When working in Australia you must pay tax to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The tax is taken directly from your paycheck each pay. The Australian tax system is sometimes difficult to understand and filing your tax declaration raises some questions especially with the recent changes in law.
In order to be clear as possible and find any special tips, we contacted Joaquim, a tax agent in Taxback, who provided us with accurate information on taxes when working in Australia.
The tax system in Australia
In order to work in Australia, you need to have a Tax File Number (TFN). This number is your identification with the ATO. As soon as you arrive in Australia, you should apply for your TFN as you will need to provide it to your employer when starting a new job.
Everyone living and working in Australia must declare their income. The amount of hours worked and the type of visa you are on do not matter.
This tax is collected directly from each salary you receive. It appears on your paychecks, usually under the title of “PAYG Withholding“.
The Australian financial year runs from 1st July to 30th June each year. Tax returns can be lodged any time from 1st July to 31st October, for the previous financial year. If you do not lodge your tax return within this time frame, you may cope a penalty.
The Tax rates for Holiday Visa Makers (from January 2017)
Since January 2017, backpackers with a 417 or a 462 visa are under a specific tax system. Indeed, all working holiday visas makers are taxed at 15% up to the first $37 000.
Backpackers can no longer be considered as residents for tax purposes. Even if you are planning to stay more than 6 months at the same place,unfortunately it does not matter anymore.
Before the recent legislation changes to tax, backpackers could claim residency for tax purposes if they were staying in one place for six months. However since January 2017, working holiday makers are treated as foreign residents. It means that backpackers can no longer claim a tax free threshold as Australian residents.
Companies must now register as employers of working holiday makers by completing a specific form. Make sure that your employer is registering you as a working holiday visa maker otherwise you will be taxed 32.5% (foreign resident rate) for your first $37 000 earned.
The changes apply from 1st January 2017, which means that if you were in Australia before January and for longer than 6 months you may be considered as resident for incomes earned prior January 2017. This means that you should be able to claim the tax-free threshold for the incomes earned from 1st July 2016 to 31st December 2016.
Your tax calculation will therefore be spilt in two parts : incomes earned in 2016 and incomes earned after 1st January 2017.
Incomes earned before January 2017 will be tax-free (as per the threshold) up to $18,200 and taxed at 19% from $18,201 up to $37,000.
Incomes earned after 1er Jan will be taxed at 15% from the 1st dollar earned.
TIP : If you have made purchases related to your work such as equipment (safety shoes, equipment …) or you paid transport costs to get to a place of work to another, you can deduct those costs from your taxes.
The Tax rates for residents and non residents
The tax rates in Australia are variable and depend on the status of the taxpayer. Residents are taxed at 19% while non-residents are taxed at 32.5%. Those rates apply to people with a student visa, sponsorship, permanent residency etc.
Rate – Non residents
From 0 to $80,000: 32.5% tax per dollar collected.
Rate – Residents
From 0 to $18,200: no taxation
From $18,201 to $37,000: 19% tax per dollar collected.
$37,001-$80,000: $3.572 + 32.5% per dollar collected.
You are considered a resident of fiscal point of view after living 6 months in the same place in Australia (not necessarily to the same address, but in the same geographical area or in the same city, Sydney and the surrounding area for example) provided that you are able to prove it. To declare you as a resident from a taxes point of view, residents are taxed less than non-residents, the first level of taxation for residents is at $18,200. This means that if you earn less than the $18,200 threshold and have been in the same place for 6 months, you will get all of your tax refunded.
The principle of Tax return / tax back
It is possible to recover some of the taxes you have paid to the state in some cases, but it is not systematic! Your taxes are calculated on an annual basis while you are taken from each pay, so it is normal that there is an adjustment at the end of the year. Remember that the principle of Tax return / tax back works both ways, you may as well get your money back if your status allows, or duty to the State if the government considers you paid less tax than you need to.
Resident or Non-resident:
If you change the status in the course of the tax year, you will not be taxed in the right proportions. The “resident” or “non-resident” status is the most important criteria impacting the tax return / tax debt (owing money to the ATO):
SCENARIO 1: You are “non-resident” on your employment contract, and “resident” on your tax return: you have paid too much tax. If you earned less than $18,200, you get back 100%.
