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Tom Wilkinson, former CEO, AXA - Global Healthcare

Nine of the best countries to start a business in

Doing Business Abroad

PUBLISHED: 16 June 2020 | LAST UPDATED: 27 May 2022

Thinking of starting a business? Considering doing so abroad? Whether it’s for a better quality of life or geographic position, or if there’s a location that’s renowned for your industry, here’s a list of countries worth considering.

No matter the size of your business, if you’re thinking about where to launch a ground-breaking idea or you’re considering your first international expansion, there are plenty of destinations to consider, to help your business grow.

1. Norway

Like many of its Scandinavian neighbours, Norway has one of the highest tax rates in the world, which funds its extensive welfare state. While high taxes aren’t at the top of most entrepreneurial wish-lists, Norway also offers a stable economy and a strong emphasis on skills and education, offering an ideal pool of potential recruits. It’s also known for its residents’ quality of life, with beautiful scenery and plenty of mountain views to enjoy. 

2. New Zealand

There’s a lot to be said for New Zealand. Over the last 40 years, it has transformed from relying heavily on agriculture, to a more industrialised, free market economy with the potential to compete on a global scale. This growth has boosted incomes and the country now has a strong export market, with plenty of opportunity for a savvy smaller business to establish itself. Its time zone also makes it particularly appealing for European businesses looking to expand an overnight or 24/7 service internationally.

New Zealand is also famous for the happiness of its citizens, ranking above average on education and housing, as well as having some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

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3. Canada

Canada closely resembles the US in its economy, production and living standards. It’s one of the world’s largest oil producers and also offers a strong investment relationship with the US, with a goods and services trade estimated at $718.4 billion in 2019¹. With this powerful relationship in mind, Canada offers a great opportunity for new businesses, especially those interested in US markets.

4. Switzerland

With a competitive corporate tax environment, within easy reach of several major European countries, Switzerland is a very attractive start-up location. The country boasts a strong economy, a highly skilled workforce and one of the highest GDP per capita figures in the world. Its economic and political stability, impressive infrastructure and high quality of life should make Switzerland an appealing business location. 

5. Luxembourg 

Luxembourg has historically been known for stable growth and low inflation, largely as a result of an incredibly competitive tax regime. 

The government actively supports economic diversification, welcoming foreign businesses in industries such as logistics, IT, health technologies and clean energy. Luxembourg also has a strong financial sector, accounting for about a third of GDP². While it’s not as renowned as countries such as Norway and New Zealand for quality of life, Luxembourg is nothing short of a business playground.

6. The Netherlands

The sixth-largest economy in the European Union³, The Netherlands enjoys successful trade, stable industrial relations and also plays an important role as a European transportation hub. Its key industries include food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining and electrical machinery, and it also has a reputation as the world’s second largest agricultural exporter. With an easy-going ‘café culture’ and a tax allowance available to people moving there to work, the Netherlands is a great destination for small businesses.

7. Singapore

Having established itself as Southeast Asia's leading finance and technology hub, any small businesses that are looking to enter the eastern market should consider Singapore. It offers a remarkably transparent business environment and a per capita GDP higher than that of most developed countries.

The economy depends heavily on exports, particularly of consumer electronics, IT products, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, and on its transport, business and financial services sectors. With a skilled workforce and a tax system that’s simpler than a lot of the other countries on this list, Singapore should be a top consideration for businesses.

8. China

The Chinese government provides extensive support for entrepreneurs and there’s a fast-growing consumer market, meaning businesses have more room to grow than in many other countries. However, for those from the West, there are some major cultural differences to be aware of. As well as a significant language barrier, did you know, for example, that it’s seen as rude to put a business card that you’ve just received in your pocket? If you’re willing to thoroughly research the local culture and get stuck in though, there is plenty of business opportunity in China. 

9. The UK

Based in the UK, a unique aspect of doing business here is that our nation is home to an unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit. Indeed, at the end of 2017, research showed that as many as four-in-five Brits aspired to set up their own business.

The UK is home to the second largest workforce in Europe, has the lowest corporation tax in the G20 and is widely regarded as the easiest major economy in Europe to do business in. Taking just 48 hours to register a company, it should be near the top of any entrepreneur’s list of go-to destinations. 

These may be some of the most popular countries in the world to start or run a small business, but this is by no means all of them. Whether you’re looking for a favourable tax environment, to specialise in an industry sector or simply for the perfect work-life balance, there are opportunities and adventures to suit all entrepreneurs beyond their own countries. 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.