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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:


Hello, I have a startup LLC company for the development of embedded engineering software and hardware with head office and development center in Bangalore, India and wanted to set up a subsidiary unit for development purpose and S&M office in US. Please guide me about the process and financial implication for setting a subsidiary unit in US location.
Hi, I am non US citizen legal resident and would like start a LLC company that is Import/Export Online Business Particularly in (Texas or Nevada)USA. 1) Can my Father (Non - US Citizen/ Living outside USA) own a company (LLC) in his name and run business ? If yes, What are the steps ? 2) I am a Legal Work Visa holder and currently employed in the US with a H1B. If yes, What are the steps ? Need this info ASAP, Thanks in advance for all the help
Hi, I am not a US Citizen and would like to expand my online business to the US. Kindly advise how best to approach this if I am not present in the US. What possible hurdles can I expect. Regards, Kevin
Hi, I am Australian citizen and I already registered the company in US(CA). However, I just got the ESTA,no other visa.Do I must change to other visa if I want to keep going my business in US? My business has online and shop.Could you please reply me asap because this question really so urgent for me. Thanks a lot.
Hi, I want to import goods from a foreign country and sell them in US online market. 1) Can my Father (Non - US Citizen/ Living outside USA) own a company (LLC) in his name and run business ? If yes, What are the steps ? 2) I am a Legal Work Visa holder and currently employed in the US with a H1B. Can i own a company (LLC) in his name and run business ? If yes, What are the steps ? Need this info ASAP, Thanks in advance for all the help.
Hello; I am A Indian Wanted to Set up A Bussiness In US Region. Will you Please Help us How to Start and From Where to Start.
Hello, I am a US citizen but I have not lived in the US for 13 years. I would like to set up a import/export business on either side of the Atlantic. I see answers to questions being asked by non-US citizens both resident and non-resident of the US but nothing about US citizens who are non-residents. I am trying to find out if it is best that I remain an expat who conducts business in the US and the European country I reside in or to get residency again in the US (for purposes of tax and also health care). I am also worried that I won't be able to open up a personal bank account in the US even more so than opening a corporate account as well as other more practical headaches like purchasing service vehicles without having an American drivers license and the like. Any suggestions or advice?
Hello, I am from India and would like start a LLC company in Delaware. Heard that if I am going to generate the revenue in US, I should open a bank account in US but Delaware law stating I need not to have the bank account. My questions are, 1. So where I can open the bank account? I asked in an Indian bank and they said I cannot open the bank account in India. 2. Should I live in US if I am going to generate the revenue in US? I heard a person telling if I am going to generate the revenue, a person MUST live in US always or major time. Pls note, I am going to start a company in Delaware. Pls advice. Thanks for your help.
I am a non US resident have the intention to set up a online business in US. How can I go about doing this without being present in US?
Hi everybody, Thank you for the opportunity to ask some questions. I am non US citizen legal resident with employment permission. My intention is to create my small business importing organic products from Greece and selling them to shops or on line here in the USA. Can you provide some steps to me so that I can import initially organic olive oil, are there any restrictions importing it etc. Also I am interested in having some guidelines how to create this small business as a sole proprietor at this stage.Thank you for your hospitality. Waiting for your reply. Spyros


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