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How to Start a Business in the US as an Immigrant [2024]

Starting a business in a new country can be both an exciting and daunting endeavor, especially for immigrants and refugees who are navigating unfamiliar landscapes and regulations. With language barriers and the need for translation services, lack of a network, and other challenges, this can be difficult. 

But despite these challenges, many immigrants have successfully launched and grown thriving enterprises in the United States, contributing significantly to the economy and their communities. 

Whether you are driven by the desire to turn a passion into a livelihood, create opportunities for others, or achieve financial independence, this article will help you navigate the path to business ownership in the US.

Can You Start a Business as an Immigrant?

Yes, immigrants can start businesses in the US and contribute significantly to the economy. Many successful businesses are founded by immigrants, who bring diverse perspectives and innovation. 

While there may be legal and logistical challenges, numerous resources and support networks are available to help immigrant entrepreneurs succeed. With determination and the right guidance, starting a business as an immigrant is not only possible but can also be highly rewarding.

Types of Businesses Immigrants Start 

Immigrants are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, starting businesses across a variety of sectors. Their ventures contribute to the economy and bring unique services and products to the market. Here are some of the common types of businesses immigrants start:

Translation & Language Services 

Many immigrants leverage their bilingual skills to offer translation and language services. These businesses help bridge communication gaps in diverse communities. One example of this is Equity Languages & Employment Services, which provides translation and interpretation services for immigrants, refugees, and organizations supporting these communities.


The construction industry is another popular sector for immigrant entrepreneurs. These businesses range from small contracting firms to larger construction companies, offering services such as building, remodeling, and infrastructure development. Immigrant-owned construction businesses are known for their hard work, reliability, and craftsmanship.

Retail Trade 

Immigrants often start retail businesses, including grocery stores, clothing shops, and specialty stores. These businesses cater to niche markets and offer products that reflect the cultural diversity of their owners. They not only serve the needs of their communities but also attract a broader customer base with unique offerings.

Leisure & Hospitality 

The leisure and hospitality industry, including restaurants, cafes, and hotels, is a common choice for immigrant entrepreneurs. These businesses often showcase the cultural heritage and culinary traditions of their owners, providing customers with authentic dining and hospitality experiences.

Educational Services 

Many immigrants start educational services, such as tutoring centers, language schools, and vocational training institutes. These businesses focus on providing educational support and skills training, helping others achieve academic and professional success.

Steps to Start a Business for Noncitizens 

Starting a business in the US as a noncitizen involves several key steps, from planning and structuring your business to navigating legal requirements and securing funding. Here’s a concise guide to help you get started.

A well-crafted business plan is essential. It outlines your business goals, target market, competitive landscape, marketing strategy, and financial projections. This document not only guides your business strategy but is also crucial when seeking funding from investors or financial institutions. 

A strong business plan demonstrates your commitment and vision, making it easier to attract partners and investors.

2. Choose a company structure 

Selecting the right business structure is critical. The most common structures include:

  • LLC (Limited Liability Company): Offers flexibility and protects your personal assets from business liabilities. It's simpler to manage and provides tax benefits, as profits and losses can be passed through to your personal income without facing corporate taxes.

  • Corporation: Suitable for businesses planning to go public or seek venture capital funding. It provides strong liability protection but involves more regulations and tax requirements. Corporations are taxed as separate entities, and shareholders are taxed on dividends (double taxation).

Other structures include sole proprietorships and partnerships, but they offer less liability protection.

Consider working with a translation and interpretation service to help navigate important legal documents. 

3. Register your business 

Registering your business involves choosing a unique business name and filing the necessary paperwork with state authorities. Popular states for business registration include:

  • Delaware: Known for its business-friendly laws, flexible corporate structure, and favorable tax climate.

  • Nevada: Offers privacy protection for business owners and no state income tax.

  • Wyoming: Known for low fees, strong privacy protections, and no state corporate income tax.

Each state has different requirements and benefits, so research thoroughly to choose the best option for your business.

4. Obtain a visa to operate in the US

Securing the right visa is crucial for noncitizens starting a business in the US. Key visa options include:

  • E-2 Treaty Investor Visa: For investors from countries with a treaty of commerce with the US. Requires a substantial investment in a US business.

