I just published some research on what different countries are doing to entice entrepreneurs to relocate. Whether visas, grants, mentorship, coaching… there's a lot.
Question for the group: Would you consider relocating / moving your startup post-COVID?
Visas, Incentives, and More: Here’s What Countries are Doing to Attract Remote Companies
As lockdowns ease, more than a few entrepreneurs are thinking about what’s next for them and their businesses, especially if they’ve chosen to stay remote. As news hit about remote worker visas in Barbados, or as small towns and cities are more equipped than ever to lure weary big-city remote workers, you’ve got to ask… what about the founders?
Sure, remote founders can work from anywhere just like their teams. Where things get interesting, though, is that many countries are launching programs to lure entrepreneurs to relocate their businesses or start up a new company – and with them come access to public funds, free visas, and even a path to citizenship. As governments think about recovery from COVID and general growth for the future, a handful are getting serious about offering a lot of perks to entice entrepreneurs to relocate.
All programs have three key elements to them, though in differing quantities:
- Accelerated / extended resident visa permits.
- Access to the country’s startup support ecosystems.
- Funding / financial support.
So if you’ve ever thought about relocating, being an entrepreneur is one of the fastest tickets out. In this article, I’ve highlighted a mix of programs, but it’s not necessarily exhaustive. I tried to focus on the programs with unique elements or that are easy to apply for. While large funding requirements or other hurdles may not be a problem for many companies, my goal here was to highlight the programs that work for the majority of entrepreneurs, including small businesses and freelancers who recently went remote.
France: La French Tech
France has a long history of artisan entrepreneurship but less in the big tech or digital scene. However, the government is hoping to change that with its La French Tech visa programs.
There are three kinds of La French Tech visas:
- For entrepreneurs launching businesses in France.
- For employees joining French startups.
- For investors putting money into French startups.
The founder-focused program requires you to get accepted to one of France’s 30+ startup incubators and accelerators, so your ability to get in hinges on that acceptance.
France also has a unique program in the sense that it provides a 4 year visa automatically (most other programs only provide 1-2 year visas) and family members are automatically granted residency rights regardless of which visa you get. Finally, the program is diploma agnostic – it’s geared towards creative people and entrepreneurs, not necessarily only STEM grads like many other countries.
Internet connectivity is relatively high quality in cities, though it can be lacking in the countryside. If you’re relocating, check for good internet service first.
Chile is hoping to attract entrepreneurs with cash, incentives, a visa, and the natural beauty of the country.
The Startup Chile program is actually an accelerator – billed as the “best accelerator in LatAm.” As part of the program, though, non-citizens are granted a one year visa to live in the country while building your company.
Highlights of the program are:
- 1 year visa.
- Equity-free funding options to build your startup.
- Up to $ 100k in perks / free offerings from their partners.
- Connections with local businesses for validation, testing, and customer growth.
Chile is not known for blazing fast wifi, but if you’re in the accelerator and living within city boundaries, you should be alright.
More info: https://www.startupchile.org/
The kingdom of Denmark seriously wants entrepreneurs to relocate there. Named by the World Bank as the number one country in Europe for doing business, the country wants to further attract entrepreneurs.
The Startup Denmark program is geared to helping people realize the ease of doing business in Denmark, specifically:
- Free, independent business advice provided through publicly-funded Business Development Centres in the country.
- Focused clusters for cleantech, life science, design, and sustainable energy.
- Access to funding through Innovation Fund Denmark and the Danish Growth Fund, both of which are available to non-citizens.
Internet connectivity and penetration is very high in Denmark, so high-tech companies (or even just remote companies with a lot of zoom meetings) should be just fine.
More info: https://startupdenmark.info/
The only English-speaking country on the euro, Ireland is a prime place for doing business. Its geographic location makes it easily accessible to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America, and its low corporate tax rate has already attracted major players including Google and Starbucks.
Enterprise Ireland has also launched an entrepreneur visa, which is specifically for entrepreneurs who can:
- Feasibly create 10 jobs in Ireland within 3-4 years.
- Raise 50,000 euros for the first founder and 30,000 additional euros per additional co-founder needing a visa.
- Be controlled from Ireland.
Despite rigid sounding rules, the visa program is actually quite flexible. For instance, the fundraising requirements can be through almost any funding option, including using your own money and not taking any investment dollars. Further, the notion of being “controlled” from Ireland is more flexible than other countries that require a certain percentage of business to be done in the country for founders to be eligible for a visa.
Singapore took the world markets by storm in the past few decades, going from a small island nation with no natural resources to a global hub of finance and casinos. Now, the country wants to be known as a hub for global entrepreneurship.
The EntrePass in Singapore grants founders a 2 year visa to live in Singapore while building a business. Like other programs (France, for example), businesses must be accepted into an accelerator in order for the founders to qualify for a visa. However, where Singapore adds a bit of strictness is two-fold:
- The business must be net-new or less than 6 months old at the time of application. This program is only for new businesses.
