Business Support: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
To jump down to frequently asked questions on one of the following topics, click the links below:
- Frequently Asked Questions
- General Questions
- Doing Business Abroad
- Facilitating U.S. Business and Investment Overseas
- Trade Restrictions
- Assisting Foreign Companies Doing Business in the U.S.
A. The Office of Consular Affairs handles all passport inquiries. You can also reach them by phone: 1-877-4USA-PPT or TDD/TTY 1-888-874-7793.
Q. How do I authenticate a personal/business document?
Q. How do I start a business?
A. Contact the Small Business Administration or phone your local SBA. The Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency has a nationwide network of business enterprise centers that provide management and technical assistance for U.S. minority-owned businesses, including assistance in creating business and marketing plans as well as identifying appropriate financing.
Q. Can you tell me if Company XYZ is legitimate?
A. If the company is located in the United States, contact the office of the Secretary of State (within the state-level government) in whichever state the company is headquartered. The Office of Authentication updates the list of Secretaries by State of the United States. If the company is located outside the United States, contact the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, part of the Department of Commerce, to get information on their International Company Profile service.
Q. How do I incorporate my business?
A. This is determined by the state in which you reside or plan to incorporate your business. Contact the office of the Secretary of State (this is a state government-level official, not affiliated with the U.S. Department of State). The Office of Authentication updates the list of Secretaries by State of the United States.
Q. How do I do business with the State Department?
A. Contact the Office of the Procurement Executive or by phone: 703-516-1684.
Q. How do I get visas for business associates who plan to travel to another country?
A. Foreign Entry requirements for Americans traveling to another country may be accessed through the website or you may contact the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit. All visa inquiries must be handled through the embassy or consulates of the country you plan to visit.
Q. How can I help my customer/client who is having problems getting a visa to the U.S.?
A. Comprehensive information on visa process and policy is available on the web at www.state.gov, www.travel.state.gov, or https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html. You should also check the website of the consulate in which the applicant is applying -- there is a link to U.S. Embassies and Consulates from each of the above sites. The best advice is for people to apply early.
Q. How can a U.S. business request commercial assistance-for-fee from a U.S. Embassy or the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service?
A. Gold Key Services, International Partner Searches, International Company Profiles and Customized Market Research reports are provided at all US&FCS offices as well as many U.S. embassies. Visit the Platinum Key Service program for more information.
Q. Where can I find current country commercial guides for doing business abroad?
A. Country Commercial Guides (CCGs) are prepared annually to provide a comprehensive look at commercial environments, using economic, political, and market analysis.
Q. How can I verify whether I can do business with companies in certain countries?
A. Information about sanctioned countries, entities, and individuals can be found through the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Q. Where can I find other information and help with exporting?
A. The Department of Commerce website, www.export.gov, has all the information you need to start exporting. Visit the website or contact them by phone at 1-800-USA-TRADE.
Q. How do I apply for an export license?
A. The first point of inquiry in export licensing is the government office responsible for coordinating the process. Consult the following web pages for detailed information on areas of competence:
- The State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls for military-related items
- The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security for export control items
- The Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control for most terrorist states and other special programs.
Q. Is my export income exempt from federal income taxes?
A. A portion of the export income that is channeled through corporations that qualify as FSCs (Foreign Sales Corporations) under rules of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 921-927) can be exempt from federal income taxes. For more information, contact:
The Office of the Associate Chief Counsel (International), Internal Revenue Service
Phone: (622) 622-3830, Fax: (202) 622-4408
Q. What assistance can the U.S. Government be in advocating on my behalf for a tender?
A. U.S. Government advocacy decisions are made with the best information available. Advocacy assistance can vary, but usually it involves companies that deal with foreign governments or government-owned corporations. Contact the Advocacy Center.
Q. Where can I go to find facts on foreign trade figures and statistics?
For General information on a country's yearly economic, political and investment climate, check the Country Commercial Guides.
For specific information check Trade Statistics available at the International Trade Administration Additional information are available at:
The National Trade Data Bank (NTDB) contains international trade-related data
The Bureau of Census provides foreign trade statistics
Bureau of Economic Analysis provides U.S. useful foreign trade data.
