How to Start a Business in Australia – Licencing

For the time being, we will ignore any discussions of whether or not you should be starting a business. For the purposes of this tutorial, I assume that you have already made the decision to start a business – and now simply want some guidance as to some of the formal steps required in setting it up in Australia.

One of the first things you’ll need to consider is whether or not you need to obtain any specific licences to operate a business in your chosen industry. This is what we will cover in this particular tutorial.

But before we go any further, I need to remind you that any information presented on this blog is solely for informational purposes only. I make no guarantee that any of the information on this blog is accurate or complete. I cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage caused by reliance on any of the information or advice provided on this blog. If you are serious about your business, please consult a solicitor, accountant, or business consultant for advice. This blog is NOT LEGAL ADVICE! Any use of the information here is SOLELY at your own risk.
For more information about this, please read my disclaimer.


Depending on the type of business you are intending on starting, there are various licences, permits, and registrations that you might need to obtain. To make it easier to explain these licences, I will label them separately as “operating licences” and “occupational licences” (please note: these are my own labels).

Having said that, it’s also possible that your type of business (and your occupation) might not actually need any such licences. But, either way, you need to make sure. The penalties for not obtaining such licences can be quite severe.

Operating Licences

If you are running a venue, you may need to have licences such as a liquor licence (to sell and/or serve alcohol) and an APRA licence (to play pre-recorded music over a sound system), to name a few. These licences will require that you fulfill certain requirements, fill out certain paperwork (often annually), and pay certain fees on a regular basis.

The best way to find out which operating licences you need is to visit the Business Licence Information Service website for your State. Click on any of the following links to do that:

UPDATE: As of May 2012, the States have partnered with the Australian Government to deliver a new national service called The Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS). ABLIS replaces the State websites listed above (although you might still find some useful information there too). ABLIS can identify relevant state, territory, local and Australian government licences, permits, approvals, regulations and codes of practice, allowing you to obtain detailed information and manage compliance obligations. All in one place. Visit it here.

But basically, most of the above BLIS websites operate in a similar way. They provide a general overview of the types of licences you might require. They often also include some sort of search facility where you can type in a keyword relevant to your business (eg. “entertainment”), and then relevant licences will show up. Obviously, this approach to finding licences may not be as thorough as you need it to be (unless you know EXACTLY what you need already).

Alternatively, some of the BLIS websites also offer you the opportunity to browse the entire list of licences (which is a good option), or – better yet – offer an interactive “quiz” that helps you determine PRECISELY what licences and forms you need (depending on the Council area you live in). The resulting report contains all the information you need on the licences you need to obtain for your specific set of circumstances. Additionally, the report often also contains actual copies of the forms you need to lodge! Very convenient.

So, as you can see, this process doesn’t have to be too complicated. But, needless to say, you MUST read these things very carefully.

Occupational Licences

There are also various occupational licences required by law for persons providing certain services. Such occupations can include building work contractors, conveyancers, land agents, plumbers gas fitters and electricians, security and investigation agents, second hand vehicle dealers, and travel agents to name a few. This is not a complete list, and the list varies depending on the State that you live in.

To obtain these types of licences, you will often need to fulfill certain “eligibility criteria” (eg. certain qualifications, security checks, etc) specified by legislation and mentioned by your State’s Fair Trading Office or Office of Consumer and Business Affairs (the name of the office depends on the State you live in, and is subject to frequent name changes…). These licences are also subject to periodic renewal (so you need to pay ongoing fees to remain registered). Generally speaking, the earlier-mentioned ABLIS service should list the occupational licences you might need in addition to operational licenses.

However, it might still be a good idea to visit one of the following websites for further information on occupational licensing (just to be sure you have everything you need), in addition to visiting ABLIS:

UPDATE: These State offices are subject to frequent name changes, and frequent website redesigns, which often result in broken web links. I’ve done my best to keep up with the frequent changes, but I will no longer be updating them in future.

If you are working in an occupation that needs a specific occupational licence, and if you are considering a move interstate, the License Recognition website will assist you to find out whether your current licence will be valid in the other State (and, if not, what equivalent licence you will need to obtain).

Codes of Practice

Codes of Practice aren’t, technically speaking, “licences”. However, some licences can actually specify and require that you must comply with a specified Code of Practice.

Codes of Practice are a set of standards or guidelines that outline certain behaviour and performance that is necessary in certain situations in a particular industry (how’s that for a vague explanation!). These Codes are often developed in consultation with industry, and can either be compulsory (and referenced in legislation) or voluntary.

Regardless, Courts of Law may place high emphasis on these Codes as a minimum standard that you and your business must meet. Complying with Codes of Practice is a sound risk management strategy. What do I mean by that? I mean that it’s a damn good idea to follow Codes of Practice to minimise any damage that might be caused if your business is sued!

So, how do you find these Codes?

To find Codes that are referenced by legislation (in other words, Codes that are compulsory), visit the Australian Codes of Practice website.

UPDATE: Visit the new ABLIS website to find relevant Codes of Practice for you and your business.


Standards, just like Codes of Practice, can also be referenced by legislation. You can find relevant Standards at the Standards Australia website.

UPDATE: The new ABLIS website also provides information about relevant Standards for you and your business.

Ultimately, at the very least, you need to make sure you have copies of any Codes of Practice or Standards that are compulsory for the type of business (and industry) you will be operating. It’s also a good idea to have copies of any voluntary ones too. Basically, cover your ass as much as you can! It’s NOT a good idea to cut corners here.

So … What Now?

So those are the basics of business licencing in Australia. I hope you have found this tutorial beneficial. Remember, licencing is NOT an optional step if you want to ensure your business has been set up PROPERLY and LEGALLY. Some groundwork now will save you a whole lot of potential headaches in future.

But licencing is not everything. Next you’ll need to actually register your business, either as a Sole Trader, Partnership, Trust, or Company. Thankfully, that’s what the next tutorial covers!

UPDATE: Please note that due to an overwhelming number of email enquiries and blog comments over time, I’ve had to disable all contact methods. I am unable to offer any further assistance or advice. If the above article hasn’t answered all your questions, I encourage you to look through the archived comments below. You’ll find frequently asked questions there. Thanks.

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8 thoughts on “How to Start a Business in Australia – Licencing

  1. Great post and ideas! I’m going to share this with the rest of my team as we work more with enterprise-level clients.


  2. currently studying dual agribusiness/applied science, this was a godsend much easier to decode then the learning guides from uni

  3. Pingback: confused about whether I need a license to sell preloved/handmade kidswear - Small business forum Australia

  4. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for these posts, really great information. I was wondering if there is a latest post for structuring as a company?