- Your business must be accepted into a government-backed accelerator or receive funding from a government-backed investor.
The Singaporean government is usually tolerant with expats, but the laws on the island can be incredibly strict. The program can be amazing for new entrepreneurs, though, especially given Singapore’s strategic location and relatively low taxes.
Italia Startup Visa
Known for fine leathers, fashion, and amazing food, Italy is now hoping to become known as a centre of innovation.
The country offers two kinds of visas for non-EU entrepreneurs:
- Italia Startup Visa
- Italia Startup Hub
The Visa is made for entrepreneurs who aren’t currently in Italy but want to relocate there to start / scale their business. The Hub option is for people already in Italy who want to stay and launch a business (I think Italy caught onto the fact that people sitting in gorgeous villages sipping a coffee might just want to stick around).
Visa programs came about through Italy’s “Decree 179/2012,” which is the country’s program to explicitly attract what they deem ‘innovative startups’ to the country. In general, innovative startups by Italy’s definition are technology companies that either invest more than 15% of their revenues to R&D, employ PhD-level researchers full-time, or own patents for inventions or ‘original software.’
The visa lasts for 1 year, but is renewable for another 2 years. While business taxes in Italy can be fairly high, the relatively low cost of living can balance those costs out.
More info: http://italiastartupvisa.mise.gov.it/
SMART Visa Thailand
Thailand is one of the only programs to highlight that spouses and children are automatically granted residency (along with France) – and that your spouse will have a work visa included in their residency permit as well.
The country’s SMART visa program has four tiers:
- S – Startup.
- T – Talent.
- E – Executives.
- I – Investors.
S visas are explicitly for entrepreneurs and startup founders, and have three options: a 2-year, a 1-year, and a 6-month visa. The 2-year program is for designated high-tech startups, the 1-year for incubator and accelerator-backed startups of all varieties, and the 6-month visa is intended for sales and promotion in Thai markets as opposed to setting up shop in Thailand.
Startup Visa Lithuania
A Baltic country bordering Poland and Latvia by land and Denmark and Sweden by sea, Lithuania has some of the fastest internet on the planet and gorgeous medieval towns and sea views.
The visa program is part of Startup Lithuania, a government-backed organization geared towards helping Lithuania succeed in global markets.
Recognizing that many people have probably heard the name “Lithuania” but don’t know much about it, the Startup Visa program focuses heavily on soft landings with guides on how to relocate, connections to other relocated workers and entrepreneurs, and links into the country’s extensive support programs for businesses.
More info: https://startupvisalithuania.com/about-us/
The original “digital society,” Estonia is regularly in the news for how connected their society is. The internet is fast, citizenship is digital, and the country even launched a remote worker visa to entice more people to relocate.
On the entrepreneur side of things, Startup Estonia launched a Startup Visa to encourage entrepreneurs to relocate to Estonia. The program is very explicitly focused on technology-based companies with global market potential, but Estonia has the minimum required capital of all programs in Europe (you only have to prove you have around $ 2,000 USD for a one-year visa).
Entrepreneurs can apply for a 3-month visa to test the waters and get set up, or a 12-month visa to make the move and begin the process of permanent residency.
Like its cousin Lithuania, Estonia has beautiful scenery, sea views, and a high quality of life.
More info: https://startupestonia.ee/visa
Entrepreneur residence permits (Sweden)
Sweden is known in the business world for producing the likes of IKEA, but it’s also a welcoming country for entrepreneurs with companies of all sizes.
While Sweden doesn’t have a flashy website or dedicated startup-lingo page, the Nordic country has a Self-Employment Residency visa, which provides up to 2 years stay – with a path to permanent residency – for self-employed individuals.
The capital requirements are fairly low – you have to prove you have around $ 25,000 USD to support yourself while on visa – and you can apply from anywhere in the world. The primary potential downside for remote entrepreneurs is that this visa requires you to produce and/or sell the majority of your business’ goods and services in Sweden, which could be a challenge for a distributed workforce.
Not sure about relocating quite yet?
One of the wins of remote work is that you can physically do your job from anywhere. So if you’ve been dreaming of relocating but not sure about taking the actual plunge, plan an extended working holiday.
Depending on where you’re from, most countries will allow you to stay at least a few weeks (and upwards of 90 days in some cases) with no visa or simply on a tourist visa.
If you’re planning this kind of “working holiday,” here are some places to consider visiting (that have great, accessible wifi) for when the world opens back up:
- Goa, India
- Toronto, Canada
- Hoi An, Vietnam
- Tel Aviv, Israel
- Helsinki, Finland
- Tallinn, Estonia
- Fukuoka, Japan
- Seoul, South Korea
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Belgrade, Serbia
- Cluj, Romania
Smaller cities, towns, and villages:
- Taghazout, Morocco
- Rhodes, Greek Islands
- Koh Phangan, Thailand
- Canggu, Bali