Q. Is there an updated directory of people, organizations and web sites that promotes global business principles and best practices?
A. The publication Resources for Promoting Global Business Principles and Practices: a Directory of People, Organizations, and Web Sites is available through the Environmental Protection Agency.
DOING Business Abroad
Q. How is the Department of State working on my behalf to level the playing field on which to compete for foreign investment and trade?
A. The Office of Commercial and Business Affairs (CBA) is the primary point of contact for business concerns within the State Department. CBA services include:
- Problem-solving assistance to U.S. companies
- Dialogue with the U.S. private sector to ensure that business concerns are factored into foreign policy
- Programs and practices to improve the Department's support for business
Through U.S. embassies, CBA helps ensure that American farmers, business people, and workers succeed in the growing global marketplace. Each embassy and/or consulate has officers who are responsible for assisting U.S. businesses abroad.
- Commercial Officers advise U.S. businesses on local trade and tariff laws, government procurement procedures, and business practices; identify potential importers, agents, distributors, and joint venture partners; provide information on local government tenders; and assist with trade and investment disputes. Note: Commercial Officers are listed in the publication Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts
- Also contact Country Desk Officers at the Department of State and the U.S. Commercial Service for country-specific information.
Q. Where is the first stop for companies seeking information about federal export assistance programs?
A. For assistance with exporting U.S. products contact the Trade Information Center (TIC), of the Department of Commerce. The Trade Information Center (TIC) is a comprehensive resource for information on all U.S. Federal Government export assistance programs.
For personalized service call 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) (1-800-872-8723). Hearing-impaired callers can use a toll-free telecommunication device: 1-800-TDD-TRADE (1-800-833-8723)
Q. What organizations and government services are available to help me export?
A. Below is a listing of general and specialized export service links.
For more specialized assistance, please review the following agencies:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) - Administers programs that support exports of agricultural products, including initiatives to combat unfair competition.
- Customized Market Research (CMR) - Provides a research service to firms with specific information on marketing and conducting foreign business in order to determine marketability, key competitors, possible partners, etc.
- International Trade Administration (ITA) - Commerce Department office that specializes in the facilitation of trade by product or industrial sector.
- Market Access and Compliance (MAC) - MAC officers help U.S. businesses to overcome barriers to trade and investment.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) - Provides a full range of export assistance services to small businesses just entering the international export market.
- U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) - Helps U.S. businesses obtain grants on a transaction-specific basis for foreign development projects.
- U.S. Business Advisor - Links all federal organizations assisting or regulating information and services the government provides for business.
- Ex-Im Bank - Supports U.S. exports by offering U.S. exporters loans, guarantees, and insurance products to compete in the global marketplace
- Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) -- sells investment services to assist U.S. companies investing in some 140 emerging economies around the world.
- U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) - Provides U.S. companies information on markets abroad, international contacts, and advocacy services.
- Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) - Provides information for U.S. exporters confronted with problems surrounding international trade agreements.
- U.S. IP Attachés: The United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) IP Attaché program works to improve intellectual property systems internationally for the benefit of U.S. stakeholders.
Q. What U.S. agency can provide me with trade leads?
A. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) receives technology requests and distributes trade leads to registered U.S. companies. The Global Technology Network (GTN) is a program aimed at matching the technological needs of companies in developing countries with solutions from small- and medium-size U.S. companies.
Q. My overseas supplier (or customer) tells me I need to provide them with documentation from the U.S. Government. What paperwork is required?
A. Fifteen agencies are involved in the issuance of certificates, export control licenses, and other documentation for purchasing from and selling to overseas partners.
- The Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) provides assistance on export licensing requirements and required documentation for export transactions
Depending on your product, BXA may refer you to another agency, which may include:
- Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) serves as the U.S. Government focal point for implementing arms control inspection and verification.
- Defense Trade Controls (DTC). The DTC handles: Licensing application for matters of defense trade compliance; defense trade exports and re-transfer; and enforcement and reporting,
- Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries and foreign terrorists.
- Office of Fuels Programs of the Department of Energy licenses natural gas and electric power.
- Division of Management Authority of the Department of the Interior controls the export of endangered fish and wildlife species.
- The DEA Diversion Control Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration oversees the export of controlled substances.
