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Do You Need an ABN to Sell Online?

Ever thought of selling goods online? Perhaps you’ve already started, but are unclear about the legal and tax implications? Navigating the waters of online selling can seem complex, particularly when it comes to understanding the Australian Business Number (ABN). One common question is, “Do you need an ABN to sell online?” This post will shed light on the essentials you need to know to ensure you’re on the right side of the law.


  1. Key Takeaways

  2. Exploring the Australian Business Number (ABN) for Online Sellers

  3. Defining Your Online Activity: Business or Hobby?

  4. The Implications of Not Having an ABN for Your Online Store

  5. Navigating the GST Maze: Do Online Sellers Need to Register?

  6. Setting Up Shop: Registering for an ABN

  7. Protecting Your Business Identity: Registering a Business Name

  8. Seeking Professional Advice for Your Online Business

  9. Summary

Key Takeaways

  • Exploring the Australian Business Number (ABN) is essential for online sellers to ensure successful business operations.

  • Consistent selling with the intention of making a profit and treating it professionally indicates running a business, which requires an ABN.

  • Registering for an ABN, GST registration and obtaining a business name are necessary steps to protect your online store identity and comply with ATO regulations.


Exploring the Australian Business Number (ABN) for Online Sellers

An Australian Business Number (ABN) is an 11-digit identifier for businesses. It is recognised by the government and the public as an authentic business number. It’s like your business’s fingerprint, unique to you and integral to your operations. But do you need an ABN to sell online?

Yes, an ABN is required if you’re operating a business rather than pursuing a hobby. An ABN is just as necessary for online businesses as it is for traditional brick-and-mortar ones. The absence of an ABN can lead to a myriad of challenges. For instance, without an ABN, you may not be able to register for a .com.au domain name, potentially affecting your business transactions with other entities.

Beyond securing an ABN, online business operators should also focus on other requirements, such as:

  • Registering for the Goods and Services Tax (GST)

  • Claiming tax deductions on supplies spent on goods sold online

  • Seeking professional advice for your online business

Defining Your Online Activity: Business or Hobby?

Identifying whether your online selling activity qualifies as a business or a hobby is significant for tax and legal implications. The distinction between the two is not always clear-cut, but certain signs can help you determine which category your online selling falls into.

Signs You’re Running a Business

If you’re selling goods online with the main intention of making a profit, then you’re likely running a business. This is especially true if your sales are regular and consistent, demonstrating a systematic approach to selling. These signs indicate that what you’re doing goes beyond a leisure activity and is, in fact, a business undertaking, similar to other businesses.

Reflect on these questions:

  • Is your main goal to generate a profit?

  • Do you consistently sell goods online?

  • Are you running your online store like a real business?

  • Do you treat it with the same professionalism as any other enterprise?

Did you answer ‘Yes’ to most of the questions? If the majority of your responses were ‘Yes’, it indicates that you’re operating a business and should acquire an ABN.

When Your Online Selling Remains a Hobby

On the other hand, if your online selling activities are undertaken in your spare time for personal pleasure or gratification, then it’s considered a hobby. Hobbies are not qualified for an ABN and are not classified as a business for taxation, insurance, and legal purposes.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) distinguishes between hobbies and business activities based on factors such as the intent to generate a profit, the regularity and repetition of activities, and the magnitude of the operation. If your online selling activities are occasional and not intended to make a profit, they are likely to be considered a hobby, and you will not require an ABN.

The Implications of Not Having an ABN for Your Online Store

Operating an online store without an ABN can result in multiple problems. For starters, lacking an ABN might result in penalties and difficulties in tax returns, GST registration, and obtaining an Australian domain.

Not having an ABN can also affect tax returns. Without an ABN, online sellers may not be able to accurately report their business income and expenses, leading to potential issues with the ATO. Furthermore, they may not be eligible for certain tax concessions, offsets, and rebates available for small businesses.

Also, an ABN is required for GST registration. If you do not have an ABN, you will not be able to register for GST, which is a requirement for businesses with a turnover of more than $75,000 per annum.

