Setting up a business abroad: the challenges

startup-593327_1920In my series about expat entrepreneurship I have already discussed the advantages for entrepreneurs moving abroad and the best online tools for networking. In this blog, I will cover the specific hurdles that entrepreneurs face and how best to overcome them.


Depending on the country you originate from and where you are moving to, there are going to be problems in working and living abroad. Even for Europeans emigrating within the EU, most countries still require a residence permit in order to work, despite European law ensuring the free movement of people. Then there are countries like America, Australia and China where lengthy visa processes makes moving for work more difficult.

It is different for the entrepreneur however, because some countries are desperate to establish their own Silicon Valleys meaning that entrepreneurial talent is highly sought after. Countries can make it easy for entrepreneurs by offering attractive visas for startups for any future Mark Zuckerbergs. These types of visas are offered in countries such as the US, Australia, Denmark, Singapore and Spain to name a few.

These sorts of factors will determine whether someone is offered a startup visa:

  • If a company has raised significant capital from local investors
  • The viability of the business
  • How many local jobs the business will create
  • How much revenue will be generated from the local market

Visas are guaranteed from two years onwards but if some of the above conditions are not met, the visa may be rescinded. It’s fortunate then that tight deadlines and targets are what entrepreneurs need to drive them on to success.

Visit the website of the embassy you would like to relocate to in order to find out if there are any startup visas available or make an appointment with the local embassy to talk through the options.


The hardest part of starting a new business is undoubtedly raising enough money to make your dream become a reality. Banks and venture capitalists is one option for business loans however there may be other options for the expat entrepreneur.

As well as helping smooth the process for applying for visas, some countries extend their financial help as well. Being aware of the types of financial incentives on offer in individual countries can give a fledgling startup a boost.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but your own government might offer loans to set up a foreign business if your startup will help foreign trade. The best thing about government loans is that their interest rates are generally lower than bank loans and the financial obligations may be less exacting than the terms expected by venture capitalists.

Language and culture

The biggest hurdle to overcome when relocating abroad are the cultural and linguistic challenges you will face in the workplace. It’s a good idea to  take business language classes even if you think you are fluent in the native language. Most people’s language skills revolve around social situations meaning that although you may be able to chat socially in a foreign language you may struggle to negotiate or use specific business terminology. Can you imagine trying to arrange web hosting or ordering stationery in another language? The other advantage of business language classes is that in the process of learning business-related vocabulary and expressions, you are also learning about aspects of working culture in general.

If you are not fluent, it goes without saying that you need to start learning as soon as possible. Knowledge of a language is essential for dealing with employees, networking and for your own well being as it minimises the feelings of isolation that moving abroad can cause.

Where to get the right information

entrepreneur-593361_1920If you are working as part of an incubator, you will receive guidance on business, financial, legal and HR issues as part of the arrangement. Similarly, investors will be happy to advise you about business processes in your new country.

Other startups are a great source of advice; this is why shared workspaces are such a great resource. At networking events, the conversation will always be on the difficulties of working abroad, so it’s advisable to take your notebook. Finally entrepreneur blogs and startup websites are a good place to find resources and relevant information.

Some processes may be just too tricky to tackle yourself, however hard you try. For a complex business process like incorporating your business abroad, you always have the option to pay third party companies to take care of it.

Share your experiences of setting up a business abroad. What were your toughest challenges?

For more information on starting your business in a new country, check out the business sections in our country guides.

[Images: StartupStockPhotosStartupStockPhotos: StartupStockPhotos]

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