How does a foreign company do business in the USA?

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Key Summary

  • Understand the dual U.S. legal system (federal and state). This will help you comply with laws, taxation, and regulations.
  • Choose the right structure (e.g., LLC or Corporation). Consider taxation and liability.
  • Choose the state for registration. Consider unique rules and tax benefits. For instance, states like Delaware, Nevada, Wyoming, Texas, and Virginia.
  • Complete Form SS-4 to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for tax reporting. Follow IRS guidelines.
  • Be aware of visa options (e.g., H-1B, L-1, E-2) and work permit requirements for foreign employees. Ensure compliance with USCIS regulations

Understanding the U.S. Legal Framework

The U.S. legal system has a dual nature, comprising federal and state laws. This duality is essential for foreign companies doing business in the U.S. It affects legal compliance, taxation, and regulatory requirements. It’s crucial to understand the differences between federal and state laws. This ensures compliance and mitigates legal risks. Here’s a look at the dual nature of the U.S. legal system and its implications for foreign companies:

Federal Laws: These are laws enacted by the U.S. Congress and apply to the entire country. They govern areas such as immigration, national security, and interstate commerce. 

State: Each of the 50 states has its own set of laws and regulations. State laws cover areas not addressed by federal laws. These areas include property, business, and family law. State laws can vary from one state to another.

State Key features and highlights
Delaware Business-friendly environment
Favorable tax laws (no state income tax for corporations)
Strong financial sector
WyomingFavorable business environment
No personal income tax
Focus on energy and mineral development
Unique laws related to energy, minerals, and land ownership
FloridaFavorable tax laws (no state income tax)
Unique laws related to real estate and tourism
Thriving tourism industry
CaliforniaComprehensive environmental regulations
Strong labor laws
Pioneer in data privacy (CCPA & CPRA)
NevadaFavorable business climate
Low franchise tax
Strong privacy protections for business owners
Unique approach to data privacy (sector-specific regulations)

Choosing the Right Business Entity

In the US, foreign companies have several options for structuring their business entities, each with unique implications. The available business structures include:

1. Business Corporation

This is the entity type most often used by companies from abroad. It provides limited liability and is a separate legal entity from its owners. This makes it an attractive option for foreign companies. 

  • State law governs this entity, known as a corporation or business corporation. Here are some key aspects of a Business Corporation. 
  • Incorporation: A corporation is separate from its owners or shareholders. It forms it by issuing shares that trade on stock exchanges.
  • Shareholders are not liable for the debts and liabilities of the corporation. They protect their assets from risks such as lawsuits and business debts. 
  • Corporations can issue stock to raise investment capital. This makes it easier to fund larger projects or expansions. 
  • Corporations face double taxation. The government taxes profits at the corporate level. When companies distribute dividends to shareholders, they tax them again.

2. Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC offers limited liability protection. It is a flexible form of business that allows for pass-through taxation. Foreign companies often choose it because it is flexible. It has few compliance requirements. Here are some key aspects of an LLC:

  • Filing articles of organization with the state forms an LLC. State law governs it. 
  • Limited Liability: Members are not liable for the LLC’s debts and liabilities. This protects their assets from risks such as lawsuits and business debts. 
  • Funding: LLCs can issue membership interests to raise investment capital. This makes it easier to fund larger projects or expansions. 
  • LLCs are pass-through entities. Members pass profits and losses through and report them on their tax returns. LLCs do not pay taxes on their profits.

3. Partnerships

Foreign companies can enter into general partnerships or limited partnerships.

AspectGeneral Partnership (GP)Limited Partnership (LP)
Legal ResponsibilityEvery partner is legally responsible for the partnership's obligations. At least one partner serves as the general partner. The general partner is legally responsible for partnership obligations.
Management & Daily OperationsAll partners share in the management and daily operations of the business. The general partner oversees the business and has unlimited liability. Limited partners are not involved in daily operations.
LiabilityAll partners have unlimited liability for the partnership's debts and obligations. They risk personal assets.Partners have unlimited liability. Limited partners have limited liability, protecting their assets. They are not protected when they are involved in active management.
Partner TypesAll partners are the same. General partner(s) and limited partner(s).
TaxationProfits and losses pass through to partners' tax returns. Profits and losses pass through to partners' tax returns
Self-Employment TaxesGeneral partner must pay self-employment taxes. General partner must pay self-employment taxes.