SCENARIO 2: You are “resident” on your contract, and “non-resident” on your tax return: you have not paid enough taxes. You have to repay the difference (the notice is usually quite salty!).
SCENARIO 3: You are “non-resident” on your employment contract and “non-resident” on your tax return: you have paid your taxes in the right proportion. The state owes you nothing and you owe no ATO either.
SCENARIO 4: You are “resident” on your employment contract and “resident” on your tax return: generally, your employers will tax you more than they should. You will get some of your taxes (or even all of your taxes) if you earned less than $ 18,200 over the year.
Note: Please note that these examples are theoretical. The government does in fact make random checks and sometimes there are (good or bad) surprises.
Other things to consider
In the course of the year, you will have certainly contributed for Medicare.
The calculation of your taxes is annualised, therefore you pay your taxes each pay. It is therefore appropriate to make an adjustment at the end of each fiscal year. If you have not worked full year, for example, you should get some of your taxes back.
Good to know: Some items are deductible from Australian tax. If you have made purchases related to your work such as equipment (safety shoes, equipment …) or you paid transport costs to get to a place of work to another, you can deduct those costs from your taxes. It is important to keep the documents that prove the costs (receipts, tickets …)
Lodge your tax return in Australia
You have to lodge your statement between 1st of July until 31 October every year. Beyond this period, penalties may be applied (unless you go through a tax agent).
If your visa expires before the end of the fiscal year, or you plan to leave the country before June 30, you can make an early statement. To do this, follow the steps explained on the ATO website concerning lodging your tax return early.
To make your statement, you have two possibilities : do it yourself or hire a tax reporting agent.
Documents you need to lodge your tax declaration
The documents needed to make your tax return are:
– The final payslips of PAYGs OR (also called Group Certificate or Statement of Earnings). These two documents provided by your employer, show your wages and taxes levied on these salary. It is essential to be in possession of your PAYGs provided by each employer.
– Your TFN
– Full name, postal address, telephone number, your employers AMRO
– All your payslips
– Documents (receipts, bills…) capable of an expense report serves as proof of expenses incurred in the work environment (clothing, tools …) called “Work related expenses”.
Lodge your tax return by yourself
THROUGH THE ATO WEBSITE :
1. Create a MyGov account on the ATO website and download the Mytax or E-Tax software according to your status. Install it on your computer. Open the software and follow the steps.
2. Open the software and complete your tax returns. There is a guide to help if you get stuck.
GOING TO AN ATO OFFICE :
You can also meet at the ATO Office in your city to lodge taxes on site. Attention, it is not necessarily easy to do directly to the ATO, counsellors are not always available to help you and do not necessarily give you the best tips to fill your statement!
Hiring a tax agent
If you do not feel comfortable doing it yourself, do not panic. You can hire a tax agent who will go through the process for you. This means you will benefit in several aspects, it will optimize the chances on your side to get the highest possible tax return. If you have any hesitations, your status is not entirely clear or in-between, or that you have large sums to potentially recover, it may be a good way to not take risks.
The Backpackers Guide has selected Taxback, as one of the most reputable tax agents. Present for over 15 years in Australia, their team of experts will offer you quality service and maximize your chances of recovering money from your taxes.
In case of refund of taxes,”Taxback” withdraw this money constituting its part charges (about 9%). This tax agent also has the advantage of “no refund, no fee.” If you can’t get a refund of taxes, Taxback charges you nothing (unlike some other tax agents).
You can request a free estimate of your taxes. If you decide to use Taxback, you will receive $ 10 discount as a reader of AUSTRALIA – The Backpackers Guide.
To enjoy the discount, simply register here.
Caution – If you want to get some of your taxes paid to the state, it is important to follow the steps listed and to present all the necessary documents. Provide PAYG sheets for each of your employers in your statement is important, make sure not to leave a job without your payslips and keep them carefully. If you choose to make your return by yourself and you make a mistake on your statement, you risk an ‘audit’, that is to say a rejection of your claim. It is then very difficult to go back and refund the chances are very low.
– Updated on 1st July 2017 –