  • L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa: For employees of an international company being transferred to a US branch, affiliate, or subsidiary.

  • EB-2 Visa: For individuals with exceptional ability or advanced degrees.

  • EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program: Requires a significant investment (typically $900,000 to $1.8 million) and the creation of at least 10 jobs for US workers.

  • H-1B Visa: For specialty occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

  • International Entrepreneur Rule: Allows certain entrepreneurs to stay in the US to grow their startup business.

Consult with an immigration attorney to determine the best visa option for your situation.

5. Secure capital 

Access to capital is crucial for starting and growing your business. Options include:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans: Offers various loan programs to help small businesses.

  • Personal Savings and Investments: Using personal funds or investments from family and friends.

  • Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists: Provide funding in exchange for equity in your company.

  • Bank Loans and Credit Lines: Traditional financing options through banks and financial institutions.

Research and prepare a solid financial plan to present to potential investors or lenders.

6. Ensure tax compliance 

Understanding and complying with US tax laws is essential. Key steps include:

  • Obtain an EIN: An Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS is necessary for tax purposes.

  • Understand Tax Obligations: Be aware of federal, state, and local tax requirements. This includes income tax, payroll tax, sales tax, and other applicable taxes.

  • Hire a Tax Professional: Consider hiring a tax advisor or accountant to help manage your tax obligations and ensure compliance.

Maintaining accurate financial records and staying informed about tax laws will help you avoid penalties and ensure your business runs smoothly.

By following these steps and leveraging available resources, noncitizens can successfully start and grow a business in the US.

More on How to Start a Business as an Immigrant 

Starting a business as an immigrant in the US involves navigating a unique set of challenges and opportunities. This FAQ section addresses some common questions to help guide you through the process.

Does the US have a startup visa?

The US does not have a specific "startup visa," but several visa options are available for immigrant entrepreneurs:

  • E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

  • L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa

  • EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

  • International Entrepreneur Rule

Each visa has different requirements and benefits, so it’s essential to choose the one that best fits your situation.

Where do immigrants get the money to start a business? 

Immigrants have several avenues to secure funding for their businesses, one of the most prominent being loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA offers various loan programs tailored to small businesses, including:

  • 7(a) Loan Program: Provides financial help for businesses with special requirements.

  • Microloan Program: Offers small, short-term loans for working capital or purchasing inventory, supplies, furniture, fixtures, machinery, and equipment.

  • CDC/504 Loan Program: Provides financing for major fixed assets such as real estate or equipment.

Additionally, immigrants can seek funding through personal savings, investments from family and friends, angel investors, venture capitalists, and traditional bank loans.

Do immigrants get tax breaks when they open a business? 

While there are no specific tax breaks exclusively for immigrant entrepreneurs, all small business owners in the US can take advantage of various tax benefits and deductions. These include:

  • Startup Costs: Deductions for expenses related to starting a business, such as market research and advertising.

  • Business Expenses: Deductions for ordinary and necessary business expenses, including office supplies, utilities, and travel.

  • Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit: Available for businesses developing new products or processes.

Additionally, some states and localities offer tax incentives to attract new businesses, which immigrant entrepreneurs can also benefit from.

Start a Business in the US as an Immigrant or Refugee 

Starting a business in the US as an immigrant or refugee is a journey filled with both challenges and opportunities. By understanding the legal and logistical steps involved, choosing the right business structure, securing the necessary funding, and leveraging available resources, you can successfully establish and grow your enterprise. Immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs bring unique perspectives and innovations, contributing significantly to the diversity and strength of the US economy.

Whether you are driven by the desire to turn a passion into a livelihood, create opportunities for others, or achieve financial independence, the path to business ownership is within your reach. With determination, resilience, and the right support, your entrepreneurial dreams can become a reality.

For additional assistance, consider reaching out to Equity Languages and Employment Services, which provides translation and interpretation services to help navigate the complexities of starting a business in the US.

Book a free consultation with Equity Languages and Employment Services today!

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