Market Demand

Assess the demand for your product or service. Look for gaps in the market that your business could fill. Surveys, focus groups, and customer interviews can be valuable tools for gauging interest and validating your business idea.

4. Branch Operations

Foreign companies can establish unincorporated branches in the US. Legal liability flows through to the parent corporation. Most foreign companies choose to organize under a formal US entity. They do this because it’s easy and expensive to form one. There may also be tax and legal advantages. Here are the key differences between unincorporated branches and formal US entities:

Unincorporated Branches

  • Legal liability flows through to the parent corporation. 
  • The foreign company conducts business in the US. They do not establish a separate legal entity.
  • The foreign company can engage in a US trade or business and operate as a direct extension of its non-US company.
  • The foreign company must still register and follow state laws. State laws can vary from one state to another. 

Formal US Entities

  • Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and Corporations are the most common types of formal US entities. 
  • LLCs offer limited liability protection. They are a flexible form of business that allows for pass-through taxation.
  • Corporations provide limited liability. They are a separate legal entity from their owners. This makes them an attractive option for foreign companies.
  • Both LLCs and Corporations can register to do business in each state where they plan to operate. This ensures compliance with state laws and regulations.

5. Joint Ventures or Partnerships

Another strategy is to form a cooperative business relationship with an existing US company.

AspectPartnershipsJoint Ventures
CompositionFormed between individuals or entities.Involves two or more businesses pooling resources and expertise.
PurposeCan have various purposes and structures.Formed for specific, limited purposes, such as a project.
LiabilityLiability can be unlimited (general) or limited.Shared liability and risk among partners.
Access to ExpertiseRelies on complementary strengths and goals.Provides access to local expertise and knowledge.
EvaluationConsideration of cultural fit is important.Requires careful partner evaluation and agreement terms.
Legal StructureMay or may not involve a separate entity.Typically involves a separate legal entity for the venture.
Tax ImplicationsTax implications depend on the partnership type.Taxation varies based on the structure and agreement terms.

6. Holding Companies

Someone forms a holding company to own other subsidiaries. It doesn’t produce goods or services. Instead, it controls subsidiary ownership. It focuses on managing and supporting them for efficient operation and goal achievement.

There are two common types of holding companies: pure holding companies and mixed holding companies. Let’s compare them in the table below:

AspectPure Holding CompanyMixed Holding Company
Business OperationsDoes not engage in any business operations.Engages in its business operations.
RolePrimarily controls other companies.Controls other firms and conducts own operations.
Legal Liability ExposureLimited legal liability exposure.Limited legal liability exposure.
Tax BenefitsPotential tax benefits due to structure.Potential tax benefits due to structure.
Ownership of AssetsMay own various assets like real estate, patents, trademarks, stocks, etc.May own various assets like real estate, patents, trademarks, stocks, etc.

Registering your business in the right state

Foreign companies that want to expand operations in the US must register in the right state. Each state has its own registration process, requirements, and benefits for foreign businesses. Here is an overview of the process and benefits of popular states for foreign businesses:

Process of Registering in Another State

  1. Conduct a name availability search. Ensure the desired business name is available in the state where you plan to register.
  2. Select a registered agent. Appoint a registered agent to represent your business in the state. The agent will receive legal documents on behalf of the company.
  3. File an application for authority. Submit a form to the state business entity filing office. Provide basic information about the company. 
  4. Once registered, foreign companies must pay any applicable fees. They must also comply with state requirements. This includes filing annual reports and maintaining a registered agent.


