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Forming an NGO as a Non-US Citizen

Forming an NGO as a Non-US Citizen

Q: Can I start a Washington DC-based think tank (NGO) as a non-US citizen?

Many thanks to one of our customers outside the US for this great question! From think tanks to NGOs, we’ll review what this entity type is, as well as how to form one. (Note: you don’t have to be a US citizen to do it!) Here’s what you need to know about forming an NGO as a non-US citizen:

What is an NGO?

NGO stands for non-governmental organization, and is a business entity that’s structured like a Nonprofit because—like most nonprofits—NGOs typically provide services that benefit the greater good, which means they often qualify for state and federal tax exemptions. However—unlike some nonprofits—NGOs are not affiliated with any government organizations. (At least not when it comes to their business operations.)

What are some examples of NGOs?

Some of the most well-known NGOs are international organizations that provide humanitarian and/or environmental aid, such as:

  • American Red Cross
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Greenpeace
  • Save the Children
  • UNICEF

What’s a “think tank”?

A think tank is an organization that provides service in the form of research and information, rather than physical aid (i.e. food, labor, funding, etc.). Think tanks are often nonprofits categorized as NGOs. Well-known think tanks include:

  • Brookings Institution
  • Cato Institute
  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • Human Rights Watch
  • RAND Corporation

How do I form an NGO as a non-US citizen?

The term “NGO” is simply a category among nonprofit organizations—so what we’re really talking about is forming a nonprofit corporation, which is done at the state level. If, for example, your business will be a Nonprofit in Washington D.C., you’ll have to submit Articles of Incorporation for Domestic Nonprofit Corporation to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. (Each state has a government office that handles business affairs—usually the Secretary of State’s office.)

While there are no restrictions barring non-US citizens from forming a nonprofit corporation in the US, the process can be more difficult for those not already based in the US—especially when it comes to opening a US bank account.

For more information about forming a business as a non-US citizen, check out Northwest’s article How to Do Business in the U.S.A.

How do I make sure my NGO is tax-exempt?

To receive a tax exempt status for your business, you’ll need to do two things:

You must submit Form 1023 online via pay.gov. (Simply type “1023” into the search box at the top of the page, then select Form 1023.)

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