What is an Australian Business Number (ABN)?

The Australian Business Number (ABN) serves as a fundamental identifier for businesses and organisations operating in Australia. With its unique 11-digit format, it plays a crucial role in facilitating various interactions and transactions within the country’s business landscape.

It serves as a universal identifier that enables businesses to engage with the government, other businesses, and individuals in a streamlined and efficient manner.

By providing a standardised identification system, it simplifies administrative processes, promotes transparency, and enhances accountability in the Australian business environment.

Who Needs an ABN?

Several entities and individuals may require an Australian Business Number depending on their specific circumstances. Here are some examples of who typically needs it.

  • Businesses: Any entity or individual carrying out a business or trade in Australia, regardless of their legal structure, such as sole traders, partnerships, companies, and trusts, generally needs it.
  • Contractors and Freelancers: Independent contractors, consultants, and freelancers who provide services to clients may be required to have it. Having one allows them to invoice clients, claim business-related expenses, and comply with taxation obligations.
  • Non-profit Organisations: Non-profit organisations that engage in commercial activities, such as fundraising or selling goods or services, usually require it.
  • Trusts and Superannuation Funds: Trusts and superannuation funds operating in Australia are typically required to have a business number to fulfil their tax and reporting obligations.
  • Government Entities: Some government bodies, departments, and agencies may require one for administrative purposes and when interacting with other entities.

The primary purpose of the ABN is to provide a single identification number for businesses when dealing with the government. It helps in streamlining various tax-related processes, such as registering for the Goods and Services Tax (GST), lodging Business Activity Statements (BAS), and facilitating business interactions with other entities.

Benefits of Having an Australian Business Number (ABN)

Having an ABN offers several benefits to businesses and individuals. Here are some of them.

  • Business Identification: It serves as a unique identifier for your business, allowing you to establish a professional identity when interacting with customers, suppliers, and other entities. It helps to prevent fraud and ensures that you are paid correctly by providing a clear and verifiable identification.
  • Tax Benefits: With one, you can avoid Pay As You Go (PAYG) tax on payments received, as you can provide the number to clients or employers who may otherwise withhold tax. This enables you to have greater control over your tax obligations and potentially reduces your tax liabilities.
  • GST Credits: It allows you to claim Goods and Services Tax (GST) credits. This means you can offset the GST paid on business-related purchases against the GST collected on sales, resulting in potential cost savings for your business.
  • Online Visibility: Having a business number makes you eligible to register an Australian domain name, which can enhance your business’s online visibility and credibility. It enables you to establish a professional web presence, making it easier for customers to find and engage with your business online.

Having it also enhances the credibility and professionalism of a business. It instils trust among clients and customers, as it signifies that the business is registered and recognised by the government.

How to Apply for an ABN

Applying for an Australian Business Number is a straightforward process that can be done online through the Australian Taxation Office website. Before beginning the application, it’s important to gather all the necessary information and ensure you meet the eligibility criteria.

To apply for an Australian Business Number, you can follow these steps:

  • Visit the ATO Website: Access the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website, which provides an online portal for ABN applications.
  • Gather Necessary Information: Before starting the application, ensure you have the following information readily available:
    • Business details: Provide your business name, legal structure (e.g., sole trader, partnership, company), trading name (if applicable), and business address.
    • Contact details: Include your phone number and email address for communication purposes.
    • Tax File Number (TFN): You will need to provide your individual or business tax file number (TFN).
    • Business activities: Describe the nature of your business activities, outlining what products or services you offer.
  • Complete the Online Application: Follow the prompts on the ATO website to complete the application form. Provide accurate and up-to-date information.
  • Review and Submit the Application: Once you have filled in all the required details, carefully review the application to ensure accuracy and completeness. Submit the application electronically through the ATO website.
  • Record the Reference Number: After submitting the application, you will receive a reference number. Make sure to record this number for future reference and tracking the progress of your application.
  • Await Confirmation: The ATO will review your application, and if there are no issues or additional information required, you will receive confirmation via email or post.

After submitting your application, the ATO will review the information provided. In most cases, if all requirements are met and the information is accurate, you can expect to receive your ABN within a short period of time, usually within minutes or a few days.

In some instances, the ATO may need additional information or clarification. If this occurs, they may contact you via email or phone to request the necessary details. It’s important to respond promptly to any requests from the ATO to avoid delays in the application process.

Once the number is issued, you will receive a confirmation notification containing your unique 11-digit number. It’s recommended to keep this information in a safe place for future reference.

Remember, obtaining a business number is an important step for your business as it allows you to comply with tax obligations, register for GST if required, and conduct business transactions with other entities in Australia.

If you encounter any difficulties or have questions during the application process, you can seek assistance from a registered tax agent or contact the ATO directly for guidance.

What If I Don't Have a TFN?

