In this article we focus on small businesses and the ABN. If you want to know more about what other enterprises need an ABN, you can check the Australian Business Register website.
What is an ABN and why do you need it?
An Australian Business Number is an 11-digit number unique to an enterprise or business.
You can read more about what it is, who needs to get an ABN, and the advantages of having one in our article What is an ABN?
Be prepared: 5 things to check before you apply for an ABN
Check the list below before you begin your ABN application process. You’ll be asked the following questions or required to provide the following information:
1. Do you have an Australian Company Number or an Australian Registered Body Number? A company or Australian body must register with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) before they apply for an ABN. Once registered, ASIC will issue you with an Australian Company Number (ACN) or an Australian Registered Body Number (ARBN).
2. What is the name, main activity and location(s) of your business? Tell them the legal name of your business or entity. If you’re an individual and you don’t have a business name, use your own name. Your main business activity is usually the main source of income. For each permanent, physical business location you'll be asked for the street address, business activity details, phone and email contact details.
3. What is your tax file number? The quickest way to get your ABN online is by providing your tax file number (TFN) and the TFN of any of your business associates. If you or any associates are Australian residents aged over 18 and you don’t provide all relevant TFNs, you may not get your ABN immediately.
4. What are your contact details and those of any business associates? This is the authorised contact who must be able to deal with any issues relating to your business’s ABN. This person must also be able to make changes or updates on your behalf. It could be you, or someone you choose to act on your behalf such as a tax or BAS agent.
You need to provide the following details of the authorised contact: name, position held, phone numbers, physical, postal and email addresses, and registration number if they’re a tax or BAS agent.
For each individual associate you’ll have to provide their name, date of birth, position held, tax file number (TFN), residential address (if no TFN is provided).
For organisation associates you will have to provide their legal name, Australian Company Number (ACN) or an Australian Registered Body Number (ARBN) – if applicable, ABN – if applicable, TFN (or address), date of formation (if TFN not provided).
5. What date do you need your ABN? Your ABN won’t be issued until the date you specify. This should be the date when you intend to begin your business or enterprise – and it can’t be more than six months in the future from your application date.
How do I get an ABN?
Once you’re sure you have all the information you need for your application, it’s time to apply.
There are two main ways to apply:
- do it yourself online via the Australian Business Registry – it’s free
- through a tax agent – they might charge you a fee
What happens when I apply for an ABN?
Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row and submitted your application, you shouldn’t have to wait long for a response. You’ll either be notified of a successful application, sent a reference number indicating more information or checking is needed, or notified that your application has been refused.
A successful application
If your application is successful you’ll receive your ABN immediately. Print or save the confirmation of your ABN and your ABN details.
You can now apply for other business registrations – see the next section for the most likely ones you’ll need.
Your details will be added to the Australian Business Register (ABR). If you have privacy concerns you can request that certain details aren’t disclosed on the register.
A reference number
If you’re sent a reference number, it means some details are being checked or more information is needed from you. They aim to review your application within 20 business days and will contact you if they need more information from you. You can check how the application is progressing by using ABN Lookup.
If your application is successful after it’s been reviewed, you’ll get a confirmation letter and your ABN number within 14 days.
An unsuccessful application
If your application is turned down you’ll be given a refusal number. You’ll also be sent a letter, within 14 days, explaining why your application was refused and the options available to you. You have the right for the decision to be reviewed.
What other registrations do I need?
To save time, you’re able to apply for other business registrations as a part of your Australian business number (ABN) application. You may want to apply for the following:
Register for GST: You need to register for GST if you run a business or enterprise and your annual turnover is , or you expect it to be, $75,000 or more ($150,000 for a not-for-profit). If you're not registered for GST, check each month to see whether you've reached the threshold, or are likely to exceed it. If your turnover exceeds the relevant threshold, then you must register within 21 days of reaching it. Learn more about registering for GST.
Register for PAYG withholding if you’re employing staff: Under the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) withholding rules, you have an obligation to collect tax from the payments you make to your employees (and some businesses) so they can meet their end-of-year tax liabilities. Learn more about registering for PAYG.
Register your business name: A business name is the name your business operates under. If your business name is different to your own name you need to register it. Learn more about registering a business name.
What happens once I have my ABN?
You must keep your details up to date. If you know of any changes that should be made, for instance a change of business location, you must let the ABR know within 28 days. The fastest way to do this is through ABR online services. Or you can ask your tax agent to do the update.
- has been sold
- has closed down
- is no longer operating in Australia or making supplies connected with Australia.
Disclaimer: Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the provided content.