Residency by setting up a business- The 11 best countries in 2021

As per 2019 statistics , immigrant entrepreneurs made up 21.7 percent of all business owners in the United States, despite making up just over 13.6 percent of the population and 17.1 percent of the U.S. labor force.


Why residency by business investment programs exist? The connect between residence-by-investment (RBI) programs and immigrant entrepeneurship and investment.


Immigrant entrepreneurship has proven itself to be one of the most effective forms of immigration over the years.


It allows host nations to attract highly skilled talent and affluent foreign investors whilst allowing immigrant entrepreneurs to seek out the most favorable environment for them to launch and grow their businesses in.


This is the reason why residency by business set up programs exist. They are an excellent way of enabling immigrant entrepreneurship.


An image of a cityscape
An image of a cityscape (Image Credit: Contrastly)

How immigrant entrepreneurs and investors benefit from residence-by-investment (RBI) programs?


Businesses take a significant amount of time and capital to get off the ground and it is a wise call for entrepreneurs to make the most gainful return from their investments.


Setting up a business in a foreign country that may have a more favorable business environment not only makes business success more likely but often also gets you the chance to build a future for yourself in that country, via residency by investment and citizenship by investment programs.


Such programs typically grant you a temporary residency (often leading to PR or citizenship over time) upon making varying types of investments (startup/ business investments, real estate investments, government bonds, donations, etc.)


For the purposes of this article, we'll go over some of the best residency by investment programs that enable you to acquire a temporary residency on the basis of setting up a new business. Most of them lead to permanant residency and citizenship pathways over time.


An aerial view of London, United Kingdom
An aerial view of London, United Kingdom (Image Credit: Unknown)

(1) The UK Tier 1 Startup Visa:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum capital investment requirements (But you must validate you have the means to support yourself)

  • Possibility of gaining permanent residency and citizenship in the future.

  • Residency issued on the condition that the business is unique and endorsed by an authorized body.

  • You are allowed to work other jobs in addition to working on your business under this immigration status (a rare feature for such programs).

  • You will be taxed as a UK resident.


While there are several immigration options to the UK, this is perhaps the best suited option for entrepreneurs with an innovative startup idea. Provided you have a business plan for an innovative business (something that isn't already being done by another company in the UK) and meet the other eligibility requirements defined by UK immigration, you can apply for the Tier 1 Startup Visa.


To apply for the Startup Visa, you must be endorsed by an authorized body that is either:

  • a UK higher education institution

  • a business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs


You must also be able to show that your business idea is:

  • a new idea - you cannot join in a business that is already trading

  • innovative - you must have an original business idea which is different from anything else on the market

  • viable - it has potential for growth


Upon application you may expect to receive a decision between 3 to 8 weeks. If successful you will be granted two years of residency in the United Kingdom which may be extended or converted to a different immigration status in the future.


The endorsement you receive from either body must be valid for the entirety of your residency term. If the endorsement is withdrawn for any reason, your visa validity may be cut short.


There are no minimum investment requirements for this visa category, however you will be required to validate that you have sufficient personal savings to support yourself and dependents in the UK for the period of your residence.


For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/start-up-visa.


An image of Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen Denmark
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark

(2) The Startup-Denmark Visa:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum capital investment requirements (But you must validate you have the means to support yourself)

  • Possibility of gaining permanent residency and citizenship in the future.

  • You are limited to only working on your business and may not have other jobs. You are expected to support yourself solely from that stream of income within Denmark.

  • You will be taxed as a Danish resident.


Startup Denmark is a visa scheme for non-EU/EEA entrepreneurs to launch their businesses and reside in Denmark.


Entrepreneurs can apply on the basis of a business plan which is evaluated by an independent expert panel. If the panel approves your business plan, you are eligible to apply for a residence and work permit as a self-employed entrepreneur. The permit is granted for a period of up to two years with the possibility of extension for three years at a time.


While there are no minimum capital investment requirements, you are required to validate that you have enough personal savings to sustain yourself in Denmark for the period of the residency.


For more information, visit https://startupdenmark.info/.


An aerial view of Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE
An aerial view of Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE (Image credit: Unknown)

(3) Residency by business set up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE Investor/ Partner Visa):


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum capital investment requirements.

  • No requirements to validate personal financial standing. Although it is recommended that you have the funds to support yourself while in the country. (While this is true for foreigners from most countries, those from certain countries may still require to validate personal financial health to support themselves in the UAE).

  • No restrictions on opening up multiple businesses or working multiple jobs (Provided the right work permits are obtained).

  • Pathways to UAE Golden Visa (10 year visa) available based on capital investment.

  • No income taxation.

  • No corporate taxation.

