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Starting a Business Abroad: the World is your Oyster

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Globe, by Nick WheelerCongratulations! You’ve decided to start a business in another country? But where? This first blog post will try to point you in the right direction when it comes to choosing which new country in which to start a new business.

Different people will have different motivations for setting up abroad. Some may be moving for marriage, while others may have seen an opportunity to use their existing skills in a new environment as their own boss. Others still will choose to do so as a lifestyle choice, wanting a change in climate or pace of life that they think is lacking in their own country. All of those will influence where you will be able to set up your business, and may dictate certain limitations on what you want to do.

Now, it would be great if we could all set up businesses in our ideal country with little or no hassle or without having to think ahead, but if that were the case, I would be running a beachside cocktail bar in the Dutch Antilles right now. The first thing you have to do is examine why you have picked Country X as your next base of operations.

Write down every reason you can think of that is encouraging to you to the country you have chosen. “Family” is as valid a reason as “beer” for the purposes of this first exercise; there’s no need to start thinking about business environment specifics yet.  Now, being as ruthless as possible, list all the disadvantages the country has too. That includes not speaking the language, hating your mother in law, and hating the number (or lack of) public holidays held each year. Remember, you’re not just popping over for a holiday, or even an extended stay; you will be living and working here (hopefully) for a number of years. What can seem endearingly eccentric when you can get away from it can become an irritant of epic proportions when it has to be contended with on a regular basis. Are you sure you can cope?

This is where you now have to draw up your backup list. Are there any other countries that you considered before settling on your first pick? Why did you consider them? And what advantages or disadvantages do they have in comparison to that country? You may have thought your heart was firmly set on a specific nation, but when you weigh up the alternatives, you may find yourself being pulled in a different direction.

Next, you have to think about yourself and whether you are suited to starting a business abroad. Are you incredibly close to your family? If they are not coming with you, would you miss them terribly? Getting a business off the ground is a big commitment, so don’t assume that you will be able to afford the time or money to travel back “home” to see them whenever you get lonely.

How good are you at picking up languages? Even if you are planning to set up in an expat enclave like the Costa del Sol in Spain, you’ll still need to deal with official paperwork an interact with bureaucrats who may not speak your language. Are you willing to learn? One of the biggest dangers in moving to a country where you don’t speak the language is that if you find yourself living or working in an non-expat area, you can very quickly find yourself feeling isolated and disenfranchised if you can’t communicate with the poeple around you.

Are you cut out for long-term living in the country you’ve chosen? Remember, if you’ve only ever visited for a holiday, you have not had to deal with the mundane business of organising insurance, arranging to have a phone line installed or deciding between gas and electric heating. Again, language skills would matter, but so too will things like climate. I loves me some Sweden, but I would never live there as I could not cope with winter temperatures there, no matter how well-organised Scandinavian countries are when it comes to cold weather. So, while you may like a couple of weeks in the sun, what if it was always sunny and the seasons never changed? Humans are adaptable, but we are also creatures of habit.

What about any of your current hobbies or pastimes? Are you going to drop them, or do you hope to continue them when you move? Do you think you’ll be able to pick up all the tools and equipment you need over there, or will you have to take them over yourself? How will you cope about the little things from home that will be missing? I’m not talking about food here, but familiar shops and brands that you buy from regularly? If you have an internet shopping habit, do any of your favourite sites offer shipping to your new destination? Obviously it doesn’t matter awfully if you are only buying books and DVDs, but remind yourself that this is the convenience that you are going to be giving up. And one crucial important thing if you are not moving your entire family over: how quickly could you get “home” in an emergency? You may very well be able to Skype yourself to your mother’s deathbed, but it’s never going to be as intimate as being there in person.

Finally, take your list of countries, the favourite and the backups, and see how well they fit in with your current lifestyle and the lifestyle you imagine you’re going to be having. Remember, you’re not going to be going on holiday, you’re going to be setting up a business, possibly in a completely new field, in an unfamiliar business environment. Don’t imagine you can just wing it. Be brutally honest with yourself about which of the countries offers the best match between what you can do now (and in the future) and how you hope to live.

You may find that your original choice may not be as appealing as it first appeared, or that some aspects of uprooting yourself wholesale from your home country mean making some sacrifices that you haven’t considered. Only you can answer if it is still a good idea for you to set up shop overseas Hopefully being forced not just to examine the country you initially chose, but also possible alternatives and your own reasons for wanting to move will give you a better impression of whether your wish is pie in the sky or if yo might actually make it work.

In the next post, tomorrow, I’ll be talking about the kind of business you want to set up in another country.


[Image by Nick Wheeler]


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