Foreign companies often choose Delaware. This is because of its favorable business climate. It has flexible corporate laws and a well-established legal system. Some of the key reasons for its attractiveness include

  1. Delaware has a low franchise tax. State law imposes it on corporations formed under state law. 
  2. Delaware has no sales tax or VAT. This makes it an attractive destination for businesses. 
  3. The state has a low corporate income tax rate of 8.7%. It is competitive compared to other states. 
  4. Delaware does not tax intangible assets. This is beneficial for companies with significant intangible assets. 
  5. Delaware offers a streamlined process for incorporating businesses. It includes personalized attention and minimal red tape. 
  6. Delaware law doesn’t need a for-profit corporation to have at least one director. It also doesn’t require it to have two officers. 
  7. Corporations registered in Delaware do not pay corporate income tax. They don’t pay taxes if they do not do business in the state. They call this a corporate income tax exemption. 

These factors contribute to Delaware’s appeal to foreign companies. This makes it a popular choice for incorporation and business operations.


Nevada is known for its business-friendly regulations, low corporate tax rate, and no personal income tax, making it an attractive option for foreign companies looking to minimize their tax burden. Some of the key advantages of doing business in Nevada include:

  1. Favorable Tax Climate
    • No corporate income tax, no personal income tax, and no franchise tax.
    • Competitive sales and property tax rates.
    • No taxes on corporate shares, no unitary tax, no inheritance or gift tax, and no estate tax.
  2. Business-Friendly Environment
    • Low-cost startup, regulatory, licensing, and annual fees.
    • Streamlined licensing and approval processes.
    • Strong pro-business legal system.
  3. Attractive Incentives
    • Nevada offers various incentives and programs to assist businesses in key industries. These include financial reimbursements and training allowances for eligible employers.
  4. Location and Infrastructure
    • Rich transportation infrastructure and a central location in the Western U.S.


Wyoming is a popular choice for foreign companies due to its business-friendly regulations, low corporate tax rate. Some key points about Wyoming’s business environment and tax structure include:

  1. Wyoming offers a favorable tax environment. It has no corporate income tax, no personal income tax, and no franchise tax. It also does not impose an inventory tax, occupation tax, or value-added tax. 
  2. The state has a well-established legal system and a strong pro-business environment. This makes it an attractive option for foreign companies. 

Wyoming has no corporate or personal state income tax. It also has no inventory tax or value-added tax. This low tax burden is helpful for businesses.


Texas is a popular choice for foreign companies due to its low corporate tax rate and strong economy. Texas does not impose a corporate income tax, which is a significant advantage for businesses.

  1. Texas does not impose a corporate income tax. 
  2. The state has a strong pro-business environment and legal system.
  3. Texas has a low tax burden, with no personal income tax and a low sales tax rate. 
  4. It has a strong and diverse economy. It has a large and growing population. It also has a favorable business climate and a robust energy sector.


People know Virginia for its growing economy and business-friendly regulations. It offers access to capital and favorable business laws. This makes it an attractive state for foreign companies. 

  1. Virginia has a growing economy. It also has business-friendly regulations. Therefore, it is an attractive state for foreign companies.
  2. Virginia offers access to capital and favorable business laws, which can benefit businesses.
  3. The state has a low corporate income tax rate and no franchise tax, reducing the tax burden for companies.

Process and importance of obtaining an EIN for business operations

foreign company doing business in USA

Employer Identification Number (EIN): An EIN is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the IRS to identify a business entity in the United States for tax reporting purposes. 

Obtaining an EIN involves several steps from preparation to receiving your number. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Complete Form SS-4:

  1. Identification Details: You must provide vital details. This includes the official name and any trade name, if relevant. It also includes the mailing address of your business entity.
  2. Business Entity Type: This form requires you to disclose your business’s entity type. This could be a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or another type.
  3. Responsible Party Information: In this section, you must provide information about the individual responsible for the business, including their Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). 
  4. Purpose for EIN Acquisition: You must state the purpose for which you will use the EIN when applying.
    Primary Business Activity: The form also asks about your business entity’s primary activity. 

