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337 - Local Finance

There are many banks in Australia to choose. Westpac and Commonwealth Banks handle U.S. Embassy official banking in the Canberra area.

Generally, banking hours are Monday to Thursday 9:30-4:00 and Fridays 9:30-5:00. Banks are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

Most staff members obtain an Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale (EFTPOS) cash card for use at automatic cash machines and in supermarkets. It is difficult to write a check (cheque) at a local supermarket, but they are accepted at many other outlets. For your protection, checks should be "crossed" or marked "not negotiable" when written.

Many local ATMs accept US cards, including Cirrus. As a result some employees choose not to open a local bank account.

Westpac, Commonwealth and National Bank have special U.S. check cashing arrangements at certain branches for a nominal fee. Some banks will make your funds available immediately while others will require the check to clear. This may take up to 3 weeks. Because of the many bank fees assessed on Australian accounts, some Embassy employees choose to access their U.S. accounts via ATM machines for local currency, and charge other expenses to credit cards without opening an Australian account at all.

Australia is still a largely cash-based society. It may be necessary to establish a local savings account, and possibly, a checking account as soon as possible after arrival. It takes an hour or more of paperwork to set up an account. You will need to bring the following items with you in order to establish an account.
                 · Passports
                 · Copy of your orders
                 · Verification of address...a copy of your Australian driver's license or  lease. 

Each bank manager has some latitude in setting individual account fees and service criteria. Ask for and negotiate the service you want. For example, most banks near the Embassy will allow you to get immediate access to US checks deposited through them rather than waiting the customary hold period. The average time for a state side check to clear is approximately 3 weeks so this clearly is a great advantage over banks that do not allow you this privilege.

All accounts have a service charge and all deposits plus check withdrawals are taxed by the state and federal governments (an average of $8.00 - $12.00 AUS per month) -- these taxes can be avoided by not having checks drawn on your savings account. It takes readily available cash to cover most of your start up expenses, especially if buying a car. Bring as much money as possible in traveler's checks which will not be held until the check clears. Even a cashier's check from a US bank may be held for up to 10 days until it has cleared the US. Other considerations are deposits on all utilities, car insurance, hotel and food until housing is ready and any items for the house such as appliances that were not brought from the states. 

Government Travel Card (GTC)

The 337th finance office also controls the GTC program for all DoD members. Upon arrival and in-processing in Australia you need to provide your GTC info to the 337th finance. This will allow you to speak with someone in your time zone should a problem arise.