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Business in Europe and the USA with a second citizenship

Due to strict checks and legal requirements, it can be challenging for a non-resident to open a business in the European Union or the United States. Besides, one probably needs a visa to visit these countries for business meetings. But getting a visa takes time, and it can be denied.

Learn more about how a second passport or a residence permit helps to do business in Europe and the USA.

Doing business in the EU

Registering a company in a European country helps to enter new markets, protect assets, and avoid double taxation and currency control. In addition, the jurisdiction’s positive reputation can make potential partners trust you and your business more.

Non-EU citizens can register companies in EU countries, but it may be more difficult for them than for locals. For example, some countries set residency requirements for directors, or the company must have a local representative.

EU residency or citizenship simplifies business in the region: registering companies on the terms for locals, opening bank accounts faster, and easily coming to Europe for business meetings.

Investors with residence permits in Portugal, Spain or Austria, as well as permanent residents of Malta and Cyprus, can register companies in these countries.

Depending on the state and residence permit type, some restrictions might apply. For example, holders of Cyprus permanent residence by investment aren’t entitled to work in the country.  But an investor can hold a director position without a salary in their own company in Cyprus.

In some cases, investing in your own business is the ground for obtaining a residence permit. For example, you can get a Portugal residence permit if you invest €500,000+ in a business and create at least 5 jobs or open a company and create 10 jobs. The country also offers entrepreneurs other options for relocation: the Startup Visa and the D2 visa.

Citizens of Malta and other EU countries can register companies in any member state, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

Forms of business organisation and conditions for registering companies depend on the state. But if an investor plans to do business in several EU countries, creating a Societas Europea may be a good idea.

Societas Europea (SE) is a type of limited liability company (LLC). The creation of such a company allows you to conduct business in several EU countries under the general rules, transfer the head office to another jurisdiction without dissolving the company, and simplify recruitment.

The basic requirements for an SE: 

  • registered and head office are in the same EU country;
  • presence in at least two EU countries, for example, having offices there;
  • the subscribed capital of at least €120,000;
  • the company owner and employees’ representatives decide how the staff participates in the company’s bodies, consulted and informed about its operation.

States may set their own requirements, such as the address of the head office and the registered office being the same.

There are many ways to create an SE. For example, by merging two companies from different EU countries. It is also possible to transform an existing LLC with a subsidiary in another European country into an SE if the subsidiary has been operating for at least two years.

An EU business can optimise taxes by registering a company in a free economic zone or choosing a jurisdiction with favourable taxation conditions for all companies.

For example, you can register a company in Madeira or the Azores: the islands levy a corporate tax of 14.7% instead of 21%, as in the Portuguese mainland. And if the company has received a licence from the International Business Centre of Madeira, the tax is reduced to 5%.

Some countries have tax deductions. For example, shareholders of Maltese businesses can recover up to 100% of the tax paid by the company.

How to get a visa for doing business in the USA

The advantages of registering a company in the United States include entering the international market, avoiding currency controls, and receiving loans for business at low-interest rates. Investors and business partners tend to trust American companies.

Foreigners can register companies in the USA. In some cases, business owners get visas to move to the country.

Grenada and Turkey citizenship allows you to obtain an E-2 business visa to the United States. This non-immigrant visa makes it possible to live in the country but doesn’t lead to a Green Card and US citizenship.

The visa is only available to citizens of countries with trade and navigation treaties with the United States. Besides, the applicant must meet the following conditions:

  • invest a significant amount in a US company;
  • own at least a 50% share in the enterprise or confirm that the investor controls the company, for example, through a management position.

There is no investment threshold. However, visa applicants usually invest at least $100,000 in a business. They can start a new company or buy a share in an existing one.

The spouse and unmarried children under 21 can get E-2 visas with the investor.

A visa can be obtained under an accelerated procedure; the application processing will take up to 15 days. The fee is $2,500.

It takes several months to get a Grenada or Turkish passport by investment. In the first case, you need to invest at least $150,000 and at least $400,000 in the latter.

Caribbean, Vanuatu and Malta citizens qualify for the B-1/B-2 visa to the United States. It is a visa for short-term visits: you cannot live and work in the country with it but can attend business meetings and participate in professional conferences. The maximum stay in the US is 180 days per year.

Vanuatu citizens get a 5-year visa. Holders of Caribbean or Maltese passports obtain 10-year visas.

Maltese citizens can visit the USA without visas. They get electronic entry permits, ESTAs. It is valid for up to two years and allows them to spend up to 90 days per trip in the USA.

An ESTA may be denied for a number of reasons, for example, if the applicant has been arrested in the past. In this case, they can apply for a B-1/B-2 visa.

Highlights about doing business in Europe and the USA with a second passport

  1. Registering a company in Europe or the USA allows the business to enter the international market, avoid currency control, increase the level of trust on the part of partners and investors, and, in some cases, optimise taxes.
  2. Residence permits obtained by investment in some countries, for example, Portugal, Greece, Malta, and Cyprus, allow the holders to do business in their countries of residence.
  3. Citizenship of Malta or another EU country allows registering companies in any member state.
  4. An investor with a Grenada or Turkish passport can get an E-2 visa to relocate and run a business in the USA. The visa application processing takes only 15 days under an accelerated procedure. The applicant invests a significant amount in a US business: as a rule, at least $ 100,000.
  5. Caribbean, Vanuatu and Malta citizenship allows one to obtain a B-1/B-2 visa to the United States for 5 or 10 years. The holder can visit the United States and spend up to 180 days a year there. Maltese citizens can do without a visa: an electronic entry permit is sufficient for trips up to 90 days.

Frequently asked questions

Can I do business in Europe?

Yes, you can. For example, you can start a Societas Europea (SE), a type of limited liability company. It will allow you to do business in several EU countries, transfer the head office to another jurisdiction without dissolving the company, and simplify recruitment.

However, registering a company might be easier with EU residency or citizenship. Terms for setting up a business may vary, depending on the state.

What is the advantage of doing business in Europe?

There are at least five advantages of having an operating business in Europe:

  1. It is an opportunity to enter new markets within the EU, EEA and other European states.
  2. Your business assets will be well-protected.
  3. European businesses can avoid double taxation and currency controls.
  4. Potential partners and investors trust companies registered in the EU or EEA more than the ones from third countries.
Which EU country is the easiest to start a business in?

According to Doing Business 2020, Denmark, Georgia, the UK, Norway, and Sweden are the easiest European countries to run a business. The top 50 includes Austria, Portugal and Spain, where investors and financially independent foreigners can obtain residence permits.

Can I start a business in the USA as a foreigner?

Yes, you can. Registering a company in the United States is available to both residents and foreigners. In some cases, opening or buying a company and investing in it will qualify you for the E-2 business visa.

Can I sell in the USA as a foreigner?

Yes, you can. Anyone can sell products on the US market as an individual seller or a foreign-owned company.

Can a foreigner open LLC in the USA?

Yes, foreigners can register LLC companies in the USA. Such companies can be managed from abroad, but the owner will need a work or a business visa to enter the States. For example, the E-2 visa is suitable for doing business, visiting and relocating to the United States.

How much should I invest in a US business to get an E-2 visa?

There is no requirement for a minimum investment in an E-2 visa, but it must be significant. Applicants usually invest at least $100,000 in a US business.

In addition, the visa applicant must control the company: hold a management position or own a 50% share.

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Schedule a meeting at one of the offices or online. A lawyer will analyze the situation, calculate the cost and help you find a solution based on your goals.

Zlata Erlach, Caribbean Investment Program Expert
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