What You Need to Know About Importing Goods From Overseas (2022 Update)

Jul 30, 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Written by Fiona Lu

Importing goods from overseas and selling them in the Australian market can be a lucrative business venture. Lower production costs and domestic consumer demand mean that you can sell more for less. However, before you decide to purchase and import goods from overseas, you must familiarise yourself with the legal requirements and identify possible legal issues that can arise. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about selling goods from overseas.

1. You Don’t Need a Licence to Import But You May Need A Permit

You do not need a licence when importing goods From overseas into Australia (this applies to both companies and individuals). However, depending on what your goods are, you may need to obtain permits or treatment to clear goods through customs. For example, some products may be subject to certain biosecurity import conditions and quarantine regulations. In some cases, these products won’t be permitted entry unless an import permit is obtained. The Department’s Biosecurity Import Conditions System (BICON), grants import permits before goods arrive in Australia for commodities such as food products.

For an overview of the process, check out the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s How to Import Goods in Australia.

Also, if you import plant, mineral, animal or human products, they may need to be quarantined, inspected and treated by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for pests or diseases.

A tool you can use is the Australian Government’s Biosecurity import conditions database. This database will help you identify what import conditions exist and if you need an import permit.

2. You Must Follow Importing Laws and Government Regulations

Importers need to comply with government laws and regulations. If you don’t, you will be breaking the law and your imports may be seized by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. These regulations exist to protect domestic industries, consumers, and the environment from harmful and dangerous goods imported from overseas. For example, if you wish import therapeutic goods (medicines or medical devices), you must refer to the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, which sets out the legal requirements for import of therapeutic goods in Australia. There are many regulations you can familiarise yourself with that covers quarantine, trade management, prohibited imports, etc.

If you are unsure about whether the goods you are purchasing and importing are prohibited or retracted, check out the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website. Some prohibited imports include drugs and narcotics, cultural heritage goods and biological agents. You can also read up on which consumer products you cannot bring into Australia.

3. There May Be Duties and Taxes You Will Need to Pay

Products which come into Australia need to clear the border first. There may be duties, taxes or charges that apply if your goods are worth a certain amount.

  • If your goods arrive via air, sea cargo or international mail and are $1,000 Australian dollars or less (low value imports), you do not have to pay any duties, taxes or charges.
  • If your goods are worth more than $1,000 Australian dollars, you need to fill out an Import Declaration and pay duties, taxes and charges.
  • Where you are importing goods like tobacco or alcohol, you will need to pay duties and taxes regardless of their value.

Before you enter goods, you need to supply an Australian Business Number (ABN) to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Also, you must be registered for GST purposes and have an ABN to claim input tax credits.

4. You must label your goods correctly with a trade description

You should label your goods with a trade description before you import them into Australia. This should indicate or suggest directly or indirectly how or by whom the goods were made, produced, packed or prepared.

There are requirements the trade description must satisfy:

  1. Be in the English language
  2. Be in prominent and legible characters
  3. Name the country where the goods were made or produced
  4. Include a correct and accurate explanation of the goods
  5. If the goods aren’t pre-packed, then a principal label must be attached in a prominent position, as permanently as practicable to the goods.

If your imported goods do not meet the labelling requirements, it may be seized.

For more information about the labelling requirements, check out the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website.

5. You may have to register certain goods

Goods that contain industrial chemicals like cosmetics, solvents, adhesives, plastics, printing and photocopying chemicals, paints, household cleaning products and toiletries require registration. Also, “therapeutic” (medicine and medical devices) goods must be registered in accordance with Therapeutic Goods Administration laws. You also need to register if you are importing chemicals for use in the industrial, agricultural or veterinary sectors.


There are many considerations to make when purchasing and importing goods from overseas into Australia. If you comply with your obligations and the relevant laws, you will be able to sell your goods in Australia.

If you have any questions or require further assistance, you can contact a business lawyer here.

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