Alternatives to Obtaining an EIN

  1. Online Services
  2. Hiring a registered agent

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2. Choose an Application Method

After you’ve filled out the form, you can choose to submit it electronically, by regular mail, or via fax.

Application methodHow to
MailSend your completed SS-4 to the designated IRS address.
FaxTransmit your SS-4 form to the IRS fax number.
PhoneCall the IRS and provide information over the phone (international applicants). Identify yourself as a non-U.S. resident.
OnlineUse the IRS website to submit your application (requires SSN or ITIN).

3. Provide Required Documents

Make sure all necessary documents, such as identification and business details, are accurate. Make sure they are available for submission.

4. Follow IRS Requirements

Submit your application following all guidelines and wait for processing. Here are the essential steps and prerequisites:

  1. IRS Requirement Compliance:  Ensure the accuracy of all provided information to prevent application delays or rejections. This complies with IRS requirements. Review details like your business name, address, and responsible party information. Inconsistencies or errors can lead to processing delays or rejection. 
  2. Submit Your Application: Use your preferred method. 
  3. Await Processing: After submitting your application, await processing by the IRS. The processing time may vary based on your chosen method. The IRS processes mail-in submissions within a month. It processes faxed submissions in about two weeks. It processes online submissions immediately.
  4. Ensure Accuracy: Maintain accuracy and consistency in all aspects of the application process. This includes your business name, address, and responsible party information. 
  5. Comprehend the Application Process: Familiarize yourself with the application process and the specific requirements for foreign EINs. review the IRS-provided instructions and guidelines. Complete the form accurately and comprehensively.

Tax Treaties and Double Taxation

How tax treaties affect foreign businesses and help avoid double taxation:

  • Tax Treaties: Tax treaties are agreements between countries. They establish rules to reduce or cut double taxation and fiscal evasion. These rules concern the taxes covered by the treaty. 
  • Double Taxation: A business is subject to double taxation when two or more countries tax the same income. Tax treaties help avoid double taxation. They provide guidelines on income allocation. In each country, authorities also specify which types of income they should tax. 
  • Benefits of Tax Treaties: Tax treaties can provide significant benefits for foreign businesses, such as reducing their overall tax burden and providing certainty and predictability in their tax obligations.

Establishing a Physical and Banking Presence

Establishing a business location in the U.S. for foreign companies involves several steps and challenges. Here are some steps to consider when establishing a business location in the U.S. for foreign companies:

  1. Choose the Right State:  Research the legal and regulatory landscape of foreign markets. Choose a state that best suits your company’s needs. Each state has its own rules and regulations. The rules can vary between states.
  2. Obtain a Business Address: Most U.S. banks will not open a business account without a physical U.S. address. Banks may accept the street address of a registered agent or a virtual mailbox service. This is especially true if your company does not need a traditional banking platform. 
  3. Register Your Business: Register your business with the state where you plan to operate. The process for registering a business varies by state. You must file articles of incorporation or organization with your state’s Secretary of State
  4. Obtain Necessary Licenses and Permits: Your business may need specific licenses and permits to operate in the U.S. These requirements vary by state and industry. Research the requirements for your business. 
  5. Open a Bank Account: To open a business bank account in the U.S., you may need to visit a physical branch. You may also need to complete many pieces of paperwork. Yet, technology advancements and evolving banking services now allow for remote account opening. 
  6. Follow Regulations: Adapt to the dual nature of the U.S. legal system, which consists of both federal and state laws. This requires careful consideration of federal and state laws, taxation, and regulatory requirements. This helps navigate the complexities of the U.S. legal landscape.
  7. Consider Alternative Banking Options: Consider certain banking alternatives. This is when establishing a traditional bank account is challenging or unnecessary. It may be worthwhile. For example, opening a foreign currency or USD account with a local bank in your home country.

Business Structures and Presence Options

Foreign companies can choose from various business structures to establish a physical presence in the US. 

