Expats opening businesses abroad

Hostel near Montverde

Pension Santa Elena near Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Alex Steffler / Flickr Creative Commons

Opening a business abroad has an indelible appeal. You get to stay in one place you love and be your own boss.  If your business serves travelers, you can prolong the experience of meeting interesting people on the road.

The New York Times did a tour of the expat scene in one Central American country: In Panama, a Haven for Expats.

The article did a great job of selling the dream. Sometimes it seemed as simple as opening up shop, offering travelers the comforts of home, and getting listed in a popular guidebook.

However, I felt the story glossed over the very real challenges of running a business in a foreign country. For example, rules and regulations are a legal gray area.  It’s hard to know which procedures are followed, ignored, or bribed away.

That’s not to say such obstacles cannot be overcome, though. A willingness to learn and adaptability to cultural conditions will go a long way. Few things are as rewarding as carving out your own niche in your adopted land.

The most successful businesses I’ve seen overseas were the ones that drew in lots of local customers, not just other travelers. The transient tourist trade can be very volatile. Building up a base of regular patrons was the key to survival.

On the flip side, some expats work remotely to earn money in their home country currency, such as U.S. dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds, etc.  Then they pay their living costs in the lower-value local currency of the country they’re residing in.  This kind of geo-arbitrage arrangement has worked out well for those that can pull it off.

Have you started a business in another country? Please share your stories and advice in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | December 10, 2010
Category: Expat Life, Lifestyle Design

2 Responses to “Expats opening businesses abroad”

  1. Adriano Says:

    I don’t know if my story applies here. I travel for a living, going here and there in Europe – technically speaking, I work abroad, but mainly for the same company. As an EU citizen, I have no problems whatsoever when I accept assignments from another European country.

    It’s is certainly easier for EU-EEA people to establish abroad (in the European Economic Area) and start a business. Plenty of information is provided on this matter in the most widespread languages, with virtually no visa procedures (after three months you just need to show that you have sufficient means or an income source – checks occur rarely, though). Any such citizen is entitled to be considered as a local, as of bureaucracy (and often also for start-up benefits).

    So if you want to live in Ol’ Europe, it’s worth to check your family tree and claim that citizenship your ancestors had before leaving for the New World. You may think that Ireland has nothing to do with Greece, but your Grandma’s passport could open you the doors of the shop on that small Hellenic island that you have always dreamt of.