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The best places in the world to start a business

I hold it as a guiding principle that there is quite literally a world of opportunity out there… and this goes especially for business. Years ago, there were limited consumer markets available where entrepreneurs could sell their products and services. Today, the playing field has truly leveled.

Emerging Asian economies have a burgeoning middle class that numbers in excess of 1 billion people with discretionary spending power.  The Persian Gulf region is home to millions of tremendously wealthy individuals with a strong propensity to consume. Former communist states like Russia have developed significant wealth and consumptive behavior.

Moreover, groups of countries have formed large trading blocks to facilitate commerce in the region, opening up enormous markets to entrepreneurs.  The European Union and South America’s Mercosur are two such examples.

The Internet and global logistics solutions have brought all of these consumers together with entrepreneurs. Mainstream media in the west has routinely run stories about doom and gloom in the global economy, but as I put boots on the ground around the world, I can see with my own eyes that the economy is not dead.

I recently spent about 3-months in Asia, and I am penning this essay having just left Monaco, traveling across Southern France on my way to Spain.  There are clearly certain elements of economic slowdown around the world, but I can say with certainty that both businesses and consumers are still out in force.

Fundamentally, business is about offering a valuable product or service that solves a problem or meets the needs of customers. In the west, the economic slowdown has affected discretionary spending to a degree– consumers are spending less. More importantly, though, what they are spending their money on has changed.

Consumers will always have problems that need to be solved and these problems change over time. Years ago, western consumers were concerned with which expensive car to buy. Today, the problem has shifted to preservation of wealth. In the East, consumers used to be concerned with putting food on the table. Now they need to know which car to buy.

A good entrepreneur can adapt quickly to changing market conditions in order to meet the needs of customers. As long there are consumers, there will always been needs to fulfill, problems to solve.

As I travel, I see many places that are extraordinarily compelling for talented entrepreneurs because of a combination of business opportunities, tax advantage corporate structures, and low cost of doing business. I outline some below:

Singapore– As one of Asia’s financial capitals, Singapore has developed a reputation for stability and opportunity. As an English-speaking jurisdiction with a strong financial infrastructure, it seems as if Singapore was literally created for entrepreneurs.

By submitting a valid business plan to the government through an online, streamlined process, foreign entrepreneurs can acquire residency (and eventually citizenship) as well as a host of government incentives and funding guarantees.  It also makes a great base to take advantage of the growing Asian consumer market.

Panama– With a large English-speaking population and close proximity to the United States and South America, Panama is a great place to structure a business. Its corporate entities and zero-tax environment are very favorable for entrepreneurs, and with a spate of capital-intensive projects in the region, the country is ripe with opportunity.

Many foreign companies, for example, are profiting from the Panama Canal expansion project, as well as several highway infrastructure projects. Labor costs are incredibly low, and like Singapore, there are residency-through-investment programs that are great for entrepreneurs.

Cyprus– As a small English-speaking island nation in the European Union, Cyprus-based businesses have access to the nearly half-billion European consumers across the continent. Starting a company there is quite simple, and with a transparent 10% flat tax on income, it is easily one of Europe’s best business jurisdictions.

UAE– Dubai has received a lot of bad press lately, but frankly, it’s still a good place to do business. In the years to come, Abu Dhabi will be even better.  The two emirates are English speaking, have absolutely no tax whatsoever, and an incredible store of consumer wealth.

It is possible for foreigners to start a business in one of the many free zones with very little paperwork or hassle, and there is a vast pool of talented employees in the region. Fortunately for entrepreneurs, there are few cumbersome labor laws to deal with in the emirates, so hiring and firing employees is incredibly simple, based solely on contracts.

Malaysia– How do you spell cheap? Labor costs nothing in Malaysia, and as home to one of the region’s emerging offshore centers, entrepreneurs will find a low-cost, low-tax domicile with access to over one billion consumers in the region.

There are certainly other places that I would strongly consider as a great place to do business; these are only a few, and I rate them on the viability of their corporate structures, cost of doing business, and local opportunities available. I firmly believe, though, that opportunity is everywhere, even in places where the economy is failing.

In business, an entrepreneur just needs to be able to spot the opportunity, and the more one travels, the more opportunities become apparent. I do my best to discuss the opportunities that I see on the ground in this letter, and I welcome your feedback and ideas based on what you are seeing.

Our goal is simple: To help you achieve personal liberty and financial prosperity no matter what happens.

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About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kiwicottage

    Would be nice to have additional info on how to get residency leading to passport in countries like Panama, safest, fastest least expensive ways to accomplish a second passport.

