How to Foreign Qualify an LLC in California

This guide serves as a comprehensive resource for individuals and businesses aiming to expand their Limited Liability Company (LLC) to California.

Updated on
Jan 23, 2024
min read
Starting a Company
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What Happens if I Fail to Foreign Qualify Before Doing Business in California?

Foreign qualification is not optional when expanding your LLC's operations to California. Failing to foreign qualify can have severe consequences, including:

  1. Inability to Maintain Legal Actions: Your LLC won't have access to the California court system to maintain any legal actions or proceedings.
  2. Financial Penalties: Your business may be subject to fees, taxes, and penalties it would have owed if properly registered. For instance, the California Franchise Tax is $800 per year, and late tax return filing can result in penalties of up to $2,000. Failing to file a biennial Statement of Information can lead to a $250 penalty.
  3. Personal Liability: In California, you can be held personally liable for acting on behalf of an unauthorized foreign LLC, potentially resulting in misdemeanor charges and additional fines.

The cost of fines and penalties can accumulate rapidly, making foreign qualification a much more cost-effective choice than failing to comply with the law.

What Is Considered "Doing Business" in California?

California law defines "doing business" as engaging in repeated and successive transactions within the state, excluding interstate or foreign commerce. You are considered to be "doing business" and required to foreign qualify in California if:

  1. Your LLC's sales in California exceed either 25% of total profits or $500,000.
  2. Your LLC owns real or tangible property in California exceeding either 25% of total property or $50,000.
  3. Your LLC's compensation payments in California are either 25% of total compensation or $50,000.
  4. Your LLC has representatives or salespersons conducting business in California on its behalf.

Being aware of these criteria is crucial to determine whether your LLC needs to foreign qualify in California.

Could I Be Exempt from Foreign Qualifying in California?

Certain activities do not constitute "doing business" and exempt your LLC from foreign qualification. Examples include:

  1. Maintaining or defending a legal action or suit in a California court.
  2. Holding LLC member and manager meetings or other internal affairs dealings in the state.
  3. Maintaining a bank account.
  4. Selling products or services through independent contractors.
  5. Creating, acquiring, or managing debts.
  6. Soliciting or procuring orders accepted outside the state before they become contracts.
  7. Facilitating an isolated transaction, not part of a series, within 180 days.
  8. Transacting business in interstate commerce.

For a detailed explanation, refer to Article 8 of the California Corporations Code. If your LLC's only business activities in California fall under these exceptions, foreign qualification may not be required. However, it's advisable to seek legal advice when uncertain.

How to Foreign Qualify Your LLC in California

Foreign qualification in California is a straightforward process. Follow these steps to foreign qualify your LLC:

  1. Name Availability Check: Ensure that your LLC's name is distinguishable from existing entities in California by conducting a name search. Your LLC name must end with "Limited Liability Company," abbreviated as L.L.C. or LLC.
  2. Prepare Foreign Qualification Documents: Obtain Form LLC-5, "Application to Register," from the California Secretary of State's website. Complete the form, providing information about your LLC's name, location, and registered agent.
  3. Certificate of Good Standing: Include a Certificate of Good Standing from the state where your LLC was originally formed. This certificate confirms that your LLC is in good standing in its home state.
  4. Submission: Submit the completed LLC-5 form, along with the Certificate of Good Standing and the required filing fee, to the Secretary of State. You can file online or by postal mail.
  5. Filing Fee: Pay the $70 filing fee to register your foreign LLC in California.
  6. In-Person Submission: If submitting in person, visit the Secretary of State's office at 1500 11th Street, 3rd Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.
  7. Processing Time: The processing time for online filings is approximately three weeks, while mailed or in-person filings take 5-6 weeks. Expedited processing options are available for additional fees.

Name Requirements to Remember

Ensure your LLC name complies with California's naming restrictions, including:

  • Ending with "Limited Liability Company," abbreviated as L.L.C. or LLC.
  • Avoiding restricted words such as "bank," "trust," "incorporated," "insurance," and more.
  • Being distinguishable from other business entity names in the California Secretary of State's records.

Reviewing and adhering to these naming requirements is essential to prevent naming conflicts and delays.

‍Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. Seek the counsel of a licensed professional for specific questions related to these topics.

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