You might be wondering - "Why should I register a business in the United States of America when I can just register my business in Trinidad & Tobago?"
And honestly, that's a great question!
Personally, there were many reasons why I decided to, and as a fellow entrepreneur, I'm sure you'll be able to relate to most of them.
In this article, I'll share exactly how I was able to file for my LLC without leaving the shores of Trinidad & Tobago, and how you can do it too.
As the process to properly set up and launch a company in the U.S. for a non-citizen can get quite complicated and costly if you aren't careful, I plan to do a series of blog posts that present each of the steps in a silo.
There are several critical steps you must take before you can legally operate a business in the U.S., and they include:
The great thing is, that you can save time by hiring a professional agency that's based in the U.S., who will complete all of these steps for you. Albeit, at a cost.
Some agencies can easily charge upwards of $1200 USD to get the job done, while others charge a few hundred dollars.
Thankfully, after months of research, I was able to find a credible agency to register my LLC for just $134.
In this post, you will learn about that agency and why I chose them a bit later down in the article. But for right now, I'd like to switch gears for a little bit to talk about all of the challenges which have triggered me to start a business in another country.
1. Issues Getting Paid Online Locally - Now, I have to be blunt about this because there's no point in sugarcoating it. Trinidad & Tobago is backward. There, I said it.
I mean, I love sweet T&T and I want nothing more than to see our beautiful island thrive, but the truth of the matter is that when it comes to entrepreneurship, e-commerce, and digitization, this country is about 30 years behind.
I launched my first online store in 2014, and at that time, there was no way to get paid online except through Paypal. Apart from that, only about 10% of the local population has access to credit cards or some ridiculous figure like that.
So what this means is that unless you are among the lucky 10% to have a credit card (or those new, silly Visa Debit cards) from a local bank, you cannot access your funds through Paypal.
Thankfully, I am among the lucky bunch.
So it's safe to say that I've been receiving payments online through Paypal for about 6 or 7 years now without any real hiccups. However, recently, I noticed that every time Paypal tried to send my funds to my local credit card, the bank in Trinidad & Tobago would reject the payment.
I casually posted about this issue on my social media profiles the other day and was so surprised to discover that other entrepreneurs were experiencing the same issue. A minor few expressed that they were still successfully able to transfer their Paypal balances to their local bank accounts, but the majority stated that their transfers were also being rejected.
So here's the thing, when you have a system that works for some and doesn't work for others, or that works today, and then doesn't work tomorrow, and whenever you call the bank, the lovely CSRs never seem to know what's going on, THAT IS A PROBLEM.
2. Local Alternatives Are Still Not Good Enough - Sure, I could use WiPay or install First Atlantic Commerce's Shopify plugin on my website to receive payments online, and then link it to my local bank account, but I just don't like those platforms, and the roundabout sign-up process they put you through. Sorry, not sorry!
One is too expensive (which is not small business-friendly) and the other has poor customer service (you can read the reviews on their Facebook page). So yeah, what's a girl to do?
3. My Business Serves A Global Clientele - In addition to the points I've mentioned above, the biggest trigger for me to register an LLC in the U.S. was a simple fact that my business serves a global audience.
Let's face it, the world is much bigger than Trinidad & Tobago. There is a bounty of opportunities and possibilities that are only available outside of this country.
Our economy and entrepreneurs cannot successfully survive by serving local consumers alone. We must take our business ideas, products, and services global.
Since 2020, my foreign clientele has increased from just 1% to over 98% - with only 2% of my clients now residing in Trinidad & Tobago. The majority of my clients are based in other Caribbean countries and North American territories like The United States and Canada.
Getting paid online easily and affordably has become a critical priority. And since getting my Paypal payments locally is no longer a reliable option, I've had to receive payments from clients through other means that can sometimes feel embarrassing and unprofessional.
For example, I've had to ask my clients from St. Vincent and The Grenadines if they were okay sending me money via MoneyGram. Then, I had to have one of my clients from The U.S. send money to my mom who lives in the States, and then she would send it to me.
Having to ask clients to do these things does not make me (or them) feel happy. It's inconvenient, time-consuming, and a lot more costly.
By registering my business as a U.S. LLC, I would be able to open a U.S. bank account, link it to Paypal or any other payment platform that I want, receive payments from Etsy, Shopify, Amazon, YouTube, Teachable - you name it! Plus, I'll be able to get paid online from my clients around the world more quickly and easily.
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As I've mentioned before, I've been thinking about registering my business in the U.S for about a year now. I've assessed many agencies and initially, I was going to use LegalZoom. But something just didn't feel right, so I decided to do more research and trust my intuition.
I read reviews and lengthy blog posts that explained how LegalZoom tries to upsell its customers with packages and features that they simply don't need right now, or how they would try to get you to pay for things that you could do for yourself for free, like applying for a Tax ID Number.
So after much consideration, I confidently decided to use Northwest Registered Agents to register my LLC.
Immediately, I noticed that the questions that they were asking me in their online questionnaire/registration process were a lot more thorough and meaningful than the ones LegalZoom had asked me. That was a good sign to me.
They also didn't try to upsell me with too many unnecessary services, which I appreciated.
So anyway, let me explain the process of starting your LLC with this agency.
You should first have a name picked out and a few other alternatives just in case your first choice isn't available. Then, once you get on the Northwest Registered Agent website (use this link), select the state you'll like to form your LLC in.
I chose Georgia because that's where my family lives, and that's most likely where I'll live if I ever move to the U.S. But, you can choose any state you want. It is worth mentioning though that different states have different registration fees, and annual costs that you must pay every year in addition to your taxes, so please do your own research before deciding on which state is right for you.
Once you've selected a state, click on "Get Started" and answer the questions on the screen. Northwest Registered Agents will conduct a name search, file the relevant forms, and appoint themselves as your company's Registered Agent (more on why this is important in my next blog post).
After you pay the fees, you'll have to wait a few weeks for them to complete the paperwork and form your LLC in your chosen state, and literally, that's it. Once your registration is approved, it's time to move on to the next step, and that's creating an Operating Agreement for your company, and applying for a Federal Tax ID Number.
I'll cover those in another blog post.
ps - lil disclaimer: I, Jhalisa John, am not a lawyer, agency, or expert in the field of registering an LLC in the United States. The information I share in this blog post is based on my own personal experience and opinions. Please do your due diligence and conduct your own research. Starting an LLC in the U.S. may not be suitable for everyone. Please seek your own legal advice, and do what is best for you. Thanks for reading. Come back soon!
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