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Starting a Business Abroad: Have You Your Papers?

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Globe, by Nick WheelerWhen you have completed all your preparation and made the jump across the border, you’re finally ready to start up your new business in a new country. But don’t forget the last-minute details that you have to deal with in person before you can congratulating yourself and concentrating on making the business a success. And yes, it requires yet more paperwork!

By now, you are tying up the final loose ends before your new business starts operation. You should have your funding in place, have secured premises, and completed the personal immigration procedures you need in order to run your business legitimately. You should also have completed interviews and hired your first employees, under contracts that conform to the national laws. From a personal perspective, you should also have somewhere to lay your head at night, means of transport and (if mandated) private health insurance.

You may be required to register with your local council or administrative department once you have a permanent address. It shouldn’t be a complicated process if your visa and other immigration documents are in order, and may be necessary if you need to access certain public services, such as healthcare. In addition, it isn’t a bad idea to register as a resident national at your own country’s consulate either, so that you can be easily contacted in case of any emergencies.

One of the most important things for any business is their banking facility, and this is one of the things that you will want to get in place as quickly as possible. If you were not able to set up an account without a local address, you now need to make sure that you have both a business account and a personal account for your individual needs. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the account you are opening, and that you are aware of any fees that may be imposed. It is important that you know exactly what you are getting into, so don’t sign anything until you’re happy. If in doubt, ask your accountant.

Depending on the kind of business you’ll be operating, you may need certain licences, registration or permits in order to operate legally. For instance, some countries insist that anyone running a bar or a business dealing with financial transactions must pass a “fit and proper person” test, to keep less savoury types out of the industry. While you may be able to fill out some of the applications for these bureaucratic niggles remotely, you may still need to present yourself in person for it to be completed. Make sure everything is in order before your grand opening. Once again, this is something your lawyer should have informed you of.

Some countries also require you to have an individual registration for tax contributions and social security. In addition, you may have certain obligation to any employees you are taking on, in the form of payroll or pension contributions. Make sure that all of your staff have their paperwork in order (have your accountant check it out) before you begin operations. The last thing you want is an audit or tax inspection when you have barely gotten started.

Before throwing open your doors to the general public, there are also a certain number of things you need to check on, though these would be the same for any business, regardless of where you are starting it:

  • Ensure all the utilities (electricity, internet, water, gas, etc.) in your business premises are functioning. If electricity supply in the country where you are operating is variable, invest in a backup generator.
  • Run through your business processes with your employees. Make sure everyone knows what their job entails, what is expected of them, and how to handle customer enquiries.
  • Check that all your marketing materials and branded goods are spelled correctly. If you still aren’t fluent in the language, have a trusted employee go over it for you. It would be embarrassing to look less than professional as soon as you open for business.
  • Double-check all of your paperwork. In certain countries, the opening of a new business if the perfect opportunity for unscrupulous officials to pay a visit and levy “fines” for incomplete licences or badly-fined permits. Don’t give them the chance.

Finally, you should be ready to have your first paying customers. Depending on the type of business, you may choose to have one big dramatic launch, complete with media publicity blitz, or you may choose to go for a softer approach. This could involve only opening to invited guests for the first few days, before gradually opening up to more of the general public. Regardless of the approach you choose, you won’t get any customers if nobody knows you exist, so make sure you have a marketing plan in place to announce your arrival, whether it be as simple as a set of flyers printed up and handed out, or a more comprehensive month long television and newspaper advertising campaign.

Starting a business is difficult enough, but when you are in a foreign country it can be even more complicated, as you deal with unfamiliar rules and regulations. Nevertheless, if you have done your homework and completed your preparations, the process of getting ready for operations will be much the same as in your own country once all of the paperwork is complete. Bureaucracy can be tediously dull, but it is there for a reason. Get the paperwork in order, and the rest should fall into place.

[Image by Nick Wheeler]

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