Do I Have to Be Canadian to Start a Business in B.C.?

If you’re wondering whether you can start a business in British Columbia if you’re not Canadian, you’re not alone. It can be difficult to sort through government regulations to find the answer to this frequently asked question. But it’s essential you know what you can and cannot do when it comes to your potential start-up.
So, do you have to be a Canadian citizen to start a business in BC?

Technically, no. However, if you are not familiar with the legal and tax requirements and exceptions, you risk serious and costly consequences.

Get this straightforward guide to launching a B.C. business if you’re not a Canadian citizen here.

Can I Own a Business as an Immigrant?

Anyone can own a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation in BC, regardless of their citizenship status. This makes B.C. the most flexible province in the country regarding non-resident businesses.

However, non-residents must meet the following mandatory requirements for starting a business.

It’s also important to know that owning a business does not affect your immigration status. If you would like more information about becoming a Canadian citizen, please consult Immigration and Citizenship Canada.

Requirements for Starting a Business

Physical Address

You must have a physical address for your business. Post office boxes do not qualify.

Work Permit

If you’re going to be working on your business in B.C., Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) must grant you working status. Check out IRCC’s Work in Canada to find out how to obtain the correct permit for your needs.

If you’re a student looking to start a business and work on it while you’re in B.C., you will have to apply to IRCC for a modified study permit.

However, if you plan on working on your business outside of B.C., you should confirm the type of permit you need to enter the country through IRCC’s Work in Canada Temporarily program.

Note that possessing working status does not affect your citizenship status. If you’d like to become a Canadian, apply through the IRCC immigration or citizenship application process.


You need to submit a tax return if you’re generating Canadian revenue. Submitting a tax return requires a business number, which can be obtained by registering your business with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Investment Canada Application

You also need to apply to Investment Canada under the Canadian Investment Act. This act states that non-Canadians who wish to establish a Canadian business or acquire control of an existing business must submit an Investment Canada application for review.

Legal Regulations

Review our Starting Your Business Checklist and the BC Corporate Registry to learn more about legal regulations you must meet to start a business.

What If My Business Operates Outside B.C.?

The criteria for non-residents starting a business differs from province to territory. If you have a physical location outside of B.C., consult that region’s requirements found at the Canada Business Network.

What If I Want to Federally Incorporate?

In most circumstances, at least 25 per cent of the directors of a corporation must be Canadian to incorporate with the federal government.


If there are less than four directors, then at least one of them must be Canadian.

If the corporation is operating in sectors with ownership restrictions or is operating in certain cultural sectors, the majority of directors must be Canadian.

Examples of ownership restrictions and cultural sectors include:

  • Airlines
  • Telecommunications
  • Book retailing
  • Video or film distribution

Get more information on exceptions and the incorporation process in Corporation Canada’s Federal Guide to Incorporation.

Starting a Business in British Columbia Checklist

Check this list to make sure you can start your B.C. business as a non-resident:

  1. You have a physical address
  2. You possess the correct work permit
  3. You pay and register for taxes that apply to your business
  4. Your application has been approved by Investment Canada
  5. Your business meets all legal regulations
  6. Your business meets the criteria of other regions, if applicable
  7. Your business meets the federal incorporation criteria, if applicable

Here to Help

No matter what stage of your business journey you’re at, Small Business BC has the resources you need to succeed. Check out our range of business webinars, on-demand E-Learning Education, our Talk to an Expert Advisories, or browse our selection of business articles.