Comprehensive Guide to Tax File Number (TFN) for International Students

For any international student arriving in Australia, there is plenty to think about. When it comes to getting a job and paying tax, a Tax File Number (TFN) is essential.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) states that if you are living in Australia for more than 6 months, you may be considered an Australian resident for tax purposes.

This means that you’ll be paying tax on the money you earn at the same rate as other Australian residents.

Therefore, an essential part of making sure you’re getting the most out of the tax system is to obtain a Tax File Number.

Here is our comprehensive guide to tax file numbers, for international students.

What is a Tax File Number?

According to the Australian Tax Office, a TFN is “your personal reference number in the tax and superannuation (pensions) systems”.

It is a nine-digit number (9).

Why do I need a TFN?

Photo of an employer paying International Student for his job

A TFN is not compulsory, however if you do not have one and are gainfully employed, you’ll be paying far more tax.

In fact, without a TFN, the government will withhold 46.5% of your wages. With a TFN, it will be much less.

Moreover, most banks will encourage you to have a TFN when you are opening your account. However, this is not required.

Whilst there are no laws saying that you must have a TFN, it’s highly advisable for any working international student in Australia.

How to apply for a TFN

The application process for obtaining a TFN is relatively straightforward.

Your employer may provide you with a TFN application form upon commencement of your new job. Or, if you haven’t received one from them, you can ask.

Alternatively, you may download this form from the Australian Tax Office website and fill it out, passing the completed form to your employer.

Thirdly, and probably the easiest option, is to complete the online application through the ATO website, here.

What do I need for my TFN application?

You’ll need to be able to verify your identity. This can be done with a passport and valid student visa.

Moreover, you will need to have an Australian address, for when your TFN is sent to you in the mail.

How long does it take to get a TFN?

The ATO will send your confirmed TFN to your Australian address, within 28 days after receiving your application.

How can I track my TFN application?

Often, you will not receive updates on your TFN application.

However, if there are any issues with your application, you will receive an email or phone call. If your TFN hasn’t arrived within 28 days, you can call the ATO for more information.

What is the TFN withholding tax?

The TFN withholding tax refers to the interest on your bank balance, which is withheld by your bank when no TFN is provided.

They will withhold interest at the rate of the highest tax bracket, which is 45%. However, if you do not earn more than $420 in interest each year, you do not have to provide your TFN.

Where can I get a TFN declaration form?

You are able to download a TFN declaration form from the ATO website. Alternatively, you can get this form from your employer, or a post office.

Don’t forget that the easiest way to apply for a TFN is usually to complete the ATO’s online application form.

How do I recover my TFN if I’ve lost it?

You can recover your TFN through you’re MyGov account.

However, if you haven’t yet set up a MyGov account, you can recover your TFN by calling the ATO, or speaking to your accountant (where applicable).

Who needs a TFN?

Technically, no one really needs to have a TFN.

But any employed international student should certainly obtain a TFN. This will ensure you are paying the correct amount of tax.

Furthermore, without a TFN there are a number of government benefits you won’t be able to apply for. You’ll also need a TFN to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN).

How can I link my TFN to MyGov?

Linking your TFN to your MyGov account is relatively straightforward.

Once you’ve registered for a MyGov account, log in and select the services tab on the homepage of your account.

Then, locate the “linking option”.

From there, you’ll need to input your TFN and two of the following documents:

  • A notice of tax assessment from the last five years.
  • A PAYG summary from the last two years.
  • A superannuation account statement from the last five years.

As an international student, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a notice of tax assessment from the last five years.

Therefore, a PAYG statement and a superannuation account statement are the best options to use.

Your employer will be able to provide you with a PAYG statement, and they will also have established a superannuation account for you when you commenced employment.

How to add a TFN to a Commonwealth Bank account

If you have an online banking account with Commonwealth, you’ll be able to enter your TFN when you log into your account.

Alternatively, you can do this by telephone or by visiting a bank branch. This method applies to essentially all banking institutions.

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