If you don’t have a TFN, you can still apply for an Australian Business Number. However, you will need to provide a valid reason for not having a TFN during the ABN application process.

Here are some scenarios where you might not have a TFN and the corresponding reasons you can provide:

  • Non-resident: If you are a non-resident of Australia and don’t have a TFN, you can state your non-residency status as the reason for not having a TFN.
  • New business or individual: If you are starting a new business or have recently become self-employed and have not yet applied for a TFN, you can explain that you are in the process of obtaining a TFN, but it hasn’t been issued yet.
  • Under 16 years of age: If you are under the age of 16 and haven’t obtained a TFN, you can state your age as the reason for not having one.
  • Exemption or special circumstances: In certain cases, individuals or entities may be exempt from obtaining a TFN due to specific circumstances. If you fall under an exemption category, provide the appropriate documentation or evidence to support your exemption claim.

What If I Am an Australian Expat or Foreign Investor?

If you are an Australian expat or foreign investor living overseas and wish to obtain an ABN, you may still be eligible, provided you can demonstrate a business presence in Australia. Here are some considerations and requirements:

Business Presence in Australia

To apply for an ABN as an Australian expat or foreign investor, you will need to establish that you have a genuine business presence in Australia. This can be demonstrated through various means, such as:

  • Registered Australian business address: If you have a physical location for your business operations in Australia, such as an office or a registered address, you can provide this information as evidence of your business presence.
  • Australian-hosted website: If you have a business website hosted on servers located in Australia, it can be considered as a sign of business presence in the country.
  • Australian business activities: If you are actively conducting business activities in Australia, such as providing services to Australian clients, engaging in trade with Australian businesses, or investing in Australian assets, it can support your application for an ABN.

Supporting Documentation

When applying for an ABN, you may be required to provide supporting documentation that verifies your business presence in Australia. This can include lease agreements, utility bills, contracts with Australian clients, or any other relevant documents that demonstrate your connection to the Australian business environment.

Compliance with Australian Tax Obligations

Obtaining an ABN comes with certain taxation responsibilities. As an Australian expat or foreign investor, you should familiarise yourself with the Australian tax laws and obligations that may apply to your business activities in Australia, such as income tax, goods and services tax (GST), and withholding tax requirements.

Speak with an Experienced Tax Expert

If you are a business owner in Australia, it is highly recommended to apply for an ABN to take advantage of these benefits. However, navigating the complexities of tax obligations, especially for Australian expats or foreign investors, requires careful consideration and expert advice.

For the best expat tax advice tailored to your specific situation, we encourage you to speak with our team of expert tax advisors. They can provide personalised guidance, ensure compliance with Australian tax laws, and help optimise your tax strategies.

Contact us today to speak with our experienced tax advisors and make informed decisions regarding your business and taxation matters.

Frequently Asked Questions

The main difference between an Australian Business Number (ABN) and a Tax File Number (TFN) lies in their purpose and the entities to which they are issued.


  • Purpose: It is primarily used to identify businesses and organisations in Australia.
  • Issued to: It is issued to entities such as sole traders, partnerships, companies, trusts, non-profit organisations, and government bodies.


  • Purpose: The TFN is used for personal taxation purposes and is linked to an individual’s tax obligations.
  • Issued to: It is issued to individuals who are required to pay tax in Australia, including Australian residents, temporary residents, and certain visa holders.

Key points to note

  • Length: ABN consists of 11 digits, while a TFN consists of 9 digits.
  • Format: ABNs are displayed as XXX XXX XXX, while TFNs are displayed as XXX XXX XXX.
  • Application: ABNs are obtained through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) for businesses, whereas TFNs are applied for individually by residents and certain visa holders.
  • Usage: ABNs are used for business-related transactions, invoicing, and interactions with government agencies, while TFNs are used for personal income tax purposes, employment, and certain financial transactions.

No, you cannot use your ABN as your TFN. The two numbers are different and serve different purposes.

Not having an ABN can result in penalties, such as PAYG tax on payments received and the inability to claim GST credits. It may also limit business opportunities and expose you to compliance issues and potential fines.

Ensure you understand the requirements and consult the ATO or a tax professional to determine if you need an ABN for your specific circumstances.

To find an ABN:

  1. Use the ATO’s ABN lookup tool on their website.
  2. Check invoices or receipts from the business.
  3. Look for the ABN on the business’s website.
  4. Search industry-specific directories or government registers.

If all requirements are met, you can expect to receive your ABN within a few minutes of submitting the application online.

Yes, charities and nonprofit organisations are also required to have an ABN to carry out their activities.

Yes, non-residents can apply for an ABN if they meet the eligibility criteria and intend to carry on business activities in Australia.

You can check the validity of a business number using the ATO’s ABN Lookup tool. This allows you to search for it by number, name, or ACN.

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