You may already have a country in mind for your project, it is great if you do; it is already a big step in the process. But it doesn’t exonerate you from digging a bit deeper. You may have a shortlist or a region in mind. In all cases, the job will be the same, only you’ll have to duplicate it to all the countries you are considering.
At that point, two things are important to look into:
-How’s doing business as a foreigner?
-How’s life as a foreigner?
Countries are very different from one to another when it comes to welcoming foreign entrepreneurs. Some are very welcoming; some others are way more restrictive. Here are some key factors you want to check:
Can you own a company as a foreigner?
Depending on the country and your project, you can expect 3 categories of answers to this questions: “No” (a pure ban on foreigners to invest/run a business, usually in some very specific industries), “Yes but” (In most cases the restriction will consist in you needing to partner with a local), “Yes”, some countries apply the same rules to foreigners and nationals, it can be the case for all industries or only selected ones for which the country needs to import knowledge and investments.
If the answer is “Yes but”, you may want to go deeper and check how serious are the restrictions. For instance, the “partnership” is the most common barrier to open a company, you will need a local partner who will own 51% of the shares of the company. Of course, in a most cases, almost all cases, the local will not bring a penny to the company. This is very often considered as a formality, which specialized lawyers will do for you with someone you’ll never meet. To my knowledge, that’s still the case in many countries (still, check the costs of the lawyer, you may have surprises); but not all of them. In Thailand, for instance, depending on the kind of business you want to open, your partner will need to go and explain to a commission your business plan and answer specific questions, so if he’s a fake partner, he better be well trained. Controls are more and more frequent and some countries put some measures to prevent the partner from being a fake one, for example, some administrative tasks may need to be done by your local partner only.
Always keep in mind; your partner will own 51% of the shares, so even if it remains only on the paper, that still can be a sword of Damocles over your head. Legislations evolve and can put you in strange situation.
Are there any other barriers, doing business as a foreigner?
Those can vary a lot; Cambodia is quite welcoming so I don’t have many examples in mind, but I know some countries will require a minimum capital to deposit in order to register your company, it can be several tens of thousand dollars.
Corruption can also be taken into consideration at that point, although you want to look a bit deeper than just sayings you heard from someone who knows a guy whose sister in law’s father went on a 10 days tour in the country 12 years ago. Cambodia, for example is said to be very corrupted, and maybe it is at some levels, but in 3 years, we never paid any bribe. I believe that, even in a country where corruption exists, that is your choice more than the general context. You can always take the shortcuts; don’t do things the proper way and pay people not to bother. I strongly recommend not going in that path; that may avoid the hassle of some paperwork, or save some time, but it usually backfires. Once you’ve started, it is hard to get out of this circle. We have many examples I may talk about in a dedicated post. If you do things by the books, chances someone comes to ask for money are way thinner.