Thanks to its enviably robust economy, Australia has a global reputation as a land of opportunity. A regulatory system geared towards entrepreneurialism combined with a high-earning population makes the country an enticing prospect for many migrants. But whatever your line of business, setting up shop Down Under is unlikely to be straightforward, so read our guide to help you land on your feet.

Pros and cons of starting a business in Australia

Pros
  • The sun never seems to set on the Australian economy. Booming sectors include mining, trades, healthcare, engineering and technology.
  • The pro-business ethos of the Australian government is evident in a wide range of support programs.
  • A world-class university system not only provides a talented workforce but also bolsters connections with industry through placements, mentoring and alumni networks.
Cons
  • Australia has a deficit of skilled trades workers so you may struggle to recruit staff if you’re starting a new business in sectors such as engineering or construction for example.
  • In terms of operating internationally, the Australian working day suits entrepreneurs trading with Asia, but it is not ideal for connecting with European or American time zones.
  • If you’re setting up outside Sydney, there seems to be a shortage of forward-thinking investors geared towards helping start-ups – at least compared to the USA.

Where is the best place to set up shop?

It depends on your line of business of course, but certain regions may make more sense for logistical reasons.

Primarily based in Queensland and Western Australia, the Australian mining industry not only required mine workers, but also a wide range of services to support them. Such opportunities tend to attract small business owners who can handle living in a remote location. Meanwhile, the flourishing tourist industry around Brisbane and the Gold Coast provides many opportunities to run hotels and guesthouses as well as teaching ocean-bound activities such as scuba diving, sailing and surfing. If you’re seeking the city-life, Sydney might be for you. An innovative city with a world-class business infrastructure, Sydney boasts a raft of start-up accelerators and incubators, with a swift expansion of micro-businesses resulting across the city.

First hurdle: Get your visa

If you’re a migrant hoping to embark on your own business venture Down Under – and you have the finances and experience to back up your vision – you will, of course, need to have the appropriate business-specific visa in place.

Here are the steps that you will need to follow:

  • Submit an expression of interest through the Department of Home Affairs’ SkillSelect online service
  • Wait to see if your chosen state or territory government invites you to apply for a visa
  • If successful, you may submit your visa application. You will need to meet the specific requirements of the visa as well as provide supporting documents.

There is a range of provisional and permanent visas available to business owners. Your eligibility for a particular visa will depend on your skills, track record and assets. Explore the relevant visa options on the Department of Home Affairs website.

The red tape

There’s no getting around this one: if you’re starting a business in Australia. prepare to navigate a minefield of regulation. The government’s business advice website is an excellent first port of call for guides to taxation, business registration and employment regulations.

Consider hiring a business expert or advisor to help you abide by the rules. permits and registrations that may be required in your sector.

A capable and available accountant is not hard to find in Australia. Make a start by visiting the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand website.

Setting up your business – the basics

The cost and time required to set up shop in Australia will vary according to your type of business. But before you even think about going any further, it would be a wise idea to read this official guide to starting a business, which includes information about business planning and the range of business types.

In a nutshell, you generally have three options when starting your own business in Australia.

  • Trading under your own name means that there is no need to officially register a business name, but you should still find out whether your business needs a sector-specific license or if it has to register for goods and sales tax. This option may be preferable if your business is more of a hobby with a relatively low turnover.
  • Small business owners and sole traders not trading under their own name are required to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN). Registering as a business name means ensuring that your business is registered with the relevant government office in every state in which it operates. You will also need to register the business name as a trademark if you want to protect your brand. It also has certain tax advantages over trading under your own name.
  • Choosing to form a limited company will involve applying for an Australian Company Number (ACN) in addition to an ABN (the two numbers have different official functions). A company entails more complex legal and taxation liabilities. At least one director is required, but there is no obligation to appoint a company secretary. In order to be named in either position, you must be a resident in Australia.

For a more detailed overview of the different pathways, check out this useful government guide to planning a new business. Alternatively, if you want to buy a pre-existing Australian business, consider enlisting the help of a reputable business broker who can help you to understand the local market and navigate the legal requirements.

Raising the cash

Many visas granted to aspiring migrants will require some finance already in place in order to start a business in the country. Obtaining further Australian finance is sometimes difficult for an expat. As far as banks are concerned, you have no credit history so the more financial background you can provide to the loan officer the better. Needless to say, a top-notch business plan will also help if it demonstrates your acumen and knowledge of the local market.

There are other sources of assistance too. Venture capital may be an appropriate option for your business and expats are also often eligible for a new business grant from the Australian government.

A final word of warning: premiums have shot up in recent years, so business insurance has become a bone of contention in Australia – it is crucial to research whether paying for insurance might cripple your business in the delicate early stages.