Overseas Charities – What is the process for setting up in Australia? Is it easy? What red tape do they need to be aware of?

For overseas charities that want to setup in Australia, as in most countries, setting up a charity comes with its own form of ‘red tape’.

For a charity to perform legally, there are requirements and procedures that need to be followed, which will enable a charity to carry out its operation. 

The same happens in Australia.

You may want to consider a few things if you are an overseas charity interested in setting up in Australia.

One of them is to consider the best structure for your entity so that your charity can benefit under local laws.

Once you decide how complex or straight forward your structure is, this will lead to other questions regarding compliance and sustainability.

As a new charity, there are several stakeholders that will need to be notified. One such stakeholder is the Australian Charities and Not- for-Profits Commission (ACNC).


The ACNC was set up in December 2012 and is the sole regulator of charities in Australia. It is the support system for charities in Australia and provides guidance and assistance to those that need them.

If you operate overseas charities and are seriously thinking about setting up a Charity in Australia, these are some of the bare requirements you will be obliged to meet:

  • Does your Charity satisfy the legal meaning of charity?
  • Have you identified your charitable purpose?
  • Have you applied for an ABN (Australian Business Number)?
  • Are you aware of the governance standards and external conduct standards?
  • Does your Charity fall within the non-registerable charities, such as an organisation included in a written decision made by an Australian government agency or judge that lists it as engaging in or supporting terrorist or other criminal activities?

(Sigh)…but there’s so much ‘red tape’.

Yes, there is.

And it may be outside your country’s usual requirement levels, but the ACNC does offer some comfort. 

The ACNC has put in place a “red tape reduction” initiative aimed at assisting charities due to the on-going regulation changes especially if they operate across multiple jurisdictions.

What is the ‘red tape reduction’?

It is an ACNC Charity Passport.

Australia is a large land mass and comprises of a number of States and Territories. Often the laws within these States and Territories will not mirror each other…and this is where your ACNC Charity Passport will come in handy.

Just as a national passport facilitates crossing borders – the ACNC Charity Passport will enable the following for overseas charities wishing to set up in Australia:

  • Sharing of charity information with other government agencies to build a ‘report once, use often’ framework for charities.
  • Streamline reporting for charities regulated by other Commonwealth bodies
  • Harmonise ACNC regulatory requirements with the numerous state and territory laws that cover charities
  • Commission research on red tape reduction in the not-for-profit sector to inform the ACNC’s work, and
  • Provide guidance and advice to charities to help them meet their regulatory obligations

Do you want to carry out fundraising?

Part of the attraction to setting up in Australia is the strength of the Australian dollar that can be stretched in other countries.

But you must be aware of the regulations that need to be followed for all not-for-profits and charities that are involved in fundraising.

If you intend to operate in Australia and find that your charitable status involves fundraising activities, there could be a lot of red tape that makes the process complex and long winding.

However, with the “red tape reduction” initiative, your charity can still fulfill these obligations in a more streamlined manner by reporting once regarding fundraising activities. This would be helpful if you intend to operate your charity across multiple jurisdictions in Australia.

To read more about fundraising compliance in the different states and territories, read our booklet here.

I’m still keen to set up a not-for-profit or charity in Australia.

Good! Consult our experienced not for profit and charity lawyers. They will be able to assist you with all the legal requirements and compliances necessary and help you cut through the red tape to set up your Charity in Australia.

Call us today on +61 3252 0011 or email: enquiry@corneyandlind.com.au or click here for more information.

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