Most people live their whole lives in the country they were born in. And so it’s easy to see why most businesspeople base their operations in their home countries. But there are good reasons to look around the world and see if your business might be better located somewhere else.
Find What You’re Looking For
What are some of the most important indicators that a country is good for business investment and growth? Is it all about the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Consumer Price Indices (CPI) or is it all about the kind of foreign investment policies that a government enacts?
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that it is about all the above and so much more.
The intricacies that go into making a country lucratively viable for business investment and another one simply bad for that kind of investment are deeply rooted in the basics of economics.
As a business leader, or at least someone interested in running a foreign business or investment, understanding some, if not all of these intricacies will put you in a better position to make the right investment decision. It will, at the very least, give you a clear indication of the best and worst countries for business.
How the Top 5 Economic Indicators Affect Business Success
Learning to predict the kind of effects each one of these indicators has on the prowess of a country’s economy could save you a great deal of money.
Say for example, if you had invested heavily in France and are keeping track of the CPI, then you may notice that the inflation in that country is rising. An informed investor would know that this might indicate an imminent hike in interest rates by the central bank.
Knowing that this kind of hike tends to hurt your equities, you might decide to protect yourself by reducing your holdings in the country for the time being.
As someone who is looking to make business investments in other countries, let’s take a quick look at some of the most important economic indicators that should guide your hand in that venture:
- Gross Domestic Product: representing the market value of all final services and goods produced within any country in a given period of time, a country’s GDP is important because it tells you about how the economy is performing as well as its size. If a country has a growing GDP and inflation is not particularly an issue, then businesses within that country are generally better for it.
- Consumer Price Index: measuring changes in the prices of typical consumer services and goods purchased by households in a country, CPI is often used as a gauge for inflation. Inflation can negatively or positively affect a country’s currency, which in turn will determine just how expensive it is for you to invest in said country.
- PMI Manufacturing and Services: this is simply an indicator of how healthy the manufacturing sector of a country is during a specific period. Knowing the PMI of a country will tell you how well or poorly businesses are doing and why.
- Employment Indicators: this is perhaps the most important indicator to watch. How productive and wealthy a nation’s citizens are directly determine how much money they have to spend on goods and services. If unemployment rates go up, these citizens will have less disposable income and as such consumer spending will go down which in turn will hurt the GDP as well as overall economic growth prospects of the said country; this is bad for business.
- Central Bank Minutes: a country’s central bank directly determines the financial policies that will govern its economy for a financial year. Listening to what is uttered by central bankers or reading the formal central bank minutes releases will give you clues as to the future policy actions that will affect businesses directly.
Although these are five of the most important indicators that show which direction a country’s economy is headed and whether or not it is good for business, they should NOT be used as a sole source of information.
They should only act as a starting point for further research into specific fields and business niches.
Why Going Global is a Great Idea
The thing about starting a business in foreign countries in this day and age is that it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it was in years past.
Yes, there are still foreign regulations, taxes, and policies to navigate but thanks to technology and the free flow of information through the internet, these requirements are now easier to find and understand.
Just because you own a small company in the US or the UK does not mean that you have to think locally. You can easily expand and make your company a global brand especially if you start an online business. For that, all you’ll need is a domain name and a web host. BlueHost is one of our favorites and can set you up with both. Another great alternative for starting an online business is SiteGround. Or if you’re starting out with a tight budget, DreamHost is a reliable choice and is offering special discounts this month to Digital.com readers.
Although the typical business challenges will exist, the potential rewards far outweigh any impediments that you might come across.
Here are a few excellent reasons why you might consider going global:
- You will diversify your markets and capture new customer bases
- Going global could easily extend the sales life of your current products. Whatever product you have already established in your home country could very well be the next hot thing in a foreign land
- You greatly reduce your dependence on your local market and spread the risk globally
- It will teach you new methods of doing business, show you how to compete in more competitive markets and allow you to grow as a brand
- It will allow you to better weather seasonal fluctuations. For example, if you have a product that sells very well in the winter and it is summer in your country, you could easily sell it in other countries that will be experiencing winter during that same period
But before you consider starting a business in a different country, you need to do your research. Find out what kind of cultural differences might make that market averse to your brand and products. Find out what kind of policies the government has against your particular brand of business and see if there is a viable potential for your business.
That is why we have compiled this list for you today; to show you which countries are the best in the world to start a business and which ones just don’t hold that much promise at the moment.
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The 10 Best Countries to Start a Business In
Now that we know what to look for in a country to determine whether or not it is great for doing business, let’s look at some of the most lucrative countries on which you should focus (in no particular order):
GDP: $2.6 Trillion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 1.8%
- Per-Capita GDP: $39,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 89%
- Population: 66M
- Unemployment: 4.9%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -4.4%
- Inflation: 0.7%
This country topped Forbes’ 2018 list of top countries to do business in. And with good reason!
They say numbers do not lie and as things stand, the United Kingdom, despite all that Brexit uncertainty, remains one of the best countries in which to start a business.
But apart from the beautiful economic indicator figures, other factors come into play; factors that propel the United Kingdom to the top. These include:
- Ease of incorporating a company: In the UK, this can be done within an hour and will cost you £14 or about $20.
- Tax benefits: The British government offers various tax-related benefits for founders, investors, and even employees that make the country quite attractive from a financial point of view.
Additionally, the UK has one of the lowest corporate tax rates among the G20 countries and as such is quite attractive to business investors.
GDP: $313 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 2%
- Per-Capita GDP: $56,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 113%
- Population: 5.6M
- Unemployment: 2.1%
- Trade Balance/GDP: 19%
- Inflation: -0.5%
According to the World Bank, Singapore presents one of the healthiest environments to start a business. Apart from the excellent economic indicator figures shared above, the country also has the following going for it:
- It is politically stable
- It is one of the wealthiest in the world meaning the populace has a lot of disposable income
- It has a strong labor force
- It does not impose any dividend or capital gains taxes
- It has many free trade agreements that open up huge markets
- You can easily register and start your business online
Singapore also offers affordable airfare to her neighboring countries. This means that, as a business owner, you will have affordable access to other exploratory markets such as Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia.
GDP: $399 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 1.1%
- Per-Capita GDP: $75,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 36%
- Population: 5.3M
- Unemployment: 4.7%
- Trade Balance/GDP: 5%
- Inflation: 3.6%
One of the best things about Norway is that communication with the government can reliably be done online. You can easily register a domain or a brick and mortar company, and you will also find that complying with tax laws in this country is a rather straightforward process.
Another added advantage of starting a business in Norway is the fact that they are a highly technologically advanced nation with a majority of Norwegians very willing to adapt, as well as pay, for new technology.
This means that you will easily find highly skilled labor especially in the fields of IT, design, finance and music technology.
Other things that make this nation one of the best for doing business include:
- The populace is generally wealthy meaning they have a lot of disposable income
- It is politically very stable
- It has a well-developed communication and transport infrastructure
- It is a big player in the EU and has long-standing trade ties with other EU nations
Norway is a very transparent country and has minimal levels of corruption. For these reasons, Norway makes a very attractive option for any straightforward business investor looking to build an honest business.
GDP: $211 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 3.6%
- Per-Capita GDP: $44,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 33%
- Population: 4.8M
- Unemployment: 5.1%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -2.8%
- Inflation: 0.6%
Apart from the economic indicator figures given above, several other advantages make this nation an attractive destination for businesses:
- It has a skilled labor force that is not too expensive
- There are no payroll, capital gains or social security taxes involved
- Incorporating a business takes a day while registering a property could take as little as two days
It also has a wealth of information readily available online through Statistics New Zealand that can help you run thorough research into whatever industry you would like to invest in. This immediately gives you an added advantage as you will get to learn about the culture, spending habits of the population and how well businesses in your niche are doing.
