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 Wisconsin, you may need to complete a foreign qualification in Wisconsin before you can expand there.
What happens if I fail to foreign qualify before doing business in Wisconsin?
Foreign qualifying is essentially asking permission to do business in the state of Wisconsin. 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 Wisconsin yields consequences that are far costlier than registering in the first place. If you fail to foreign qualify, your business:
- Will be prohibited from maintaining any action in Wisconsin courts until it obtains a Certificate of Registration
- Can have any of its ongoing legal actions stayed by the court
- Will owe the state all of the fees and LLC taxes it would have incurred during its time doing business in Wisconsin had it been properly registered
- Will owe the state an additional fee of up to $5,000
- Can be stopped from doing business by the Attorney General
Imagine that for a moment: your LLC has been caught transacting unauthorized business. You lose your legal power and revenue stream in the state. On top of that, you have, most likely, thousands of dollars in additional fees. It’s not a pretty picture. So, it’s best to avoid this scenario altogether by foreign qualifying as soon as you begin doing business in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin LLC Act has more information on these penalties in Section 183.1003.
What is considered “doing business” in Wisconsin?
We’ve established why you shouldn’t do business without a foreign qualification. But what exactly does it mean to “do business” in Wisconsin? There can be some confusion surrounding this phrase because it’s not specifically defined by the LLC Act. But tax laws indicate that you are considered to be “doing business” in most states and required to foreign qualify if:
- Your LLC has a physical, continuous presence in the state, such as stores, offices, warehouses, distribution centers, etc.
- You have salespersons or representatives in the state who are working on behalf of your business.
And taxes have a role to play too. Depending on how you’ve set up your LLC, it may be subject to certain Wisconsin business-related taxes. When you foreign qualify, you’re letting the state know that you’ll be paying these, and if you don’t, you could run into some heftier fines 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 Wisconsin, we suggest seeking legal counsel.
Could I be exempt from foreign qualifying in Wisconsin?
The foreign qualification, however, isn’t a hard and fast rule for all LLCs performing any kind of action in Wisconsin. Certain actions do not qualify as “doing business” and therefore don’t require a foreign qualification. Some examples are:
- Maintaining or settling any civil, criminal, administrative or investigatory proceeding in Wisconsin court
- Holding LLC member and/or manager meetings, or other activities that deal solely with internal affairs
- Keeping bank accounts
- Maintaining offices for managing the LLC’s own securities
- Selling products or services through independent contractors
- Facilitating orders that require completion outside the state before becoming contracts
- Lending money or acquiring indebtedness
- Collecting certain debts
- Owning property in Wisconsin
- Conducting an isolated transaction, completed within 30 days, that isn’t in a series of similar activities
- Transacting business in interstate commerce
If you see your only Wisconsin business activities here, you’re most likely off the hook for foreign qualification. For more in-depth descriptions of these exemptions, see the LLC Act, Section 183.1002.
How to Foreign Qualify Your LLC in Wisconsin
Foreign qualification in Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin, you need to acquire a Certificate of Registration. To apply for one, head over to the Limited Liability Company forms page.
Scroll down until you find Form 521: Foreign LLC Certificate of Registration Application. The link will take you to an online form. Simply follow the on-screen prompts and you’ll be done before you know it. It helps streamline the process if you have all of your information ready when you begin. For reference, here’s what you’ll need:
- Your LLC name (and fictitious name if your original name wasn’t available)
- The state where you formed your LLC
- Your Wisconsin registered agent’s name and address
- Address of your principal office
- Your email address and other contact information
And, like many other states, Wisconsin charges an application fee for foreign qualifications. You can pay this $100 fee with a card (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express), or eCheck.
Most states require foreign LLCs to also submit a Certificate of Good Standing from their home states, but Wisconsin does not, so don’t worry about obtaining one.
The typical processing time for the Department of Financial Institutions is five business days. But sometimes time is of the essence with foreign qualification, so if you need it done sooner, you can pay an additional $25 for expedited (next-day) processing.
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
Like other states, Wisconsin has certain requirements for business entity names. You’ve done a lot of work to get your LLC foreign qualified, so don’t let it get tripped up because your name doesn’t comply! Make sure that your name:
- Uses the terms “limited liability company” or “limited liability co.” or ends with the abbreviations “L.L.C.” or “LLC.”
- Does not contain language that implies it’s formed for an unlawful purpose.
- Is distinguishable from all other business entity names on record with the Department of Financial Institutions. Perform a Wisconsin LLC name search to make sure the name you want is available.
Should I hire a service to file my Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin foreign LLC professionally registered, go with an online business service provider. There are plenty of reputable companies that can help you out with Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin to Process a Foreign Qualification?
You’ll typically need to wait roughly five business days for the state to process your application. However, if you’re in a hurry, you can upgrade to next-day processing for just $25 more.
Where Can I Learn More About the Wisconsin LLC Licensing and Permitting Requirements?
Chances are, you’ll require at least one license or permit to operate your LLC in compliance with Wisconsin state law. For more information about business licenses and more in this state, check out Wisconsin’s helpful “A-Z License List.”
Do I Need to File an Annual Report for My Foreign LLC in Wisconsin?
Yes. Whether you operate a domestic or foreign LLC in this state, you are required to file a Wisconsin LLC Annual Report.
What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in Wisconsin?
The overall costs of operating a Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin registered agent.
The service then files your Certificate of Registration with the state to qualify your LLC to do business in Wisconsin.
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 Wisconsin 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.
Foreign Qualification in All 50 States
We break down the Foreign Qualification filing process in detail in all 50 states. View all of our Foreign Qualification guides below.