How to apply for ABN as a contractor in Australia

How To Apply for an ABN as a Contractor?

Working as a contractor offers flexibility and autonomy, making it an increasingly popular choice for professionals across various fields. If you’re venturing into contracting in Australia, one of your first essential steps is to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN). 

MaxMargin Accountants understands the importance of this process, as an ABN not only legitimises your business operations but also ensures you comply with tax obligations. In this blog, we will guide you step-by-step through the application process, ensuring you’re well-prepared to operate as a contractor. 

What is an ABN and Its Importance?


An Australian Business Number (ABN) is an identifier for your business within Australia, distinct from your tax file number. Consisting of a unique 11-digit number, an ABN legitimises your business in the eyes of the government and the broader community and facilitates various critical business operations. 

With an ABN, businesses can seamlessly identify themselves during ordering and invoicing. Additionally, it becomes possible to sidestep pay as you go (PAYG) taxes on received payments. Beyond these, having an ABN allows businesses to claim credits for goods and services tax (GST) and energy grants. Plus, an ABN is essential to secure an Australian domain name for those looking to establish a digital presence with a local touch.

What to Check Before Applying for an ABN

Getting an ABN is a foundational step. However, before you plunge into the application process, there are some crucial checks to ensure smooth sailing. Here’s what to look out for:

Determine Your Business Structure

Australia houses four primary business structures: sole trader, partnership, company, and trust. The ABN application differs for each. Sole traders and partnerships can directly apply, but companies must first secure an ACN (Australian Company Number) via the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Clarify Your Business Name and Main Activity

Your application necessitates details like your business name, location, and primary activity. If you’re in the nascent stages and lack a concrete business name, your name works as a substitute. Highlight the primary income-generating activity if you anticipate multiple operations. Also, if you envision multiple physical outlets, furnish respective addresses and contacts.

Ensure You Have Your Tax File Number (TFN)

Your TFN is a 9-digit identifier provided by the ATO to tax-paying entities. It’s a free process via the ATO website. Remember, you’ll be required to input this number during your ABN application, so ensure it’s ready in advance.

I am a Contractor. Do I need an ABN?

If you’re functioning as a contractor, it’s essential to ascertain whether you genuinely fall under the classification of a “contractor” or are instead an “employee”. Notably, if you’re executing duties as an employee, you aren’t entitled to an ABN, even if the role is labelled as “contracting”. No employer can mandate an ABN as a condition of employment.

A bona fide contractor operates a business and hence exhibits specific characteristics:

  • They manage and pay their income tax and GST directly to the ATO.
  • They independently source their clientele, often through promotional means.
  • Without needing sanction from an employer, they can delegate tasks.
  • They independently quote for services and set or discuss their rates.
  • They issue invoices for their services.
  • They maintain a distinct business bank account separate from their own.
  • They bear the cost of their business-related insurance, such as public liability.

If you reckon you’ve been mistakenly labelled a “contractor”, it’s advisable to refer to the Fair Work website for guidance and potentially reach out to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

When genuinely working as a contractor, you run your enterprise. This means you:

  • Require an Australian Business Number (ABN).
  • Have to choose an appropriate business structure.
  • May need to register for additional business taxes, like GST.
  • Are responsible for your tax and superannuation obligations.

Moreover, as a contractor, you won’t have access to paid leave in case of sickness or injuries, and you could be held financially accountable for mishaps or damages occurring during your service tenure. If you’re a contractor in industries like building and construction, you might also need to submit a taxable payments annual report (TPAR).

In essence, ensure you understand your role’s nature – whether as an employee or contractor – to determine your need for an ABN and to fulfil the appropriate obligations.

How to Get an ABN?

If you’re venturing into contracting in Australia, securing an Australian Business Number (ABN) is pivotal. Begin by heading to the Australian Government’s Business Registration Service. Remember, applying for an ABN is free so you can allocate funds to other business aspects! On this platform, not only can you register for an ABN, but you can also obtain a business name and register for taxes. The process is straightforward:

Visit the Australian Business Register.

  • Go to the Application Page
  • Acknowledge that you’ll provide accurate information and comprehend the terms.
  • Specify the type of entity you aim to operate under, ensuring your activity is framed as a business.
  • Provide details regarding any past ABNs your Tax File Number (TFN), and ascertain your tax residency status in Australia.
  • Detail your contact information, any associate’s information, when you require the ABN, your primary business activity, and its physical location.
  • Specify the intent behind your application – in this context, you’re initiating a new business in Australia.
  • Finalise your submission with a declaration.

Once submitted, if your application is complete, you’ll receive your 11-digit ABN. Keep this number secure and accessible, as it’s integral for your professional undertakings. If your application isn’t successful, review any feedback provided, make necessary adjustments, and try again. Ensure you know the entitlement criteria and have all pertinent documents ready to expedite the process.

Final Thoughts

Securing an ABN as a contractor can initially seem daunting, but it becomes straightforward with a structured approach and the proper guidance. Understanding each step and ensuring accurate documentation is crucial to a seamless application. 

If you’re based in or around Williams Landing, consider seeking professional assistance from MaxMargin Accountants, a reputable registered accounting firm. 

Our expertise can simplify the process, ensuring you comply with all regulations while securing your ABN efficiently. Remember, enlisting the support of experts can often expedite and enhance the process, making your transition to a contractor role smoother.

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