Iowa Foreign Qualification

Your business is growing, and you’re planning an expansion to other states. It’s a good problem to have!

But it’s not quite as simple as choosing another location. Because each state has different rules and requirements for business operations, you may need a “foreign qualification” in each state where you plan to do business.

It’s a common misconception that foreign qualification is only for businesses operating outside the U.S. But in this case, “foreign” refers to any business operating in a state that isn’t the state where the LLC was originally formed.

For example, if your LLC is registered in Washington and you are looking to open a second location in Iowa, you may need to complete a foreign qualification in Iowa before you can expand there.

Important Note: If you’d like to save time and have the foreign qualification paperwork taken care of for you, many of the best LLC services can handle this task for you.

What happens if I fail to foreign qualify before doing business in Iowa?

Foreign qualifying is essentially asking permission to do business in the state of Iowa. And the notion that “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” doesn’t apply here. Failing to foreign qualify before starting a business in Iowa yields consequences that are far costlier than registering in the first place. If you fail to foreign qualify, your business:

  • Cannot maintain, defend, settle, etc. any action or proceeding in Iowa courts
  • Can be cut off from transacting business in Iowa by the attorney general
  • Will be charged with a civil penalty of up to $1,000
  • May have any proceeding it commenced stayed by a district court

These penalties really compound one another. Not only is there a $1,000 fine on the table, but additionally, the attorney general can completely stop your LLC’s revenue stream in Iowa, and without the ability to bring an action to court, you’d have little to no legal leverage. Quite simply, it’s not worth the risk, especially considering that it only costs $100 to apply for a Certificate of Authority.

Feel like looking into the Iowa law itself? You can find more on these penalties in Section 489.808.

What is considered “doing business” in Iowa?

We’ve established why you shouldn’t do business without a foreign qualification. But what exactly does it mean to “do business” in Iowa? Unfortunately, Iowa law doesn’t provide many specifics. However, we know from other state and LLC tax laws that you are generally considered to be “doing business” and required to foreign qualify if:

  • You have a physical presence in the state. Offices, warehouses, stores, and mailboxes located in Iowa all count as physical presences.
  • Your LLC has salespersons, representatives, or agents operating on its behalf in the state.

Depending on how you’ve set up your LLC, you may need to pay business taxes in Iowa. If you don’t foreign qualify, the state won’t be aware of your tax status there, and you may end up with larger tax-related fines later on. It’s important to always stay on top of your LLC’s taxation requirements to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

If you’re unsure whether or not you need to file for a foreign qualification in Iowa, we suggest seeking legal counsel.

Could I be exempt from foreign qualifying in Iowa?

The foreign qualification, however, isn’t a hard and fast rule for all LLCs performing any kind of action in Iowa. Certain actions do not qualify as “doing business” and therefore don’t require a foreign qualification. Some examples are:

  • Maintaining, defending, or settling a lawsuit in an Iowa court.
  • Dealing with internal business affairs, such as holding LLC member and/or manager meetings.
  • Having bank accounts in the state.
  • Maintaining offices for the exchange of the LLC’s own securities
  • Selling products or services through independent contractors.
  • Creating or acquiring indebtedness, or collecting debts.
  • Transacting business in interstate commerce.
  • One transaction, apart from the LLC’s typical activities, taking place within 30 days.

If your only business activities in Iowa appear on this list, lucky you! You’re likely exempt from foreign qualifying in the state. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to check out what the Iowa LLC Act has to say about it in Section 489.803.

How to Foreign Qualify Your LLC in Iowa

Foreign qualification in Iowa is simple if you know where to find and send your forms. If you or your legal counsel has decided to foreign qualify your LLC in Iowa, head right over to the Secretary of State Forms and Fees page. Once there, find your way to the Foreign LLC section and click “Application for Certificate of Authority.” This is your ticket to doing business in Iowa.

Gather all your LLC information beforehand and you’ll cruise through this form. You’ll need the following info:

  • LLC name (or an alternate fictitious name if yours is unavailable in Iowa)
  • State where you formed your domestic LLC
  • Your LLC’s duration and date it was formed
  • Name and address of your Iowa registered agent
  • Address of your LLC’s principal office
  • The name and address of one manager or member

Okay, your form is complete, but don’t send it just yet. Also required is a Certificate of Good Standing from the state where you formed your LLC, dated not more than 90 days before you submit your application.

As you probably expected, applying for foreign qualification isn’t free, although Iowa’s $100 fee isn’t bad comparatively. You can pay via check, made out to the “Secretary of State.”

Got everything? Great. Package it up and submit your filing online, or you can mail it to:

Secretary of State

Business Services Division

Lucas Building, 1st Floor

Des Moines, IA 50319

After your form is in and your fee is paid, sit back, take a deep breath, and pat yourself on the back. Your LLC is foreign qualified and you’re embarking on another chapter in the life of your business.