  • Will

    Great information. I am still waiting to hear about your best recommendations for traveling. do you recommend American Airlines? Do you recommend what credit cards for traveling. For a person that wants to travel I think it would be a fantastic help to know more from a transportation standpoint. for instance, if I wanted to travel to China would it be better to get frequent flyer miles from Delta or American. should I use which credit cards. You speak of the best places however many of your beloved readers( myself included ) would like to know about your best transportation recommendations.


  • Ames

    My background is auto/diesel industry and the oilfield. You say that emerging countries are now deciding which cars to buy. Are we talking about cadillacs and bmw’s, or yugos? Do they have the money for the good stuff yet? I’m happy to travel and do my own research, but which countries in the east would you start with? I’m thinking more about the demand side of things. Who’s got the cash for nice cars? Are they tired of changing their own oil yet?

  • lod

    Hi Simon, Thought you might be interested in this WaPo article about rising US underground economy. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/09/new-underground-economy/

    I second kiwicottage. Would love to more how-to information regarding how to obtain passports. Also, what do you do when traveling, do you have to bring both through the airport with you? Do they stop you b/c of this? Or how do you know which passport to use when traveling to different areas?

    • Marquelle

      Yes, a “Multiple Passports User’s Guide for Beginners” would be useful for the uninitiated among us!

  • Taylor White

    @ Simon,

    I say keep your business online in cyber space – a la Sovereign Man – and it doesnt really matter where you live.

  • Tim

    Love FxPro — been using them for a couple of years. Recently they told me that I will not be able to continue using them starting early in the new year even though I have dual citizenship (US and Europe). They will not accept or keep any client who is a US resident.

  • Arlean

    Interesting article. It might be good to detail limitations to business in these areas if possible. For example, there is a lot of hype about Panama and some of it is true, like the tax situation. But the downside is that the types of business available to a non-citizen are extremely narrow. For example, you cannot be involved in anything that is retail, can’t be a doctor even if you are a doctor, can’t operate taxis and a myriad of other things. Only licenses for high-capitol investment businesses are granted in most cases. So it isn’t as wide open as some people think. Of course the suggestion of an online business works everywhere. But business opportunity in Panama is limited.

    • Nancy Pransky

      Thank you for sharing that. I was considering going down to see what’s the possibilities.

      Nancy Pransky

  • Lyle

    I am on my way to the Phillipines and then Thailand tomorrow and caught your newsletter about opportunities world-wide.It would be interesting to hear any feedback (from anyone) from these countries point of view.

  • Paul

    Hi Simon, I really enjoy your daily musings. I was wondering what your 1st choice would be in setting up an online business offshore? Which country would be best for the business structure, hosting and merchant accounts? I would assume that you might want different countries for each. Thanks for your comments.
    P.S. What is the latest on the South Pacific Island project you mentioned a while back. Freedom and sanity seem to be rapidly deminishing in the west and I am looking for options.

    • Jai

      I’ll second that. And add my request for “LOW overhead,” low-cost, fast/efficient/cheap organization for the entity, cyber-banking…

  • albertchampion

    monaco. usa citizen bank account friendly? or also scared away by the feds?

  • Peteg

    Simon, you spoke on several countries to invest in but I was wondering what you think about Israel?
    In spite of all the political unrest in the news, Israel has a growing GDP and has a decreasing trade deficit. They are also an English speaking people but I do not know of their business or personal tax.

    I also would like to hear more on dual citizenship and dual passports!
    Thanks for keeping us up on the latest ways to be sovereign and Merry Christ Christmas!

    • Amit Cahana

      Israel offers a huge opportunity in terms of innovation.
      Second only to the US!!!!!

      If you have connection you can use the Israeli innovation
      and import it to your country.

      • Nancy Pransky

        How can one investigate this?? I’d love to go for this!!

        Nancy Pransky

  • uju

    thank you for those countries but i know that as much as others,africa is the golden spot.please do not be fool,you have a lot of opportunities in our soil.how do i know,i live and operate from there.it is good to experience it.large land,cheap labor,e.t.c
    welcome to the continent of opportunities.

  • honestann

    Thanks for the information. But tell me this. For a product-developer who wants to live in the [extreme] boonies/mountains far from uncivilization and avoid humidity at all costs… where is the best place? No need for fast, efficient access to ports and cities; one business trip per month is more than sufficient.

  • jim

    lived in Costa Rica for 7 months. they love americans and are a friendly people. labor is still fairly cheap and the country is relatively safe. there is petty thievery but less violence then in north america. investments are protected by law as well and foreigners are welcome, especially if you bring lots of cash to spend!

  • John

    Hello – Re: your 14 Dec. msg., who don’t you have a “comments” link on ALL messages ! ?

    My understanding is that taking gold coins out of the country are not considered “currency” and thus do not count toward the $10k limit or if they do, they count only as to their “face value”. What about gold bullion?

    Please confirm/deny and comment.

    Thanks !

