CALL US: +44 (0)20 8004 3492

How to Start a Consultancy in the US

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

How to start a consultancy business in the USA

For non-US nationals with a high degree of expertise in a particular field, you may be looking to leverage your knowledge to build a profitable consulting business in the United States. You may already have an existing consultancy business in your home country, or have previous experience of sharing your expertise with others for a living, or are looking for a new challenge by establishing your first consultancy business in the USA.

In the guide, we look at the factors to consider to start a consultancy business in the US.


Visa to start a consultancy business in USA

To start a consultancy business in the USA, there are typically two potential visa options available to you, depending on whether your plans are short or long-term: either the E-2 nonimmigrant visa, or the EB-5 immigrant visa.

We are specialists in US visa and immigration matters. If you have questions about the type of visa you’ll need to relocate to the US as a consultant, contact us for guidance on your circumstances.


US E-2 nonimmigrant visa

The E-2 visa nonimmigrant visa is a temporary visa that will allow a national of a treaty country to be admitted to the United States when investing a substantial amount of capital in a US business. To be eligible for an E-2 visa, or treaty investor visa, you must be coming to the US to solely develop and direct the operations of a business in which you have already invested or are in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital.

Importantly, there are no fixed capital thresholds for an E-2 visa, although your investment must be sufficient to ensure the successful operation and development of your consultancy business, measured in a proportional sense. This essentially means that there is no minimal investment amount, and that any investment made need only be enough to get the business up and running. Given the low start-up costs for a business providing consultancy services — especially a business that will be run on a sole proprietorship basis, where you and you alone will be providing a consultancy service — this means that when it comes to satisfying the ‘substantial capital’ requirement, an investment of less than $100,000 may suffice.

To apply from overseas, you must first register your business with the E-Visa Unit, where an application should be made electronically using Form DS-160 and by emailing a number of detailed documents in support of that application. Once the E-Visa Unit review is complete, you will be contacted to schedule an interview date. If you are currently in the United States, you can instead file Form I-129 to request a change of status.

If your application for an E-2 visa is approved, you will be permitted to oversee the running of your consultancy business in the US. As a temporary nonimmigrant visa, you will not be able to obtain a green card under this route, even if your business is a success, but it can be renewed on an indefinite basis, provided you continue to meet the relevant requirements. This type of temporary visa will also allow you to test the success of your proposed business venture, and US trading environment, without the upheaval and cost of a permanent move.


US EB-5 immigrant visa

Unlike the E-2 visa, the EB-5 visa will allow you to obtain lawful permanent residency in the USA, also known as a green card, provided you meet the requirements for a foreign immigrant investor. While the E-2 investment requirements for a consultancy business are likely to be relatively low, for an EB-5 visa you would need to invest at least $800,000 in your business, or even more if its chosen location is outside a targeted employment area.

Additionally, in contrast to the nonimmigrant E-2 visa, there is a job creation requirement for the EB-5 visa, where you must have the ability to create 10 permanent full-time jobs within your consultancy business for qualified US workers. In the context of most non-US nationals looking to set up and start a consultancy business in the USA, this is likely to extend way beyond their plans, or what is likely to be feasible based on funding levels.

Still, as an ambitious entrepreneur with the available capital to invest, you would need to file a petition using Form I-526, followed by Form DS-260 to seek admission to the US from overseas. Alternatively, you would need to file Form I-485 to adjust your immigration status to a conditional permanent resident, for example, from an E-2 visa. The EB-5 visa is therefore possibly an option to consider later down the line, as a transition from E-2 status.

If an application for an EB-5 visa is approved, you would be granted conditional permanent residence for an initial period of 2 years. Shortly prior to the second anniversary, you would then need to petition to have the conditions on permanent resident status removed. Once you were in possession of a green card, you would then be able to make a permanent life in the US, either working on your consultancy business or even thinking about retirement.


How do you set up and start a consultancy business in USA?

To set up and start a consultancy business in the USA, you will need to be an expert in your chosen field. For those that are currently running a consultancy business in their home country, or have previous experience of sharing their expertise with others for a living, this should not be a problem. However, it is still important to ensure that your knowledge-base applies equally in the US, where different rules and regulations may come into play.

In some cases, you may need to do a short conversion course, or take an additional course to build on your knowledge in the context of your chosen field, tailored to US rules and regulations in that field. You may also want to strengthen your credentials and instil trust in your potential US client-base by obtaining professional consulting certification.

However, provided your expertise applies equally overseas, and you have the skill and confidence to offer a consultancy service, you can start to think about all of the practicalities and legalities involved in setting up a business. These should include the type of legal structure under which your business will be operating, where to locate your business, as well as the necessary federal and state registration and licensing requirements.