  1. U.S. Corporate Subsidiary:  Forming a U.S. corporate subsidiary is a common approach. This subsidiary is distinct and separate from the non-U.S. parent company, providing limited liability and a more permanent U.S. presence. 
  2. Branch Office: A branch office is a direct extension of the non-U.S. company into the US, conducting the same activities as the non-U.S. company. It can be a suitable option for companies seeking to sell to American customers in greater volume.
  3. Representative Office: For companies not ready to commit to immediate entry into the US, a representative office can be used to explore the US market and conduct a limited set of activities, such as advertising or gathering market data

Importance of Location

The physical location of a company in the US can significantly impact its success. Factors to consider include: 

  1. Market Access: The location should provide access to the target market and customer base. 
  2. Regulatory Environment: Different states have varying regulatory environments. Some may be more conducive to certain industries or business activities. 
  3. Talent Pool: Many businesses rely on a skilled workforce and industry-specific talent. Access to a talent pool is essential. 
  4. Cost of Doing Business: The cost of doing business varies by location. Considerations include taxes, real estate costs, and operational expenses.

Navigating U.S. Immigration for Business


There are several important considerations for foreign companies when it comes to visa and work permit requirements for their employees working in the US. 

  1. H-1B Visa: The H-1B Visa is the most common for foreign employees. It is for workers in speciality occupations. It’s used for roles that need expertise in fields such as IT, finance, accounting, and engineering. It’s also used in other fields.
  2. L-1 Visa: Designed for intracompany transferees. This visa allows companies to transfer employees from a foreign office to a US office.
    3. E-2 Visa: Reserved for treaty investors and employees of companies with substantial US ownership by nationals of a treaty country.

Work Permits

Foreign companies must also consider work permit regulations, in addition to visa requirements.

  1. USCIS: USCIS oversees the process of obtaining work permits. These are also known as Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) for foreign employees.
  2. Variability: The process of obtaining work permits can vary. It depends on the employee’s qualifications, job type, and the specific visa they hold.

Frequently Asked Questions

When doing business in the U.S., what legal and ethical aspects should foreign companies consider?

Foreign companies need to be aware of legal and ethical considerations. This ensures compliance and ethical conduct in the U.S. market.

What legal areas do foreign companies need to follow in the U.S.?

Foreign companies must adhere to U.S. laws and regulations. This includes laws and regulations related to employment and taxation. It also includes laws related to intellectual property and consumer protection.

Why is compliance with U.S. laws and regulations crucial for foreign companies?

Understanding and complying with these legal requirements is essential to avoid legal repercussions.

What environmental and social responsibilities should foreign companies consider in the U.S.?

Foreign companies should adhere to environmental and social responsibility standards. This includes considering the environmental impact of their operations, complying with U.S. environmental regulations, and upholding social responsibility. This means respecting human rights, labor standards, and diversity and inclusion principles.

Are there industry-specific ethical considerations in the U.S.?

Yes, different industries and markets may have specific ethical considerations.

For example, the technology sector may face unique ethical challenges related to data privacy and security. In contrast, the healthcare industry may have specific regulations and ethical standards related to patient care and data protection.

What financial aspects should foreign companies consider when doing business in the U.S.?

Foreign companies should explore the U.S. banking system. They should also look into the currency exchange and financial regulations relevant to their operations.

How do U.S. banks conduct international business?

U.S. banks primarily conduct international business through their branch offices. They offer a wide range of financial products to residents of other countries. They also offer them to firms abroad. The Federal Reserve regulates various aspects of international banking operations. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation also regulates these operations.

What should foreign companies know about currency exchange in the U.S.?

Foreign companies should be aware of currency exchange regulations and restrictions on currency transactions with individuals and legal entities. Banks and currency exchange services can assist with currency conversion and transfers, and it’s essential to understand exchange rates and associated fees.

Sealing the deal: Business in the USA

The U.S. offers diverse opportunities for foreign companies. But navigating its legal, tax, and regulatory landscape requires careful planning and compliance. Choosing the right legal structure and location is key to a successful entry into the U.S. market, and understanding immigration requirements is also crucial.

Book Your 30 Minute Free Consultation.

Get Free & Instant advice on registering your business in Delaware & the USA.