Doing business: Which countries make it easy?

  • doing business
Published 9 months ago

Whether you are thinking of expanding your business or setting up abroad, the World Bank has assessed the ease of doing business across the world. While you should probably steer clear of the likes of Venezuela, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, we have taken an in-depth look at 2017's top five countries to do business in, as well as what a country can do to make conducting business easier.

Nisha Sawon

Editorial staff

The measures assessed in the World Bank report cover a broad range of factors that influence the level of difficulty to establish a business. There are physical concerns such as the ease and cost of acquiring electricity, following the completion of procedures and paying to acquire construction permits, and the final registration of property. There are also financial concerns, which include the ease of finding credit and tax regulations. Aside from regulatory matters, contract enforcement is also considered, including whether there is a good quality judicial process in place.

It is a combination of all of these (and more) that determine just where you will find it easiest to get going with your dream of opening that Mexican restaurant, or creating an office for what began as a one-person startup.

New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Retaining the top spot, New Zealand has remained the easiest country to do business in. It takes the lead in many measures, including starting a business, dealing with construction permits, registering a property, getting credit and protecting minority investors. So, if you're setting up a business on the ground, it seems like an ideal choice (although it does come in 34th for getting electricity).

However, if you're planning a business reliant on import and export, despite coming in 11th for taxes, it comes in 55th for trading across borders. This is undoubtedly true for many island nations, which have to depend on long transit routes and times to ship products in and out of the country. Furthermore, this can be quite costly, and this is particularly true for New Zealand when it comes to the cost of border compliance for both import and export.

So, if you're planning to import the latest makeup from the US or export your custom furniture, it may be a costly endeavour at the start that will rely on consumers accepting a sizeable mark up in the long term. However, a small-scale tech company or food and beverage endeavour that relies on local produce can benefit from the hassle-free regulatory process and ease of getting credit.


Zephyr_p /

Up to second place from third, Singapore's reputation as one of the best countries to do business in is ringing true. It frequently attracts expats looking to work there and has been seeking to draw more startups of late. It is joint first with New Zealand for protecting minority investors, and second for enforcing contracts (with a growing reputation as a global arbitration centre). It is also in the top ten for starting a business, ease of paying taxes, getting electricity and construction permits.

Like New Zealand, this fellow island state comes in 41st for trading across borders. Its proximity to other South East Asian countries undoubtedly makes a difference, compared to New Zealand's location. Furthermore, its top trading partners for export are Hong Kong and mainland China. However, the cost of importing, overall, (USD 260) is slightly lower than the cost of exporting products (USD 372) in Singapore, though it is lower than average for the region.

On the whole, Singapore has seen its sub-rankings rise this year, displaying an intention to make it easier to do business. When it comes to the ease of dealing with construction permits, for example, the country has risen fourteen places since last year.


Aarhus, Denmark
Rudy Mareel /

Having been displaced by Singapore, Denmark has moved down to become the third most efficient country to do business in. An EU member with a strong free-market approach to international trade, it remains the best country for cross-border trade. Its other top ten positions are for dealing with construction permits, paying taxes and resolving insolvency (where it has even moved up a place).

Though it doesn't have any standout low rankings of note, Denmark has seen its ranking drop in some areas. The areas where it was ranked lowest (and therefore are the most difficult aspects of doing business in the country) are getting credit, where it dropped three places to 32nd, starting a business, where it moved down two places to 24th and enforcing contracts, where it moved up a place to 24th.

As previously mentioned, none of these is particularly low, given that 190 countries or territories were assessed. However, the downward trend implies a contrast to Singapore, with perhaps more of a focus needed on legislating for ease of doing business in Denmark aside from international trade.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong PRC

The Chinese territory of Hong Kong has improved its ranking by one place, and is now the fourth best country to do business in. With a more open market than mainland China, Hong Kong continues to be a global financial centre. It is in third place for the ease of starting a business, getting electricity, protecting minority investors and paying taxes, and a not too shabby fifth for dealing with construction permits.

On the other hand, Hong Kong is the 61st easiest place to register a property, which is largely reflective of the competitive real estate market in the territory. Though this is often most highlighted when it comes to residential property, the densely populated region is also home to sky-high costs for office spaces. Though the procedures are minimal and the length of the process is noticeably less than the regional average, and almost on par with other high-income countries, the cost of registration is 3% (7.7.%) higher than the regional average. This is a significant cost in a place regarded as having one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world.

The place to open a large-scale manufacturing plant requiring huge floor space? Probably not. However, if you are looking at expanding into the region and do not require a wealth of office space, Hong Kong is certainly a regional hub worth considering. Though it is 42nd for ease of cross-border trade, costs of import and export are lower than the likes of Singapore.

South Korea

Seoul, South Korea
Pairat Pinijkul /

Down one place to fifth, South Korea is a tech-savvy nation that is home to numerous international technology brands. It is number one for both getting electricity (which is affordable and easy to apply for) and ease of contract enforcement (with a comparatively quick judicial process of under a year and costs coming to just 12% of the claimed amount). Furthermore, it has moved up two places to fourth when it comes to the ease of resolving insolvency.

It has a few rankings outside of the top 30. It has moved down three places to 31st regarding dealing with construction permits, is 32nd for the ease of cross-border trade and 39th for the registration of property. South Korea's worst rating comes for ease of getting credit, which is a critical consideration with regards to establishing a business. The level of protection afforded to lenders and borrowers in South Korea is slightly lower than the average for high-income countries, and less than half of the score available. It is the 44th easiest country for getting credit, down two places from last year.

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