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Selling into the U.S. as a Foreign Business: Should You Incorporate Your Business Here?

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Selling into the U.S. as a Foreign Business: Should You Incorporate Your Business Here?

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 6, 2013 Updated: August 18, 2015

Do you run an overseas business? Thinking of expanding and selling into the U.S. market?

Because U.S. residency or citizenship is not required, non-U.S. citizens can readily sell into the U.S. However, many overseas business owners aren’t clear on whether they are required to incorporate in the U.S. and the associated tax implications.

Here’s what you need to know:

Should I Incorporate My Business in the U.S.?

Essentially, if your intent is to sell goods into the U.S.—whether online or through U.S. partners such as a wholesaler—you may not have to file for incorporation in the U.S. However, if you plan to have a physical presence in the U.S. (such as an office or employees), then incorporation, whether as a corporation or limited liability corporation (LLC), is worth considering. Likewise, for online businesses in particular, remember that many U.S. consumers feel more confident buying from a registered U.S. business, so that’s another important factor to weigh up.

Each business is different and it’s important to look at incorporation in the context of your overall business goals, state incorporation laws, taxation considerations, as well as your ability to scale and manage that legal entity from overseas.

To understand the factors that might impact your decision, book some time with a good U.S. business attorney who understands both international and U.S. law.

How to Incorporate a Foreign Business in the U.S.

Once you’ve made the decision to incorporate, you’ll need to understand the process.

In the U.S., business incorporation occurs at the state level for all business owners, regardless of whether you are a citizen or a foreign national.

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 P.O. 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.

What Business Structure Should I Choose?

The most popular choice of business structure for non-U.S. citizens is to form an LLC, although you can also legally form and own shares in a C corporation. Non-U.S. citizens cannot retain shares in an S corporation because business income is reported on personal U.S. income tax returns.

To learn more about choosing the right business structure and how to file for incorporation, check out SBA’s Choose your Business Structure guide. This blog offers more insight: Top 10 Questions About Small Business Incorporation Answered.

Which State Should I Incorporate In?

If most of your clients are concentrated in a specific state or you have an office or physical presence in a state, it may make sense to incorporate there. If you don’t plan on having a physical presence in the U.S., you can form a corporation or LLC in states such as Nevada and Delaware, both of which are considered friendly to foreign companies.

If you operate in more than one state, you can elect to incorporate in any of these states. However, you are required to register your business in the other states in which you operate; this process is called foreign qualification and you can apply for it with the help of a lawyer or online incorporation service. Again, for the best advice, consult a U.S. business attorney who has expertise in both U.S. and international law.

Do I Need to Pay U.S. Taxes?

If you are a non-resident business owner, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will tax you on income that is sourced in the U.S. If your business is incorporated in the U.S., you may also be required to pay an annual fee to the state where your business is incorporated.

The IRS offers a guide specifically on International Business, but if you are still left with more questions, it is always good 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.


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


What if I'm not the business owner - but am a representative of a foreign business? Should I open a representation company or can I be a self employed rep?
I have read this article and while it is very helpful in many ways, it seems to conflict what US Customs says. In my case I am looking at attending an expo in USA (I am a non US resident) and I want to make sure I can sell my products at the expo. So after doing a little research on US Customs website I see the following posting: "Note: Non-residents cannot sell goods in the U.S." I am now confused as to whether I can bring goods with me to this expo in order to test the market and see if my products are well received by the American buyers. Can anyone confirm? Thanks in advance, Julian
Hi Dear , Thanks SBA for giving useful advises. I believe this site is great help for new small business owners. I am a small Travel Agent from India. I want to start up a new Sub-Agency of a Consolidator company which is already running good in U.S. I have full business plan ready. I got the solution of most of the problems. But still, I have few doubts to be cleared now. 1. Which business structure is fit for me. 2. The Payment gateway will be in U.S. only. Beside that the consolidator required few blank checks for agreement. Is there any way to open a business account in U.S. I could not present physically for few months. 3. The Consolidator required to fill up a agreement form. It says, they need a SSN, driving license and business license. Is this possible that a agent can make these formalities from my side. Kindly advise me, what should I need to do in this situation. Thanks & Regards Tewatia
Do we (if a foreign national) need to show funds to make us eligible for incorporation (LLC or corporation) in USA?
Hello, I am a CPA from the United States who specializes in an assisting international companies establish themselves here in the United States To incorporate in the US you need to: 1. File the appropriate paperwork with state authorities 2. Pay applicable fees You DO NOT need to show funds Keith Contact me if you need any assistance. [Please note that Community members may include only one (1) link in their signature line. Any additional links to websites, social network profiles, or email addresses will be removed. Please review our Community Best Practices. Thank you]
Thank you for sharing this information!! As an international moving company we may look to expand our offices overseas one day and this info. is great to know!!
Appreciate the inclusion! Thanks for sharing this great article! Techniques and tools can only be helpful along the way.. So,nice tech and sophisticated tools will only leads to success in any type of business…

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