How to take your business overseas

Published on 2017-04-03 at 08:07
As an entrepreneur, you may want to expatriate for business or personal reasons, and whether you are taking your business with you, expanding your current operations, or looking to start from scratch in your new home, there are some steps you can take to ensure the most successful migration abroad.

Understand the culture

The main point here remains the same as if you were simply moving abroad; learn the language! A country may have multiple official languages, and the language of business may be one that you speak, but your business will run a whole lot smoother if you know the language. While in some countries and with certain businesses the English language will help you get by, if you need to communicate with anyone native to the country, it will undoubtedly be a huge help to be able to communicate in their tongue. However, there can often be more than linguistic differences, as the very culture of business differs from country to country, and sometimes even between different regions in a country. Is business conducted in a meeting room, or over lunch? Are business acquaintances expected to socialise together to get a deal done, or is it all far more formal? Knowing the nature of business interactions in your intended destination can make all the difference when you get there, especially if you are setting up a business from scratch.

Prepare and plan

Aside from making sure you are comfortable with the local language and understand the culture, there a number of other things to prepare before you leave. The first and most obvious is to check if there is a market for your business if you are intending to offer your goods or services to locals. If you are opening a coffee shop, for example, you'll need to consider if locals enjoy coffee regularly or more infrequently, if there is a big coffeehouse chain on every corner or if people are struggling to get their daily dose of caffeine. Some places may not have a certain type of product or service for a reason, so make sure you really are filling a niche and not just plugging a hole that didn't need filling. You should also check out different areas in the country you are considering setting up your business. Is there a lot of footfall? Is it quiet at certain times of day? If you're looking at setting up an office, making it easy to get to for employees will also be important. And when it comes to employees, you might need to investigate the local labour market – will there be the skills you need available from the outset, or will you need to provide training?

You will have a different set of considerations if your business is online, but in addition to some already mentioned, you may want to look more closely at things such as availability of internet and real internet speeds (compared to those advertised), whether co-working spaces are available (if you are a smaller online business without the need for a team) or perhaps finding appropriate space for hardware rather than prime real estate for attracting customers.

Regardless of your type of business, you should try to have your plan as ready to go as possible before taking the leap. This isn't to say that people haven't moved abroad and then built fantastic businesses, but if you're moving with the intent to create or take a business abroad, it is always better to have as much of your business plan constructed as possible.

Manage your finances

This is a key aspect of any business to start with, so it comes as no surprise that this remains at the forefront of successfully transferring or creating a business abroad. Tax laws vary greatly, so you may choose your destination based on destinations with favourable tax policies. Even if you don't select your destination, it is important to consider the tax implications of moving or incorporating your business abroad, as mistakes could be costly. Though smaller business owners may feel comfortable dealing with this themselves, if you have any doubts, get an accountant or tax consultant to help navigate the often muddy waters. Also, check before you make any significant fund transfers – does your current bank operate in your destination, or, if not, what are your options?

It needn't be said that the exchange rate, though changeable, is worth looking into. Things like political and economic stability will often indicate whether any money held in the currency of your destination will retain its value. If you have the option of calculating projected costs, such as rent in your preferred neighbourhood or getting in touch with local suppliers, it's always better to get a good grasp on the numbers before you leave. However, there will always be certain jurisdictions where you will only truly be able to calculate costs when you get there, if, for example, business is done on a more personal level, rather than over the phone or by email.


There are some jurisdictions where you may find your ability to own a business is curbed from the outset; some countries do not allow foreign ownership of businesses or may limit the equity that may be owned by foreign entities. Despite the fact that a number of countries have recently opened up their doors to foreign ownership to some extent (Kuwait, for example), some restrictions on foreign ownership remain. If you are seeking to partner up with a native citizen /citizens of the country, you may be fine, depending on the industry. A large number of countries vary their allowances on foreign-ownership of equity by industry, with a range of 0-100%.

Ultimately, when taking your business abroad, there are numerous considerations, be they lifestyle or financial, personal or commercial. As with all things, ensuring you have done sufficient research about your country of choice and planning ahead will put you in the best position to see your business succeed and flourish.