How do I register for GST?
So you’ve finally worked out – I either want to, or need to register for GST. Well the process is simple of Australians, and mighty difficult for non-residents.
Once you’re registered, you’ll be issued with what’s called an “Australian Business Number”, or ABN. You can look up your ABN via the ABR website. It’ll tell you who you are, your legal name, when you were registered for an ABN, and when you were registered for GST.
Your GST registration number IS your ABN. But remember that someone can get an ABN without registering for GST in Australia. So just because an entity has an ABN doesn’t necessarily mean they’re registered for GST.
How do I register for GST – Australian residents?
For Australian residents, log on to the ABR website and just fill in the form. It’s pretty simple really, and should only take you a maximum of 30 minutes, if you’re really slow.
If you’re a company, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) might actually want to see certain documentation such as your certificate of incorporation etc. But that shouldn’t be too difficult. Just make a copy and send it in.
How do I register for GST – non-residents?
For non-residents, do the same thing. Log on to the ABR website and just fill in the form. The difficult bit is actually authenticating yourself to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) which processes these applications.
The ATO will want to see a lot of “proof of identity” documentation before they issue you with an ABN. This could include amongst other things, apostilled copies of:
- Drivers licences and passports for each of the company directors;
- Certificate of Incorporation; and
- Certificate of registration for tax or VAT from your home country revenue authority.
An apostilled copy of a document means that a government authority in your country needs to sign and certify that the document is correct. It’s a recognised international standard.
If you’re a non-resident and you bump into this hurdle, you really should seek assistance from an Australian tax adviser. They can help you navigate this minefield, and the bigger Australian accountants, lawyers and tax advisers have contacts within the ATO who could help you get your ABN and proof of identity documentation lodged efficiently.
Do I register with monthly, quarterly or annual tax periods?
Wow what a choice! Well, you have to register for monthly tax periods (i.e. you lodge and pay GST monthly) if your annual turnover exceeds AUD20million. Otherwise you can do quarterly, which is a bit easier. And if you’re a small business (which assuming you are, if you’re reading this), then you can do it annually.
Most businesses lodge their GST returns (called “Business Activity Statements” (BAS)) quarterly. At this point you should really ask for help from your accountant if you’re not sure, since they’ll be the one (presumably) lodging and paying your BAS for you and will know your business.
Do I register with cash or accruals accounting?
Again, you really need your accountant to help you with this!
Cash based accounting for GST means that you only need to:
- remit GST to the ATO in the quarterly tax period that you receive payment for a sale; and
- claim an input tax credit from the ATO in the quarterly tax period you that you make payment for a purchase.
Now, if you elect cash based accounting for GST, you can’t choose monthly tax periods.
Accruals based accounting for GST means that you need to:
- remit and pay GST to the ATO in the monthly tax period that you either issue an invoice for the sale or receive consideration (whichever’s earlier); and
- claim an input tax credit from the ATO in the monthly tax period you receive an invoice or make payment (whichever’s earlier).
If you’re a small business, you might want to do cash-based accounting because it’ll help with your cash flow. If you’re a large business, you might want to do accruals based accounting so it aligns with your accounting processes.
Again, this is where getting your accountant involved would help a lot!
How long does the process take?
Once you lodge your form, it’ll take up to 28 days to process. But if you do it through a tax agent, accountant, lawyer or tax adviser, they can often get this done in as little time as a day if it’s terribly urgent.
But generally, it’ll take a few weeks to process. Again, if you need help, or need your ABN urgently (eg. if you’re starting your business soon, and really can’t wait), then get some help from your Australian accountant, lawyer, tax adviser or tax agent.