How to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN)

Small Business Guides

7 min read

If you run a small business, or are about to start one, you’ll need to apply for an ABN (Australian Business Number). Find out why you need one and how to apply for one.

A unique number for every business

An Australian Business Number is an 11-digit number unique to each business. It’s a legal requirement for anyone who wants to start an enterprise in Australia or who wants to register for GST (Goods and Services Tax). Even if your business isn’t going to register for GST, you still need an ABN.

Apply for an ABN through the Australian Business Register (ABR) – it’s free to apply. Your business will use its unique number to identify itself when dealing with the government, other businesses and the public.

Apply for an ABN if you intend to run a business

You’ll be asked to provide lots of information when you apply for an ABN. The information you provide will determine if you receive one or not.

To be issued with one, your business must be one of the following types (also called entities):

  • individual/sole trader
  • partnership
  • company
  • trust

Every business entity (whether a sole trader, partnership, company or trust) that applies for an ABN only needs the one number. However, you can choose to run more than one enterprise with a single ABN – for example, a furniture shop, a curtain outlet, and a fabric supplier could all use the same number if they’re part of the same business entity. But if any of the operations are run by a different business entity, they’d require a separate ABN.

So it’s important to choose the right structure for your business. You should always seek professional advice from your accountant or lawyer before making any decisions about registering for an ABN or choosing your business structure. Read more about choosing your business structure on the ATO website.

Visit our advisor directory if you need help finding someone to provide professional advice.

The advantages of having an Australian Business Number

One of the main advantages is that you'll save time and money. That’s because other businesses are legally required to withhold tax from payments to you if your business doesn’t quote an ABN on invoices. And in this case, they must withhold it at a rate of 46.5 percent. So even though your business can claim back any excess tax paid in the tax return at the end of the year, it's not ideal for your cash flow.

Having an Australian Business Number also means your business can:

  • claim GST credits (when registered for GST)
  • claim fuel tax or energy grants credits (if you qualify)
  • stay compliant and be able to lodge activity statements (BAS/IAS) with the ATO
  • confirm your business identity to others when ordering and invoicing
  • avoid pay-as-you-go (PAYG) tax on payments you receive (see below)
  • obtain an Australian domain name (for your .au website)
  • deal with other businesses more seamlessly.

Registering an ABN is a separate process to registering a business name.

Be prepared – 11 things to check before you apply

Check the list below before you begin your application process. You will be asked the following questions or required to provide the following information:

  1. Do you already have an ABN?
    Do you already have, or have you previously had an ABN for the entity you’re applying for? You’ll need to provide it if so. If you’re unsure, use the Lookup service to check.
  2. Do you use the services of a tax agent?
    If you’re using the services of a tax agent, you can provide their registration number. This can be found on an income tax return. Recording your tax agent’s number against your ABN means they can deal with the ATO on your behalf.
  3. Do you have an Australian Company Number or an Australian Registered Body Number?
    Any company or registrable 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).
  4. What is the name of your business?
    This is the legal name of your business or entity and is the name that appears on all your official business documents or legal papers. This is not a registration for a business name – that still needs to be done separately. If you are an individual and you don’t have a business name, use your own name.
  5. 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 your associates are Australian residents (over 18) and you don’t provide all relevant TFNs, you may not get your ABN immediately.
  6. What are your business locations?
    These are the permanent physical premises operated by your business. For each location you will be asked for the:
    • street address
    • business activity details
    • phone and email contacts.
  7. What are your contact details?
    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. This person could be you, or someone you chose to act on your behalf.

    You need to provide the following details of the authorised contact:

    • name
    • position held
    • mobile, phone and fax numbers
    • email address.
  8. What are your business associates’ details?
    If you have business associates, their details must be provided with your ABN application. Your associates may be individuals or organisations depending on your entity type.

    For each associate you will have to provide:

    For individuals
    • date of birth
    • gender
    • position held
    • tax file number (TFN)
    • residential address (if no TFN is provided).
    For organisations
    • 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).
  9. What is the main activity of your business?
    Your main business activity is usually (but not always) the activity that is the main source of income for your business or organisation. If you operate from multiple locations, you will be asked for the main business activity at each of the locations you operate.
  10. What is the date you need your ABN by?
    Your Australian Business Number will not be issued until the date you specify. This should be the date when you intend to begin your business or enterprise.
  11. Are you providing us with the correct information?
    Before submitting your application, you need to complete a declaration stating that the information you have provided is true and correct.

How do I apply for an ABN?

There are three main ways to apply:

Three other important things to remember when applying

Chances are you’ll need to do the following (if you haven’t already done so):

  1. Register for GST 
    You need to register for GST if you run a business or enterprise and your GST turnover is $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.

  2. Register for PAYG 

    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.

  3. Register for fringe benefits tax 
    If you're an employer and you provide fringe benefits to your employees, you may have to pay fringe benefits tax.

    Some common fringe benefits are:

    • private use of a work car by an employee or director
    • paying private expenses for an employee or director, eg health insurance premiums, club memberships, school fees, holiday expenses, on-site accommodation.

    It’s a good idea to register for fringe benefits tax as soon as you've decided you'll provide benefits to your employees. Learn more about registering for fringe benefits tax.

A way to do better business

It’s a good idea to apply for an ABN because it can save your business time and money. And you’ll find it a lot easier to deal with other businesses, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and other government agencies. Most people will expect you to have one – plus, it means you can claim tax credits and receive grants.

If you don’t apply for an ABN, chances are you’ll need one in the near future. Don’t just leave it on a to-do list somewhere – check the points above and apply now.