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Self-employed expats: How to run a business as an expat

Always dreamt of starting your own internet business and working from anywhere in the world? You’re not alone. There are a growing number of backpack entrepreneurs and expat business owners running their companies far away from where they were launched, thanks to the power of the internet and our increasingly changing globalised business landscape.

Whether it’s marketing or consultancy, it’s easy to run a business from a living room or home office and reap the rewards of living and working in another country. Meet clients face to face or sell physical products? It’s possible to build a new clientele abroad or ship products from your e-commerce store via dropshipping or international mail. What’s more, many popular expat destinations offer lower tax levels and costs of living than at home, meaning you can choose between taking your foot off the gas to work less or enjoy a higher standard of living.

Below, we’ve put together just some of the things you’ll need to think about when running a business as an expat and offer some advice for would-be entrepreneurs ready to start up.


Get to grips with the business environment

If you’re planning to enter the local market rather than sell goods and services online, it’s essential that you get to grips with the local business market as soon as possible. Join as many networking groups and chambers as possible and make yourself known - the more people who know about your name and your brand, the more merchandise you’ll likely sell.

See also: What to ask before setting up a business in the UAE as an expat

LinkedIn and Facebook Groups are invaluable, here, allowing you to connect with potential clients and partners before you even set up shop. From there, face-to-face meetings are a great way to build relationships - but you should learn the lingo and local business etiquette.


Understand business regulations

Unless you’re planning to return to your country of origin regularly, it will likely make sense to set up and establish your business in your expat country. Some territories, like Singapore and Denmark, make it easy for expats to incorporate a business, whilst others require you to jump through legal loopholes or serve a minimum residency before you can register a brand.

If you’re planning to live in a country on a visa, make sure you know your rights when setting up a business or securing employment. Researching before you move means you’ll save yourself from any unwanted surprises down the road. Some governments, for example, only allow native citizens to run businesses, but it’s possible to use a professional employer organisation (PEO) to overcome this barrier to entry. Work with a reputable business support company and instruct a local legal representative to ensure you’re working within the law.


Learn the language

Whether you’re a UK expat moving to Spain or a US expat moving to the UAE, running your own business overseas means participating in the local culture and learning the language.

Even basic language skills will help you make an impact in your country of residence and will put you in front of more potential customers. Holding onto a client base from your country of residence? Getting to grips with the language will still help you run your business - you can expand to offer services locally, and get advice from local accountants and tax advisors.


Get tax advice

Before you move, it’s essential that you understand local and international tax laws. Every country in the world handles businesses and taxation differently, and though you might not know the ins and outs of taxation in your new country of residence, you should at least have a basic understanding before you consider starting or relocating a business as an expat.

Though you may be able to relocate but keep your business registered in your country of origin, you might find it advantageous tax-wise to establish your business locally, allowing you to pay less tax. Talk to an expat tax professional as soon as possible who will review your business strategy and advise on the best course of action for your circumstances.

You might decide to relocate to another country for tax purposes, but if you continue to offer your services to clients in other countries, your income might be taxed there, and you might have to make National Insurance contributions if you’re from the UK and expect to return there. 

Double taxation treaties should also be considered to avoid paying income tax in more than one jurisdiction, though the rules vary from country to country and can be very complicated.

See also: Understanding double tax treaties as an expat (UK and US citizen guide)


Run your business online

The most obvious way to run your business as an expat is to conduct your day to day activity online, liaising with your team and clients via email and Skype and collaboration tools such as Slack. Whether you’re establishing a new brand or you’re relocating and want to continue your business as an expat, it’s essential that you put communication at the heart of what you do, especially if you employ staff, as, without a physical office, it can be tough to guide them.

You should also take into account things such as time zones and adjust your schedules accordingly to deliver the best possible service to your clients. If you’re running a UK business from Australia, for example, clients will only be able to call you for a few hours of the day, so consider things such as virtual call centres to manage calls and voicemails and schedule telephone meetings in advance to ensure you can maintain a work-life balance. 

And it goes without saying - before purchasing or renting a property as an expat, make sure that you have access to fast and unrestricted internet. In countries such as China, many websites (like Facebook and Google) are inaccessible, which could impact your business.


Think about foreign exchange

If you’re moving to another country but running a business from your country of origin, you’ll likely need to convert assets and income from one currency to another.

See also: How to send money abroad as an expat without being crippled by fees

Living in Spain but dealing with UK clients, for example, would mean you’d need to convert GBP income into Euros, so look for the best foreign exchange provider and make sure your business account allows for international exchange and withdrawals.

Alternatively, you could invoice clients in your new currency (though this may cause some to question the integrity of your brand) or hold onto your income in your business bank account, withdrawing an annual or monthly salary or dividend to reduce currency exchange fees. 

See also: The benefits of opening an offshore savings account as an expat


If you’re self-employed, moving countries can be incredibly stressful and there are a million and one things you’ll need to take into consideration. Use our list above as a starting point and remember to seek professional support from a local accountant to ensure you operate legally in your new country of residence. Whatever you choose to do, we wish you luck.


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