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Starting a Business in the U.S. as a Foreign National

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Starting a Business in the U.S. as a Foreign National

By NicoleD
Published: June 8, 2009 Updated: February 28, 2014

Breaking into the U.S. market can be a rewarding venture for many foreign businesses. Because U.S. citizenship and residency are not required, foreign nationals are able to start or expand on U.S. soil without experiencing much more red-tape than an American-born business owner would.

Steps to Starting Up a Foreign Business in the U.S.:

  • Foreign business entities are incorporated at the state level in the U.S. The process will vary from state-to-state, but generally involves two steps: applying to register in that particular state, and establishing a registered agent with a valid address in that state (no PO Box numbers). A registered agent can be either the business owner or another person who is authorized to receive legal papers on behalf of the business, such as an attorney or secretary.
  • The rest of the steps to starting up are similar to those that an American citizen would take. The breakdown of 10 Steps to Starting a Business includes information on naming your business, requirement licenses and permits, and tax matters.
  • Establishing an online retail presence in the U.S. is a popular choice for many foreign business owners. You can read more about general resources for online businesses, including privacy and advertising regulations here, along with specific information on international sales.

Importing Goods into the U.S.:

  • The Department of Commerce's Trade Information Center provides information and web links to importation procedures.
  • Working with a licensed customs broker could be a valuable asset to your import plan. A customs broker prepares all the documentation required for importing goods. To learn about laws and regulations applying to custom brokers, including licensing requirements and importing procedures, visit the Transportation and Logistics Guide.
  • Many imported and exported products are regulated by federal agencies and may require specific licenses and permits. Check here to see if you need to obtain additional paperwork.

U.S. Tax information for Foreign Businesses:

  • The U.S. tax code can be confusing even to life-long citizens. Violation of any tax—sales, payroll, income, etc.—can incur fees and penalties. The IRS offers a guide specifically on International Business, but if you are still left with more questions, it is always safe to check with a qualified attorney or accountant.
  • U.S. citizens will likely need an Employment Identification Number to start up, a process that requires their social security number (SSN). In the case of foreign businesses, an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) will suffice. The IRS issues these 9-digit tax processing numbers to individuals who are required to pay US taxes but who are ineligible for a SSN, including resident and non-resident aliens and foreign nationals.
  • You may be required to file IRS Form 5472, which applies to US corporations with at least one foreign owner who owns 25% of shares, to account for the nature of monetary transactions.
  • There are also special tax credits and incentives available to businesses, including foreign tax treaties. The IRS offers a tax treaty overview and resources here.

Edited for formatting issues.

About the Author:


Good Day everyone. I have a few questions… Maybe someone can help me. Thanks in advance. We have a flower production company in Colombia, and our next project is to expand our company into the US. We want to open a company or corporation that handles our marketing and sales. I have been reading about it and one of the requirements is to establish a registered agent with a valid address. How can we do that? Are there companies that do that? What other steps do we need to proceed? We are holders of US. Business and Pleasure Visas. How much will it cost to open a company like this? Thanks.
Hi everybody, I have a simple question We, as a family, have an interest in moving to Florida and establish and Beauty Business and would like to know how to do that. Florida has been chosen from our side mainly because we are all fluently in English, Spanish and between us we manage Danish, German and Russian all on business level. Strategically we believe that our son, with English and Spanish, would be able to incorporate fast at school and we thinking of doing business as usual would be able to communicate with a vary of clients. But how do we continue from here? Antonio
I currently reside in Canada working in the United States under a TN Visa. I am interested in setting up a small chemcial manufacturing company and continue to work at my current employer in the US as I need my current pay to fund the new company. The Small Business that I would start up would only employ a few people in the first couple of years with hopes to increase to 40 people within a few years. I would also need to preform the work at the new company until it takes off. Can I hold two visa at the same time. What other steps should I take.
What do I need to acquire to open a fashion retail store in LA as a foreigner?
My brother is having a coloured stone slabs art and craft business. He has many clints in USA.My question is, whether he eligible to open a Warehouse here in USA with a B1 visa? Also, I'm residing in US on a F2 visa, Can I help him in his business.We are also looking for Business Attorneys in the matter. Thanks in advance.
Hi, I am H1-B visa holder currently in USA. One of my friend in India wants to start a business in USA and I want to be a partner in it. However, I don't want to leave my job. Is it possible that I work here on H1B visa with my current company and be a partner in the new business. Appreciate your help.
Dear sir Kindly inform us by all details/fees to issue a commercial company in USA Mainly working in furniture domain Would like to present myself as a furniture producer in egypt And we would like to expand our business in USA Kindly inform us by all procedure steps and þhe duration of each steps We recommend to start this business in florida unless you have another point of view Awaiting for your kind reply Name : hassan issa E.mail : Blueprint97@gmail.com Cell : +201223321145
Good afternoon. I come from Brazil an I'm living in the USA since the beginning of this year. I have a project to start a business to produce for bread without gluten. I want to open a fisical company here. Currently my visa status is L2, I already have my SSC - Social Security and permission to work. Along with me, should participate in the Social Contract this company a partner who lives in Brazil. May He Need ITIN? Maybe He could apply for any specific visa etc ....?
Hi, I'm a foreigner graduated in International Relations and former exchange student in Monroe/NC from Brazil. I am planning to open an online service business to host databases for some of my brazilian costumers in US. As a foreigner what should I do first in this case since my business does not require a fisical address to function?
Boa noite Vi a sua mensagem Sou Brasileiro ja nos EUA ha mais de 25 anos e em negocios ha mais de 15. Se ainda estiver precisando de ajuda e so falar Abs e boa sorte Marcos


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