Tax File Number
Just like the IRS, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) also provides its citizens with an identifying number that helps with tax processing, reporting, and filing. What US citizens may know as a Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number, the Aussie equivalent is a Tax File Number or TFN. This identifying number is necessary for anyone looking to work or earn money in Australia, whether they’re a citizen, permanent resident, or temporary visitor. Even those living outside of Australia may be required to have one if they earn income from an Australian source.
We break down the TFN basics for you below.
What is a tax file number?
A tax file number (TFN) is an individual’s personal reference number in the tax and superannuation systems. It is a unique, nine-digit identifying number that stays with you throughout your employment and your life.
The TFN differs from the American social security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) in the sense that it applies to almost everyone. Where an ITIN is generally only relevant to individuals who are ineligible to obtain an SSN, the Australian TFN is available to both citizens and foreign residents.
You will be asked to provide a tax file number to:
- The Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
- Your bank or financial institution
- Your superannuation fund or retirement account provider
- Your employer at the beginning of your employment
- Your university (to apply for relevant HELP/student loans)
- Government agencies (such as Centrelink or Medicare) if you wish to claim benefits or allowances from them.
Do I need one?
You don’t technically have to have a tax file number, but without one, your employer or financial institution will be required to withhold more tax from payments that they make to you (47% for residents, 45% for foreign residents). Generally, you will have 28 days to provide a TFN to your employer before they must tax you at a higher rate. This gives you time to complete an application if you were unaware. Without a TFN, you will also be unable to apply for any government benefits or allowances, lodge a tax return online, or obtain an Australian business number (ABN).
It’s best to obtain a tax file number if you:
- Receive income from an Australian source (other than investment or royalty income)
- Receive income from business interests located within Australia
- Have a spouse who is an Australian resident and is wanting to apply for government benefits or allowances (such as the childcare subsidy or family tax benefit)
- You’re a member of an Australian superannuation fund that you contribute to or expect to receive benefits from
- Need to lodge a tax return or apply for an ABN.
Foreign residents for tax purposes generally do not need a TFN if the only income they source from Australia is that of interest, dividends, or royalty payments – but it’s always best to check this with a tax professional to see if there would be a benefit for you to obtain one anyway.
What if I’m way behind on my U.S. tax returns?
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How do I apply?
If you’re a foreign resident for tax purposes, you will be required to complete a paper form in order to apply for your TFN. You will need to send your completed form and certified copies of your proof of identity documents to the address provided on the form. You should expect to receive your TFN within 28 days from the date that the office receives your application, assuming that there are no issues with your documents or application.
Some expats may be able to apply for a TFN online using Individual Auto Registration if they meet these three conditions:
- They are a foreign passport holder, temporary visitor, or permanent migrant
- They are already in Australia
- Their visa is one of the following:
- A permanent resident visa
- A visa with work rights
- An overseas student visa
- A visa that allows you to stay in Australia indefinitely (including New Zealanders automatically granted a visa on arrival).
If you meet the above criteria, you can apply for a TFN online; however, you will need to be over the age of 15 and have a valid passport in order to apply. You can also apply at any participating Services Australia or Australia Post location, using the form and required identity documents.
Applying for a TFN is always free. There are certain third-party organizations that will try to offer services to handle the process for you for a price; this is not necessary. The process is straightforward and does not take long.
What documents and information will I need to apply?
Before you start the application process, it’s best to have the handy:
- Your passport
- An Australian mailing address
- A phone number
- An email address
During the application process, the ATO will check with the Department of Home Affairs to make sure you’re legally allowed to work in Australia.
How do I know if I already have one?
If it’s not your first time working or living in Australia and you’ve either forgotten your TFN or aren’t sure whether you already have one, there are a few ways to check. The easiest way to check is online, using the ATO app or online services. But if you do not have a myGov or linked ATO account, there are other ways to find your tax file number:
- On your income tax notice of assessment (NOA), if you have lodged a tax return previously
- Letters you may have received from the Australian Taxation Office
- Payment summaries or income statements provided by your employer
- Your superannuation account statement
- From your tax agent (if you have one).
If you’re still unable to find your tax file number or still aren’t sure if you’ve already applied, you can always phone the ATO directly.
Your tax file number will stay and be assigned to you throughout your working life in Australia. While it’s not mandatory to obtain a TFN, it’s usually a good idea to have one, and many employers and organizations will require you to provide it. Whether you reside in Australia or overseas, if you are sourcing any income from Australia, a TFN is a must-have to save you and the ATO both time and money.
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