Name Requirements to Remember

Expanding to a new state is exciting stuff, and can also feel overwhelming at times. But don’t forget the details, like Iowa’s business name requirements. To do business there, your LLC name must:

  • Contain one of the following terms: “limited liability company,” “limited company,” “L.L.C.,” “LLC,” “L.C.,” or “LC.”
  • Be available and distinguishable from every other entity name registered with the Iowa Secretary of State. Perform an Iowa LLC name search to make sure the name you want is available.

You can also reserve your Iowa business name if you’re not quite ready to foreign qualify your LLC. Take a look at the Iowa LLC Act 489.108 for more details.

Should I hire a service to file my Iowa foreign LLC?

Considering all the work that goes into expanding your business to a new state, you’ve likely got a lot on your plate. Rather than trying to juggle everything yourself, you can bring on an individual or company to help you secure your LLC’s Iowa foreign qualification.

For example, business attorneys understand all the legal nuances involved, providing peace of mind that the job will get done correctly. But if you go this route, be sure you have the budget for it. Lawyer fees for Iowa foreign LLC qualifications can be a prohibitively expensive option for businesses operating on tight budgets.

If you’re operating on a limited budget, but still want to have your Iowa foreign LLC professionally registered, go with an online business service provider. There are plenty of reputable companies that can help you out with Iowa foreign qualifications, but here are a couple of our favorites:

  • MyCompanyWorks ($99): MyCompanyWorks is one of the only service providers offering foreign qualifications for less than $100. This company receives excellent customer reviews and has a great track record of success, making it a smart choice for a wide range of entrepreneurs.
  • IncFile ($149): IncFile offers a free LLC formation service that we have always appreciated, and its pricing for foreign qualifications is a reasonable $149. IncFile has the best customer feedback reputation in the industry, with tens of thousands of positive reviews available online.
  • Northwest Registered Agent ($225): Northwest is more of a premium service, with the best customer support in the industry, in our opinion. They also include a year of their namesake registered agent service with every foreign qualification. There’s a reason Northwest is our #1 pick among the best registered agent services!

Frequently Asked Questions

When Is the Best Time to Foreign Qualify an LLC?

We think you should foreign qualify your LLC before you begin conducting business in a new state. If you don’t, your business could be subject to a broad range of fines and penalties for operating an LLC in a state where you don’t have permission to do so.

How Long Does It Take Iowa to Process a Foreign Qualification?

You’ll typically need to wait a few weeks for Iowa to process a non-expedited LLC foreign qualification submitted via mail, while online filings are typically filed the same day. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to file online, you can expedite your order: an extra $15 for a five-business-day turnaround, or an additional $50 for two-business-day processing.

Where Can I Learn More About the Iowa LLC Licensing and Permitting Requirements?

Chances are, you’ll require at least one license or permit to operate your LLC in compliance with Iowa state law. For more information about business licenses and more in this state, check out the state’s convenient Licenses and Permits webpage.

Do I Need to File a Biennial Report for My Foreign LLC in Iowa?

Yes. Whether you operate a domestic or foreign LLC in this state, you are required to file an Iowa LLC Biennial Report.

What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in Iowa?

The overall costs of operating an Iowa LLC can vary considerably based on the specifics of your business. However, we created a helpful guide to help you identify and plan for every expense your LLC will face in this state.

Should I Use an LLC Service, Hire an Attorney, or Foreign Qualify My Own LLC?

The answer to this question lies in your personal preferences, but we can give some general pointers. An attorney will cost the most by a mile, but also provides expertise you won’t find with the other options. The DIY route is free of charge but can require quite a bit of legwork and provides no peace of mind that the process is being completed correctly.

Using an LLC service means your business will be foreign qualified by professionals who know what they’re doing, while also costing significantly less than a lawyer. This “best of both worlds” attribute is what makes LLC services our preferred option.

How Do Online LLC Services Work?

Using an online LLC service removes much of the hassle from the foreign qualification process. With these services, all you need to do is provide them with the name, location, and industry your business operates in, along with some info about yourself and your Iowa registered agent.

The service then registers your Application for Certificate of Authority with the state to qualify your LLC to do business in Iowa.

Are LLC Service Websites Legit?

Absolutely. There are quite a few reputable companies offering LLC formation service and foreign qualifications these days, including the two options we discussed earlier: MyCompanyWorks and IncFile.

In fact, while we certainly have our opinions about which ones offer the best pricing and features, every one of the incorporation services we discuss on this website is entirely legitimate and trustworthy.

Need to save time?

Let’s face it, there’s never enough time in the day, especially when you’re running a company. And properly registering your LLC in Iowa involves research and time, time that you could be using to continue growing your business.

If the thought of paperwork, fees and state correspondence makes your head spin, consider using a service like Northwest Registered Agent to foreign qualify your business. Services like Northwest ensure that your forms are filed correctly and on time, potentially saving you thousands of dollars in penalties, not to mention a bunch of time and stress.

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