Working in Australia – Opportunities, tips for backpackers and job search advice

Chapter 1: Introduction

Published: 02-12-2019

Author

Julie

Working Holiday Visa holders aren’t required to work in Australia but most backpackers do volunteer for room and board or get a job at one point to fund their travel expenses. Whether you’re planning to look for a qualified position in your field, a part-time job, experience fruit picking or offer labour for room and board, we’ve got you covered. Explore employment standards, dos and don’ts, common challenges and solutions and get precious job-hunting tips for a job search starting next week or months from now!

Getting work ready

As a Working Holiday maker—i.e. a backpacker with a valid Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) or Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462)—you are legally allowed to do short-term work in Australia to help pay for your holiday.

However, before starting to work, you have to meet a few basic requirements and you should also understand how the tax system works.

Applying for your Tax File Number (TFN)

Unless you’re only going to volunteer, you need a Tax File Number (TFN), a unique identifier issued by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to each taxpaying entity.

Apply for your TFN as soon as possible because the official processing time is 28 days. Getting a TFN is free and easy—read Everything you need to know about the Australian Tax File Number (TFN) for more info, including an application guide with screenshots.

If you don’t have a TFN, you will pay more tax—your employer must withhold 45% of any payment made to you! Got a job right away and your TFN application is processing? No worries, you have up to 28 days to provide the number to your employer. In this case, the lower tax rate will apply.

Opening a bank account

It’s easier and cheaper to bank locally. Besides, potential employers aren’t huge fans of depositing your pay cheque to a foreign institution because transfer fees could apply.

Opening a bank account in Australia is pretty straightforward but it’s best to complete this step within six weeks following your arrival otherwise you will have to provide more ID.

If you complete the process right away, you will need a piece of ID (your passport) and a mailing address to receive your bank card. You can use your own address in Australia if you’ve already found an apartment or a room or you can give a friend’s address, the hostel’s address, your Poste Restante address or even the bank’s own address (some banks do allow it).

Past the initial six-week period, a 100-point check applies—points are allocated to the types of proof of ID you can provide, and you must have at least 100 points of identification to be able to open an account. For instance:

  • You’ll get 70 points if you can show a valid passport or a passport that expired within the past two years or a birth certificate.
  • You’ll get 40 points if you can show a driver’s licence (bring your licence and an International Driving Permit if your licence isn’t in English).
  • You’ll get 25 points if you have an Australian credit card.

You can see the list of other acceptable ID here.

For more information read Opening a bank account in Australia in Your first steps in Australia with a Working Holiday Visa.

Understanding the tax and superannuation system

Taxes in Australia

All workers in Australia must pay income tax to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). If you’re an employee (i.e., your employer pays you an hourly wage or a salary), income tax is withheld from your salary or wages and is recorded on your pay slips.

The tax rate depends on your status in Australia and on your income:

  • If your employer is registered as an employer of working holiday makers with the ATO, your tax rate is 15% for the first $37,000 earned, then 32.5% for income above $37,001.
  • If your employer didn’t register as an employer of working holiday makers with the ATO, your tax rate is 32.5% for earned income up to $90,000.
  • If you’re self-employed with an Australian Business Number (ABN), income tax is not withheld—you will have to pay a lump sum to the ATO at the end of the fiscal year or when you leave Australia. Your tax rate is 15%.

The Australian government strongly recommends that you disclose your working holiday maker status and that your employer registers as an “employer of working holiday makers”. If not, your tax rate is much higher and penalties apply for the employer.

If your employer isn’t familiar with the process, you can direct them to the Employers of working holiday makers page for more information on how to register with the ATO in order to withhold tax at the working holiday maker tax rate.

Before 2017, WHV holders looked forward to lodging a tax return because in many cases, they were sure to get a refund. But since the 2016 tax rules change (i.e. working holiday makers taxed at 15% on earnings up to $37,000), it’s now rare to get a tax refund unless the wrong tax rate was applied and you overpaid taxes or you’re claiming deductions for some of your expenses.

For a complete overview of the tax system, read Taxes and superannuation 101 for working holiday makers in Australia.

Superannuation 

The “superannuation” (or “super” in Australian…) fund is a retirement fund. If you earn more than $450 a month before tax (working for the same employer), your employer must pay 9.5% of the value of your regular earnings into a super fund on your behalf.

There are many types of super funds. Typically, your first employer will offer for you to join the company’s super. Many backpackers are also opting for their bank’s super when they open an account. The key is to stick to one super fund (write down the details of your first super fund to provide to other employers you may have!) because it’s easier to keep track of your super earning and you will pay less admin fees (each super charges fees).

Since you won’t retire in Australia, you can claim back some of your super as soon as you leave Australia—submit the Application for a departing Australia superannuation payment (PDF format) (DASP). The DASP tax rate for working holiday makers is 65%, so for instance:

  • If you earned $10,000 in Australia, you can claim $332 from your super account.
  • If you earned $20,000 in Australia, you can claim $665 from your super account.

For an in-depth introduction to tax and superannuation, read Taxes and superannuation 101 for working holiday makers in Australia.

Meeting visa conditions — The six-month work limitation

Condition 8547 attached to your visa states that “You must not be employed by any one employer for more than 6 months, without the prior permission in writing of the Secretary.” In most cases, after six months of work for one employer, you will have to quit.

You do not have to ask permission if the work is:

  • in different locations and work in any one location does not exceed 6 months. For instance, you work for Down Under Inc. in Sydney for six months, then you’re transferred to the Down Under Inc. field office in Melbourne.
  • in plant and animal cultivation anywhere in Australia. This includes fruit picking, packing, pruning, trimming, etc.
  • in certain industries in northern Australia only. Industries like aged care and disability services, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, construction, mining, tourism and hospitality need more workers!

However, you will have to request permission in the following cases:

  • You’re working as an au pair and you would like to stay with the same family for longer than six months.
  • You’re facing exceptional circumstances. For example, you’re performing critical work and the project takes longer than expected.

For more information, read WHV in Australia — How to Work More Than 6 Months for the Same Employer.

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