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ABN stands for Australian Business Number. It is an 11-digit number issued by the Australian Business Register that identifies your business to the government. It can also be used by the general public about your business on the ABN Lookup website.
Anyone who is running or starting a business or enterprise in Australia needs an ABN. If you’re not sure if your activity is regarded as a business, ask yourself the following questions:
If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, you will almost certainly require an ABN.
There are some other situations which may also qualify you for needing an ABN including if you are acting as the trustee of a super fund, if you are you operating a charity or if you are leasing an investment property.
When running a business in Australia, there will be many instances where you will be required to provide an ABN. These may include (but are not limited to) the following:
You need to register for an ABN prior to incurring income or expenses relating to the business. When you fill out the application form, you will be asked for the date that you expect to start your business. This date, however, cannot be more than six months in the future when you apply.
Prior to applying for an ABN number you will need to have undertaken some relevant ‘commencement activities’ to prove that you are serious about setting up your business. These activities could be as simple as setting up a social media account or website, or purchasing business cards and stationery, or they could be more substantial steps such as purchasing a business; leasing a premises; obtaining insurance, equipment or stock; or applying for finance.
It’s not essential to have undertaken all these activities prior to applying for an ABN number, but a certain number will be necessary to prove the legitimacy of the business.
One thing you do need to do before applying for an ABN however, is to decide on the right structure for your business, for example, a sole trader, partnership, or trust. Read our article on how to structure a new business here.
To apply for an ABN you will require the following documents:
Depending on your circumstances, there may be additional documents that you need to provide:
Unlike an ABN which is legally required for all Australian businesses, an Australian Company Number (ACN) is only required if your business is registered as a company. If this is the case (read our article on structuring a business here), then you will need both an ABN and an ACN. This unique nine-digit number is issued by ASIC and must be displayed on all company documents. Click here to learn more about registering a company.
It is free to register for an ABN.
You can register for an ABN via the online application form on the Australian Business Register website.
Alternatively, you can also register for an ABN via the online application form on the Business Registration Service’s (BRS) website. The advantage to applying through the BRS is that you can register a business name at the same time as your ABN application. If you don’t, you’ll need to go back to the Business Registration Service to register your business name.
If you have provided all the relevant information, and your application is successful, you will receive your 11-digit ABN immediately.
If, after applying, you receive a reference number it means that the ABR may require additional details or information. Applications are usually received within 20 business days and they will contact you if further information is needed.
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