Can an International Student Start a Business in the USA?

One of the most commonly asked questions by students looking to study abroad is – can an international student start a business in the USA?

For both aspiring entrepreneurs and students, the urge to start a business in the United States can be both exciting and daunting. The already complicated task can be further heightened by visa concerns, access to capital, and knowing how to exit the business at the proper time.


Starting a business in the United States requires a lot of legal documentation, but, starting a business as an international student in the States is even way harder as the visa requirements are quite complex and complicated.

In reality, your educational qualifications can only ease up the process but basically has little or nothing to do with owning a business; and of course, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur today, seeing that the world needs creative business platforms, starting up a business in general though can be quite challenging as you’ll be faced with questions like:

  • What kind of business best suits me?
  • Which location is best for me to start my type of business?
  • Who do I partner with when starting my business
  • And lots more…

And in the United States, however, all these questions are not so different, it is in this feat that so many graduate students have tried and failed in their pursuit of establishing a business in the United States.

But, really though, can an international student start a business in the USA?

Yes, actually!!! An international student can start a business in the United States, though this requires a lot of legal documentation, but basically, here’s how it works…

Can an International Student Start a Business in the USA?

Starting from the most important criteria for staying in the United States, which is your visa, most international students enter the country with an F-1 visa. An F-1 visa lets you as a student in the US to own a business with no revenue or salary whatsoever being allocated to you. Sounds weird right?

Well, that’s just the rule of thumb here, and if you try to play any funny games around this, you are just a short way from tarnishing the validity of your visa; which may, in turn, warrant your deportation from the country.

Must Read: Can I Go to Canada if I Have Been Deported from the US.

Here are two (2) legal ways to go around limitations in a United States F-1 student visa:

#1: Make use of an Optional Practical Training (OPT)

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity granted to both undergraduate and graduate students in the United States after at least a year period of studies. This in turn gives international students the freedom to engage in job offers related to their field of study.

But note that this is only effective for 12 months, and as the name implies, the program is just for practice.

Still, there are guidelines for international students who have picked an OPT. These guidelines are quite dependent on when you will be completing your study program in relation to your OPT.

These include:

  1. Students occupied in an OPT prior to completing their studies are only permitted to work twenty (20) hours weekly while school is in session. Students in this category must reapply for the OPT status at each educational level and are generally authorized for 12 months.
  2. Students occupied in an OPT, on competing their studies in the United States may proceed to work full time. Students under this category refer to those who have graduated with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math, and they must reapply for the OPT status. But note that you be authorized for just 17 months.

This program however has its many drawbacks for student entrepreneurs.

First of all, as an international student, your OPT only lasts for a period of one (1) year, so you just have to consider, what if your business booms within that one-year period? Will you be forced to sell it off and leave the country?

Secondly, your business must strictly relate to your most recently acquired degree.

An OPT is quite similar to a CPT (Curricular Practice Training) in the sense that it clears students to work for their own business, provided that the business is actively engaged in a business-related student’s degree program. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) must be obtained by the student prior to applying for an OPT.

#2: Make Use of a Curricular Practice Training (CPT)

The Curricular Practice Training (CPT) allows international students (F1-visa students) to receive work authorization that in turn allows them to work for their own companies.

As an international student in the United States, your CPT must relate to your study major and the course of your study.

A CPT allows you to work as many or as few hours as you desire.

#3: Apply for a H-1B Visa

This is what most students go to as the OPT program for them is not sustainable.

An H-1B visa allows you (an international student) to work for three (3) years in the United States. This can also be extended to six years if you wish. Therein, after your 6th year, you will have to either extend your visa or transfer to a green card which grants you unlimited stay in the United States.

In order to apply for your H-1B visa status, you must have a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent degree in a field related to your position. International students are not allowed in any case to register for an H-1B visa in any way, without endorsements from another company, unless they are able to meet certain standards.

Choosing the Right Business to Start in the United States as an International Student

Once you have a visa to work legally in the United States as an international student, the next step actually involves deciding on what type of business you want to run.

It’s very important since each type of business comes with pros and cons. I’ll not talk down on any business plan but here are some areas to look after when deciding on what kind of business you can sustain in the US.

1. Liability of owners and managers.

2. Centralization and flexibility of management.

3. Ownership interests.

4. Cost of establishing and maintenance.

5. Tax consequences.


Working your way through the shackles of preparing a startup in the United States is quite difficult but it is not impossible. If you have got an interesting and innovative business plan that you want to pursue, review what legal implications there may be, seek legal advice from experienced lawyers, and execute your plans one after the other.

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