Q: How do I open a business in another country?

4 min


The thought of travelling out of the country for an extended period of time seems amazing, right. Well, how about an indefinite period of time, and this time you’re not travelling, your living there and running a business. Still sound fun? If yes, here are all the tips you need.

Dear Ellie,

If I am interested in opening a business in another country, where do I start?

I am not even sure where to look, or what to look for.

~ Inquiring Isa

Lauren, today’s Dear Ellie columnist, breaks it down for us:

Dear Dreaming of an Ex-Pat Life,

I’m so excited to hear that you are interested in transforming your world and exploring ex-pat life and business ownership outside of the US.

I moved to Southeast Asia as a senior in high school and also moved to Mexico as an adult to start a business. Both experiences were life-changing.

Moving can create chaos and uncertainty and push you to grow in ways that you could never achieve by remaining stagnant. The key is to set up realistic expectations and stay flexible, conquering each challenge as they arise. In my experience, the first month you move is euphoric and exciting. By the sixth month, you have experience being scared and lonely, and at the one-year mark, you start to settle in.

Suppose you are moving, starting a business, and acclimating to a new culture. In that case, you can expect this process to be twice as long because you are juggling three major life transformations vs. one.

Here is a start on what to do and consider before pulling the trigger:

Brainstorm

List out all the reasons why you are interested in starting a business in a foreign country. Establishing a clear “why” will help guide you through this journey when you feel lost. Then, list all your fears and the worst possible scenario with an exit plan if this expenditure goes south. Lastly, share a timeline of your expectations for both your business and your assimilation into the environment. Really drill down into this last step. Take your list of fears and see if any of the tips below help you get a jump start on creating a solution for them.

Plan Multiple Visits

I suggest that you visit at least one to three times before committing to the move. The first visit can be a few days to a week, but if your budget and schedule allow, I suggest that you do a long-term rental for a month to three months. Visiting may be one of the most important investments you make into your future business. When we visit for a week or less, we typically stay in tourist mode, and the reality of mundane chores and errands do not show up. The longer you stay, the more likely you will figure out who you would see for medical appointments, where you would grocery shop, how you would send mail back to the states, etc. If your initial visit is successful, your next visits can be used to set up meetings with local business owners, lawyers, realtors, banks, etc., to start and form a better idea of what it would take to make your dreams a reality. If you are too intimidated to reach out for help and make local connections, you may not be ready for this adventure. Being open and asking for help will be a big part of this experience.

Learn the Language and Culture

Is English the primary language in the country you are interested in moving to? If not, do you know the language? If both answers are no, it’s time to work! Studying the language and learning the culture before moving will help you feel 100% more comfortable and confident. Consider enrolling in a course before you move and dedicating blocks of time each day to practice. After you move, enroll in a continuing language course. The class can help you continue to build your language skills in your new environment and spark connections with individuals in your same position. When you visit or move, be observant and do not hesitate to ask for help. The majority of people want to help you if you are making an attempt to adapt. Quiet your ego, and just know that you will feel out of place for a while as you learn your new world’s language and ways.

Connect with Ex-Pats

An ex-pat is a person who lives outside of their native country. Typically I have found that ex-pat groups are incredibly friendly, resourceful, and a lifeline. Many countries have American Clubs, host ex-pat meetups, and offer affiliate groups that you can join. Share a post on social media announcing your plan to see if anyone in your network or a few degrees outside of your network shares a connection. Look into your alma maters and see if you have any connections who have moved out of the states.

Regulations

Each country has different rules for immigration, taxation, employment laws, and financial regulation. Visit your local consulate and embassy to understand the rules and regulations before you create your business plan. Find a local attorney or accountant who understands international law to help guide you through the local government. Understand the infrastructure of the country and import-export laws if you intend on selling goods. Set up an international banking relationship to make sure you can easily access your funds and understand the currency differences. More things to do will arise as you explore each area, but this gives you a jumping-off point.

Budget and Business Plan

Once you have done your initial research and visits, fine-tune your budget and business plan to include extra funds for possible unknowns. Taxes or regulations that you did not predict are bound to come up. Also, plan for a visit home sometime in the first year, ideally after four to six months of being in your new home.

Find a Mentor

During your visits, seek out connections with other ex-pat business owners, and offer to treat them to coffee or lunch in exchange for their time and knowledge. I would only do this once you have explored all the points above. Once a meeting is set, come prepared with specific questions. Many people share the same dream of moving outside the US and starting a business, but few actually pull the trigger. If you haven’t done basic research, it will show that you are only a dreamer and not a doer.

Prepare for the Naysayers

Undoubtedly someone in your life will be scared of your business plan, which will translate into negative comments. Go back to your why and prepare to face the naysayers, recognizing that negativity is typically the other person’s own insecurities showing through. Be prepared for some friendships and connections in your current life to dissipate. Just remember, this will make space for new connections to bloom.

Digging deep into your new environment is an investment that will pay dividends in the future of your business. Just like anything in life, a well-executed and researched plan with flexibility will always beat out a sporadic decision and lead to less anxiety. There is absolutely no way to prepare for everything, so keep an open mind, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Congratulations on your new adventure and I wish you the best.

Hugs + Lashes,

Ellie + Lauren


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Lauren Baxter

Lauren splits her time as an artist, writer, self-professed health and wellness junkie, and community builder. She is is most passionate about helping divorcees thrive and believe that great partnerships are still possible.

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