Digitalize Global

Engaged in a Trade or Business in the United States (ETBUS)

Engaged in a Trade or Business in the United States (ETBUS)

Decisive role in US tax law

The term "Engaged in a Trade or Business in the United States" (ETBUS) plays a decisive role in US tax law. It defines whether a foreign person or a foreign company in the USA taxable especially with regard to income from US sources. This article highlights the meaning and implications of ETBUS, the main features and examples, and the differences with similar concepts such as permanent establishment.

What does ETBUS mean?

The term "Engaged in a Trade or Business in the United States" (ETBUS) describes whether a foreign person or foreign entity conducts business activities in the United States that may result in a tax liability.

Main aspects of ETBUS

  • Definition: The IRS considers a foreign person or entity to be ETBUS if they conduct "substantial, continuous and regular" business activities in the US.
  • Threshold value: There is no specific quantitative threshold for ETBUS. The assessment is based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.
  • Physical presence: A physical presence in the U.S., such as an office or employees, generally results in being classified as ETBUS.
  • Types of activities: Activities that may be considered ETBUS include:
    • Provision of services in the USA
    • Sale of products in the USA
    • Warehousing in the USA
    • Employment of employees or commissioning of agents (Dependent Agent) doing business in the USA
  • Exceptions: Certain activities are generally not considered ETBUS, such as:
    • Investments in US securities
    • Trading in shares or commodities via an independent agent

Important aspects for some activities that are not usually considered ETBUS

  • Passive investments: Pure investments such as shares, bonds or real estate that are not actively managed are not normally considered ETBUS.
  • Occasional or isolated transactions: Individual or sporadic transactions in the USA do not generally lead to an ETBUS classification.
  • Sale of goods to the USA without a physical presence: If a foreign company merely sells products to the U.S. without having a branch or employees there, this is usually not considered ETBUS.
  • Use of an independent representative: If an independent agent in the USA acts on behalf of the foreign company, this generally does not lead to ETBUS.
  • Services: Services may be permitted in certain cases without triggering ETBUS, but it depends on the type, frequency and scope of the services. The decisive factor is that the activities do not take place "regularly and continuously" in the USA.

To be classified as non-ETBUS, a company should:

  • Do not have a physical presence in the USA (other than a Registered Agent address)
  • Do not conduct regular and continuous business activities in the USA
  • Do not actively provide goods or services to US customers locally

It is important to note that the boundary between ETBUS and non-ETBUS is often blurred and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Tax implications of ETBUS

  • Taxation of US income: If a foreign person or entity is considered ETBUS, its income that is "effectively connected" with the U.S. business is subject to U.S. income tax.
  • Tax rates: ETBUS income is taxed at regular U.S. tax rates, not the flat 30% withholding tax rate that applies to certain types of passive income.
  • Deductions: Companies classified as ETBUS can claim deductions related to their US business activities, potentially reducing their overall tax burden.
  • Reporting obligations: Anyone who is considered ETBUS must file US tax returns, even if there is no tax liability due to treaty benefits or losses.

ETBUS vs. permanent establishment

  • Differentiation: ETBUS is a concept of US tax law, while "permanent establishment" is a concept used in Double taxation agreement is used.
  • Threshold value: The threshold for ETBUS is generally lower than that for a permanent establishment.
  • Effects of the agreement: Even if an entity qualifies as an ETBUS, it may not be taxable in the U.S. if it does not have a permanent establishment under an applicable tax treaty.

Significance for foreign companies

Understanding ETBUS is critical for foreign individuals and companies doing business in or with the United States.

It influences:

  • Tax planning: Structuring activities to manage ETBUS status can have a significant impact on tax obligations.
  • Compliance: Knowing whether you are considered ETBUS determines your US tax filing and payment obligations.
  • Business strategy: ETBUS considerations can influence decisions about how business is conducted in the United States.


"Engaged in a Trade or Business in the United States" is a complex but essential concept in U.S. tax law. Foreign individuals and businesses must carefully review their activities in the U.S. to understand their tax obligations and plan accordingly. Given the complexity and potential financial implications, it is often advisable to consult a tax advisor who is familiar with international tax issues when dealing with ETBUS issues.


What does ETBUS mean?

ETBUS stands for "Engaged in a Trade or Business in the United States" and refers to business activities of foreigners in the USA that may be taxable.

What activities are included in ETBUS?

Providing services, selling products, warehousing and employing people in the US are examples of activities that can be considered ETBUS.

What are the exceptions for ETBUS?

Investments in U.S. securities and trading in stocks or commodities through independent agents generally do not count as ETBUS.

What are the tax implications of ETBUS?

Income associated with ETBUS is subject to US income tax at regular tax rates. Companies can claim deductions for their business expenses and must file tax returns.

What is the difference between ETBUS and a permanent establishment?

ETBUS is a US tax concept, while a permanent establishment is used in double tax treaties. The threshold for ETBUS is often lower than that for a permanent establishment.

Why is understanding ETBUS important for foreign companies?

ETBUS affects the tax planning, compliance and business strategies of foreign companies operating in the US. Misunderstanding can lead to unexpected tax liabilities.

Was this useful?

Thank you for your feedback!
Disclaimer: Please note that the above dates, tax rates and regulations may change over time. Do not make any independent decisions without first consulting an expert for your individual situation. It is in your interest to always receive individual information from an experienced expert who knows your situation. This information is for informational purposes only and does not promote illegal activities, including tax evasion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave the field below empty!

Similar topics