  • No clear pathway to PR or citizenship based on naturalization for foreigners.


The UAE is one of the easiest countries in the world to do business in, ranking 16th on the Global Ease of Doing Business rankings, from nearly 200 countries surveyed.


Including the 7 emirates of the UAE and all the various freezone and offshore areas, you have over 50+ jurisdictions to pick from when setting up your company- each with their own unique features and offerings.


Setting up a business is a straightforward and transparent process and most foreigners are able to set up a business without any challenges at all.


Once you pick your preferred jurisdiction, business activities, and visa quota you are able to set up a company as quickly as within a week.


Most jurisdictions do not have any minimum capital investment requirements and anyone is welcome to set up a business. You are not restricted to any specific activties and can chose to set up a business with any of the various available activties.


Once you have a company set up, you are able to issue yourself an investor or partner visa as the owner of the business. You are also able to issue visas to dependant family members and employees.


For more information on company setup and investor visas in the UAE visit https://www.gulfvakil.com/company-incorporation.


An aerial view of Dublin, Ireland
An aerial view of Dublin, Ireland (Image Credit: Business Traveller)

(4) The Startup Entrepreneur Program (STEP) in Ireland:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • Minimum capital investment of EUR 50,000 is mandatory, in addition to validating personal funds to sustain yourself and dependants during your stay,

  • Pathways to PR and citizenship by naturalization in one of the most developed European economy.

  • One of the most favorable business environments in Europe. Low corporate tax rate. Majority English speaking populace.

  • You are restricted to working on the business you set up only and may not work other jobs.

  • You will be taxed as an Irish resident.


Initially introduced in 2012, the Startup Entrepreneur Program, is aimed at enabling foreign entrepreneurs to set up businesses and reside in Ireland on a full time basis.


Entrepreneurs are required to propose an innovative business plan and validate EUR 50,000 in funding available to their business.


During the term of residency, the founders must support themselves and not be a financial burden to the Irish state. They are also required to work full time on this business and are not permitted to work elsewhere during the term of their residency.


In case the requisites stop being met, the residency may be revoked.


For more information, visit https://www.irishimmigration.ie/.


An image of Cordoba, Spain
Cordoba, Spain (Image Credit: Unknown)

(5) The Entrepreneur Visa in Spain:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum capital investment requirements (But you must validate you have the means to support yourself)

  • Possibility of gaining permanent residency and citizenship in the future.

  • You are limited to only working on your business and may not have other jobs. You are expected to support yourself solely from that stream of income within Denmark.

  • You will be taxed as a Spanish resident.


The Spanish Residency Visas for Entrepreneurs and Business Activities (REM), enables various categories of entrepreneurs and business owners to gain temporary renewable residency permits in Spain for the purposes of setting up and carrying out business in the country.


Entrepreneurs are required to present a business plan describing the entrepreneurial activity they wish to carry out. As per the Spanish Exteriors Ministry website, an entrepreneurial activity is understood as that which is innovative in nature with a special interest to Spain and can count on a favorable report from the Commercial Office where the investor presents the application for the visa.


The following are other general requirements:

  • Regularly on Spanish soil.

  • Be older than 18 years.

  • No criminal record in Spain or countries lived in during the last 5 years for offenses stipulated under Spanish Law.

  • Not listed as objectionable in the territorial space of countries with which Spain has signed an agreement in this regard.

  • Have a public insurance or private health insurance with a Health Insurance Institution authorised to operate in Spain.

  • Have sufficient financial resources for yourself and for the members of your family during the period of residency in Spain (2.130€ monthly for yourself and 532€ for every family member that is in your care).

  • Pay the fee for the processing of visa(s).


For more information, visit http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Consulados/CIUDADDELCABO/en/InformacionParaExtranjeros/Pages/Law-on-Visas-for-Entrepreneurs.aspx.


An image of Cuatro Torres Business Area, Spain
Cuatro Torres Business Area, Spain (Image Credit: Unknown)

(6) Self-Employed Work Visa (Autonomo) in Spain:


Whilst very similar to the Spanish Entrepreneur visa- in that it grants you residency to do business in the country- the Self-Employed (Autonomo) work visa differs in the fact that it allows you to do business as a self-employed professional only.


There are a few implications of this, such as the fact that taxation might be more favorable doing business via a corporation than as a self employed professional. If you do well as a self-employed professional you may often find yourself in the highest income tax bracket albeit whilst running a fairly small business operation since all revenues will be counted as personal income.


However, one of the major advantages of the Self-Employed visa is that it is open to almost anybody. There are no specific requirements as far as the nature of business or innovativeness of the idea is cocerned. Neither are there any minimum capital investment requirements.


