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Starting a Business Abroad: Ducks in a Row

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Globe, by Nick WheelerSo you are absolutely certain that you are going start a business in another country. You’ve done your research, investigated the market, visited the country, even made a few contacts. But how to bring it all together? You don’t just need a business plan; you need a strategy.

One of the first things you should be doing, regardless of what kind of business you’re going to be starting, is taking language classes if you are not already fluent in the tongue of your future home. Even if the majority of your interactions are going to be with expats or other foreigners, it helps to speak the language where you live. Plus, you need to understand the paperwork you’ll be filling in, and to be able to read the press that brings you news that might affect your business. Don’t assume you’ll be able to muddle along with what I call “bar-level” language skills; you will not always have a translator or interpreter at hand to help. Make the effort and take steps so that you can communicate competently.

Your next step should be to take all of the information you have collected about the business environment in the country where you hope to start a business and plug this into your business plan, being as accurate as possible. You may need to swap a couple of emails with your lawyer and accountant to get a clear picture. Nevertheless, the business plan should reflect the regulatory framework in which you will be working, any special conditions that will be imposed on you as a foreigner and how this will affect not only the operations but also the profits of the business. This will impact directly on your personal income, so it is in your interests to make sure that you are not unwittingly impoverishing yourself.

One important aspect of your business plan is how your new venture will fit into the existing commercial landscape of your chosen country. You will need local suppliers and contacts if you’re going to get anything done, and some might be imposed on you by law. For instance, the Philippines demands that any foreigners setting up a business in the country must have a local partner. Now, they might seem like the ideal candidates, but in the name of whichever higher power you believe in, if you find yourself in this situation I am begging you not to choose your lawyer or accountant as a silent partner. Who would you turn to if the partnership went sour? Naturally, this is something that you should have picked up on, either in your initial research, or on your investigatory trip to the country, so you should have someone in mind by now.

In addition to all the usual paperwork involved with starting a business, you are probably also going to have extra paperwork to fill out to fulfil the immigration and visa requirements for the new country. While your lawyer there can probably handle the more mundane things that have to be done locally, it is likely that you will have to make an appointment at the embassy to be interviewed, present evidence that you have enough funds in place to not only invest but also to survive without government help and generally satisfy the foreign government that you are the sort of person who they want to allow to settle in their country. Be prepared to be asked for originals of everything, from your birth certificate to your vaccination records. Also make sure you have several (verified, if possible) passport-sized photos available, in case you are asked for them.

Now, it is time to take another trip to the country where you have decided to start a business. You need to do this so you can lay the groundwork so that you can hit the ground running when you make the move permanently. On this trip, you’ll be double-checking all of the information you gathered the first time round, following up any leads you managed to get from the contacts you made, and also conducting meetings and interviews with potential partners and employees. Once again, it is not a holiday, so keep your eventual goal in mind. You also need to consider your own living arrangements for when you make the move. Can you open a bank account before you have a local address? What about getting your driving licence endorsed or transferred? Have you investigated which area you’re going to be living in and what sort of property you can afford to buy or rent? This is the trip where you are not only making enquiries, but setting things in motion.

Provided you have done your homework, getting to the stage where you are not just sure about starting a business in a new country, but are on the brink of making the move will not be too stressful. While each country’s bureaucracy had its own idiosyncrasies, by now you should have had enough contact both at the embassy and in the country to know what to expect. Don’t imagine for a moment, however, that it is smooth sailing from here on in. Continue to expect the unexpected, and with each new piece of information, go back and rejig your business plan.

Tomorrow: finally setting up your new business in a new country!



[Image by Nick Wheeler]


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