Essential Information for Backpackers in Australia: Visa's, tax and employment
We've been in Australia for 1.5 years, so of course we are experts now...
Hah! we still have much to see and learn, but moving between hostels and being around fellow travellers, having experienced working holiday life for so long now, we hear many of them asking the same questions repeatedly, and we often have the answers.
I get not everyone does a lot of research prior to coming to Australia, winging it a tad, and many might have been misinformed along the way, so, I've decided it's time to set the record straight on a few things and answer all those random questions I hear about employment, 2nd year visas and tax.
Working in Australia of course involves paying tax. When arriving in Australia we recommend that apply for your TFN straight away; technically you have 28 days after beginning a job to apply for one, but its much easier to have it already.
Your TFN, a tax file number, is uniquely assigned to your person and you then quote it to employers so that they can correctly file your taxes.
For years now, backpackers have been able to get back the tax they pay on their earnings, seeing that many are only here for a short duration in the scheme of things.
However, you may be aware that the Aussie government is pushing to stop all of us from being able to get back the tax, which we currently pay at a rate of 32.5%.
As a working-holiday-maker, who does nothing but spend in this country (and ironically spend my tax return in the tourism industry) this is a really sucky proposal. Many working holiday makers pass through this country only spending, never utilizing the health-care system etc.
I find it very odd that an affluent country who has whole industries reliant on the money of eager travellers, who want to stick around, work and most importantly, spend, wants to essentially punish those individuals by withholding massive amounts of their hard-earned cash.
But anyway, that's a whole other discussion...
At current there is no legislation drafted (as of August 2016) and so this move may be a while off, or, in the same terrible fashion as last year, when they brought in an end-date to wwoofing for a 2nd year visa with only a week's notice, this change really could come in at any point.
Either way, if you have been in Australia for more than 6-months between July 2015 and July 2016, and spend a fair bit of that time in employment, then you paid tax, which you can get back between between July and October 2016, by submitting a tax return online.
Many companies will offer to do all this for you, minus a $70-100 fee... But I did it the usual way, going it alone for free, and it took 10 minutes. 10 MINUTES.
How To Get Your Tax Back
Go to the website mygov. You may already have a mygov account linked to previous visa applications etc. If not, then create an account.
After creating an account, a page will come up stating 'Linked services'. You want to link up your mygov account to the ATO (the people with all your tax).
This may involve a short phone call to the ATO to confirm your identity, but its a clearly guided process on the website on how to do this.
You are now ready to submit you're return. Locate where it says 'Lodge a return'.
Fill in the fields accordingly. You DO NOT need your payment summaries to do this, as you should be able to locate the key figures of GROSS INCOME and GROSS TAX PAID from your last or latest payslip for each job you've had/are currently doing, up until the July 1st 2016 cut-off point. Your payslip should always display the pay received that date, and the total received in the Year-To-Date plus the tax paid in the YTD. Your payment summary will either be sent to the ATO by your employer, or sent to you, and it will show the same figures. So for example, I was able to use the last payslip from a job I had until January, and then for the job I was doing in June, I just used my last payslip received for work prior to July 1st.
You should receive tax back within 1-2 weeks from lodging the return. Ensure your bank details are correct, or someone else might up with your 000's!
Yes, the government takes some tax (and in the future, would like to keep hold of it) but you also get the added bonus of paying 'Super'.
Your employer should pay a small amount each pay-date (an amount equal to 9.5% of your total salary) into your own super fund. You need to open a super account for them to send it to, almost like enforced but painless saving, and when you leave Australia for good, you can draw the money out.
There are many companies offering super accounts, but we went with First State Super, opening an entirely free account. Your super company will invest your money either along with the market conditions, or you can choose how to invest it. We more or less chose the simplest options when opening the accounts and our money is managed solely by the account provider.
2nd Year Visa
Last year, 1 month into living and working on a farm, the government abruptly announced that wwoofing (unpaid voluntary work where food and accommodation are provided in return for labour) would no longer be accepted regional work eligible for a 2nd year visa.
We launched into a rant about it here on the blog, garnering a lot of social media attention. We also eventually submitted a paper to go to government with the WWOOF Australia guys, to support the case for it to stay as an accepted work type.
Luckily for us, the new rules didn't take effect until after we had finished our farm stint, but unfortunately for others, those big changes, still happened. It's competitive enough for people to find paid farm work and fruit-picking that isn't dehumanizing and tough beyond all reason, so this really has fuelled that fire.
As it stands, from December 1st 2015, applicants had to submit payslips as evidence in the visa application process, so basically, farmers would have to start coughing up money they didn't have, or face losing willing and able workers. Workers on the other hand would then miss out on meeting great farming families who depended upon them to thrive.
Securing Farm work or Fruit-picking
The best way to get your 2nd-year visa work hasn't changed. You still need to be looking, enquiring and researching. From Facebook groups, to specialist farming job websites, through to sites like backpackerjobs, TAW, indeed.com, and good old gumtree, jobs will be listed across these places regularly.
It can never hurt to ask around if you are staying in a hostel in an area where there might be eligible regional work, enquiring with the hostel staff or your fellow travellers who may have already completed their paid farm work.
Research the different crops and their seasons in Australia to locate where and what needs farming, and when.
Eligible Regional Areas and Postcodes: The postcode is super important!
As per the needs of the agricultural sector in Australia, your regional work has to be just that, in the country-side often far away from major cities.
It can't just be anywhere in the sticks however, as there is a definitive list of the exact postcodes, where work is eligible, corresponding to the different Australian states. Check here for even more details.
It is helpful to have your own transport to physically get to the farm work and also have the mobility to get away from it before you get cabin fever, but it's not a deal-breaker. For us we were lucky enough to get to our farm with the help of a friend, and whilst on the farm we were extremely fortunate to have access to a so-called 'backpacker car' which we used to get our groceries.
During communications with your farm, if it is particularly far from civilisation, it is worthwhile asking how getting groceries etc will work.
Will there be any phone reception so you can contact home? Will your accommodation be separate and comfortable?
I firmly disagree that in order to secure your 2nd year, you have to be blind-sighted and then suffer sub-par conditions and complete isolation; you should at least know what you are going into before you make a commitment.
If you have any questions, not answered here, or want me to expand on any of the above, comment below!
Thanks for reading!
Hannah and Taran here. We hail from Southern England, where we met online and are now realizing our mutual passion for travel here at Nomad'erHowFar. We discuss Nomadic Living, Simplifying your Life and Long-term Travel, to empower, motivate and inspire our readers. Get to know us here!
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