How to Qualify as a Foreign Business in Washington

Learn the rules for qualifying your LLC to do business in Washington.



If you own a business that was created in a state other than Washington, you will need to qualify or register that business in Washington if you want to do business there. Here is an overview of the rules on how to qualify your foreign (non-Washington) limited liability company (LLC) to do business in Washington.

Note:  Unlike other states, Washington’s LLC Act does not itself contain rules specifically for registering foreign LLCs. Instead, the Act points to a separate set of laws that cover registration of foreign businesses generally. Washington law refers to these businesses collectively as “foreign entities.”

What is a Foreign LLC?

For Washington purposes, if your LLC is formed in another state, then it is known as a foreign LLC in Washington. In other words, foreign doesn’t mean from another country. Instead, it means your business was organized under the laws of another state. A domestic LLC, on the other hand, is one that is formed in the state where it is doing business. This is common usage throughout the United States. For example, an LLC formed in Indiana is a foreign LLC in Illinois.

Transacting Business in Washington

According to Washington foreign entities laws, you are required to register your foreign LLC with the state of Washington if you are “transacting business” or “doing business” in Washington. (Washington’s LLC Act and foreign entities laws use both phrases.) What does this mean? Well, like most states, Washington law does not specifically define either “transacting business” or “doing business” in relation to foreign registrations.

However, state laws governing when foreign companies must collect state sales tax in their state provide some guidance on the issue. Under these laws, a business must have a physical presence in—or nexus with—the state in order to be required to collect state sales tax on sales to that state’s residents. Generally speaking, physical presence and nexus are synonymous, and mean having:

  • a warehouse in the state
  • a store in the state
  • an office in the state, or
  • a sales representative in the state.

Certain exceptions may apply and the rules can get more complicated with things like Internet sales. Nevertheless, in general, if you have an office, a store, a warehouse, or employees in another state, you will need to qualify your LLC as a foreign company in that state. For more details, including some possible distinctions between physical presence and nexus, check Nolo’s articles on  Internet Sales Tax: A 50-State Guide to State Laws.

Certain Activities Are Exempt

Like most states, Washington law for foreign businesses specifies certain activities that do not constitute doing business in the state. The items listed include:

  • defending or settling a lawsuit
  • dealing with internal business affairs such as holding member or manager meetings
  • having a bank account in the state
  • having an office, agency, or persons in the state for handling your company’s own securities
  • selling through independent contractors
  • soliciting or obtaining orders where the orders require acceptance outside the state before they become contracts and where the contracts do not involve any local activity other than delivery and installation
  • creating or acquiring indebtedness, mortgages, or security interests in property
  • securing or collecting debts
  • conducting an isolated transaction that is completed within thirty days and is not in the course of similar, repeated transactions
  • owning, without more, property
  • doing business in interstate commerce; and
  • operating an approved branch campus of a foreign degree-granting institution.

The law contains a statement that the foregoing list is not exhaustive; other activities also may be exempt. For the full, legal description of each of the listed items, check  Section 23.95.520  of the Revised Code of Washington.

If your LLC’s only activity in Washington is one or more of the listed items, you should not need to register with the state.

Foreign Registration Statement

To register your business in Washington, you must file a  Foreign Limited Liability Company Registration  with theWashington Secretary of State  (SOS). You can download a copy of the registration form from the SOS website.

To complete the registration, you must provide more or less the same information that you need to create an LLC in your home state. More specifically, for a Washington registration, you need to provide:

  • the name of your LLC as recorded in the state where it was formed
  • if necessary, the name under which your LLC will operate in Washington (a different name in Washington is necessary if your LLC’s original name or something very similar is already in use by another Washington registered business, or the original name does not contain words such as “Limited Liability Company” or an abbreviation such as “LLC”)
  • the state where your LLC was formed
  • the date when your LLC was formed
  • the street address of your LLC’s principal place of business
  • an effective date for the registration (which may be upon filing)
  • the duration of your LLC (which may be perpetual)
  • the date your LLC began doing business in Washington
  • the nature of the business your LLC will conduct in Washington
  • the name and street address of your LLC’s  registered agent  in Washington
  • a signed statement from your Washington registered agent consenting to serve in that role and will notify the Washington Secretary of State; and
  • the name, address, and signature of the LLC member or manager registering the LLC.

You must include a Certificate of Existence or equivalent document from the secretary of state of the state where you formed your LLC. The certificate must have been issued no more than 60 days before the date you file your registration.

You can file on paper or  online. The filing fee by mail is $180. The online filing fee is $200.

What Happens if You Don’t Register?

If your LLC does business in Washington without being registered, it cannot bring a lawsuit in the state. In addition, the LLC will be liable for all the fees it otherwise should have paid for registration plus any applicable penalties. However, not being registered does not invalidate your LLC’s contracts or prevent your LLC from defending a lawsuit in the state of Washington. Also, the limitation on the liability of a member of your LLC is not waived solely because the LLC did business in Washington without being registered.

Registering a Foreign Corporation in Washington

If your business is organized as a corporation rather than an LLC, the rules and requirements for foreign qualification in Washington are essentially the same. See the  Washington Secretary of State  website for forms, information, and filing instructions for registering a foreign corporation in Washington.

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