GDP: $339 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 2%
- Per-Capita GDP: $46,000
- Population: 7.4M
- Trade Balance/GDP: 4.6%
- Unemployment: 2.7%
- Inflation: 2.6%
Hong Kong’s economy has been growing steadily for the past few decades which is indicative of the practical and economically sound business policies being enacted by the region. As a free market economy, Hong Kong is highly dependent on international finance and trade.
It has a highly educated workforce and a brilliantly designed and constructed transport and communication infrastructure. Hong Kong’s economy has been doing so well that it has even established itself as the go-to stock market for Chinese companies that want to trade abroad.
On the other hand, because Hong Kong has limited natural resources, it imports almost everything from food to raw materials. This might sound a bit discouraging to budding industry titans, but remember that Hong Kong imposes no tariffs on imported goods save for four: hydrocarbon oil, hard alcohol, methyl alcohol, and tobacco.
GDP: $1.1 Trillion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 2.3%
- Per-Capita GDP: $8,500
- Public Debt/GDP: 50%
- Population: 129M
- Unemployment: 3.9%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -2.2%
- Inflation: 2.8%
Considering the high crime rate in many parts of Mexico, not very many investors would immediately jump onto the idea of starting a business there. However, despite these challenges, Mexico still presents one of the best possible destinations in which to start a business.
This is mostly thanks to the extensive business registration reforms that have taken place in the country. These reforms have largely led to the increased registration of businesses overall.
It is now much easier to register and start a business in Mexico. It only takes about eight days to have your business up and legally running in the country.
Couple that with the fact that it has a ready and willing labor force that is considered affordable when compared to other countries in this list and you have Mexico as a wonderful destination overall.
It also has free trade agreements with 46 different nations thus opening enormous potential markets for any investors willing to take part in the large manufacturing-oriented economy.
GDP: $679 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 1.4%
- Per-Capita GDP: $80,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 33%
- Population: 8.5M
- Unemployment: 3.3%
- Trade Balance/GDP: 10.5%
- Inflation: -0.4%
With an unemployment rate of only 3.3%, a burgeoning economy and a notoriously stable political climate, Switzerland is without a doubt one of the best countries in the world for really anything except the tropical weather.
It has a highly skilled workforce that is ready and willing to work (although it may not be as affordable as it is in other countries on this list).
The country benefits from a highly developed service sector plus a manufacturing industry that has specialized in high-technology and knowledge-based production. It also has one of the world’s most sophisticated financial sectors which makes it perfect for safe, calculated and steady investment.
Apart from the excellent numbers indicating economic growth and prowess, Switzerland also has other factors that make it an attractive destination for starting a business. These include:
- A very transparent legal system that is easy to navigate
- Consistent economic and political stability
- Low corporate taxes
- Efficient capital markets
- Exceptional communication and transport infrastructure
Plus, it is a trusted and valued member of the EU which opens up some of Europe’s most advanced and gigantic markets for investors.
GDP: $1.6 Trillion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 1.5%
- Per-Capita GDP: $43,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 99%
- Population: 37M
- Unemployment: 7%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -3.3%
- Inflation: 1.4%
Even though the Great White North has high living standards, the country has made impressive gains when it comes to its manufacturing, service and mining sectors. These gains have greatly helped to transform the nation from a largely rural economy into one that is primarily urban and industrialized.
It also has a huge oil and natural gas sector ranking it third in the world in oil reserves behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
Canada enjoys extremely balanced bilateral trade with the US which opens up a huge market for business investors looking to tap into the US through Canada.
The country has a very stable political climate, excellent health care, and a substantially skilled labor force. All of these make it a lucrative destination for business investors looking to take advantage of the service or industrial sector.
GDP: $330 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 5.1%
- Per-Capita GDP: $69,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 73%
- Population: 4.8M
- Unemployment: 7.9%
- Trade Balance/GDP: 3.3%
- Inflation: -0.2%
This small, trade-dependent nation has a strong economy that has gone through the ringer in recent times but has come out stronger for it.
After officially exiting the EU-IMF bailout program that saw Ireland stabilize its economy through the economic crisis of 2007, the country has seen rapid economic growth. As such, the government has increased public spending and drastically lowered some taxes which is good news for business owners.
Since the collapse of the construction sector (thanks to the same economic crisis) Ireland has become increasingly dependent on exports for economic growth. This makes it one of the best destinations for any business owner looking to set up a manufacturing company geared towards export-goods production.
The country has a sizeable labor force despite its relatively small size; is experiencing an unprecedented period of economic growth (with GDP exceeding 26% growth in 2015) and is politically very stable.
GDP: $3.6 Trillion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 1.9%
- Per-Capita GDP: $43,000
- Public Debt/GDP: 68%
- Population: 83M
- Unemployment: 4.2%
- Trade Balance/GDP: 8.3%
- Inflation: 0.4%
As one of the largest economies in the world and Europe’s largest, Germany is a wonderful investment destination and a leading exporter of vehicles, machinery, household equipment, and chemicals.
But the biggest selling point for this country is that it has a huge, highly-skilled and highly-educated labor force. Although this labor force is not as affordable as is the case in many countries on this list, there are many positives Germany offers.
But despite all that, the economy suffers from low levels of investment which makes it a ready and ripe market for foreign investors willing to take on the wages commanded by the available labor force.
As a member of the EU, Germany enjoys strict standards of manufacturing and production. Starting a business there will not only give you a chance to exploit the largely well-funded markets in the EU, but it will also give you an opportunity to raise your standards of production. Standardized across the board, this will give your brand a highly competitive edge in the global market.
Other Good Countries
Depending upon how you define them, there are approximately 200 countries in the world. While these ten countries we’ve highlighted represent great opportunities, there are other wonderful countries. Where else should you look to start a new business?
Political and economic stability are some of the things that make these countries the best to start a business in. They also largely have excellent governance with favorable policies that are not only welcoming to business investment but actually encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
This, coupled with the availability of disposable income for the locals as well as favorable trade agreements with other, equally large markets in their regions, make them perfect for business investment.
The Worst Countries to Start a Business In
Just as there are countries in this world that are highly favorable for business investments, there are countries that simply do not encourage this sort of thing. Many of these countries are mired in:
- Rampant corruption
- Political instability
- Restrictive, if not exploitative, foreign investment policies
- Woeful security and safety issues
And to top it all off, many of them have a largely unskilled labor force despite the fact that it is affordable. With that in mind, here are some of the worst countries to start a business in.
GDP: $9.9 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: -6.4%
- Per-Capita GDP: $660
- Public Debt/GDP: 59%
- Population: 15M
- Unemployment: 5.9%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -9.2%
- Inflation: -1.1%
The problem with Chad is that it is landlocked and almost everything has to be imported thus resulting in excessive costs of transportation and an unhealthy dependency on neighbors. Another major issue is that, although oil is one of their biggest commercial commodities, almost the entire country is serviced by one refinery which often breaks down and results in shortages and frequent business stoppages.
The available labor force, although affordable to the point of being cheap, is unskilled and largely uneducated. Apart from the above highlighted abysmal economic indicator numbers, other issues are plaguing Chad, making it one of the worst countries in the world to start a business. These issues include:
- Limited communication and transport infrastructure
- Elevated levels of corruption even in government positions
- Extensive government bureaucracy
It remains a high debt risk country with extremely elevated levels of corruption, very little skilled labor and inadequate infrastructure. Starting a business here, although possible, will be frustrating at best.
GDP: $8.5 Billion as of December 2017
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: 1.4%
- Per-Capita GDP: $770
- Public Debt/GDP: 34%
- Population: 11M
- Unemployment: 40.6%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -0.9%
- Inflation: 13.4%
There was a time when Haiti stood for warm ocean water and beaches. But ever since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake of 2010, Haiti has become something of an emergency state. This is not to say that its economy was that good before, but the earthquake made things much worse.