Navigating the GST Maze: Do Online Sellers Need to Register?

GST, or Goods and Services Tax, is a 10% tax added to the cost price of most goods, services, and other items sold or consumed in Australia. But does an online seller need to register for GST? The answer again depends on whether you’re running a business or a hobby.

If you’re a sole trader running an online business and your annual gross income exceeds $75,000, you must register for GST and obtain a tax file number. This tax is added to the price of your goods or services, and you need to pay it to the ATO.

If you fail to register for GST when your turnover exceeds the threshold, you could face penalties and interest on amounts not paid in due time.

Setting Up Shop: Registering for an ABN

Registering for an ABN is a critical step in setting up your online store. An ABN not only legitimises your business but also allows you to claim GST credits, energy grants credits and other benefits provided by the government.

The process of registering for an ABN is fairly straightforward and can be completed online. Depending on the processing time and the accuracy of the application, obtaining an ABN may take from several minutes to up to 20 business days.


Once you have your ABN, it should be included on all your invoices, orders, and receipts, and used in all dealings with the ATO.

Protecting Your Business Identity: Registering a Business Name

Registering a business name is another crucial step in setting up your online business. Unless you’re trading under your own name, you must register a business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

ASIC oversees the registration process and maintains a national register of business names through the Australian Business Register. Business owners can apply for a business name registration through ASIC’s online services, specifically the Australian Government Business Registration Service (BRS).

Failure to register a business name can lead to legal consequences, including violation of the Business Names Registration Act, revocation of the business name, and even criminal charges.

Seeking Professional Advice for Your Online Business

Setting up an online business involves managing a multitude of legal and financial regulations, including choosing the right business structure. Thus, seeking professional advice can be a game-changer. Lawyers and financial advisors can help you understand the complexities of ABN, GST, and business name registration.

Seeking professional advice can significantly contribute to your online business’s success. Expertise and knowledge of the industry can provide valuable insights and guidance to inform decisions and avoid costly mistakes.

Moreover, professionals can provide guidance on the following:

  • Legal obligations

  • Terms of use

  • Product liabilities

  • Business incorporation

  • Website legal policies

  • Intellectual property

  • Data protection and privacy

  • Fraud prevention


To sum up, understanding the requirements and regulations surrounding online selling in Australia is crucial for the success of your business. From obtaining an ABN to registering for GST, and from distinguishing a hobby from a business to registering a business name, each step plays a significant role in the establishment and operation of your online store. 

Remember, seeking professional advice can help you navigate through these complexities and ensure that your business complies with all legal and financial regulations. So, whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand your online selling activities, take the time to understand and meet these requirements to set your online store on the path to success.

Need help?

Are you tired of the confusing and time-consuming process of registering your ABN? Look no further! Let the experts at Sleek take care of it for you. Not only will they handle your ABN registration with ease, but they can also assist you with your tax and accounting needs. Save yourself the hassle and get in touch with Sleek today. Visit this link to learn more and streamline your business operations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need an ABN to sell things online?

It is mandatory to obtain an ABN if you are selling goods or services online with the intention of making a profit, as stated by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Therefore, yes, an ABN is needed to sell things online.

Can I earn money without an ABN?

You can earn money without an ABN if your business turnover is less than $75,000 per year and you are not selling goods/services. However, you may have to pay more tax and won’t be able to enjoy the rights and privileges that come with having an ABN. It’s therefore highly recommended to obtain one.

How do I know if my online selling is a business or a hobby?

If your online selling is regular and consistent, demonstrating a systematic approach to making a profit, it’s likely you’re running a business.

What happens if I don’t register for GST when required?

If you don’t register for GST when required, you may be liable to pay penalties and interest on any unpaid amounts.

How can I register for an ABN?

Registering for an ABN is easy and can be done online in a few minutes to up to 20 business days.

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Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended for general informational purposes only and may not be specifically relevant to everyone’s personal situation. It should not be considered financial advice or a substitute for professional tax or accounting advice. Each individual’s circumstances are unique, and laws can vary. For tailored advice, please consult a qualified professional. Contact Sleek for further information on how we can help you.

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