When you decide to work in Australia, whether you are a backpacker or not, some paperwork must be done. In most cases, you will only need to create a TFN (Tax File Number). It is a requirement to work legally in Australia. However, an increasing number of travellers decide to be self-employed. To make it happen, they have to create an ABN (Australian Business Number). We will explain here what an ABN is and which procedure to follow for obtaining it.
What is an ABN?
However if you have a trade for example and you want to be self-employed while living in Australia, it is totally feasible. For that, you will need to register for an ABN. An ABN is a unique 11 figure number. It identifies your business to the government and community. It is necessary to get it when you are willing to work for yourself. Indeed, it is nothing else but your business number. Your ABN gives you the right to be your own boss and work freelance in the sector of your choice (cleaning, delivery, construction as a contractor, etc.). With an ABN you are actually invoicing your clients instead of receiving a payslip. You cannot invoice anyone without having an ABN.
Start your freelance activity
To determine if your activity is an activity requiring the creation of an ABN, it must have the following characteristics:
- it must be commercial, you must sell products or services
- you must intend to make a profit from this activity – unlike a hobby
- the activity must be repeated regularly and be organized in a professional manner
- you must have the relevant knowledge or skills.
- Thus, you can ask for an ABN to work as a consultant, web designer, graphic designer, gardener, cleaner, driver, teacher, etc. as long as you have several clients to whom you sell your services.
Employee or self-employed?
On the other hand, if a company offers to hire you for a given job but asks you to obtain an ABN, beware!
It is illegal for a company to treat its employees as sole traders. Companies that do this illegally reduce their labour costs. Indeed, by doing so, they are not paying the taxes and superannuation for you. In addition, you do not have the same rights as an employee.
Keep in mind that although it is easy to obtain an ABN, an employer does not have the right to ask you to obtain one as a condition of employment.
Steps to obtain an ABN
How to get an ABN?
Applying for an ABN is free. The application is to be made online, on the Australian Government website:
You will need to complete a series of questions to make sure your activity is eligible for an ABN and obtain it. You will be asked for the type of business (usually individual sole trader) and the nature of your activity. People working on a construction site will for example answer “labourer”, for those wanting to be freelance will answer “in a kind of business”. You will then have to add your personal information: name, address, date of birth and TFN. The postal address you include in your application form is where you will be receiving your ABN after a maximum of 28 days.
- the nature of your main activity
- the structure of your business (generally “individual sole trader” if you are alone, “partnership” if there are several of you)
- your TFN (Tax File number)
- your contact details (address, e-mail, telephone)
ABNs do not have an expiry date. However, it can be cancelled if your ABN comes under review and it is evident that you are no longer eligible for an ABN.
Get your ABN and work as a freelancer in Australia with our step-by-step tutorial.
How to change or cancel your ABN?
You are responsible for updating your ABN contact details. You will need to do this within 28 days of the change in circumstances. Likewise, if your business structure changes, you may need to cancel your ABN and request a new one. Finally, if your business has been sold or has gone out of business, you will need to cancel your ABN.
The fastest way to update your information or cancel your ABN is online using the myGovID app.
What is the go with taxes?
Declare your income at the end of the financial year
Be really careful, you will be asked to pay for your tax at the end of the year instead of paying all year long.
When you are an employee, taxes are deducted directly from your pay. At the end of the year you only need to report on the ATO website the amount paid by your employer and written on your payment summary(ies).
When you are self-employed, the procedure is totally different. You will have to pay for the taxes earned yourself at the end of the financial year. Technically, you will be receiving a payment from your client and then it is your responsibility to pay for your taxes. For this reason it is extremely important to save money all year long to be able to pay your taxes at the end of the financial year.
In the case where you would have been working under both TFN and ABN during the financial year, you would have to declare all your income on the same declaration.
How much to put aside to pay my taxes?
You will be considered a tax resident as soon as you have your main residence or live more than 6 months per year in the country at the same address.
|Taxable Salary Class||Tax rate|
|0 – $18,200||0|
|$18,201 – $37,000||19% $18,200|
|$37,001 – $90,000||$3,572 + 32,50% over $37,000|
|$90,001 – $180,000||$20,797 + 37% over $87,000|
|$180,001 and above||$54,097 + 45% over $180,000|
Non-resident tax rate
If you do not work enough in Australia to be considered a tax resident, the tax rate on your Australian salary will be higher.
|Taxable Salary Class||Tax rate|
|0 – $90,000||To 32.5% from 1 Dollar|
|$90,001 – $180,000||$29,250 + 37% over $90,000|
|$180,001 and above||$62,550 + 45% over $180,000|
You will have a special tax status. Indeed, because of your visa, the Australian administration considers that you do not intend to stay in Australia. Your salary will then be taxed more than a tax resident.
|Taxable Salary Class||Tax rate|
|0 – $35,000||15%|
|$37,001 – $90,000||$5,550 + 32,5% above $37,000|
|$90,001 – $180,000||$22,775 + 37% over $90,000|
|$180,001 and||$56,075 + 45% over $180,000|
Example: you have a WHV and estimate that you can earn $1,000 per week thanks to your activity under ABN.
- If you earn $1,000 gross per week, your annual income will be approximately $52,000 ($1,000 x 52 weeks).
- You are on a WHV, so you will be taxed at 15% on $37,000 and at 32.5% on the remaining $15,000, i.e. $5,550 (15% * 37,000) + $4,875 (32.5% * 15,000) = 10.425 $.
- Taken down to the week, that’s $200 in taxes that will have to be set aside. Assume that your net weekly pay is $800.
If you are planning to stay in Australia for a while, consider saving some money for your retirement. Open a superannuation account to deposit money.
ABN and GST
Some people wonder what GST is. In Australia, GST is 10% of a product or service. However, you only start paying GST if your income is superior to $75 000. Under $75 000 you don’t have to worry about it.
Remember to always save money all year long to be able to pay for your taxes at the end of the year. You must pay it to the ATO or you will have a debt to the Australian government.
Updated on 28/07/20 – Initially published on 18/01/2017