  • Dionisio Romano

    You overlook, completely, Latin America. Cheap labor, growing populations, and they are right next door to us. And while I have NO RELIGIOUS affiliation whatsoever, except to Nature, they are “CHRISTIAN” nations with growing populations. WE, the U.S. and U.S. business people, will need them in the future and we will PROFIT from them. Oh…and make sure every one of your children are bi-lingual and if you don’t speak Spanish, take an on going Spanish course.

    • Sanderson

      Dionisio- How does he overlook Latin America when the #2 country on the list is Panama?

  • Steve

    What do people think of Chile? They seem to be anxious to ramp up there export businesses. It seems like a stable and quiet country.


    • lrm

      There’s a good expat blog-a brittish guy living in chile,i believe. google it. many have indicated on the forums there that chile is excellent for individual entrepreneurs-ie,you see a need for a product,and import it. from what i undersatnd/hear,regulations are minimal and it’s an excellent country for being in business,particularly as a foreigner. Outside of santiago,there are only a few locales one would want to live year round,according to most opinions…obv. depends upon your needs. have also heard that mindset is similar to 50’s in most of chile. which can be both good and bad. but chile does seem ripe for growth and open to change these days. also,yea,it’s thought to be ‘safe’ overall and i’ve heard it touted as the most stable govmt in south america. [though it’s all relative,i suppose] would also love other’s insights on Chile.

  • JA


    I’ve lived in the philippines for 3 years now and operated a variety of businesses, basically looking for any opportunity that comes along. I dont know a great deal about business in Thailand yet (although Simon has done some pretty good articles on it, and I am planning to move there this year) but I do know quite a lot about whats required in the Philippines. It depends on the scale of business here, there is a lot of red tape to comply with which often serves as an excuse for people to come in and demand their slice of your pie, I.E. a bribe.
    But micro businesses often operate under the radar, the underground economy (of which I’ve been a part of) is big here and people generally try to avoid tax at all costs. In short its quite difficult to make it big here due to suffocating corruption, unless of course you know somebody, they dont like people taking their market share and will go to unethical lengths to make sure their toes don’t get stepped on. It would pay to be prudent in who you trust as integrity here is not widespread, especially in business, and a short term mentality, destroys most attempts at grandeur and innovation.
    Laws here dont make things easy for foreigners on a (very) small budget but for around $4000 you can get a lifetime quota visa which allows you most citizenship rights (except the right to own land and property, although you can now own condo’s). There are opportunities here in agriculture and tourism however if your prepared to put in the time.

  • lrm

    yes,and this is exactly the variable that should be accounted for when discussing ‘oh china will be the next economic superpower’.
    At the end of the day,these places are largely following the same route as the USA-middle class consumers,or wealthy elite interested in maintaining their wealth and power at any cost.

    At some point,maybe in a hundred years,who knows-everyone must pay the piper. The same ‘issues’ will continue to plague us as a majority of individuals live their lives in a vacuouse state of mindless consmuption,and/or a stressed out state of trying to acquire and keep up with the joneses,protect their assets,or provide something better for their children.

    ‘Turns out,noone’s been thinking about the effects on the environment,or on the human body’,for example.
    So we will continue to have a patchwork,band-aid approach,and these countries’ economies will likewise sink,just like the US.

    In effect,we need not panic when thinking about the US power being usurped. And round and round and round it goes….
    We also do not know what ingenuities lie around the corner-

    People are free to live whatever kind of life they want-i’m not saying everyone should abstain from entrepreneurship via the consumer culture.

    Just pointing out-we dont really know the direction the US or the world will take. And there are many opportunities for new strategies-hah. the US could come out on top;one never knows. More than likely,there will be lateral power sharing,and no one power,economically. Noone will be ahead,b/c life quality issues will be at the forefront-
    obesity and cancer rates are already on the rise in China-a country that boasted one of the highest life expectancy rates-higher than the US-even while it is a 3rd world country.

    So,yea,these are the kinds of things we will see. A sicker human population,from a polluted lifestyle and environment. Staying well will be a commodity,I predict. And yet there will be pockets of good living(holistic/organic/green)-namely europe and parts of NA,at this stage of the game,and for those who can afford it,remoter regions and islands. Sure you may live well in bali or thailand,but just outside your gated compound or pristine dwelling,you are probably going just around the corner to find a polluted,plastic bag strewn river with women bathing and doing laundry.

  • Santhosh_trans

    Were is India ????? 

  • Amjadjaved

    In my apinion.Best place to invest and doing business
    in Pakistan also great. In Pakistan prices are cheap. 
    And if you do a business of exporting rice and mango
    the best produce of Pakistan. You can earn alot of
    money in discount. Living in Pakistan is also cheap.
    Some of very good places are Lahore,Islamabad,
    Abbottabad very beautiful small city for business
    of fruits and food.

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