Top Business Ideas For Starting a Business Abroad

imge of Ideas For Starting a Business

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I worked in publishing 34 years ago, wide-eyed, pony-tailed, and fresh out of college.
We used paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps to make a living writing.  I work online now.

Today, publishing companies like mine only need copywriters and editors once or twice a month. Thus, they want something other than a full-time salary, employer taxes, health benefits, vacation time, workspace, etc. Find a skilled freelancer faster and cheaper.

A small example. Today, entrepreneurs worldwide have these business opportunities abroad. Join the mobile, global workforce by turning a hobby into a job. With a laptop or, more ambitiously, you can build a business with a base and staff; then generate the income you need to live the life you want.

Business Ideas For Moving Abroad

Moving abroad is big. It’s a chance to change course for many. Whatever your reason for moving, we have some ideas to help you grow your business abroad.


Franchises are less risky for new entrepreneurs. It provides a business model, strategy, marketing, branding, and support. Estimate your investment budget first. Franchise UK and Franchise Direct have hundreds of companies seeking global partners. Investments range from €2,500 to €100,000.

Franchises are changing. Fast food and lodging dominated 20 years ago. Health and fitness are new opportunities, but fast food franchises made €221 billion in 2016. In 2016, Franchise 500 ranked health-focused Anytime Fitness in its top ten. Green energy and luxury retailers are also growing.

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Tourism-based business

If you live in a tourist destination, you can try many small business ideas to make money abroad. Bakeries, takeout, and ice cream shops may work. If you’re in a busy place, they’re cheap and captive.

Open a B&B with a spare room. Artists may consider an arts and crafts souvenir shop. Taxi and shuttle services, tourist excursions, car and bicycle rentals, and more are business ideas. Tourists will bring many customers. Long-term success depends on reputation.


Farming may suit Mediterranean expatsexpats. The warm weather and rich soil make it ideal for growing fruit, vegetables, and our favorite grapes. Viticulture may interest wine lovers. Buy vineyards in France or Italy, olive trees in Spain and Greece, or citrus fruit in Cyprus.


Move with a piece of home. Open a small shop selling imported goods from your country. Locals and expatsexpats will love it. You could also export items from your new country back home. That makes you a mediator. Find trustworthy partners on both sides.

Import/export opens the world. Import African wooden tribal masks, Panamanian baskets and hats, Bulgarian ceramic pots, and Caribbean seashell jewelry. Anything goes. The online business lets you contact suppliers and grow.

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Online work is growing in popularity. It’s flexible, portable, and doesn’t require much startup capital—just a laptop. Blogging ruled ten years ago. Traveling and blogging made many people money. Social media has expanded money-making opportunities. Just build your personal brand and nurture your inner influencer.

You could also switch online jobs. Web development is growing. Consult in your field. Online translators need good language skills. Unlimited possibilities. Passionate work is most important.

Tips you need to know to start a business overseas

I planned to spend most of December in Jakarta before flying to the Philippines for Christmas with business contacts. Unfortunately, the city is cheap but has terrible traffic and not much to see beyond my few meetings.

Indonesia has nice people, a low cost of living, and a welcoming dating scene for single men. Unfortunately, bad traffic (at least in the big city), a currency revaluation, and a government whose monetary policy will likely slow economic growth in the coming years offset it.

We often discuss starting a business abroad. We discuss affordable cities for young entrepreneurs and other ways to profit from emerging economies.

How do you choose the best business idea? My extensive time observing trends and talking to international entrepreneurs yielded these tips.

Tip #1: Get on the ground

Nomad 101: be there to learn and make money. You must be present to find a great business idea.

Sites like this can guide, suggest ideas, and point you in the right direction for your interests and risk tolerance, but they can’t replace seeing a business idea. Visiting a new country lets you see its trends. Once you see these places, everything becomes clear.

I’ve advised starting a business abroad with a foreign partner. If you can’t execute, your great business idea won’t matter. Finding a “local” business partner home on the couch is difficult.

Many countries make it easy to start a business. You must adapt to the culture and government interference. That’s easy, and many expatexpat entrepreneurs succeed, but you need face time to find the right partners.

Spend vacation time overseas finding the best business ideas. Leave the kids home for a week, two, or a month.

Tip #2: Explore

It’s easy to overlook the value of the person serving you drinks while plotting a big business deal in a fancy hotel lobby. I see newcomers as potential sources of information. I’m friendly to waiters, taxi drivers, and nightlife encounters.

By the time I start a serious conversation with someone, they know what I do, so I ask, “what business would you start here?” You get a lot of puzzled looks, but those who speak often offer valuable insights.

This method worked well when I ran a home services business but not when I ran a creative business. My daily on-the-ground employees had great insights I could use for business. Several friends’ service provider complaints inspired the business.

The cafe barista may also have an idea to improve service in a way the market wants. Some multinational chains succeed by “being American” (and some don’t), but a hands-on local operator could beat them.

Simple business ideas are often best.

That’s why I’m so pro-startup in emerging markets. The market is growing fast enough to demand them if offered. Cambodians don’t eat at McDonald’s because they haven’t yet. If the market isn’t big enough for them, you have an advantage as a small entrepreneur because you can run with fewer layers of administration. McDonald’s doesn’t acquire competitors, but there are many industries where you can front-run larger companies and have an exit strategy.

Your own judgment and diligence are essential. You’ll get lots of ideas that need to be reworked, or that only hint at a good business idea. I’ve always tried to get as many opinions as possible, filter out what doesn’t work, and combine the rest.

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Step #3: Avoid dogmatism

One of the best international business startup tips I’ve received.

I think bringing winning ideas to foreign businesses is great. Many successful expatexpat entrepreneurs have copied US or other successful business models. I recently asked the sales clerk about while buying Christmas gifts for friends. “Amazon?” she asked.

Amazon doesn’t exist in a 250-million-person nation or a 10-million-person city. I find the logistics of such a business daunting, but the market is open. No local competitor dominates the market.

While in Vietnam, several food delivery companies were competing after being inspired by similar services elsewhere. I like that sales-focused, no-inventory business.

However, localize the idea. Amazon relies on a relatively efficient, bankrupt USPS. At least the US Post Office delivers over half its packages intact, which makes my anarcho-capitalist friends cringe. Hire couriers for $100 monthly to hand-deliver packages in a developing country with poor infrastructure.

Of course, you want to avoid making the same mistake as Nabisco and many others by assuming that consumers will want the same product you or others have sold. Nabisco thought its Oreo cookies were a hit in China until it realized Chinese people wouldn’t buy a dozen cookies for $1. They also disliked the overly creamy frosting.

Dogmatically calling a local culture stupid won’t work. Adapt to public cultural norms. This may temporarily benefit you. Few emerging-world small businesses accept credit cards for most purchases. This reduces compliance and cost.

Determine which parts of local business people like and which inefficiencies can be improved. Establish a business.

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