- International Chemical Control Unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration controls the import and export of listed chemicals used in the production of control substances.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
-- Office of Compliance: licenses medical devices;
-- Import/Export: licenses drugs.
- Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Land and Emergency Management regulates toxic waste exports.
Q. What forms does the Office of Defense Trade Controls (DTC) provide? Do I need a form?
A. Contact the Office of Defense Trade Controls (DTC) if the item in question involves a dual-use-product (defense-related materials or equipment, e.g., computers, munitions, and certain raw materials). From the DTC web site you can:
If your material or services does not require DTC review, then the next office to contact is the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) which provides:
- Export assistance on licensing requirements
- Required documentation for export transactions
- Assistance in selecting the appropriate license
Q. Where can I find a listing of U.S. companies doing business abroad?
A. Contact the Chamber of Commerce which represents more than 3 million businesses and organizations.
Q. How can the embassy or consulate in the foreign country assist me in conducting business?
A. Establishing contact with the embassy or consulate before conducting business will provide you with current information on economic, trade, business trends and practices.
If you are currently outside of the United States and need to contact the U.S. Embassy, click U.S. Missions Online
If you are in the United States, contact the Department of State Country Offices
Q. How do I authenticate documents to be used overseas?
A. The State Department's Office of Authentication provides certification of all documents used by citizens and foreign nationals overseas.
FACILITATING U.S. BUSINESS AND INVESTMENT OVERSEAS
Q. What government agencies assist in Export Financing and Export Credit Insurance?
A. The U.S. Government encourages all U.S. exporters to use a "confirmed letter of credit" in business transactions to guard against non-payment by the recipient. The U.S. Ex-Im Bank can assist with:
- Export financial assistance and direct loans and loan guarantee programs
- Obtaining export insurance that covers risks on export receivables
- Working Capital Guarantee Program
Q. What agency can assist me with investment financing?
A. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) - Independent government agency that assists U.S. companies investing in emerging markets to help increase U.S. exports and promote economic growth.
Import and Export Bank- It was created to aid in financing and to facilitate U.S. exports. Today, this agency provides guarantees of working capital loans for U.S. exporters, guarantees the repayment of loans or makesloans to foreign purchasers of U.S. goods and services, and provides credit insurance against non-payment by foreign buyers for political or commercial risk
Q. Are there federal grants available for feasibility studies and technical assistance?
A. U.S. Trade Development Agency's (TDA) primary mission is to assist U.S. businesses in obtaining grants to conduct feasibility studies and/or technical assistance for major projects in developing and middle-income countries.
Q. Currently, what countries have sanctions placed on them by the U.S. Government?
A. The Office of Foreign Asset Controls of the Department of Treasury provides information about sanctions regulations and maintains a list of individual entities with which U.S. parties cannot do business.
Q. What federal agencies are involved in export controls and over what products?
A. The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the Department of Commerce provides links to federal agencies with export control responsibilities.
Q. What is a Commodity Jurisdiction request?
A. Go the Commodity Jurisdiction request.
Q. What are dual-use exports and who is the licensing agent?
A. Dual-use exports are those materials or equipment which are defense-related, involving sensitive (e.g., military or nuclear) or non-sensitive applications, such as computers, weapons, licensing of defense services and defense (munitions) articles.
Although the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is the primary licensing agent for dual-use exports, the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) in the Department of State has authority over defense articles and services.
ASSISTING FOREIGN COMPANIES DOING BUSINESS IN THE U.S.
Q. How do I register or incorporate a business in the United States?
A. The incorporation of foreign business entities is regulated at the state level (as opposed to the federal or national level) in the United States. The application process will vary from state-to-state. Check the list of State Business Development Offices.
Q. How do I get Information on importing products into the United States?
A. The U.S. Customs Service provides an overview of the foreign commercial importing process and requirements. For more information go to Importing into the United States: A Guide for Commercial Importers
The Department of Commerce's Trade Information Center provides information and web links to importation procedures.
Q. Is there an agency that can assist me in inquiring about the economic opportunities and interests in various states?
SelectUSA is a U.S. government-wide program to facilitate job-creating business investment into the United States and raise awareness of the critical role that foreign direct investment (FDI) plays in the U.S. economy.