How to Start a Business in the UK as a Foreign National

Thinking of setting up your own business in the UK from abroad? From a distance, it may seem like there is only one way to start your business in the UK: be a UK citizen or at least live in the UK. But this couldn’t be further from reality. 

Whether you’re already abroad or planning to move overseas, people from all around the world can start a business in the UK. The UK welcomes international entrepreneurs with open arms. In fact, there are nearly 50 thousand foreign-owned businesses in the UK. Plus, the UK has one of the strongest economies globally, so it’s a great place to start a business. 

But if you’re planning to get your entrepreneurial dreams off the ground in the UK, there are a few things you need to know and do first. If you want to live in the UK too you will need a visa and there are specific start-up, entrepreneur and innovator visas available.  Setting up as a non-resident is easier. Once you’ve settled where to live and if you need a visa, here are the five things you will need to get in place to start a UK-based business. 

1. Choose a Company Name

Choosing a company name is easy, right? It might seem it at first, but finding the right business name can be pretty tricky. You may already have your mind set on a particular business name. But don’t start getting the business cards printed just yet; there are a few things you need to consider first.

From a business perspective, you want to find a memorable name and show what your company does. Before settling on a name, brainstorm some different ideas and gauge them against: 

  • What your business does 
  • What you offer your customers.

Ideally, you’ll want your business name to be one or two words. Think about companies and organisations that stick in your mind: Apple, Google, Microsoft. Just look at how many of the top 100 brands have one-word business names.  

Try to make a list of names you’re happy with. Next, you’ll need to ensure the business doesn’t already exist (heartbreaking, but it happens a lot). You’ve probably already done a few web searches, but to be sure the name is available, you can use Companies House’s name searcher. Companies House keep a complete register of all UK businesses so you can find out instantly if your name is available. 

2. Pick Your Company’s Legal Structure

With a company name chosen, you’ll be itching to get your business started. You’re probably already seeing the logo design and how it will look on marketing materials. But hold fire for a little bit longer. Before you can start designing and advertising your business, you need to choose a legal structure for your company. 

Your company’s legal structure will determine how you run the business and the taxes you’ll pay. Most new businesses choose to become a private limited company, but there are more options available: 

  • Private limited company — A separate legal entity to the business owners. Requires one director and one shareholder.
  • Partnership — A business involving two or more people who share responsibilities and profits.
  • Public limited company (PLC) — A business where shares are available publicly. Requires two directors and a company secretary. 

You can also choose to create a social enterprise or unincorporated association. While these are options, they are rare and usually non-profit organisations. 

3. Create a Business Plan

With your business name and structure nailed down, you can start to plan for your business success with a business plan. The old adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is applicable here. New business owners will often rush the planning process and miss crucial details, and a lack of planning is a leading reason for businesses to fail. 

You must take time to put your business plan together. While business plans are often used to get funding from investors or banks, they’re also a detailed guide for you. 

To create your business plan, you’ll need to deep dive into research to understand your market and competitors. Once you know your market well, you can start putting together your plan. This will include details on: 

  • Marketing strategies
  • Services or products
  • Competitors
  • Operations
  • Finances.

Think of your business plan as a roadmap to success. Take your time with it and make sure it’s readily available once you start your business. It’s also a good idea to review and update it regularly. 

4. Find a Business Address

While anybody can start a business in the UK while a non-resident, there is one requirement: a UK address to register your business. If you’re planning to register a business in the UK as a non-resident, this might sound a bit daunting. But you don’t need to start looking up real estate in the UK; there are plenty of options available:

  • Use a family or friend’s UK address (with their permission)
  • Use a virtual office address
  • Rent office space in the UK (if you really want to).

Your registered business address will be the address used for any official correspondence from HMRC and Companies House. Due to this, you’ll need to ensure you have access to that address. 

While using a friend or family member’s address is a good option, a virtual office address is probably the best choice. This is because a virtual office address gives you a UK business address without needing a physical space. Usually, virtual address providers will forward any correspondence to you wherever you are. Plus, they’re often in prestigious London locations, which looks good for your business. After you get your virtual address the next step should be to get a UK virtual phone number, that way you’ll be able to have an easy way to communicate with your local customers. 

5. Register Your Business

You’re very nearly there. You’ve got your business name, structure, plan and address all good to go. The last thing you need to do is register your business. The registration process for each structure is slightly different, but if you’re registering a private limited company, you’ll need to supply Companies House with the following information: 

  • Company name
  • Business address
  • Information about your shareholders
  • Director information
  • Formation documents.

Registering your business is usually a relatively painless and quick process, but occasionally, errors can delay it. If you’re not confident about registering your own company, there are company formation agents that can handle everything for you. These agents will charge you a fee to successfully register your business and save you time and stress in the process. 

Once your business is registered, you’re good to go. You’re ready to get your business off the ground and make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality.