Moving your life to a new country on the other side of the world is no mean feat. But it’s even more complicated and stressful if you’re self-employed and need to move your whole freelance business to a new territory as well.
But, that’s exactly what I’ve just done – and here’s how you can do it too.
Packing up and moving to Oz
In April 2022, my family and I began the big adventure of moving to Australia from the UK. It had taken months of planning, form-filling and admin to get to this point, so it was a relief to finally arrive and start experiencing our new life in New South Wales.
At this point, it still felt like we were on an extended holiday. Until we found our own house to rent, we stayed with my in-laws and it did feel a lot like we were on a relaxed vacation. But, as we got more settled, generating an income became a lot more pressing and the world of work began to beckon.
I’d been planning the move for several months before this, so I had a fairly good idea of what was needed and how to start trading in Australia as a sole trader and freelancer. But, however much you plan, there will always be things that come up that you’ve not accounted for. And this was certainly true for my experience.
So, here are eight things to consider if you plan on coming to Australia to work – so you know the main hurdles to overcome when setting up your freelance business.
1. Tell your clients you’re moving
Once you’re absolutely sure that you’re moving, it’s time to spread the word to your client base. Depending on the kind of services you provide, you may be able to hold on to some of your customers. Or it may be that it’s impossible to continue doing business from such a distance. The important thing is to give your clients plenty of warning.
Tell your main contacts when you’re leaving and give them at least a couple of month’s notice. This gives you time to discuss how (and if) you move forward as a supplier and how they want to leave the working relationship. I was in the lucky position of being able to take three of my main clients with me, but this won’t always be the case.
2. Get the relevant visa
If you’re going to work in Australia, you need to have the right visa. Only Australian citizens, permanent residents and New Zealand citizens holding Special Category (subclass 444) visas have no conditions placed on working in Australia. So, it’s vital to get the correct work visa for the type of work you’re intending to carry out.
I had already applied for a Partner Visa several months earlier, in June 2021, and had been granted a provisional Partner Visa three months later. This allows me to stay permanently in Australia with my partner and our daughter, and to work while I’m here.
3. Request a Tax File Number
In much the same way that Brits all have a National Insurance (NI) number, Australians will all have a Tax File Number (TFN). This TFN is needed when filing a personal tax return, applying for a bank account and as a means of ID within government systems.
I wasn’t aware of the need for a TFN until a few weeks after arriving in Oz. I’d definitely advise you to apply for a TFN before emigrating, so you have this number handy as soon as you arrive in Australia and need to start getting yourself registered.
Applying for a TFN is pretty easy and can be completed online here.
4. Apply for an Australian Business Number
If you’re going to be trading in Australia as a business, you need to get yourself an Australian Business Number, commonly referred to as an ABN. This is an unique 11-digit number that identifies your business to the government and other Australian businesses.
I’d already spoken to an accountant (that’s another thing to plan for!) and he had kindly registered me and got me an ABN number. This number now needs to be quoted on all your invoices and communications, so your customers and suppliers know you’re registered with the authorities and have an identifier as a sole trader.
If you trade as a limited company in your home country, you’ll obviously have to look at getting incorporated and setting up a new limited company in Australia.
5. Register for GST
In the UK, Value-Added Tax (VAT) is added as an indirect tax on some goods and services. In Australia, the equivalent tax is called Goods and Services Tax, and is usually shortened to GST in most circumstances.
Once you have an ABN, you can also register your business for GST. This means you will add GST, charged at 10%, onto all your domestic invoices. You can also claim back the GST you’ve paid on some goods and services when you submit your quarterly Business Activity Statement (BAS) or GST return to the Australian Tax Office.
Registering for GST is mandatory if your turnover is $75,000 AUD or over, although you can opt to voluntarily register before this.
6. Set up a business bank account
Companies and partnerships are legally required to set up a separate business bank account in Australia. For sole traders, like me, it’s not mandatory to have a separate bank account, but it makes a LOT of sense to do this anyway.
Having your personal funds and your business funds in two distinct accounts makes managing your finances far easier. There’s no need to extricate business expenses from your personal bank statement at period-end, for one. And everything will run far more smoothly in your accounts software if you have all your business funds managed through separate business bank accounts.
Many banks offer specific business bank accounts for new businesses, with minimal set-up costs and bank fees. Some will also offer to set you up a second associated savings account, which is a good idea when putting aside money for tax during the year.
7. Open a new accounting software subscription
There are plenty of cloud-based accounting software platforms to choose from in Oz. MYOB, Xero, QuickBooks and ReckonOne are all popular choices and provide everything you need to manage your small business bookkeeping, accounts, reporting and financial planning.
I was already a Xero user in the UK and have always found it a very straightforward and easy system to use. What I *hadn’t* taken into account when moving to Oz was the thorny issue of base currencies. When you set up an accounting subscription, you will tell the provider your home territory and the base currency you trade in (for me, this was originally GBP). What I didn’t realise is that you can’t amend this base currency at a later date. Whoops!
So, in order for me to trade in Australian dollars (AUD) I had to set up a brand new Xero subscription through the Xero Australia website, creating a new organisation for my business and, essentially, starting my accounts from scratch.
There are a few workarounds that make this easier. For example, you can export your contacts from your original Xero organisation into a CSV file. This file can then be imported into your new Xero organisation so you have all the customer and supplier details from your original account.
8. Get your currencies in order with Wise Business
Because two of my main clients are outside of Australia, one issue I did have was taking payment in the right currencies. One client is based in London and pays me in GBP. The other is located in Auckland and pays me in NZD. To resolve this, I’ve signed up for Wise Business, which gives you a hassle-free international business account.
Wise has certainly made things much easier, allowing me to set up virtual accounts in a huge range of international currencies, and then use these account details to get paid directly into my Wise account. Once paid, I can simply transfer the money into my main business account in AUD, with exchange fees that are far more competitive than the main banks.
I’d definitely recommend giving Wise a try, especially as it offers direct bank feeds with both Xero and QuickBooks.
Living the Aussie dream
So, having jumped through all the admin hoops and ticked all the compliance boxes, I’m now ready to work, trade and earn money here in Australia.
It’s taken a few weeks of research, trial and error and hard work to get to this point, but there are very few barriers to setting yourself up as a sole trader in Oz. If you’re getting itchy feet and want to relocate, I’d definitely recommend giving Australia a try.
If you’re new to freelancing (or want a few handy tips as an established freelancer), why not take a look at my ‘Going Freelance’ book. It’s your 101 guide to setting up a self-employed business, with advice on finding customers, running your finances and achieving a better work/life balance.
Going Freelance is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon: