It’s true, there’s no escaping it.
However, no one should be discouraged. International expansion brings a company so many benefits that it’s worth the effort. One just needs to be prepared.
Every time I set up a new company abroad, I realise how little paperwork is involved in setting up and running a business in a country like the UK.
Let’s take an example — Dubai.
Here’s an idyllic business location that’s very much First World. It’s attractive as a hub for the Gulf, North Africa and the Indian sub-continent.
But the bureaucracy seems unnecessary and sometimes crazy.
Most companies set up in Free Trade Zones (FTZs). There are a lot of them, all promoting themselves, some for more or less any kind of business, some dedicated to specific sectors. They all make starting a business there sound simple, quick and straightforward. All the forms you need to fill in are online, and there are plenty of agencies offering to do that for you.
Of course, you may not be interested in Dubai or another Emirate, but keep reading, as it presents typical examples of what you might expect in other countries and what you need to be prepared for.
In my experience, the FTZs and agencies don’t ever tell you the whole picture up front. Yes, you can start a legally registered company relatively easily, but it won’t be any use to you for doing any meaningful business. You’ll need an office, staff, a bank account and accountants, and all that means much more effort. Without experienced support, you can find yourself in what feels like a never-ending quagmire of bureaucracy.
You’ll be asked for a lot of documentation, some of which you won’t even realise you’ve got or could get. Some will need to be ordered from government offices in your own country. Some might even be difficult to find — at least quickly. For example, can you easily lay your hands on your original university graduation certificate?
Once you’ve found it — and all the other pieces of paper you’ll be asked for — they’ll need lots of stamps, both rubber and adhesive.
Even a government-issued certificate isn’t acceptable as it comes. To prove it’s legal, you’ll need to get an Apostille (an adhesive stamp to prove that the document is genuine) from another government office (in the case of the UK, the FCO).
Then, you’ll probably need to get most of the papers notarised. Whilst in some countries notaries are on every street corner, in the UK we find that a strange concept, and so there aren’t many scriveners around.
Then, on to the UAE Embassy to get the document legalised — another adhesive stamp.
Then, once you’ve couriered the document to Dubai, your local agent will need to take it to the local government office to get it legalised again (it seems the UAE doesn’t trust it’s own embassies!).
All of these steps cost money, of course (and in the case of the UAE Embassy legalisation, quite a lot of money). And they all take time, as most aren’t while-you-wait services, even if you’re in London and have got someone who can walk the documents round from place to place.
Even when the company is legally created and you receive your very own official stamp, you haven’t finished with bureaucracy.
Opening a bank account isn’t so easy.
Like most countries, the UAE have introduced legislation in the last few years to stop money laundering. That’s made it difficult for non-resident directors to set up or operate bank accounts. It may mean that the only practical solution is for you to become technically resident — and obtaining that status naturally means a lot more bureaucracy!
It’s not just getting a visa. To get a residence permit you’ll need to take a medical, buy health insurance, and of course present yet more legalised papers. Some of them are the same ones you needed to start the business, but you can’t use those of course, you’ll need fresh copies, freshly legalised. You’ll also need to go through this process for all of your staff there.
Honestly, I’m not trying to put you off. None of this is difficult if you plan in advance, anticipate the hassle, costs and time involved — and have someone who understands organise it all for you.
A little expert advice to guide you and help to take most of the bureaucracy off your hands means the process is manageable. Using a local agent in the country can make sense, but that doesn’t solve all the issues — they don’t always ask for the right papers, and can’t do anything to help you with the sourcing and legalisation of documents in your own country, so you’ll need a coordinating service like ICC’s.
As always, if you have any comments I’d be glad to hear from you. Just email me on email@example.com .
Despite bureaucracy, international expansion is easier than you may think.