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Import/export guide: Australia

Learn about the taxes, forms and the business sense needed to start an import and export business involving Australia.

Do you have connections in Victoria? Have you lived in Canberra? Maybe you simply love the country of Australia. In the import/export industry, you can use your individual competitive advantages to serve as a matchmaker for companies in Australia — matching product manufacturers with markets that want and need to purchase the goods they produce. Imports and exports are a competitive, challenging business.

With dedication and this guide, you can become a part of the estimated $65.5 billion in goods and services traded between the US and Australia.

Types of import/export businesses

There are three basic types of import/export businesses. Starting out, it’s a good idea to pursue the one that interests you most.

Export management company

Let’s say a company in Australia wants to export copper. That’s where an export management company (EMC) can help.

An EMC handles all of the details for the company to ship goods overseas. This could include hiring distributors, creating marketing materials and preparing shipping logistics.

Export trading company

An export trading company (ETC) finds out what foreign buyers want and then locates domestic companies that can export the goods.

Import/export merchant (or free agent)

Import/export merchants buy merchandise from a manufacturer — foreign or domestic — then resell that merchandise around the world. There’s heavier risk involved in being a free agent — but with fewer middlemen, the potential for higher profits as well.
How to set up a business entity in Australia

Startup costs

You can start your own import/export business with little upfront costs.

At a minimum, you need a phone and a reliable Internet connection. You’ll also want to invest in business cards, a website and a fax machine. And it doesn’t hurt to hire somebody for your branding, including a unique business logo.

In reality though you’ll need a lot more than this to get going. A lot of companies that enter the import/export business in Australia are already operating elsewhere, so crucial skills and resources include:

  • In-depth knowledge or connections with companies in the United States looking to buy goods from Australia.
  • In-depth knowledge or connections with companies in Australia looking to export their goods to the US.
  • Start-up capital to travel to businesses, manufacturers and potential clients to discuss deals and products.

Narrowing your market

Once you’ve decided on the type of import/export business you want to run and calculated your startup costs, it’s time to narrow your market focus.

By niching down, you can focus your attention on a market you can serve best. Think about:

  • Customers you want to serve.
  • Areas of the world you’ll target.
  • Types of goods you’ll offer.

Take your time to dig deep with your research. The extra time you spend finding profitable niches will pay off in the long run.

Your customer

Your target customer will be someone who wants to trade globally. They’ll either want to sell goods overseas or buy goods from international sources.

Beyond that, you can choose any type of customer you wish. Maybe you’ll cater to companies that sell Australia’s No. 7 export, machinery. Or aluminum. Or copper.

If you can identify a need, you can target a group of companies as customers.

Australia’s top 10 exports

According to, Australia’s top 10 exports in 2018 included:

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$87.7 billion (34.6% of total exports)
  2. Ores, slag, ash: $59.7 billion (23.5%)
  3. Gems, precious metals: $16.1 billion (6.3%)
  4. Meat: $10.2 billion (4%)
  5. Inorganic chemicals: $8.2 billion (3.2%)
  6. Cereals: $4.9 billion (1.9%)
  7. Machinery including computers: $4.8 billion (1.9%)
  8. Aluminum: $3.8 billion (1.5%)
  9. Electrical machinery, equipment: $3.2 billion (1.3%)
  10. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $3.2 billion (1.3%)

Australia’s top 10 imports

According to, Australia’s top 10 imports in 2018 included:

  1. Machinery including computers: US$31.9 billion (14% of total imports)
  2. Mineral fuels including oil: $30.3 billion (13.3%)
  3. Vehicles: $30.1 billion (13.2%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: $25.6 billion (11.3%)
  5. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $8.3 billion (3.7%)
  6. Pharmaceuticals: $8.2 billion (3.6%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: $6.6 billion (2.9%)
  8. Plastics, plastic articles: $6.4 billion (2.8%)
  9. Articles of iron or steel: $5 billion (2.2%)
  10. Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $4.8 billion (2.1%)


Registering your business

To register your import/export business, you need to fill out the US Department of State’s SNAP-R company registration.

After you submit your information, the Department of State will send you an email about how to get a company identification number (CIN). A CIN is used for tax purposes and for registering with the US Department of Commerce.

Import and export licenses

Typically, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) doesn’t require a license to import goods to or export goods from the United States. However, other government agencies or departments or local governments may require them.

If you’re exporting goods, you can find out which licenses may be required by asking your local port of entry.

A note about importing goods into Australia

To ensure the success of your import/export business, you’ll need to be aware of government regulations, including clearance by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Contact a professional to learn more about registration, tariffs and any restrictions that could affect your business.

Picking the right type of business structure

Forming an LLC has specific benefits for importing and exporting, so we’ll discuss it detail. However, the US has four business structures to choose from depending on your needs, use the business structure guide to figure out which is best for your import/export business.

You don’t have to incorporate in the United States in order to start an import/export business.

However, incorporating or creating an LLC can provide key benefits, including:

Separation of personal and business assets.Creating a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) can help you protect your personal assets. For example, you’ll have less personal liability for business debts.
Expense deduction. Through a corporation or LLC, you can deduct business expenses before income is forwarded to you.
Enhanced credibility.Clients often prefer working with incorporated businesses, seeing them as more legitimate.

Charging for your services

Import/export business typically charge based on commission or retainer.

Commission structure

With a commission structure, you’re paid a percentage of any trade deal you close — usually around 10%. For example, if you sell a manufacturer’s smartphone for $300, you’ll make a $30 commission. On top of your commission, you’ll also want to charge for expenses like packaging and shipping.

Retainer model

On a retainer model, your client pays you a monthly fee to be on call when they need your services.

