Most entrepreneurs only ever think about starting a business at home, with expanding abroad a pipe dream or afterthought. Yet to truly understand how to sell internationally, you need to step outside of your comfort zone. While you may not know where to start, many countries are actively seeking investment, making the process of moving easier than you might think.
How a startup visa can kickstart your new life abroad
For entrepreneurs with a concrete plan and a positive outlook, relocating or starting up abroad can be a life-changing experience. As well as introducing a new idea or outlook to a different market, you’ll also enjoy all of the benefits of experiencing a new culture and way of life, and the many ways in which this can inform and improve your business acumen.
The easiest way to achieve this is with a startup or entrepreneur visa - and there are plenty of great options to choose from. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider pursuing a startup visa, and some of the countries you might want to look into.
Why apply for a startup or entrepreneur visa?
Many countries offer investor visas, which are often seen as the preferential means of gaining citizenship from a country. These schemes, often known as ‘golden visas’, allow for individuals to invest large sums of money (often upwards of €1-2 million) in designated projects in return for residency permits and pathways to full citizenship. While these offer the best guarantee of being able to stay and work in a country, the level of investment required is a substantial barrier.
By contrast, startup or entrepreneur visas are designed for small or medium businesses looking to startup in or expand to a country. These visas tend to be more short term, granting residency either for a fixed term or on a rolling basis, but can also offer pathways to permanent residency. They tend to have much lower barriers to entry, and usually require a strong business plan and evidence of the ability to support yourself financially for a year or more.
A startup or entrepreneur visa can be an ideal way to start a new business and a new life abroad, reaping the benefits of being in an EU nation as well as the local benefits afforded to foreign businesses. As well as things like freedom of movement for labour and the EU’s Horizon 2020 fund, you might also be eligible for generous R&D tax breaks, grants and other financial support, all designed to incentivise businesses to contribute to that particular nation.
The best startup visa schemes in Europe
For entrepreneurs already living and working within the European Union, the barriers to working and starting a business around Europe are relatively low, thanks to the freedoms afforded by membership of the Schengen zone.
For those moving to Europe from the outside, however - which may soon include people from the UK - startup and entrepreneur visas are an invaluable means of securing the right to live and work in European nations. Here are some of the best options from around the EU, from tech visas to R&D funding to real estate investment.
The Italian Startup Visa is one of Europe’s more generous startup visa schemes, and will be of particular interest to any startup wishing to expand to Italy to benefit from R&D funding. To qualify, at least 15% of your costs must derive from research and development, with at least a third of your team holding PhDs or two-thirds holding master’s degrees. Your company must also already hold some intellectual property, must be less than four years old and should have less than €5 million in annual turnover.
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Applications for the Italian Startup Visa program can be made alone or with the assistance of an Italian startup accelerator. To qualify, you must be able to evidence a minimum of €50,000 in equity or venture capital. Successful applicants will be able to live and work in Italy for a minimum of one year, with the potential to extend this stay for a further two years. Your business does not need to be based in Italy, but must at least host an HQ in the country and make some tax contributions.
The current R&D tax credit scheme in Italy is available for businesses until 31st December 2020. The credit is calculated as 100% of R&D expenditure for new businesses to a maximum of €20 million, with a minimum threshold of €30,000 in R&D investments each fiscal year. Italy also benefits from a number of business incubators providing support to startups, as well as a generous system of private and government loans for businesses. It’s also a great country to live and work, with world-renowned food, weather and culture.
France has shaken off its less-than-business-friendly mantle of recent years to become perhaps the epicentre of tech startups in Europe. Its La French Tech initiative has revolutionised tech startup culture in the country, providing startup hubs in cities across France and providing invaluable advice and funding. To complement this, the French government has designed two separate visa programs for tech startups - the French Tech Visa and French Tech Ticket.
Related article: What are the benefits of starting a business in France?
Unlike the Italian startup visa, the French Tech Visa covers a wide range of situations for working in France. As well as being suitable for startup owners, the French Tech Visa is also available to investors in tech companies, as well as workers for tech firms. It is designed to be a fast-track scheme to make it easier to invest in or work for a tech company, providing entrepreneurs or employees and their families with a guaranteed four year residency permit.
The snag for anyone wanting to apply for the French Tech Visa is that you require a sponsor, which as a business will take the form of a tech incubator or accelerator. Once you’ve struck up a partnership and been selected for the scheme, you will go through a confirmation process to decide that your business plan is innovative and comprehensive. You must have at least €17,981.60 in capital to support yourself for the first year, and pay €368 for the application. However, the previous requirement for a minimum Master’s qualification has been relaxed as of mid-2019, as has the 100 company limit that previously existed for tech visa employees.
The French Tech Ticket program is designed specifically for entrepreneurs who want to start a tech business in France without the long term commitment and sponsorship requirement of the French Tech visa. French Tech Ticket recipients will receive a 12-month visa, and can also benefit from an established network of funding and business support.
Entrepreneurs looking to be selected for a French Tech Ticket visa must have an innovative business idea, and require a minimum of two co-founders. Only one of these founders can hold French citizenship, although this is not a requirement. Unusually, applicants must be fluent in English, and the startup must be their sole focus and means of employment during the 12-month visa period.
