Moving abroad as a self-employed expat: What should you keep in mind?

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Published on 2024-01-12 at 13:00 by Oummé
Moving to a new country is an exciting opportunity, but it can also be a complex endeavor for self-employed professionals. The administrative tasks can be diverse and numerous, varying from one country to another. In this article, we explain how to navigate the process smoothly.

Why do self-employed professionals move abroad?

The Observatoire de l'expatriation Banque Transatlantique took a close look at the question and interviewed French professionals who have chosen to move abroad. So, what are the reasons why French professionals settle abroad?

Among those in liberal professions, 36% opted for relocation to capitalize on a professional opportunity. This group significantly emphasizes the professional aspect, although slightly less than salaried employees (46%). Furthermore, 21% expressed a desire to progress more rapidly professionally and/or socially, echoing a similar concern to that of employees (24%).

After an average of 20 years of experience in their host country, 68% of self-employed respondents believe that this country provides a more suitable environment for their professional activities than France. This trend is also reflected in job searches (64%) and business creation (64%).

Understanding the process

Regardless of your nationality and the reason why you've chosen to move abroad, the first step involves securing a work visa in the destination country. Conditions can vary, but they are typically strict. In most cases, foreign professionals are required to demonstrate a job offer, a diploma recognized in the host country, and a satisfactory level of language proficiency. But in your case, make sure to secure the appropriate professional visa since you don't necessarily have a job contract in hand. You might also need additional permits or other documents to be allowed to work in your host country, so take your time to sort out the necessary paperwork.

Following the visa approval, you must register with local authorities. This step is essential for obtaining a tax identification number and accessing public services.

Diploma recognition 

Obtaining diploma recognition is an important step for practicing your profession in a foreign country. Typically, you'll need to undergo an examination or a series of interviews to showcase your skills.

Procedures for diploma recognition differ from one country to another, so it's essential to check with local authorities to understand the steps you need to take.

Tax regulations for self-employed professionals

Tax treaties between the two countries must also be taken into account. These can help reduce double taxation.

Taxation for self-employed expats varies across different countries. It's important to find out and understand the tax regulations in your host country before relocating.

Typically, self-employed expats are subject to income tax, and tax rates vary depending on income levels. Developed countries generally have higher tax rates compared to developing ones.

Additionally, check whether there are tax treaties between the two countries to avoid double taxation.

A case in point: A French doctor moving to Switzerland

French doctors looking to practice in Switzerland need to expect several administrative and cultural formalities. For instance, you must:

Have your diplomas validated by the Swiss Medical Professions Commission (MEBEKO) and recognized by the Swiss Medical Association, especially in the case of advanced training.

Obtain specific authorization from the chosen canton, complying with the rules laid down by Swiss law. Pricing practices regulated by TARMED require compliance, particularly in larger establishments.

Have cultural knowledge, particularly of the cantonal language, is a major asset in facilitating integration.

Check the equivalence of diplomas with the relevant authorities.

Social Security for self-employed expats

Social security coverage is another crucial aspect to consider, as health and pension systems differ from country to country.

Check this out with local authorities to understand the conditions for accessing social benefits in your host country.

A concrete example: Self-employed expats in the USA

In the United States, self-employed expats are taken in charge by a hybrid healthcare system. While the country lacks a universal healthcare system, you can choose international health insurance, which allows you to select a primary care provider from the insurance network. However, without insurance, access to the healthcare system may be restricted, and emergency medical costs can be high.

Obtaining comprehensive international health insurance is strongly advised to avoid substantial financial burdens and ensure access to the best private medical facilities in the country. Meeting the eligibility criteria for Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant plans may necessitate having Social Security and established residency in a U.S. state, highlighting the need for careful social coverage planning for self-employed workers in the U.S.

Other factors to consider

In addition to administrative procedures, diploma recognition, taxation and social security coverage, it is important to take into account other factors when expatriating, such as :

Language: mastering the host country's language is vital to communicating with patients/clients, suppliers, and local authorities.

Culture: it's essential to familiarize yourself with the host country's culture to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

Cost of living: for better financial management, you need to find out about the cost of living in your host country so you can adapt your budget accordingly.

Our advice for a successful move as a self-employed expat

Moving overseas, especially as a self-employed professional, requires proper planning and a clear compilation of all the essential information to ensure a smooth and serene transition to your new country. Don't hesitate to seek assistance from expatriate professional associations and networks for guidance.

Start your research as soon as possible. Let's consider the case of a French doctor intending to practice in Switzerland. They'll need to gather information on crucial administrative processes, such as MEBEKO recognition and cantonal authorization. This information will help them make the right decisions and prepare for potential challenges.

Learn more about your host country. Communication is essential in any professional practice, whether interacting with colleagues, customers, patients or business partners. Learn the language and familiarize yourself with the culture and the cost of living.

Build your network. Contact expatriate professionals who can help you settle in.

Be flexible. Relocating overseas can be an adventurous experience but requires a certain amount of adaptation.

Embarking on a professional journey abroad is undeniably challenging, but it also offers enriching experiences and opens up new opportunities. With proper preparation and a good dose of motivation, there's no reason why you won't be thriving in your career.