For the last couple of weeks, our blog was mostly „all play and no work“. After our guest authors’ advice on making new friends abroad and hosting an international dinner party, it’s time to return to the business world today.
Lots of employees are dreaming of becoming their own boss and calling the shots. The dream of opening your own business probably looks even more attractive if you think of combining it with a move abroad: Leave the daily grind of your entire life behind and start from scratch somewhere else! Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
However, there’s often a big gap between the rosy picture painted by your imagination and the somewhat harsher reality. But it is by no means impossible to become a self-employed expat. After all, numerous expatriates have done so and succeeded. What’s the secret of their success?
Here are our best practice tips for starting self-employment while living abroad.
1) Know your mind: You need to have a good idea for running a business in the first place. It should be something that inspires you and that you feel confident about doing. For instance, if you have been working as a dietician in a clinic for years, it’s not such a big step to working as an independent nutritionist.
But bigger steps are possible. For example, Brad – a 33-year-old US expat living in Singapore – is now the proud owner of “the best damn gym in Asia”, as he calls it humorously. Previously, he worked in private security in the States, Malaysia, and Singapore, but he was no longer happy with his job in security and surveillance. There may have been a slight risk involved in changing his field of work, but it paid off for him.
2) Know if you can or want to do it alone. Perhaps the transition to small business owner or free professional will be easier if you have one or several partners for your endeavor. Brad is running the gym with two of his closest friends. The sense of a shared adventure, of mutual support and camaraderie can sustain you when you hit a rough spot.
Sometimes, looking for a business partner or shareholders is also a legal necessity. In many countries, there are restrictions on foreign residents who want to open a company. A local partner may be required. While you might at first chafe under this restriction, it also has certain advantages: A local business person will bring their own network, know-how, and experience to the table.
3) Know what you are doing. It sounds like a truism, but that’s because it is true: It really helps to be familiar with the local market, the country, and the culture. If you are longing to pack your suitcase, board the next plane, and open a language school in Cancún, just because you once spent a lovely holiday there, failure is more or less a given.
It’s easier if you have established a network in your new destination, frequently go there on business trips, or have been living there for a while. Before Brad opened his gym in Singapore, he had lived in Southeast Asia for nearly ten years. Singapore had become his second home, and he feels more comfortable there than in his small hometown in Oklahoma.
When it comes to the nitty-gritty details of hard facts and doing your homework, there are organizations to turn to for market research and in-depth information: your foreign chamber of commerce, commercial attachés of your local embassy, or business associations in your line of work.
4) Know your rights and responsibilities. The devil is always in the details, and this saying especially applies to issues like immigration and entrepreneurship. The legal questions associated with moving to another country and opening a business abroad can be tricky and manifold.
First, if you yet need to relocate, you should find out if you need a visa and residence permit. Many countries, e.g. Australia or the US, encourage skilled entrepreneurs to immigrate and have special visa categories for foreign businesspeople. In other cases, it will be more difficult, and you might welcome the help of an immigration lawyer.
Talking to a lawyer also comes in handy to clarify the requirements for becoming a business owner. Things may not always run as smooth as they did for Brad. “Setting up a business in Singapore is unreal – the fastest process you could ever imagine,” he says approvingly. “The place was designed for entrepreneurs.”
But not all countries are equally business-friendly and as committed to efficiency and transparency. A good lawyer aids you with cutting through the red tape of legal entities, company registration, business licenses, and having your qualification recognized.
5) Know your financial stuff. As we are all aware, money does make the world go round. Self-employed expats need to be particularly savvy when it comes to finance. If you don’t know how to draw up a business plan or how to raise your initial capital, you might look for a good business consultant.
A tax advisor will assist you with keeping proper records and crossing all t’s and dotting all i’s on your income tax return. In Singapore, doing your taxes is actually pretty easy – while German tax law, to cite just one example, could drive you to distraction.
6) Last but not least: be persistent, and be daring. Brad admits that he was terrified when he started out, but he doesn’t regret his decision. His own words sum it up best:
“Work hard at something you’re passionate about, and don’t be afraid to just go for it. When it’s all said and done, you’re only going to regret the chances you didn’t take.”
Have you ever tried to run your own business abroad? What is your advice for self-employed expatriates?
(Photo credit: 1) Singapore Skyline at Night by Wikimedia Commons user Merlion444 2) Barbell Group Fitness Class by Local Fitness Australia 3) Logo Franco-Thai CoC by FTCC and Wikimedia Commons user Assistcom 4) Business Plan by Wikimedia Commons user Karimeh)
Also many thanks to Brad Robinson from Ritual Gym in Singapore for the brief email interview!