Related article: Video Guide to Starting a Business in France
Once your idea has been approved, you can choose three of the more than 40 French startup incubators to send your application to, and choose from the ones who accept. French Tech Ticket applicants receive a guaranteed €57,000 in funding; €25,000 of this is ringfended to pay for professional services, with the remainder for personal expenses and incubator fees. If your business is still operational and growing after the first year, you can apply for long-term residence through a fast track procedure.
Ireland offers two options for entrepreneurs: the Immigrant Investor Programme and the Startup Entrepreneur Programme. These both have slightly higher capital requirements than similar schemes in other countries, but confer the unique benefits of starting a business in Ireland, including a low rate of corporation tax and a range of tax incentives. Both visas also have excellent pathways, with the ability to extend and apply for long-term residence.
The Immigrant Investor Programme is functionally equivalent to the ‘Golden visa’ schemes in other nations, and requires a minimum capital investment of €2 million, none of which can be derived from loans. This money must be invested in a new or existing Irish business, an established investment fund, a real estate investment trust or a recognised community project (up to €500,000) over the course of three years.
The Startup Entrepreneur Programme requires you to have an innovative business idea which will create a minimum of 10 jobs and earn at least €1 million in turnover within 3-4 years. Your headquarters must be based in Ireland, and your business must be younger than five years old to qualify, assuming you are already based in Ireland.
Related article: Why you should be setting up a company in Ireland
The Startup Entrepreneur Programme requires a minimum of €75,000 in capital and costs €350 per application, while the Immigrant Investor Programme costs €1,500. Both schemes provide applicants with residency status after two years, after which you will have to return to Ireland at least once a year. This visa can then be extended for up to three more years, after which you will be eligible to apply for a long-term residency permit. Immediate family members will also qualify for these visas.
The UK remains a great destination for startups, with established startup networks across the islands, an efficient formation process and a low rate of corporation tax. Its startup and entrepreneur visas offer some more flexibility than others in terms of applications, but are also less flexible in terms of how long you can stay in the country, and the pathways to long-term residency. They are most accommodating to individuals who have studied in the country, or who have a significant amount of capital ready to invest.
The UK Startup Visa is the entry-level option for entrepreneurs who wish to set up a new business in the UK without a significant amount of initial capital investment. To qualify for this visa, you must be sponsored by either a UK higher education institution (e.g. a university) or a business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs. This definition is relatively flexible, but could include UK-based incubators, accelerators or other sources of business funding or support.
Applications cost between £308 and £493 per person depending on where you’re coming from, and whether you’re changing from another visa to this one. Your business idea has to be assessed by an approved body, and you need to have had at least £945 in your bank account for the three months preceding your application. This is much lower than many other visas’ capital requirements, however, and you can also bring certain family members with you. The main limit on this visa is that you can only stay for two years with no opportunity to renew.
If you have more initial funding and intend to stay for longer, you can apply for the Innovator Visa. To receive this visa your business must be endorsed by an approved body, and must be a new and viable idea that has the potential for growth. If your business has not already been established through another visa, you must have a minimum of £50,000 in investment funds, and pay between £966 and £1277 in application fees, including additional payments for each co-dependent, as well as an additional healthcare surcharge.
Recipients of the Innovator Visa are eligible to stay for up to three years, and can extend this visa indefinitely for an additional period of three years. There is a simple pathway to settlement (otherwise known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’) once you have lived and worked in the country for five years, including your co-dependents (usually close family members). You can set up multiple businesses under this visa, but may not work for another business that is not your own, or receive any public funds such as low income or housing support.
With a high quality of life, a developed startup ecosystem and plenty of support for nascent businesses, Denmark is becoming a great destination to start a business. This has been ably assisted by the Start-up Denmark Visa, which is one of the more attractive visa options for entrepreneurs looking to get started in Europe. Applicants must have their business idea approved by a dedicated panel of experts, and must be able to support themselves, requiring between 137,076 DKK and 319,236 DKK in savings depending on co-dependents.
To qualify for the Start-up Denmark Visa you must play an active role in running your business, provide a presentation about your business idea, product and personal capabilities, and include a comprehensive business plan, pitch-deck or product presentation. All files must be in English, and you are expected to have a high level of English competency. If successful, you can pay DKK 1,900 to apply for a work and residency permit, which will allow you to stay and develop your business for up to two years. This can potentially be extended indefinitely for periods of up to three years at a time.
Related article: How to Set Up a Company in Denmark
The Start-up Denmark Visa is a particularly popular option due to the absence of a sponsorship requirement. In the UK, for instance, it’s possible for your sponsor to drop out at any point during your residency, which can jeopardise your ability to remain in the country; this is not the case for the Start-up Denmark Visa. Denmark also benefits from great support for startups, including angel investors, incubators, the Danish Growth Fund and assistance from Start-up Denmark.
How to use startup visas to start a new business abroad
This is only a short list of some of the most popular visa destinations in Europe, with many other countries also catering to startups and entrepreneurs. Whichever country you’ve set your heart on, Euro Start Entreprises can help you to get started there, arranging everything from business formation to bank accounts to taxes and accountancy.
For over 10 years, we’ve helped thousands of businesses open up and expand to more than 30 countries worldwide, and can make your dream of starting a business in Europe into a reality. If you need more information on company and branch formation, registering a business address, opening a bank account, tax advice or help in finding a chartered accountant, please click on the links, and either call us directly on 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us from our contact page. We also offer free in-depth guides to starting a business in France and starting a business in Ireland which you can download below. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you, and start your journey to a new life abroad.
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