US consultancy business structure

Starting a consultancy business in the USA will require some key financial and strategic decision-making, including what business structure will be best for you and your business. The type of business structure you choose will impact your personal liability for any losses, the type of tax you must pay on any profits and the amount of paperwork you must file.

In most cases, for those thinking about starting a consultancy business in the US, they will be contemplating setting up as a sole proprietorship, where they and they alone will be providing expertise in their chosen field. In other cases, they may be thinking about going into a limited partnership with another expert or experts in the same field, perhaps a spousal partnership where both husband and wife share similar qualifications and professional experience. However, it is also possible to set up as either a limited liability company (LLC) or a limited liability partnership (LLP), even if your venture is small scale.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of business structure. Operating as a sole proprietorship or under a traditional-style partnership are the simplest ways to own and run a small-scale business, whereas LLCs and LLPs are much more complex and highly regulated, with far greater administrative responsibilities. However, both an LLC and LLP will protect you from any personal liability if your US business faces bankruptcy or lawsuits.


US consultancy business location

Deciding on a location for your consultancy business in the US is equally as important as deciding on the business structure. The location of your business will determine the taxes, running costs, regulations and zoning laws that your consultancy business will be subject to in the US, where you will need to research the cost and regulatory variables across different states, cities and neighbourhoods before deciding where to start your US-based business.

In part, where you locate your consultancy business will depend on the location of your target market and, where applicable, the preferences of any business partner(s). However, before choosing a location, you must carefully undertake a cost-benefit analysis, as well as assess the nature and extent of any restrictions imposed by different government agencies in respect of running a business generally or practising in your field of expertise.

Costs can vary significantly by location in the US, where you will need to take into account the variations in costs when it comes to rental rates, property values, business insurance rates, utilities, standard salaries, minimum wage laws, as well as government licences and fees. Equally, if you rent, buy, build or plan to work out of physical premises, you must make sure your chosen location conforms to local zoning requirements. In the US, a neighbourhood can be zoned for either commercial or residential use, where zoning ordinances can restrict or ban specific kinds of businesses from operating in an area.


US consultancy business registration

Having decided on the legal structure and location for your consultancy business in the USA, and if you are proposing to do business under a name different than your own, you will first need to register with the federal government and possibly the state government.

Most businesses will not be required to register with the federal government in order to become a legal entity, other than obtaining a federal tax ID number, where you will be treated as a sole proprietorship if you fail to register as any other kind of business.

If your business is an LLC or any type of partnership, you will probably need to register with the state where you will be conducting your consultancy activities. This will usually be any state where your business will have a physical presence, or you will have regular meetings with clients and a significant portion of your revenue will come from there. You may be able to register online, although some states will require you to file hard-copy documents in person or via mail. Most states will also require you to register with the Secretary of State’s office, a Business Bureau or a Business Agency. If you are planning to become an LLC or LLP, you will need a registered agent in your state before filing. You should also check to see if there are any other legal requirements for small businesses.

Finally, to ensure that you are set up to pay the right tax, you will need to get federal and state tax ID numbers. These work like a personal social security number, but for your business, so that you can pay any federal or state taxes that fall due. You will also usually need these numbers to open a business bank account, together with any relevant documentation to show that you have started a US-based consultancy business.


US consultancy business licensing

Most start-ups in the US, including a consultancy business, will need a licence. This is essentially a stamp of approval from your county, city or state where, in most states, a consulting business must have a licence to legally operate. Governments handle licences at different levels from state to state. In some areas, you will apply through your city or county government while, in others, you may need to go through a state office.

Additionally, you may need a special permit or industry-specific certification, depending on your state and the types of clients that you will be working with. Your local chamber of commerce is a good resource for learning about what may be required in your chosen area.



Need assistance?

NNU Immigration are dedicated US immigration attorneys based in London. We provide expert advice on all aspects of US immigration and visa options, with specific expertise in working with consultants, entrepreneurs and business owners. If you require support or guidance on your visa options or a US visa application, contact us.


How to start a US consultancy business FAQs

How do I start a consultancy business?

To start a consultancy business, first and foremost, you will need to decide how you are going to run the business, ie; on your own or with other similar experts, perhaps each of you specialising in a certain niche area.


Is starting a consulting business profitable?

For non-US nationals with a high degree of expertise in a particular field, you may be able to leverage your knowledge to build a profitable consulting business in the USA, charging upwards of $300 per hour for sharing your knowledge.


How do I start a small consultancy?

To start a small consultancy, you could run your business as a sole proprietorship, where you and you alone are providing expertise in your chosen field. Alternatively, you could go into business with other experts within the same field.


How do consultancies work in USA?

Consultancy businesses based in the USA work in much the same way as in other countries, where you will usually be working for yourself, and can charge an hourly or project rate for providing your expertise in your chosen field.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. 


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.​

Recent articles

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.

Share on social

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.