Although this is a free market region, there are certain aspects of its governance and its population that make it difficult for investors to do business here. These include:
- High levels of government corruption
- Political uncertainty and instability
- High levels of poverty
- Low levels of education
- Vulnerability to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis
Haiti is currently the poorest country in the western hemisphere. About 60% of its population lives below the poverty line which means they do not have the disposable income to buy your products.
Even though the country enjoys tariff-free exports to the United States for almost all of its exports, it is the lack of skilled labor and vulnerability to natural disasters that make this a terrible place to build a business. Plus, it has almost no transport and communication infrastructure set-up thanks to the 2010 earthquake.
GDP: $50 Billion as of December 2017 (although GDP has been fluctuating wildly for the last decade)
A Quick Glance
- GDP Growth: -3%
- Per-Capita GDP: $7,800
- Public Debt/GDP: 7%
- Population: 6.4M
- Unemployment: 30%
- Trade Balance/GDP: -22.4%
- Inflation: 27.1%
Libya used to be an African powerhouse. But ever since the Arab Spring that burned through most Islamic nations in Africa and the Middle East back in 2014, Libya has been reduced to little more than just rubble.
The country is almost entirely depended on oil and gas exports, but since 2015, rival forces looking to control the largest oil terminals in the country has led to armed conflict which has, in turn, greatly impeded the country’s crude oil production.
It is due to that very armed conflict between rivaling factions that makes this country uninhabitable for business. The lack of infrastructure, the lack of food and security for the people and the lack of a stable labor force all make Libya not conducive to business investments at the moment.
Other Difficult Countries to Do Business In
Perhaps the one that stands out the most is The Central African Republic. The main problem with this country is that there is little to almost non-existent political participation by the public. This means that the country is run by a political class that enacts retrogressive and unfavorable policies. There is also widespread violence, great unrest, political instability and poor access to education and healthcare. The labor force here is highly unskilled, and the infrastructure is almost non-existent.
Other countries that are not very conducive to business investments for one reason or another include:
Most of these countries have a high inflation rate, extreme poverty rate, and a lack of trained or skilled labor force. For some, this current situation has been brought about by recent conflicts and civil war while others have made it onto this list due to poor governance and corruption. But whichever way you choose to look at it, starting and operating a profitable business in any of these countries will not only be a tall order; it will be nearly impossible.
Tips for Starting a Business in Another Country
Although technological advances have made it considerably easier to find out what it would take to start a business in a foreign country, the actual undertaking is still a daunting task. Imagine how difficult it is to start, run, and build a profitable business in your own country. Now multiply that a few times to get a clearer idea of how difficult it would be to start one in a foreign nation.
For starters, you will have to comply with an extensive list of local and foreign regulations as well as dealing with things like foreign exchange rates and language barriers. All of these are instrumental and could very well ruin your prospects. Here are some tips that you should consider before starting a business in another country:
- Research the business practices that apply to your niche
- You need to familiarize yourself with the laws, regulations, banking tendencies, and tax laws that govern whichever country you want to invest in as a business owner. You need to have local lawyers on the ground; people who will give you a clear picture of what it takes to incorporate your business, acquire the right properties, pay the labor force, and make an actual profit.
- Have a clear grasp of the country’s political climate
- One of the most consistent issues with the countries that have been named as the worst for business is the fact that they all have a volatile political climate. The exact opposite is true for the countries that have been named as the best to start a business in; they all have very stable political climates. A country’s political climate largely determines the kind of economic growth it could enjoy as well as the financial policies that will govern it for a fiscal year. It also indirectly determines its levels of corruption as well as the bureaucracy involved in starting a business.
- Study cultural differences
- A bikini manufacturer may have a huge market share in the most liberal and westernized countries, but you cannot objectively expect the same business to have as much success in a conservative Muslim country. You need to know the cultural differences that govern whichever country you want to invest in. What might be big business in the US just might not sell as well in China — and vise versa. You also need to study the different social customs involved as well as language barriers. In some countries, a deal is not done unless the parties involved have shaken hands, had tea, or taken a steam bath together. These are just some of the peculiar cultural differences that you need to keep an eye out for when going international.
