As a freelance Canadian consultant/faciliator, what are the legalities of taking on US clients?
March 31, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

As a freelance Canadian consultant/faciliator, what are the legalities of taking on US clients?

I’m a Canadian Citizen, living in Canada. I do some work organizing and facilitating conferences and meetings. I’m starting to get some interest from potential clients in the US, with a possible small gig pretty soon.

I’ve been trying to find out a few things about the legalities of all this, and it’s been surprisingly hard. What I’m trying to figure out is:

- When I'm going to the US for a few days to do some work for the client, what do I say at the border? Is there a specific visa I need to apply for?

- Are there specifics of how I need to invoice the work that are different from invoicing here. (eg- I assume they don’t care about my GST number…)

Some things about me, and the work,

- My business is just me. I’m not incorporated.

- I’ve been doing this sort of work for a few years, and I have a BA, so I could possibly make the case for myself as a “Management consultant” under the free trade rules, if that helps.

- It seems like one way to do this is to say the visits are for “meetings” which aren’t paid for. But in my case, at least sometimes, it seems pretty undeniable that the thing I’m being paid to do is to go to the US and facilitate a conference or meeting.

- I really want to be completely honest in how I do this stuff. A few people have advised me to just say I’m going to the US on vacation, or for unpaid work, but I don’t want to do that.

Any help on this would be much appreciated!!
posted by ManInSuit to Law & Government (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So I did this, but not as a self-employed person. I worked for a small training company, doing training. IANAL, YMMV.

At times I would say "I'm having business meetings". You don't need a visa for that. However, I had fellow instructors that got turned back at the border if it was clear they were going to teach a class for money. But if it really is just meetings, you don't need any visa as a Canadian. You'd normally get a B-1 but Canadians qualify for the US visa waiver program.

Eventually I got a TN visa. An immigration lawyer can probably help you draft the paperwork for it. As you note, all you need is the right job title and the appropriate degree. $50 at the border and you're in. TNs last 3 years now which makes life easier with fewer visa renewals.

My non-expert advice is to get an immigration lawyer to draft you up a letter that you can use to get a TN visa. This will require some level of investment, but if you secure a TN then you should be very safe in terms of working in the US.

From the US State Dept: "Work Experience Requirement - Document proving to the applicant's experience should be in the form of letters from former employers. If the applicant was self-employed, business records should be submitted proving that self-employment. " A lawyer who works in this area will have an idea of exactly what records are required. Some immigration lawyers have quasi-relationships with border officers and can get your paperwork unofficially pre-approved in the sense that they've been given assurances that everything looks OK, but you still have to be the one who shows up at the border with papers in hand to get the visa. That's what happened the last time I got a visa like that - I drove from Toronto to Buffalo simply to get the visa without the possibility of getting turned back and missing a flight.

Good luck!
posted by GuyZero at 12:28 PM on March 31, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, GuyZero! A TN, if I understand right, is only for a single employer. So if I'm looking to do different gigs for different clients, I'd need to keep re-applying.

My hope had been to avoid the need for a lawyer, but I have a feeling I'll need one...
posted by ManInSuit at 3:59 PM on March 31, 2009

No, you get it issued for your own business. At least, that's my understanding of how you would do it. If you got it for your US-based client yeah, you'd have to get a different one each time. I don't think you need to be incorporated to get one for yourself, you just need to prove that you're running a business. When I got mine, the employment letter was written by my Canada-based employer. But you can essentially say you're self-employed and apply for a TN.

For an experienced immigration lawyer, this should not be complex or time-consuming work, it should be straightforward. You are not the first person to do this by any means.
posted by GuyZero at 4:10 PM on March 31, 2009

Response by poster: I got a TN Visa! For the gig I'm working on with this client, it seems very clear that the work I'm doing satisfies the critieria for the TN category "management consultant". It remains to be seen whether it would be appropriate for other gigs that are more geared toward pure faciliation.

The TN I got is good for one year- I can enter and leave the country freely as I like, to do work for this client. Note that The TN visa only applies for this client- I can't legally enter the US on this visa to do work for other clients.

I looked into lawyers. but it was too expensive (around $3200).

I ended up buying a "Kit" (basically a $150 e-book) from the people at : . I feel it was money well-spent. The publishers of that kit will also hook you up for a laywer who (for $250) will review your application. I chose to use that service. I'm not sure it'd be necessary for everyone. For a lot of cases, I think you really could do it yourself from the kit.

There's also some great info in the foums of and at
posted by ManInSuit at 12:22 PM on April 30, 2009

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