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Starting a Business Abroad: Get Some Background Information

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Globe, by Nick WheelerSo you know where you want to go, and you have a vague notion about what you’ll be doing when you get there? What’s next? Well, you don’t need to pack a bag and book some flights just yet; that will come later. First, you need to get a little more information about your target country.

The one thing I’d ask of you, even if you are planning to set up in the sector, is to avoid any travel websites. They are in the business of selling you the country as a destination, so aren’t exactly going to be forthcoming about anything you ought to be worried about. This goes even for those sites that carry reviews and comments from the public. Travel websites, by their nature, are for people who are on holiday, just passing through. They are not for those who are making a permanent move overseas.

The best place to get information on starting a business in a foreign country is at that country’s website. Your local embassy may even have its own dedicated portal to help potential foreign investors hoping to set up a business, such as the Doing Business in Kenya page at the Kenyan High Commission in London website. Don’t be afraid to follow up with a phone call or email for any questions you may have. They may not work on commission, but most embassy staff are more than happy to help out someone who wants to invest in their country. Also, don’t forget your own country’s embassy in the other country; they will also have a wealth of information, specifically geared towards people like you, and will also be able to refer you to any trade bodies at home who help people set up businesses overseas

While the embassy will probably only give you just enough information to make their country seem like a paradise for your money, you would also be well-advised to seek out some other views about how to start a business overseas. Luckily for you, there are some big hitter and online communities to help you out. The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation recently released their 2011 Doing Business economy rankings, that measure the ease of doing business in 183 countries. More usefully, you can download a report for each country listed by clicking on the country name to reach its profile, which also outlines the procedure for starting a business in that country. Brilliant!

There are also a number of forums for expats who are already living and working abroad. If you’re thinking of starting a business in another country, it might be worth your while joining one of these to ask for advice on day-to-day life in your chosen country. One of the most active boards I’ve found is at Expat Blog. Don’t ask for specific business advice; the majority of expats have moved with extant jobs and may not be fully aware of all the rules and regulations concerning setting up a business abroad. Also, immigration and visa requirements are different for employees and entrepreneurs, so the paperwork they’ve been dealing with could be very different from the bureaucracy you will have to deal with. Nevertheless, expat boards can be useful for learning what life is like in a different country, from the difficulties in transferring your driving license to whether you can find a real ale pub where you have decided to relocate. So sign up, but beware: if anyone offers to hook you with with a deal on anything business-related, make sure you investigate them as thoroughly as possible. Scammers are everywhere these days.

Other sources of information to give you an idea of the economic and the political landscape of the country where you hope to set up your new business are the regularly-updated CIA World Factbook and the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office pages for various countries. While these will not give you specific advice on doing business in a foreign country, the CIA’s country entry’s provide useful background information on the state of the economy and the political structure, while the FCO covers issues such as local laws and customs and precautions to take for your own safety and security. While they are fairly honest, try not be to too alarmed at the FCO’s about crime, terrorism and disease; they are designed principally with British holidaymakers in mind, rather than adventurous entrepreneurs setting off to make their fortune. Once again, don’t forget that your own country’s foreign office may offer its own advice.

All of the information you glean from these sources will be helpful in building up a picture in your own mind about starting a business in another country. It may confirm your belief that the country you have chosen is right for you, it may send you back to the drawing board to look for an alternative location. But what it can’t do is give you a proper feel for what it will be like doing business abroad, which is what I will be covering in my next post.

[Image by Nick Wheeler]

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