Legal essentials for doing business online

Do I need to register my online business?

All business owners in Australia have to register before commencing any business activities. This may include registering one or any of the below.

Your business or company name

This step will involve deciding on the name under which you trade. Registering your business name will also give you a business number – this is separate to your ABN.

Your business name should be original and easily identified by your customers. Having a business structure in mind can help – are you a:

  • sole trader

  • partnership

  • trust, or

  • company?

If you're operating as a company, a different registration process applies than if you were a sole trader, partnership, or trust.

Your business domain name

Your domain name is the web address you will be using to trade online (also called a URL, or uniform resource locator). This usually incorporates your business name in some way. If you buy a domain name or build your own website, it could take the form of 'www.yourbusinessname.com.au'.

Alternatively, you could use an established web service that provides a hosting space for businesses, such as online marketplaces and storefronts.

Either way, you'll probably need to register this address.

Your business for taxation purposes

There are a variety of taxes that can impact on your business. You might have to register for:

  • an Australian Business Number (ABN)

  • the Goods and Services Tax (GST)

  • a Tax File Number (TFN)

  • Pay as you go (PAYG) withholding.

Do I need to apply for an ABN when starting an online business?

Having an ABN makes your life as a business owner easier, and allows you to deal with the Australian Taxation Office and other businesses more efficiently. If you don't apply for an ABN, you might not be able to:

  • register for the GST

  • avoid PAYG tax

  • purchase a domain name within Australia.

Remember, registering for a business name and number does not automatically give you an ABN – your ABN is separate.

Visit our Register for taxation page to find out how to register for an ABN.

Will I need a license or permit for my online business?

That depends on the product or service you're selling. You'll need to find out whether there's a licensing requirement for your particular business, or you may face fines or other difficulties.

Businesses selling products for consumption as food, for example, could need a Food Business Licence. However, there may be other licenses that aren't so obvious, so it's best to do some research into this area.

A great tool to help you get up and running is the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS). Search ABLIS to find out which licenses or permits are applicable to your online business, or get a tailored business report.

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