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Can International Students Start a Business in Australia?

Yes, you can start a business in Australia as an international student. To start a business in Australia, you must first apply and obtain a valid visa that allows you to work legally in Australia. Interestingly, the most preferred visa options are the student visa, Working Holidays, and the Business Innovation and Investment Visa.

A Student Visa is the most common and easy to obtain if you want to migrate to Australia to start a business. If you are looking to start a business in Australia as an international student, here are the simple steps you can follow to achieve your dream.

How to Start a Business in Australia as an International Student

STEP 1: Make Sure Your Business Name is Available

You must make sure that the name you want to use is not already taken. You can check if the name is unique by searching the name on your State Website. Also, make sure your business can use its name as a web domain. Even though creating a business website is not on your plan, it is best you purchase the URL to stop others from using it.

After you have registered a domain name, consider creating a professional email account. A professional email that makes use of your domain name is vital to establishing trust between you and your customers.

When you choose your name, then you must reserve the name. To check the availability of a name, you can contact your state’s secretary of state office (some states offer an online searchable database). Another option is to have an online legal filing service do the search for you – and many sites will offer this basic search for free.

STEP 2: Register Your Business

In Australia, you can register your business through the Business Registration Service. This service allows you to apply for an Australian company number (ACN), company name, Australian business number (ABN), business name, and other key business registrations at the same time.

You can’t legally start a business in Australia if you don’t own an ABN. This is an 11-digit number that is unique only to your business and acts as a government identifier for the business. If you get an ABN, you will be able to:

  • Register your business name
  • Identify your business to other entities
  • Claim taxes such as Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • Avail of credits for things like energy grants

STEP 3: Create Your Partnership Operating Agreement

An Operating Agreement lists the rights and obligations of the members of the company. These include rules on how the company should be run, how taxes are to be paid, and how profits/losses are to be shared among the members.

The Operating Agreement also contains the list of members of your company and how much their stake is in the business. Even if you have a Single-Member company (you are the only owner), it’s still best practice to have an Operating Agreement.

Please note that the operating agreement can just be a few pages, and you can find some samples on the Web. Even if your state does not require an operating agreement, it can be an important document to help clarify verbal agreements and prevent misunderstandings.

STEP 4: Open a Cooperate Bank Account

It is international best practice to have a business checking account for your new business in order to maintain your liability protection. Using a personal bank account for your company is called “commingling of assets” and this can lead to personal liability issues if you end up in court.

Since banks in Australia have their own rules and regulations, it is recommended to call a few places to determine the following:

  • minimum initial deposit
  • minimum balance requirements
  • monthly maintenance fees (if any)

N.B: Call the bank ahead of time and double-check what documents are required. Please note that if you had a business bank account for your sole trader business, you will need to close that account and open a new one in the company’s name.

STEP 5: Securing Business Licenses and/or Permits

The next step you are expected to take is to secure your business license and permits. The type of business licenses and/or permits your partnership business will need to legally operate in Australia will depend on its location and the industry it is involved in.

The details of business licenses and permits vary from state to state. Don’t be surprised if there are short classes required as well. Fees for business licenses and permits will vary depending on the license you are seeking to obtain. To find out more, contact your local agencies in the city, town, or county where your business is located.

STEP 6: Sort Out Taxes

In Australia, sole traders and limited partnerships (companies) have similar tax and reporting obligations, but you should be aware of the key differences. The tax-free threshold for individuals is $18,200 in the 2019–20 financial year.

A sole trader business structure is taxed as part of your personal income but there is no tax-free threshold for companies – you pay tax on every dollar the company earns. An individual tax return needs to be lodged each year if you operate as a sole trader business.

As a separate legal entity, the company must lodge its own tax return and pay income tax. If you are a director or employee of your company, you still need to lodge your own individual tax return. Your business activities determine which taxes and superannuation you may need to pay and report.

STEP 7: Apply and Obtain Your Business Phone Number

Instead of using your home telephone number or your cell phone, you can purchase an affordable “virtual business number” specifically for your business. You can set this virtual business phone up to forward to your cell phone, go through voice prompts, or configure it any way you’d like.

You can check out different telecommunication companies to find those who have the cheapest plans and their customer service is excellent. Getting a separate business phone number for your business is also a good idea in order to keep your actual number private from those pesky “public record” websites.

STEP 8: Hiring of Employees

Registering a business means that you will need employees and in order to get it right as regards hiring employees, you should ensure that you stay on the side of the law and here are some steps you should follow:

  • Verify that new employees are able to work in Australia
  • Report employees as “new hires” to the State
  • Provide workers’ compensation insurance for employees
  • Withhold employee taxes
  • Print compliance posters and place them in visible areas of your workspace

Make sure that you find out more information from your state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation website.