When you work in Australia, you are obliged to pay tax like everyone else in Australia. The regular tax rate for travellers on the Working Holiday visa is 29%, although some employers have been known to work with different rates depending on the work you do. For example, a lot of the fruit picking and farm work is taxed at only 15% in an effort to make this a more attractive option for backpackers seeking work.
Just a couple of years ago it was common practice among backpackers to file tax returns for the full amount of tax paid in Australia. This was usually done by claiming to be a ‘resident for taxation purposes’ on the final tax papers. Although this was never legally right according to the Australian taxation office, because of their own negligence and a very peculiar tax system where payment was made before actually checking the tax records, this method became common knowledge and was not only practiced by large numbers of travellers but also by accountants and companies claiming taxes on the travellers’ behalf.
Recently however, the taxation office has become increasingly strict and is now following up very closely any claims by working holiday makers to be residents for taxation purposes. In some cases, backpackers have even had tax bills sent to their home addresses long after departing Australia, reclaiming the total amount in taxes owed to the government that had been paid out earlier. Generally speaking, if your employer has deducted the correct tax percentage from your pay slip, you will end up not getting any money back from the tax office when you fill in your final end of year papers. Likewise, if you fill in your papers correctly, you will not be surprised with a tax bill long after returning home. In general, it is good to be very wary of any organizations that claim they can guarantee to get you tax back as these organizations are currently finding themselves in court with the Australian taxation office.
It is important to keep all your pay slips from your employers while travelling around Australia and also to request a final aggregate slip with the total amounts withheld and paid from each of your different employers when moving on. Although there are quite a few companies in Australia that charge you a fee for filling in your final tax papers, doing it yourself is equally easy if you have the right papers at hand and requesting these slips will make your life a lot easier. At your request, the taxation office can supply easy to use packages with all the forms you need to fill in at the end of the year. With a financial year in Australia that runs from the first of July till the end of June, keep in mind you will have to fill in your final tax statement twice if you have worked in separate financial years.
Besides tax, employers withhold what is known as superannuation, or ‘super’ for short, from all wages paid in Australia. This amount can be up to 9% of your gross wages.
Some temporary residents are now able to access their superannuation upon permanent departure from Australia. The most important criteria is that you have either departed Australia (this money can be retrieved even if you worked and travelled in Australia anywhere between 1992 and 2002!) or that you are leaving Australia to reside in another country.
If you fall under this criteria, even though this process hasn’t been practiced widely by backpackers so far, it could very well be worth your time to look into getting your superannuation back if you worked several months while in Australia. The process is quite lengthy, mainly due to the fact that there are several thousand superannuation funds in Australia and every employer pays their contribution to a different fund, or sometimes even funds. To complicate matters further, most temporary employees are not told what superannuation fund is keeping their money and what their membership number is at that fund.
In order to claim your superannuation, you will need to contact each superannuation fund directly and provide them with a copy of your Australian visa and the exit stamp in your passport as well as your membership number at that fund. If you do not know the superannuation fund your employers used, you will have to request that information from the relevant employers. Due to different administration fees and procedures at each fund, it might only be worth it to claim your superannuation back when you have actually worked for several months for one employer. If you have only worked one or two week jobs for multiple employers who have all paid superannuation into different funds, you might find yourself tangled in a lot of paperwork for nothing. To help with this some organizations have started assisting independent travellers with their superannuation refunds for a modest fee and considering the complications of multiple funds, fees and taxes on superannuation, it can be worthwhile to contact these for more information.
Sad but true, most trips have to end sometime and all you have left are the memories and pictures of what you experienced, saw, who you met and everything else that happened to you along the way. Although being back home with friends and family is great, it takes time to get used to a different lifestyle, regular work and so on. With a healthy pile of email addresses from your trip at your disposal it often helps to remember the good times with those you met along the way or just simply to keep in touch in case your next trip takes you their way.
With your experience fresh in mind, consider this also as the ideal time to share your experiences with others who are considering travelling to Australia. Let them know what’s good and what isn’t, what to see and what to skip, which hostels are great and which are terrible, where to find work and so forth. Several years ago you were limited to sharing with friends, family and anyone else you actually were in conversation with. Times have changed and because of the internet, you now have the opportunity to give back something to the travelling community without making it your full time job. You can share your experiences with strangers through sites, chat rooms, forums or by allowing others to contact you to request information on destinations you are knowledgeable about.
Although your once in a lifetime trip to Australia might end when you return home, what you get out of the trip will last you a lifetime!
More Australian resources after your trip
Check out these valuable travel resources after you have left Australia. They will open in a new browser window.