When discussing fundraising for your deals, most of our attention has previously focused on U.S. citizens investing their own money. That's to be expected, but it's important not to overlook another potential funding source: foreign investors. This article will explore what you should know about working with foreign investors in the U.S. and their potential impact on your deal.
Foreign investors are those individuals or companies outside of the United States who invest their money into U.S.-based businesses. And foreign money can be great. But, of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to know here and some pretty important restrictions.
Before we dive into how these investments work or the pros and cons of foreign investments, we should touch on the restrictions put in place by the U.S. government. You'll find that they're twofold. First, there are restrictions set out by the country's government in which you're raising funds that you need to consider, as well as those applied by the U.S. government. Second, there are also regulations regarding how much money can be raised from foreign investors.
Each country has its own rules regarding investments. It is your responsibility to investigate what those are and how they may impact you, your investors, and the money that you raise. Some factors to consider include how much money you're raising and the level of involvement between citizens of foreign countries.
It's important to stay in legal compliance within all countries, which means you need to know the true cost of remaining completely legally compliant within each's borders. In some cases, you may find that it is simply too expensive to develop a feasible plan. For example, suppose you're raising a small amount of capital in a foreign country to transfer to the United States, and you're not being fraudulent. In that case, complying with local securities laws might be somewhat cumbersome.
Too often, those raising funds focus more on securities laws here in the United States rather than in the other country, but this can hamstring you.
In addition to the laws governing investments in the other country, you'll also need to consider our domestic Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, here in the U.S. This organization determines which foreigners can invest and which ones should be blocked. In some cases, the OFAC focuses on the individual or the nation in question. In other instances, their review centers on the foreign country and the investment amount.
For instance, if an investor has 15% of greater assets in North Korea, Iran, Syria, and some other countries, they cannot invest here in the U.S. Again, you will need to check the OFAC website to see who is on the blocked persons list.
This is all part of getting to know your investors. It's an enormous risk, but it can be potentially rewarding. You don't want to take any money from people that you shouldn't be because it can lead to problems beyond the scope of securities law.
Of course, these rules are implemented with good reason. They help ensure that you're not taking money from a terrorist, helping someone launder money, for instance.
We've touched on these briefly, but they bear deeper scrutiny. U.S. securities laws have a significant role to play when it comes to foreign investors. For instance, we have a law called "Regulation Asks," which states that the securities laws for foreign investors don't apply because they're foreigners to the SEC. Regulation S states that if you investors are outside the country, most securities laws do not apply.
With that being said, if you commit fraud in any way, dealing with foreign investors will not prevent the SEC or any other authorities from investigating you and your investors. So it's important to avoid the assumption that Regulation S protects criminal behavior – you should always do the right thing.
However, this brings up an important point. Since securities laws may not apply the same way to foreign investors that they do to U.S. investors, are you still required to provide disclosure? Absolutely, yes. The best path forward is to comply with Reg D as much as possible because then at least you're providing proper disclosure to your investors and not taking advantage of the vulnerable out there.
The tax situation is never simple, and adding foreign investors to the mix can muddy the waters a great deal. The tax consequences here can be substantial because when you add foreign investors to the mix and operate as an LLC, there's pass-through taxation.
You will also have to deal with increased IRS scrutiny. The IRS is extremely worried about what your foreign investors will do – will they take their earnings and leave without paying taxes? Ultimately, you are responsible for their actions. This can mean that if a typical deal requires approximately 30% in withholdings, you should withhold the proper amounts from your investors' earnings and pay it to the IRS on their behalf.
We also have FIRPTA, the Foreign Investment in Real Estate Property Tax Act of 1980. It requires you to withhold 15% from investors' returns, although you should check with your tax specialists on the sale of real estate for any distributions that will go to foreign investors.
There are a lot of potential downsides to working with foreign investors. So how can you avoid them? Just don't take on any. How do you avoid them, though?
It just comes down to requiring foreign investors to create their corporation or LLC within the U.S. This ensures that you're able to let them into the deal, and you no longer have to worry about taking 45% of their returns and transmitting them to the IRS. You'll also be able to deduct all of their expenses and losses against their income since they won't be considered "pass-through" entities.
