Expat entrepreneurs: They took the plunge...

Published 3 weeks ago

It's not always easy to start your own business. Imagine, over and above that, doing so in a foreign country. The administrative puzzle, the accounting and financial management are all steps that can be more complicated when we are not acquainted to the system of a foreign country. But creating your company abroad is also an extremely enriching professional and human experience. A fact that both Karim and Bertille, two expat entrepreneurs will confirm. This is their story.

Karim, expatriate in Barcelona and founder of language school Espagnol pas à pas (Spanish Step by Step)

Why did you decide to move to Spain?

I arrived in Spain to complete my PhD in Spanish as a member of Casa de Velázquez. I was not supposed to teach at all during these two years of research but I realised that I would not be able to put aside my passion for teaching for a whole two years. So I created a blog where I would give tips and advice to French speakers who want to learn Spanish. For almost three years, I published an article every week.

In Barcelona, I was approached by readers who wanted Spanish classes and by associations of French speakers who asked for online courses.

So this is how you came up with the idea of a language school?

Creating my language school after by doctorate pretty much became the logical and natural thing to do. With my team, we give French classes to French speakers at the Institut Français de Barcelona. I also created online training classes where I teach the basics of Spanish to dozens of students around the world, in France, Spain but also in Quebec and Switzerland.

How did you get first into teaching?

I completed necessary qualifications to become a teacher after obtaining my master's degree in Spanish. I taught in high school for several years, but also at the Paris-Sorbonne University.

Any difficulties while setting up your language school?

Teaching is both my job and my passion, I had the necessary skills and I was qualified. The main issue was the transition from working for the state to the entrepreneur state of mind. It was a big jump! I needed to be the teacher, but also the secretary managing the administrative follow-up, the communication officer trying to increase the project’s visibility… But I love it. I am still doing what I love, that is teaching Spanish to French speakers but I am also continuously learning about entrepreneurship. It is so enriching.

Did you receive help in your approach?

I collaborated with the French-speaking associations of Barcelona and the French Institute of Barcelona to get started. I also received help from a Barcelona business club, la Peña, and also the advice from friends and family who had experience in business creation.

What did you learn from this experience?

After less than a year, I am lucky to note that the project has been viable from its inception.

Of course, I learned a lot from this early experience and I continue to learn.

I would say that I learned a lot from a technical and technological point of view, or even how to manage my time. But beyond that, I learnt even more about myself: how to believe in my ideas, to imagine and develop it, to make it happen, to be attentive to the constructive criticism. It's a wonderful human experience, in the end!


Bertille, expatriate in Florida and founder of ‘Florida As a Local’

Bertille Florida as a local

Why did you decide to settle in Florida?

I came with my husband who had a job opportunity on spot. I moved to Florida in the fall of 2012, first three and a half years living in South Beach, and since then in the city of Hollywood, north of Miami. I enjoy American life although some aspects of it can be difficult. My work allows me to showcase what I like the most about this region- cities, parks, wildlife-, so I really enjoy it!

What is the concept behind Florida as a local?

"Florida as a Local", is an agency of guided tours and tips for itineraries in Florida that I created in Spring 2018. Walking tours in the cities of Miami, Miami Beach and Hollywood. I only offer private tours for a very friendly atmosphere. My approach is to welcome the tourist as a family member so that they are able to live as a local. In addition, I take advantage of tours to raise awareness about the environment and wildlife in Florida (for example, no recommendations for visits including captive animals through my services, but eco-friendly alternatives!).

How did you decide to set up your business in this sector? Did you have any background in tourism?

No background in tourism, but a literary / foreign language background. I moved to Florida in 2012, and I noticed that the offers from tourist tours did not match my expectations. I wanted to offer an alternative offer to tourists, to break the image of superficiality that is often associated with Florida and especially, Miami.

Was it easy to start your business in the United States?

Yes, after obtaining all the necessary information, it was not difficult to start my business in Florida. There are four basic steps in this state for the type of company I chose (LLC: Limited Liability Company):

  • declare the name of his company
  • choose and declare an agent of representation (oneself if one is self-entrepreneur like in my case)
  • complete the company training certificate
  • create an operation agreement

How does your expatriate experience legitimise your expertise?

I have lived in other countries before the United States- Canada, Spain and England- and I have faced various difficulties in each of these countries. I think I can say that these experiences have developed my ability to adapt and react to any situation, which is a real added value in my work because I can reassure my clients who have a lot of questions before going on vacation, and also on the spot when they have to deal with an unexpected situation (for example, wrong reservation of their rental car).

How did this experience impact your life in the United States?

I love meeting new people, whether in my private life or in my job. I think it's a really enriching to interact with people with varied backgrounds. I also kept in touch with the majority of tourists who trusted me for a visit and I even became friends with some of them. Working in the United States is a unique opportunity, but being an entrepreneur here means there are many challenges to overcome, so you need to be aware of that. Too many expatriates arrive with "the American dream" in mind, but it is not always easy.

In any case, for me, this professional experience is extremely beneficial on many levels. Zero regrets.