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How to Start a Business as an International Student

Starting a Business

There’s no denying it – starting a new business as an international student can, in itself, be a lot of work. But worry not – starting up a business in Australia as an international student is absolutely achievable.

Before you start a company there are a series of factors you should consider:

What problem would you be solving?

While making money is the obvious benefit of business, at its core any company is essentially providing a solution to a problem. Not every ‘problem’ has to be life or death, you simply need to know that people will be willing to pay you money to make their lives better in some way. If you aren’t doing this then your business will not be successful.

Are there already other companies operating in the same area?

While there is nothing wrong with competition, particularly if you have a unique angle, you should be aware of other companies doing a similar thing. What are they doing well? What could you do better? What is their market penetration and market share like? A simple internet search is a great place to start before you invest too much time in your venture.

Do you have the time and money to get started?

The time and money required for any business are almost certainly more than you first anticipate. If you believe you have the time then the major concern is going to be financial. There are generally three main ways of financing a company – bootstrapping (doing it all yourself), money from friends and family, and seeking outside investment. It is not uncommon for businesses to utilise all three styles as they grow.

Do you have, or have access to, the skills and resources required?

You may have a great idea but do you have the skills to make it happen? The best way to test the waters of your business is to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This MVP is the most basic version of your product or service that you can use to test on early customers and attempt to attract investment. You can use the MVP to test out your idea, see if there is a market for it and determine which areas you should focus on in future.

The next steps

Registering Your Business

If you want to start a business in Australia, you should look into getting an Australian Business Number (ABN). Your ABN is a ‘unique 11 digit number that identifies your business or organisation to the government and community’ (Australian Business Register).

It’s used by the Australian Business Register (ABR) to confirm your business identity (including business location, contact details, activity type, GST status, etc).


  • legally authenticates your business identity and credibility.
    When ordering and invoicing goods, partners and/or customers will want to feel reassured that they’re dealing with an authentic company. Without an ABN, your credibility might be questioned.
  • allows you, through the ABN online application process, to apply for key services.
    These include getting a myGov account, registering properly for taxes (PAYG withholding and GST), as well as applying for a national business name and/or Australian domain name to represent your new business.

Does getting an ABN cost money? Do I need one?

Applying for an ABN is totally free of charge! You can make your ABN application at any time through the ABR website.

But not everyone needs or is entitled to an ABN.

Eligibility might depend on whether you have outlined a formal business plan, if you’re already engaged in ‘start-up’ activities, your turnover (over $75,000 will require you to register for GST) and the size, scale and type of business structure you wish to set up (check entitlement information here). Consulting the ABR website might also be helpful whilst you set things up!

Employees don’t need an ABN

If you’re an employee, your employer may ask you to get an ABN. But be careful – this is called ‘sham contracting’ and it’s illegal, because if you’re operating as an employee under the direction of a boss – not as a ‘contractor’ – you’re always within your rights to receive your employee entitlements.

As an employer

Make sure to become aware of the rules. If in doubt, consult the Employee/Contractor decision tool.

TIP!: It’s important to note that an ABN does not replace a TFN (Tax File Number). See our article on TFNs.

Look for scholarships

If you look around the internet, your local area or your Australian university, you might find a huge array of innovation, mentorship or career development opportunities out there to support you. An example is the Global Alumni Networking Events (Government Sponsored).

For more ideas and from other regions, check out our scholarship list.

Look for mentorships, innovation and business networking programs

Has your university set up programs to promote entrepreneurship by connecting students with start-ups, businesses and communities? Contact your education provider to see what opportunities for student entrepreneurs are available.

Attend events

Speaking occasions are fantastic places to meet like-minded people and to catch inspiring, cutting-edge talks on upcoming start-ups, business thinking and big innovations.


Get to know people in your entrepreneurial community. Attend meet-and-greets, industry panels – even speed dating opportunities with business executives (with ideas, research and skills at the ‘heart’ of the date)! Not only will your confidence grow and networks expand, but you’ll be able to get in some valuable pitch practice too!

International students have already achieved success

Wai Hong Fong is a shining example of an international student who exerted entrepreneurial influence in Australia with creative flair, founding Ozhut and Storehub as the Startupsmart Best Young Entrepreneur of 2011. Read Wai’s story here.

In Melbourne, friends Sam Ethell, Alfonso Ordonez and Gustavo Campos launched start-up Hobspot, a social media app network that – whilst initially created to connect international students at university – is now expanding out to the global market (The Financial Review).

Alright! You’ve got the facts, the expertise, and the passion to succeed… so what are you waiting for?!