Fresh from a coma-inducing flight to the land Down Under and don’t know which way is up? Have no fear – TNT has an essential eight-point guide to setting yourself up in Australia.
Tax File Number
The first thing you’ll need to do if you’re planning on getting a job Down Under is get a Tax File Number (TFN). You need to give it to your boss within 28 days of starting work. Don’t be surprised to find yourself paying crazy rates of tax if you forget. It’s really not that hard to get one. By far the easiest way is to visit the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website at iar.ato.gov.au and fill in the form online (it takes about 20 minutes). Failing that, try ringing them on 13 28 61 or pop into one of their offices. Just remember to have your passport, visa details and an Australian address to hand.
You’ll need an aussie bank account to get wages paid into. This normally involves going to a branch in person. The big four banks in Australia are ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac. It’s best to shop around for the best deals, because often in OZ, there’s no such a thing as free banking.
Many accounts charge you for almost everything – from using a different bank’s ATM to a monthly fee of just having an account. It’s also worth signing up for a MasterCard debit card as without one you’ll have to keep resorting to your credit card from home to pay your stuff online. Whichever you choose, take along your passport and at least one other piece of ID, such as a photo driver’s licence or student card.
If you’re unfortunate to come down with dreaded lergy, you’ll thank your lucky stars you visited a Medicare office to pick up a Reciprocal Health Care card (if you’re eligible). Best to do this as soon as spossible because if you get sick while you’re in Australia you’ll be taken care of. If you hail from the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Italy, Malta or Belgium, then you’re in luck, as you get looked after best, and even get a sexy little Medicare card to stick in your wallet. Beware that different nationalities get cover for different amounts of time, not necessarily your whole stay Down Under, so make sure you check what you’re eligible for.
All you need to do is take your passport, plus in some cases proof you are enrolled in your country’s national health care scheme, along to a Medicare office. They’ll then send your card out, so make sure you’ve got an Aussie mailing address.
When going to a doctor, it’s worth picking one that does “bulk billing”. This means you only have to pay the subsidised rate up front, rather than packing full whack and then having to go to a Medicare office for a refund.
Travellers from Ireland and New Zealand aren’t quite so lucky although those countries do still have reciprocal agreements with Australia. This means that despite not getting a Medicare card, you do still get free emergency treatment at public hospitals, subsidised prescriptions and necessary medical care.
Take note that students are not eligible for Medicare. They must instead take out Overseas Student Health Cover, as a condition of their visa. For more info, visit medicareaustralia.gov.au or phone 13 20 11.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Australia’s job market is like a platter of hors d’oeuvres for backpackers. Some positions are in hot demand and are gobbled up before you even have a chance to apply, while others are left over for the truly hungry and desperate.
There are some skilled positions and even whole industries that can’t get enough backpackers, meaning they offer incentives to lure in overseas workers. For example, nurses are in high demand in Australia.
Many nursing agencies offer fringe benefits to attract you, from accommodation and phones to reward systems, which may include travel. You may find work as a temporary midwife, with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the outback, or in the operating room in a busy city hospital.
Temping agencies often have plenty of office positions available, which have the plus side of you the flexibility to leave at short notice and you’re often paid year round. So if you want to cook, pull beers or wait tables, keep an eye on local newspaper and feel free to drop you resume in to restaurants, asking to see the manager. Be aware that states and territories have different legislation governing the serving of alcohol. In some states you are required to complete a one-day course in Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA). In NSW these cost around 100$, but you may have to redo it in each state you wish to workin. You might also have to gain a Responsible Conduct of Gambling (RSG) in order to work near gambling devices.
For those who like to get their hands dirtier than a Miley video director’s mind, then the harvest trail is for you. Plus, if you work as a “seasonal worker” in regional Australia for three months (88 days) you can extend your working holiday visa for a second year. Head to immi.gov.au for more info. Visit jobsearch.gov.au/harvesttrail to find out what crops are grown where and when. Good general jobs sites to check out include tntjobs.com.au, seek.com.au and careerone.com.au .
As well as keeping in touch with friends and family back home and in OZ, having a mobile phone could simply be the difference between you getting that job or the other candidate that’s easily contactable. Vodafone often has the best pre-paid deals, but beware that reception outside the main cities might be fairly non-existent. Telstra and Optus are the two biggest Aussie networks.
Tax and Super
When you cease working for an employer, make sure you get a payment summary, showing your total income and amount of tax withheld. It is essential to keep this for your compulsory tax return.
The tax form (to be completed after the end of the tax year on June 30) may seem like a chore, but isn’t too complicated. Plus. if you’ve not worked full-time for the whole year you’ve almost certainly paid too much tax, meaning you’ll be in line for a tasy windfall, often over $1000. You can either do the form yourself or pay an agent to do it (normally about $100). When filling in your tax return ask yourself, “Am I resident for tax purposes?”
Anybody staying in one place for any length of time can say they are, and so receive a tax-free threshold and a lower tax rate. Visit ato.gov.au for the info.
Another one to remember is your superannuation contributions (which is like a state pension). If you earn over $450 a month (before tax), your employer is obliged to pay contributions (equal to nine per cent of your salary) into a fund. When you leave the country you can claim them back. This can be a hassle, but again, agents will take the stress out of it for a fee. Unfortunately, you will be taxed between 30 and 40 per cent on your claims and you cannot make the claim until you have left the country.
Depending on how long you want to stay, how comfortable you want to be and whether you enjoy a party every sundown, there’s plenty of options for you where you lay your head each night. When you’re on the road a hostel dorm room (the bigger the better) is obviously your cheapest option. Don’t always be too hasty to move on, however with most places offering discounts fo staying a week. Ask if they have any jobs going. You can often do a few hours of cleaning or reception work in return for a free stay.
If you’re staying a bit longer, you’ll save cash by moving into mid-term accommodation. This normally requires a commitment of at least one month and will see you in a big furnished house, normally with bills included. Longer term, you’ll have to get a lease on a flat/house. This will involve having references, paying a bond up front (normally a month’s rent) and signing up for anything from three months to a year in advance.
Unfurnished rental properties are the norm in Oz, but there are specialist estate agencies who have got roomes good to go, albeit usually at a slightly inflated price. It’s also well worth checking out websites like gumtree.com.au for room share options and secondhand furniture.