Essentially anyone can apply for this immigration status provcided they meet the general Spanish immigration criteria and are willing to reside and work in Spain as a self-employed individual.


For more information, visit http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Consulados/LOSANGELES/en/InformacionParaExtranjeros/Pages/SELF-EMPLOYMENT-WORK-VISA-.aspx


nea zealand cityscape
New Zealand Cityscape (Image credit: ArchDaily)

(8) The New Zealand Entrepreneur Work Visa:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • Minimum investment of NZ $100,000 required.

  • Businesses must be unique and entrepreneurial and this is vetted by the respective governing bodies.

  • Pathways to PR and citizenship available.

  • You will be taxed as a New Zealand resident.


This is a visa status available for those that want to setup and work on their own business in New Zealand. To apply, you’ll need to provide a detailed business plan, have at least NZ $100,000 to invest in your business and be able to claim 120 points on their points scale.


If you’re granted this visa, you can buy or set up a business without living there permanently, or as a first step towards obtaining a longer term residency in New Zealand.


The NZ $ 100,000 investment requirement may be waived for businesses in the science or ICT sectors that show a high promise of growth and success.


For more information, visit https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/options/start-a-business-or-invest/explore-business-and-invest-visas.


An aerial view of Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, Australia
An aerial view of Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, Australia (Image Credit: Unknown)

(9) The Australian Business Innovation and Investment Visa:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum investment requirements.

  • Businesses must be unique and entrepreneurial and this is vetted by the respective governing bodies.

  • Pathways to PR and citizenship available.

  • You will be taxed as an Australian resident.


There are various subclasses/ streams of Business Innovation and Investment Visas available for immigrant entrepreneurs in Australia.


(i) The Business Innovation Stream: Under this stream you are provided an immigration status that allows you to operate a new or existing business in Australia for up to 5 years, after which you must change your immigration status.


(ii) The Entrepreneur Stream: Under this stream you are able to carry out a unique, entrepreneurial activtiy in Australia. It is provided for a maximum period of 5 years, after which you must change your immigration status.


Both visas are provisional and require you to be invited to apply. As a first step you are to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI), be nominated by a State or Territory, and then be invited to apply.


For more information, visit https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/entrepreneur-work-visa


An aerial view of Santigo, Chile
An aerial view of Santiago, Chile (Image credit: NAFSA)

(10) The Startup-Chile Acceleration Program:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum investment requirements

  • Businesses must be uniqe and entrepreneurial and this is vetted by the respective governing bodies.

  • Pathways to PR and citizenship available

  • You will be taxed as a Chilean resident

  • Requires you to actively work in your business and doesn't allow you to permission to work other jobs


Start-Up Chile (SUP) was one of the first public startup accelerators of its kind in the LATAM region. Founded by the Chilean Government for high-potential entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startups and use Chile as a foundation, Start-Up Chile is the leading accelerator in LATAM and among the top 10 globally.


Startups from various innovative business sectors are provided with a 1 year extendable work visa for all team members and dependants provided they fulfil the various criteria for intake and are accepted into the accelerator.


Other perks include free workspace at the accelerator, assistance to procure funding, a vibrant community of entrepreneurs to network with and more.


While there are no minimum capital requirements, your busines must comply with the various criteria set out by the Startup-Chile incubator.


For more information, visit https://www.startupchile.org/.


Bangkok Skyline, Thailand
Bangkok Skyline, Thailand (Image credit: Unknown)

(11) Thailand SMART Visa:


Summary of key features, pros and cons:

  • No minimum investment requirements, although you are required to make a minimum deposit of ≥ 600,000 Thai Baht in the name of your business for a period of 3 month.

  • Businesses must be unique and entrepreneurial and this is vetted by the respective governing bodies.

  • Pathways to PR and citizenship available.

  • Great flexibility in the available industries in which you can set up your business and the ways in which you can be involved in that business.


The Thai SMART Visa is offered to foreign experts, executives, entrepreneurs and investors who wish to enter into the Kingdom of Thailand to work or to invest in a handful of high growth industries identified by the Thai government.


It is quite flexible in that there are over 13 target industries to chose from adn you have the option to be involved with a business in varying capacity (as an employee, investor, founder, director, etc.).


To obtain thsi visa under the 'Entrepreneur' catagory, the following conditions must be met;


- Deposit of ≥ 600,000 baht which has been held for at least 3 months

- Health insurance

- Participating in an endorsed incubation, accelerator program or a similar program, or obtaining joint venture with or being endorsed by a relevant government agency

- Must set up a company in the targeted industries in Thailand within 1 year with at least 25% ownership or being a board member


There are additional criteria to be met too.


For more information, visit https://smart-visa.boi.go.th/smart/index.html