Legal information for Foreign Business in Australia

Foreign Business in Australia

Australia welcomes foreign enterprise. It has never been easier to do business in Australia.

The most common structures for foreign business are either:

  1. Establish a branch office; or
  2. Register an Australian subsidiary company.

From an administrative perspective, neither option is better than the other. Both a branch office and an Australian company require you to register with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and to have a person who is ordinarily resident in Australia, who controls or is the local agent of that business. Both options also generally require lodgement of financial statements with ASIC.

‘Ordinarily resident’ does not necessarily mean that the director must have permanent residency or citizenship in Australia, but they must satisfy the ordinarily resident test and have an adequate working visa.

In our view, it is simplest to trade in Australia through an Australian company. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • All directors and owners (i.e. shareholders) do not need to be resident in Australia. Only one director must be resident in Australia;
  • Suppliers, landlords and customers will have a greater confidence dealing with an Australian entity;
  • There may be effective ways of licensing intellectual property between your foreign and Australian companies;
  • If the Australian venture is unsuccessful, the Australian company can be severed from the foreign company/group.

In our opinion, you should only trade through a branch office in Australia if there are compelling taxation reasons for doing so.

Foreign individuals ordinarily resident in Australia can also incorporate an Australian company (subject to visa conditions). We do not advise foreign individuals (or Australian individuals for that matter) to trade in their personal name in Australia unless there are compelling taxation or professional reasons for doing so.

Getting Started

Here’s what you need to do to incorporate an Australian company and start business:

  1. Incorporate your company. That is, register your directors and shareholders with ASIC and obtain an Australian Company Number(ACN);
  2. Register for relevant taxes – goods and services tax (GST) and pay as you go withholding (PAYG);
  3. Obtain any government registrations specific to your business (e.g. food premises, liquor licence, childcare / education approvals, professional registration etc.);
  4. Register your business name and intellectual property. A business name alone provides no IP protection in Australia;
  5. Find an Australian accountant and choose the right accounting software to suit your business;
  6. Take out adequate insurance to suit your needs and keep it updated as your business grows (e.g. public liability, fire and theft, product or professional liability, business interruption insurance, life and income protection insurance);
  7. Establish relationships with your suppliers and understand their payment terms;
  8. Set down clear terms and conditions with your customers. If you’re providing consumer products and services, be aware that some guarantees and warranties cannot be avoided at law in Australia.

We regularly advise on company incorporation and business set-up in Australia. Your individual circumstances are crucial to determining the right structure for you.

DISCLAIMER: This post is the opinion of the author and in no way constitutes legal advice.


This article has been written by Nick Hitchens. Nick has a background in business management and law. He is a key advisor to a range of Australian and International businesses. He founded Hitch Advisory in 2015. Register here for personal legal advice on your Business Development in Australia!


  1. carol mills - September 28, 2017

    looking to open a 6 month pop-up shop in sydney australia starting november 15, 2017.
    we are looking for an agent and someone to file paperwork as necessary.
    we are based in new york city.

    1. Team - October 4, 2017

      Hi Carol,
      We can help you in your business project in Sydney, please fill a contact form so we can have further information:

      Thank you again, looking forward to hearing from you soon !

      Best regards.

  2. J Melhem - January 5, 2018

    We are looking at setting a branch in Australia. We are a Canadian based firm. We are pursuing an opportunity which will require that we set up a branch in Australia.

    1. Team - January 19, 2018

      Hi Jihad,
      We have contacted you by email.
      Thank you,
      The Australiance Team

  3. Raja - May 20, 2018

    Hello sir we are thinking about setup our branch office in Sydney . We are a food business & wine importer in Tokyo, Japan. If there are any advise from your side let us know the basic process for it.
    Apex Japan Corporation

    1. Team - May 21, 2018

      Hi Raja,
      Thank you for your consideration, we’d be glad to meet you for a Skype session to talk more about your project.
      Kind regards,
      Team Australiance

  4. Ben Schloss - June 12, 2018

    I’m looking for more information on exactly what you mean differently by “Establish a branch office; or Register an Australian subsidiary company.” What is the difference between the two? What forms are needed for each option?

    1. Team - June 13, 2018

      I’d be more than happy to discuss it further with you. I contacted you by email.
      Thank you,
      Team Australiance

  5. ken chung - November 17, 2018

    We are a US firm looking to open a company in Australia mainly for facilitating registration of our domain name.

    1. Team - January 10, 2019

      Hi Ken, happy new year! Thanks for reaching out – we would love to discuss and assist you in creating your Australian subsidiary. For more confidentiality, please give us more details about your company and requirement through our contact form and let’s arrange a chat asap

  6. Omer - May 10, 2019

    Hi there,

    I am writing from New Zealand and I would explain my situation. My previous Italian company is offered me a position as area sales manager in Australia and they want to add a branch office in Sydney or in Melbourne.

    We will be 3 people at office(me and 2 local professional about energetic sector). And we will continue to trade directly Italy. Office will be just liaison office.

    So my question;
    – For branch office, they need to register ASIC I think. But they still sell their products and systems in AU. Is that possible to sell without ASIC registration?
    – So I am Turkish citizen engineer and can I get work visa via this branch or Italy headquarter in AU?
    – For that brach office, they need to rent an office legally in AU. Is there any procedure about that?
    So if everything is possible, we may work with you as local agent.
    Thank you,

    1. Team - May 10, 2019

      Hi Omer and thank you for your interest in Australiance.
      I’ve just sent you an e-mail.
      Best regards,
      Australiance Team

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