4 Things to Think About Before Starting a Business while on OPT

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Chaiyaporn Chinotaikul is a Co-Founder and Manager at NOAM NEW YORK, a jewelry e-commerce website. He graduated from NYU SPS with a degree in Graphics Communication Management and Technology. His Co-Founder is Alissara Kulchaipanich, another NYU graduate with a degree in Integrated Marketing.

It can be a little daunting when you want to start a business as an international student. The sheer amount of legal documents for business is already a headache, but adding immigration law to that pile and you’ve got yourself a motivational black hole.

However, OPT can at least help you take it step by step. That’s right, you can be legally self-employed in the U.S. if you start a business with OPT. This will give you a little breathing room. Still, there are a few things you should think about before you begin:

1. Prepare a Business Plan Before your OPT Start

Don’t make the mistake of writing a business plan a week before your OPT start. You only have one year on OPT and few businesses take off within a year of starting. Take some time off your study to do market research and other preparations. Make the most of your OPT.

2. Explore Your Visa Options

It’s a bad feeling when you’ve just got your business up and running and then find out you have an expiring OPT at the corner. That’s why it is a good idea to decide early which visa you need to continue your business. There are entrepreneurial visas (E-1 and E-2); there are also specialized visas like EB-2 visa (National Interest Classification) and O1-A visa. Before making your decision, it’s always better to first consult an immigration lawyer. Note that first consultations with lawyers are usually free.

3. Apply for a Visa Early or Plan Your Exit

If you decide to stay and apply for an entrepreneurial visa, get a lawyer and do it early. The earlier the better. The process can be long, and there is no guarantee. If you do not plan to stay, then plan for your exit. Find out who you need to inform to close your company (IRS is only one of them).

Alternatively, you can manage your company from outside the U.S. by hiring a manager to take over when you leave. If this is what you want, I recommend setting a revenue goal (or active user goal), and only hire a manager if you reach this goal. You don’t want to hire a manager and then close the company from a different continent when you find out there is no market for your product. The paperwork will be a nightmare.

4. Starting a Business Can be an Extension of Your Education in the U.S.

Starting a business doesn’t have to be about being successful. It can teach you things you won’t learn in class. I started an e-commerce jewelry business without the expectation of succeeding. My primary goal is to learn how to build a business from the ground up. Of course, we are doing everything we can to deliver values to our customers. We have a business plan, a small but sufficient capital, and a niche market gap that isn’t crowded – which is to provide jewelry that are practical and convenient, specifically catered for working women.

But as you know, it’s possible that we are as blinded by our ideas as all the ex-business owners who were rudely awaken by the cold water of reality. Still, we are learning more than we ever thought we would. It is by far the most exciting experience I’ve had in New York – and probably the most enlightening experience, as well. If starting a business, either in the U.S. or elsewhere, is your goal, then take this valuable opportunity. You will not regret it.

To see NOAM NEW YORK, visit Chaiyaporn’s website.