Registering for an ABN vs. a business name 

News and features – past and current

Tweet this page  Share this page on Facebook  Follow us on Facebook  Keep me informed
Friday 29 April 2011

When you’re starting out in business, working out all of the registration processes you need to complete can be difficult.

Two of the most common registrations businesses complete are for an Australian Business Number (ABN) and a business name (also known as a trading name).

Registering for both of these are completely separate processes. Below we cover what each of these registration processes involves:

Registering for an ABN

Firstly, do I need an ABN?

Having an ABN for your business is not compulsory, however you will need one when dealing with government (such as at tax time), or if you need to register for goods and services tax (GST).

You also generally need to put an ABN on your invoices, or other documents relating to sales that you make. If you don’t, other businesses may withhold 46.5% from any payment to you.

You will need an ABN in order to register for a business name.

For more information on whether you need an ABN, see our Register for an Australian Business Number (ABN) topic.

How do I register for an ABN?

Registrations for ABNs are managed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). You can apply using the following methods:

There is no cost to register an ABN, however if you use a tax agent to register on your behalf, they may charge a fee for their services.

For more information on how to register, see our Register for an Australian Business Number (ABN) topic.

How long will it take for my ABN application to be processed?

The fastest way to get an ABN is to apply online via the Australian Business Register External link. As long as the ATO can validate your details against the data on their systems, your ABN will be issued immediately and they will send you written confirmation of your ABN registration.

Otherwise, the ATO aims to provide a decision on your application within 28 days of receiving all of the necessary information. If your application is incomplete or incorrect it may take longer.

For more information on how long the application process can take, please contact the ATO directly on 13 28 66.

How long will my ABN remain active?

Unlike business name registrations, your ABN registration does not need renewal - it will remain active until it is cancelled. Once it's registered, you can check the status of your ABN using the ABN Lookup External link website.

Registering for a business name

Do I need to register a business name?

A business name is simply a name or title under which a person, or other legal entity, trades.

If you only want to trade under your own name, such as Sally Smith, then you don't need to register a business name. If you want to trade as Bob Smith’s Building Supplies, then you will need to register the name.

Registering a business name will not give you exclusive rights to use that name however. If you want exclusive use throughout Australia, you should consider registering for a trade mark.

Are there any restrictions on what name I can choose?

Yes, there are restrictions on what name you can register. If your proposed name has a trade mark registered against it, if it is too similar to a business name already registered, or it is too similar to a registered company name, then your application may be rejected. There are also restrictions on certain words such as ANZAC, Chamber of Commerce, or Made in Australia. Names that may be considered offensive or containing foreign language characters may also be rejected. 

Before you apply, you should search ASIC Connect External link and IP Australia's trade marks database External link to see whether your chosen name has already been taken. Please be aware that even if you don't find your proposed name on these resources, it does not guarantee that your application will be accepted by ASIC.

You may also want to consider whether you want to register your chosen name as the domain name for a website. See our registering a domain name topic for more information.

How do I register for a business name?

Business name registrations are managed by ASIC External link. You can register External link or renew External link your business name and can find out what the payments and fees External link are for registering or renewing a business name on the ASIC website.

You need to have an ABN in order to register for a business name.

For more information on registering a business name, see our business name topic.

How long will it take to apply?

If you have all of your information on hand, applying for a business name should only take you 15-20 minutes. You should be able to prepare your application without any professional assistance.

Until you receive confirmation that your business name registration has been approved, you shouldn't start using it.

How long will my business name remain registered?

Business name registrations last one or three years, depending on which option you choose.

ASIC will notify you within two months of the renewal due date. If you have not registered a business email address with ASIC, the renewal will be sent via mail to your address for service of documents.

Further information & assistance

For more information on registrations, licences and taxation, visit our Registration & licences and Taxation topics.

You can call the Small Business Support Line free of charge on 1800 77 7275 for information and referral services for small businesses.

Connect with business.gov.au...

  • Join business.gov.au on Facebook External link to get the latest business news delivered straight to your news feed and to take our quick polls.
  • On Twitter? Follow us External link @business_gov_au.
  • Watch our suite of useful business videos on our business.gov.au YouTube External link channel.
  • Get the latest in business news emailed to your inbox by signing up to business.gov.au's free email updates.