In addition, you can set up a separate bank account for each investor, and ensure that they only receive payments through that account. That way, you can keep track of who has paid what and make sure that everyone pays their fair share.
So, while it might seem like a good idea to work with foreign investors, you need to think twice before doing so. If you do decide to go ahead with it, you'll need to consider these issues carefully and consult with a skilled attorney.
While the rules we've discussed here apply to investors from most nations, there is an exemption for Canadian investors under certain circumstances. The U.S. maintains a treaty with Canada that states these investors are not subject to the tax withholdings we just talked about. That means Canadian investors can be taken on without too much worry, at least about tax withholdings, with one caveat – you must have a limited partnership and cannot use an LLC or C corp or any other business formation option.
If you wish to work with Canadians, you'll need to set up a limited partnership to receive their investment. If you choose to do so, make sure you understand all the risks involved with doing so.
We've covered a lot of ground here in a short time. So, to sum up, let's go over the big questions you'll need to answer when you consider taking on foreign investors within your deal.
- Are they from a country subject to sanctions, like North Korea, Syria, Iran, or Russia? Note that this list changes from time to time as sanctions are placed and lifted. Always check the OFAC list to ensure that your investors are clear about bringing their money into the U.S.
- Are you following the securities laws of the other country? Are you doing enough business in that country that you need to be concerned about these laws?
- Are you complying with U.S. tax rules as they pertain to your deal? For example, are you withholding the proper amount and remitting it to the IRS? If not, you'll be held responsible unless your partners are American entities or have an exemption.
Do you understand all the risks involved in dealing with foreign investors? Do you know where to find information about each country? Is your legal team familiar with international law? These are all things you'll need to think through before you sign off on any deals and it's important to consult with an experienced attorney to help guide you
If you want to attract foreign investors, you'll need to make sure that you're meeting their needs. To start with, you'll need to understand why they would invest in your project. What are their goals? What are their motivations?
You'll then need to determine if you can meet those goals and motivations. Can you provide them with something unique? Something that's hard to find elsewhere? A good place to start is by looking at what you offer and comparing it to what others offer.
Once you've determined that you can meet their needs, you'll need to figure out how to get them involved. There are two ways to approach this. One is to simply ask them to invest directly. They will likely require some sort of equity stake in your company. In exchange, they'll receive a return on investment (ROI) based on the success of your venture.
Alternatively, you may choose to take a more traditional route. You can form a limited liability company or corporation, and invite them to join as shareholders. Their shares will be treated as income-generating assets, which means they'll pay taxes on their share of profits. This is also known as "passive" investing.
In either case, you'll need to know the law in both countries so that you don't run afoul of local regulations. We've already touched on this briefly, but it bears repeating. Be aware that you may be required to register as a broker-dealer, and comply with all applicable federal and state securities laws.
Now that you've got investors, you'll need a plan for managing them. How do you keep them happy while still keeping your own interests protected? You'll need to set expectations early on. Make sure everyone understands what they're getting into.
One thing to remember is that you're dealing with people who have different levels of experience. Some may be new to investing, while others may have been around the block many times before. It's important to make sure that everyone understands the risks involved.
As you go through the process, you'll also want to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the terms of the agreement. For example, you should know whether you're going to issue stock, sell debt, or use other financing methods. As we mentioned earlier, you'll need to be prepared to deal with taxes. If you're issuing stock, you'll need to decide whether you're going to treat the shares as long-term capital gains or short-term capital losses.
Finally, you'll want to make sure that your business plan takes these things into account. You'll need to consider how you're going to finance the project, how you're going to manage risk, and how you're going to handle any potential legal issues.
In the end, working with foreign investors is a tricky situation, but with proper guidance from both experienced tax and legal professionals, it can be profitable for both you and your investors.
If you're looking for an experienced legal team to assist with your next offering, Crowdfunding Lawyers is here to help. Click here to schedule a free consultation and we will follow up with you promptly.