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 South Carolina, you may need to complete a foreign qualification in South Carolina 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 South Carolina?
Foreign qualifying is essentially asking permission to do business in the state of South Carolina. 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 South Carolina yields consequences that are far costlier than registering in the first place.
If you fail to foreign qualify, your business could be cut off from its business activities in South Carolina by the Attorney General. Plus, your LLC will no longer be able to maintain a lawsuit in any South Carolina courts. It’s not worth the risk and better to foreign qualify as soon as you begin doing business in the state.
You can read more about possible penalties in the South Carolina LLC Act, Sections 33-44-1008 and 33-44-1009.
What is considered “doing business” in South Carolina?
We’ve established why you shouldn’t do business without a foreign qualification. But what exactly does it mean to “do business” in South Carolina? Peruse the state’s LLC Act and you’ll find little specificity on the topic. However, tax laws tell us that you are most often considered to be “doing business” and required to foreign qualify if:
- Your LLC maintains a physical presence in the state, meaning offices, stores, warehouses or other structures
- Employees or other representatives are actively conducting business on behalf of your LLC in the state
Another consideration is LLC taxes. Depending on how you’ve set up your LLC, you may be subject to certain business-related taxes in South Carolina, and foreign qualification notifies the state of your tax status. Without this registration, you could end up with much larger penalties down the road. 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 South Carolina, we suggest seeking legal counsel.
Could I be exempt from foreign qualifying in South Carolina?
The foreign qualification, however, isn’t a hard and fast rule for all LLCs performing any kind of action in South Carolina. Certain actions do not qualify as “doing business” and therefore don’t require a foreign qualification. Some examples are:
- Settling, defending, or maintaining an action or processing in a South Carolina court
- Carrying on activities, like LLC member and/or manager meetings, that are related to the LLC’s internal affairs
- Maintaining accounts at in-state financial institutions
- Having offices for the management and transfer of the LLC’s own securities
- Selling through independent contractors
- Soliciting and completing orders outside the state before they become active contracts
- Creating or acquiring indebtedness, mortgages, or security interests in real or personal property
- Securing and collecting debts
- Transacting business in interstate commerce
- Owning an interest in an LLC currently organized in the state
Find a complete list of these exemptions in the South Carolina LLC Act, Section 33-44-1003. After reviewing your LLC’s business activities in the state, if you find them all here, you’re probably off the hook for foreign qualification. Still, it’s wise to seek legal advice if you have questions.
How to Foreign Qualify Your LLC in South Carolina
Foreign qualification in South Carolina 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 South Carolina, you’ll need to apply for a Certificate of Authority either through the online filing system or by mailing the appropriate form.
For both filing methods, you’ll need to include two things with your application:
- A Certificate of Good Standing, not more than 30 days old, from the state where you formed your LLC.
- A payment of $110. Online you can pay by credit card, and by mail, you can include a check made payable to the “Secretary of State.”
If your goal is expediency, online filing is your friend. Access the Business Entities Online portal to start the process. Select “Start a New Business Filing” and search your desired or reserved name, then click “Add New Entity.” Follow the on-screen instructions and you’ll be finished before you know it.
Even though it’s not as fast, filing by mail is a reliable option too. The form you need is the “Application for a Certificate of Authority by a Foreign LLC to Transact Business in South Carolina.” When finished, mail your form, Certificate of Existence, and payment to:
Secretary of State
1205 Pendleton Street, Suite 525
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
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 on its way to foreign qualification and you’re embarking on another chapter in the life of your business.
Name Requirements to Remember
Remember that, like other states, South Carolina has its own specific rules for business entity names. Before submitting your application, it’s a good idea to confirm that your LLC name follows them. It must:
- Use one of the following terms: “limited liability company” or “limited company” or the abbreviations “L.L.C.,” “LLC,” “L.C.,” or “LC.”
- Be completely distinguishable from all other registered and reserved names on file with the Secretary of State. Perform a South Carolina LLC name search to make sure the name you want is available.
You can also reserve your South Carolina business name if you’re not quite ready to foreign qualify your LLC.
Should I hire a service to file my South Carolina 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 South Carolina 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 South Carolina 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 South Carolina foreign LLC professionally registered, go with an online business service provider. There are plenty of reputable companies that can help you out with South Carolina 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 South Carolina to Process a Foreign Qualification?
You’ll typically need to wait roughly 24 hours for the state to process an online submission. If you choose to mail your forms, South Carolina usually takes around 2-3 business days after it receives the documents.
Where Can I Learn More About the South Carolina LLC Licensing and Permitting Requirements?
Chances are, you’ll require at least one license or permit to operate your LLC in compliance with South Carolina state law. For more information about business licenses and more in this state, check out the state’s convenient Licenses, Permits, and Registration webpage.
Do I Need to File an Annual Report for My Foreign LLC in South Carolina?
No. Whether you operate a domestic or foreign LLC in this state, you are not required to file a South Carolina LLC Annual Report.
What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in South Carolina?
The overall costs of operating a South Carolina 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 South Carolina registered agent.
The service then registers your Application for a Certificate of Authority with the state to qualify your LLC to do business in South Carolina.
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 South Carolina 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.