- Get local guidance
- You will need to hire lawyers from your home country as well as your destination country. But you will also need to get local guidance from businesspeople and local members of the workforce. These are people who know the ins and outs of running and working in business in your destination country of choice. They will teach you things that you cannot read in a report or online. They will show you how to work with the local population to get your business up and running smoothly. And the closer they are aligned to your niche, the better.
Conclusion: Going Abroad Is Difficult but Worthwhile
Starting a business in a foreign country is an excellent idea for all the right reasons (new markets, more advanced technology, better labor force, and cheaper tariffs). But, before you can enjoy all this, you need to find the right country in which to start that business. This guide gives you a good idea of where to start and which countries to avoid.
Questions and Answers
After all this, you should have a good understanding of what to look for when starting a business. But here are a few answers to frequently asked questions that you may still have.
What About Cheap Labor in Poor Countries?
How important cheap labor is will depend upon your kind of business. If you are developing cutting-edge robot technology, it’s likely you won’t find workers with the skills to help you out. On the other hand, if you don’t need skilled workers, you still need to balance this savings against other things like tariffs and regulations. As always, the issues are complicated and you need to do your homework.
What if Bribes Are Necessary to Do Business in a Country?
Run away! And that’s why all of the countries on our “best” list have stable governments with relatively low levels of corruption. It is a very bad idea to pay bribes because it is almost certainly technically illegal wherever you are. And that means you could face blackmail or even criminal penalties in the future.
Why Not Just Choose the UK?
Although Forbes did name the United Kingdom the best country to run a business in 2018, that’s one opinion. What’s more, it’s a general opinion. Remember: your business is not generic — it’s specific. Thus it has specific needs. You’ll likely do fine in any of the countries we’ve highlighted. But if you want to make the best decision for your own business, you need to do more homework.
Why Do You Rate Libya So Low?
The truth is that Libya is on the mend. But things are going very slowly and there is a civil war going on. No one knows what it will be like next year, much less in a decade. It could be two countries by then. Check back in five years and we may be singing the praises of Libya. But not now.
Here are the links to the data used in this article:
- United Kingdom: World Bank
- Singapore: World Bank, Singapore Government
- Norway: World Bank
- New Zealand: World Bank, New Zealand Government, New Zealand Government Statistics
- Hong Kong: World Bank
- Mexico: World Bank, Doing Business 2017 (pdf)
- Switzerland: World Bank
- Canada: World Bank
- Ireland: World Bank, Irish Times
- Germany: World Bank
- Chad: World Bank
- Haiti: World Bank, Borgen Project
- Libya: World Bank
- The Central African Republic: World Bank
And here are some important definitions:
You might be wondering, “Where can I get dependable country-specific business data?” It’s a harder question to answer than you may think. There are all kinds of websites that put out data and they are most definitely not of equal value. Check out any source before you rely on its information.
But we’ve put together the most reliable sources of data. This isn’t exhaustive, but it will get you started:
- World Bank
- International Monetary Fund
- United Nations Data
- Economist Intelligence Unit (subscription)
- Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis
- OECD iLibrary
- African Development Bank Group
- Asian Development Bank
- Inter-American Development Bank
- Freedom House
Images: United Kingdom from Max Pixel, Singapore from Pixabay, Norway from Pixabay, New Zealand from Pixabay, Hong Kong from GoodFreePhotos, Mexico from Pixabay, Switzerland from GoodFreePhotos, Canada from Pixabay,
Ireland from Pixabay, Germany from Max Pixel, Haiti from US Air Force, Libya from Pixabay, and Currencies from Pixabay. All these images are in the public domain. Landing at Hassan Djammous airport, N’Djamena, Chad by Ken Doerr from Chester, UK. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Note that all images have been cropped.