Startups are a massive boost for economies. Savvy countries around the world recognise this. Governments are responding by offering fast-track residency and citizenship through startup visas programmes. These programs (also sometimes called entrepreneur visas) are aimed at people with great ideas and entrepreneurial drive. These countries understand that fostering a startup culture can help local entrepreneurs learn and grow. Happily, some of these visa programs are from the best countries in the world to start a business. Foreign entrepreneurs who commit to their new home can be a great way to promote that culture.
What are the advantages of moving your startup abroad?
There are many reasons that a founder might choose an international move as a mission-critical item on the path to success, including:
- Support in the form of business incubators, accelerators, mentors and startup know-how
- Access to markets and customers
- New government and private funding sources
- Investment environments and investor groups that are capable of funding innovative products and services
- Hire critical skills and technologies that may be more difficult to source in your home country
- Obtain favourable tax regimes
- A pathway to residency, citizenship and a passport for you and your family in a new country
The range of countries is impressive and is growing all the time. It includes hard to access countries and desirable destinations. The list of countries offering a startup visa or entrepreneur visa program includes:
- Canada (Quebec has a separate program that is administered at state level.)
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
What is the catch? Well, each country has a set of requirements. Similarly, each country offers different things to a budding founder. These differences mean that each founder needs to evaluate their personal situation for the best fit. Your new home needs to be an excellent match for you, your family and for your business. To make it easier for you, we had a look at all the available programs. Here we choose our top 15 countries for Startup Visa Programs around the world.
The top 15 Startup Visas that we love
Canada (outside Quebec) Startup visa
The Canada startup visa program offers permanent residency for qualifying startup founders. The critical point for this program is first to get support for your startup from a designated organisation. This support can be an investment from any approved venture capital fund, investor group, or an angel investor group. The support could also be an endorsement or membership of a business incubator.
Your business or product must be innovative, have the potential to create jobs for Canadians, and to be able to compete outside of Canada.
Up to five people can apply as part of the same company. However, they must each own a minimum of 10% of the voting shares of the company.
The applicants and supporting organisation must hold at least 50% of the voting rights of the company when you apply.
During the assessment of the Canada startup visa application, the government can grant a temporary residence permit for you to move to Canada. This permit is to allow you to start building the business. There is also a language test requirement for this startup visa class. Fees are from $2,075, and the processing time is 12 – 16 months.
Please note that Quebec has a startup immigration program that operates independently.
Denmark Startup Visa
Denmark will assess your startup visa application and get an answer to you within six weeks. The Danish immigration department offers a 2-year residency and work visa for high potential startups. You can apply for multiple three-year extensions of this visa.
A dedicated government agency supports the startup visa program. Founders get access to a wide range of government support. You, your spouse and children are eligible for most welfare benefits, including Denmark’s renowned health and education systems.
The environment in which you run your business will make a massive difference to your success or failure. Will your startup be encouraged to thrive? In 2015 Forbes nominated Denmark as the number one country in the world to do business.
Denmark has also rated the happiest country in the world in 2016. And, with an offer like this, founders are going to agree with those ratings.
Portugal Startup Visa
Portugal’s government has been at the forefront of attracting immigration through investment. They have worked hard to make it easy to do business with initiatives like “On the Spot Firm” centres. These centres allow you to set up a new business, or the branch of a foreign company, in under an hour.
Government and private business incubators and startup accelerators are available in both Portuguese and English, and Lisbon has a vibrant startup community.
Startups applying to this program are assessed across five categories.
- degree of innovation
- scalability of the business
- market potential
- the capacity of the management team
- potential for creating jobs
Other requirements are:
- The startup needs to be technology-focused,
- The startup needs to show the potential to create jobs and to generate a turnover of 325,000€/ year.
A low cost of living, a high standard of living and access to EU markets and funding all add to an attractive package. For these reasons, Portugal appeals to founders looking for a new start.
Click here to speak to our Portugal Immigration Partner about residency in Portugal.
The United Kingdom Entrepreneur Visa
The United Kingdom has secured 30% of all European VC funds for several years. Although France and Germany are catching up, the UK will be a powerhouse for years to come. What makes the UK such an attractive destination for startups and the money that follows them? There is an abundance of well-educated and experienced talent from which to pick. This talent pool is augmented by a healthy ecosystem with both government and private support through coworking spaces, business incubators and accelerators. Basing your startup in the UK also gives you access to large pools of private, institutional and government funding.
Endorsement from a UK government-approved accelerator eases the assessment requirements for this visa from the UK Home Office. Accordingly, being positively assessed by an endorsing body could be a significant boost for both your business and your visa application.
When considering the finances of your business, taxation is essential to consider. The UK offers generous tax incentives to startup founders.
The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa gives you three years and four months and is extendable by another two years. After five years in the UK, you can apply for settlement, and following that, residency.