To find the right amount for your retainer, consider your costs — these may include labor, supplies and overhead.

An alternative model

Beyond a commission or retainer structure, you can simply buy goods and sell them. In this case, your revenue will come from the profit you make from selling merchandise.

Which business model should you choose?

A rule of thumb is to pick a commission model if you think a product will be easy to sell. If you think a product will be difficult to sell, however, price your business based on a retainer.

The thinking is based on this: If you’ll sell a lot of product, you want to be paid based on performance. On the other hand, if you believe sales will be slow, using a retainer model could ensure that you’ll be paid even in the downtime.

Finally, if you’re confident in your ability to sell products you acquire, you don’t have to negotiate a payment structure with manufacturers. All you’ll have to negotiate is how much you’ll buy product for and then find a way to profit from the merchandise.

International billing and payments

Your new business will require you to make and receive international payments, which means you’ll make transactions between currencies and across borders.

You can safely and affordably manage your business payments — with lower fees and stronger exchange rates — by comparing the services of a money transfer specialist.

Laws and legal documents when transferring large sums of money into Australia

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Shipping the goods

You need to send and receive goods from other countries, so you’ll need to arrange shipping details.

First, contact a freight forwarder — a company that helps you transport goods safely and efficiently. They will help you handle the logistics of completing shipping documents, finding cargo space and securing cargo insurance.

Find a freight forwarder by looking in state-specific business directories.

After you’ve hired a freight forwarder, read our shipping guides to learn how to ship merchandise.

Risks and how to avoid them

Unpredictable shipping logistics

Needless to say, your success hinges on whether you can ship goods safely and efficiently. If you’re exporting goods, for example, you’re responsible for ensuring they leave your local port and arrive at the correct destination on time.

You’ll also need to account for anything else that could go wrong, such as damage to the cargo. Staying organized and partnering with a reputable freight forwarder will help you ship goods without a hitch.

Not knowing enough about markets

It’s a good idea to thoroughly research a market before entering into this business, though even that may not be enough.

Consider hiring experts who understand the tastes and cultures of your specific markets. You’ll need to sell products that resonate in countries you’re unfamiliar with.

Running into problems at the border

Customs rules aren’t uniform throughout the world. Instead, you’ll encounter a mass of different regulations while transporting goods. To avoid drowning in a swamp of border regulations, hire experts in customs law and trade compliance.

Bottom line

The import/export business is for people who love building relationships in other countries. But it also requires an organised mind that can handle logistics.

If you have those qualities, take the plunge into creating a thriving import/export business.


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10 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    ParmarFebruary 22, 2019

    Hi there,

    I have Registered business and have food and safety license in India. I want to export my food products to Australia. What are the steps from registration of business in Australia, food license, customs clearance etc? Can you suggest any company that can give proper step by step information/consultation?

    Thank you

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaFebruary 24, 2019Staff

      Hi Parmar,

      Thanks for getting in touch with Finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      As of now, we currently don’t have specific information on how you can register your business and obtain licenses and clearances. To obtain these pieces of information, you can directly get in touch with the Australian Department of Customs.

      We also dno’t have a list of companies that might help you in starting your business in Australia. However, the Department of Customs should also be able to help you with this.

      Feel free as well in making independent research. You can use the Internet or ask around for more information.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!


    Default Gravatar
    RupinderFebruary 9, 2019

    I am an entrepreneur in India. I am willing to work in Australia. Can someone please guide me with full details? It is ISO certified accessories and garments products based industry.

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaFebruary 10, 2019Staff

      Hi Rupinder,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      Since every business is unique, I can’t provide you with the full details of how you can start your business here in Australia. However, you can get an idea of how to do it by reading this guide. You will know how to register your business, the type of businesses you can start, how to narrow down your market, and others. If you want to learn more, you can research further. Take more time to learn your industry and how you can start your business in Australia.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!


    Default Gravatar
    M.February 5, 2019

    How can i save money for Airline Terminal Charges for my goods coming from Overseas?

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ValFebruary 12, 2019Staff

      Hi M. S,

      Thank you leaving a question. First, contact a freight forwarder — a company that helps you transport goods safely and efficiently. They will help you handle the logistics of completing shipping documents, and can discuss with you options to save money for airline terminal charges.

      Find a freight forwarder by looking in state-specific business directories.

      Hope this helps


    Default Gravatar
    AlpeshOctober 4, 2018

    Hi joshua
    I am in Australia and import medicine (raw chemical) from Indai. Is any one in Australi who can help me to find buyer?? Please


      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaOctober 8, 2018Staff

      Hi Alpesh,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      We currently don’t have a list of people who might be interested in buying medicine. However, there are a few things you can do to find potential buyers. These are the following:

      – find buyers in social media networking sites
      – find local buyers in India that represent international companies
      – be part of international trading platforms or groups
      – create a website where you can promote your products
      – hire overseas agents
      – participate in trade fairs
      – check Australia’s government agency that handles international trade
      – check Australia’s embassy

      There are other things you can do to find buyers. As much as possible, do your own research. Speak to an expert in your field. When you do this, you can generate more leads.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!


    Default Gravatar
    TomSeptember 25, 2018

    I would like to start a small importing business with marine goods from USA and Canada, are there specialists to help set this up?

      Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaSeptember 26, 2018Staff

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      We currently don’t have a list of specialists who might specifically help you. However, what you can do is check within your industry. You may get in touch with other companies in the similar field and see how they are doing their importing business. Another option is to talk to your importer since they might know of someone who can help you. Finally, you can do your research by going to the Internet and check if there are companies online who can help you.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!


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