of Paypal deciding to keep the money for itself for a while.

5. Take a cash advance at a foreign bank branch, which WF allows. Basically, the Australian bank can make a withdrawal from the WF account with the WF debit card at the teller window, and then the teller can deposit the money right into your new Australian account (or hand you cash if you wanted.) Roadblocks: There is a daily purchase limit to consider (usually $10k or so on a debit card,) but the 3% fee is the kicker.

6. Make a wire transfer from WF to an international bank account. This is the obvious answer, yes. Roadblocks: You have to initiate it from inside a WF branch, which only exist in the U.S., of course, and the destination account didn’t exist until we left the U.S. No idea what the fees are, either.

7. Get lots of money in traveller’s checks. Do people still use traveller’s checks here?

8. Get a cashier’s check from WF. The processing time might approach that of a personal check.

9. Buy an expensive item in Australia with the WF card and then instantly return it for cash. Surely this would throw up some money laundering flags, but it would work without fees if you can find a cooperative merchant.

10. Order Aussie dollars while still in the U.S. through WF. Roadblocks: Anticipate fees and a crappy exchange rate; plus, you’d have to carry all that cash (and not lose it) for the entire trip here.

11. Be that dude that carries Krugerrands through customs. Bonus points for getting to say “Krugerrands” like some sort of art thief. Roadblocks: Similar issues with having to carry all that value in a pocket of your luggage.

With all of those options, here’s the best plan that we could come up with:

Call the WF international access number. Ask them to up your daily ATM withdrawal limit to the max ($2010 USD). The lady in Charlotte, NC, might be a little hesitant to do this, but as long as you have more than that amount in your account, it will go through. Go to the Aussie ATM. Do some quick math for today’s exchange rate, and figure out what that amount is in Australian dollars ($1900 AUD or so). Be thankful that while an ATM can only dispense 40 bills at a time, those bills can be $50’s, which equals $2000 AUD. Withdraw your daily max with the WF card, marvel at the pile of cash in your hand, and then feed it right back into the machine with your Westpac card. Repeat every 24 hours until it’s all moved over. Works instantaneously, has a good exchange rate, and costs $5 USD per transaction.

So, score a couple for hindsight and one for ingenuity. In the end, we moved all the money we needed to move in the time frame we needed to move it without losing too much to fees. And, we got to use most of it for our new apartment and all its furniture!


About theacademicsabroad

Rusty and Ali are a couple of nerds who moved to Australia to go on adventures. Oh, and work. :)


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September 2012
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