BREXIT is now a reality, and there is still a lack of clarity around how the final agreement will impact startup founders. We are confident, given the communication to date, that the government will still prioritise high-potential startups and qualified founders for UK immigration.
Click here to speak to our UK Immigration partner about a United Kingdom Entrepreneur visa.
New Zealand Entrepreneur Visa
The New Zealand Entrepreneur Visa program is not just for startup founders. The program also applies to anyone wanting to start or buy a business in New Zealand. Through this program, you can apply for residency under the Entrepreneur Residence Category. For immigrant founders, the qualification period is two years. However, the residency period is reduced to six months for investments of more than NZ$500,000 into the company. Your family is included in this program. This visa class is a pathway to New Zealand citizenship and a passport.
New Zealand offers this visa for three years and the approval has two stages. The first stage is a one-year work visa allowing you to buy or set up your business. The next stage is a two-year residence permit when you show that you are taking steps to establish your company.
You need to meet 5 criteria to qualify for the New Zealand entrepreneur visa.
- You must have a minimum capital investment of NZ$100,000 (this does not include working capital)
- The New Zealand government must approve your business. There is a point system with 120 points required. Points are awarded for factors including the likely success of the business and the value of the company to New Zealand.
- You’ll need a business plan that lays out your idea and your next steps. See this article on Startup Nation for a guide.
- Show that you have a record clear of bankruptcy, business failure, or fraud.
- Show that you meet the good character, health and English proficiency levels.
Spain Startup Visa
Spain’s principal criterion for assessing your application is a decision around the benefits your business will bring to Spain. While some other visas have a clear focus on innovative products, Spain’s criterion is more extensive.
The Spain startup visa is considered a relatively easy visa to obtain, and it has a relatively fast processing period. You’ll need to show bank accounts containing enough money to support yourself. One negative for this visa is that Spain has a 10-year residency requirement before it grants citizenship and a second passport.
Click here to speak to our Spain Immigration partner about a Spanish Startup Visa.
Chile Startup Visa
Chile has several programs, and for innovative ideas, they go way beyond the visa. There is access to government funding, business incubator support and much more. Their Startup Chile Community offers support throughout the entire startup journey. In return, Chile looks to founders to spread the entrepreneurial gospel throughout Chile. This progressive and imaginative program is bearing fruit with over 1,300 startups in the process.
Chile has excellent infrastructure, great access to talent, a low cost of living and low taxes. There is a lot in this startup visa program for a founder looking for a break.
Japan Entrepreneur Visa
An exciting offering is Japan, with a new scheme announced in December 2017. The offer is restricted to the Fukuoka prefecture for the moment. The city has founded the Fukuoka Start-up Café to help founders through the entire relocation and setup process. This support includes assistance with a range of issues from opening bank accounts and the visa process itself, to marketing a product in Japan.
The six-monthly startup visa is renewable with regular reviews of the startup progress being assessed. Successful founders have access to office and residential rent subsidy schemes offered by the city. While it is only Fukuoka that offers an Entrepreneur visa at present, it is hoped that other parts of Japan will follow.
Estonian Startup Visa
Which European Union country has the highest number of startups per capita? Estonia owns that title. For instance, Skype was an Estonian startup. Active investors in the Estonian startup landscape include Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, Seedcamp, Matrix Partners and Intel Capital. The Estonia government saw this potential and now offers a range of visas. The standard founder visa is a 12-month renewable visa which also gives the founder’s spouse a working visa and residency. NimbleFin ranks Estonia as the 5th best country for startups.
If you want to base your company in Estonia but not settle there, the government also offers the innovative e-Residency scheme. This base allows your business to be based and run in this European Union country even if you don’t reside there. At the cost of only €80, it would be crazy not to get onto this!
Please see our Estonia Immigration page for more information about eResidency and more.
Hong Kong Investment as Entrepreneur Visa
Hong Kong is a global finance hub with access to the world’s biggest markets. There is a strong pool of high-quality talent and unrivalled infrastructure. While Hong Kong has faced recent political and financial challenges, the future of Hong Kong’s business environment remains healthy.
The Hong Kong Investment as Entrepreneur visa usually is valid for an initial period of two years. You can renew the visa for additional three year periods after that time has elapsed.
The visa covers your spouse/partner and any unmarried dependant children under 18 years old.
Processing time for the visa application is generally around four weeks.
This entrepreneur visa program looks to attract world-class businesses. There are two streams.
For the Startup visa stream, you’ll need to show you have the backing of an approved program. These include:
- StartmeupHK Venture Programme administered by InvestHK
- Incu-App, Incu-Bio and Incu-Tech programmes administered by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation
- Cyberport Incubation Programme
- Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Programme and Enterprise Support Scheme administered by the Innovation and Technology Commission
- Design Incubation Programme administered by the Hong Kong Design Centre.
For the Entrepreneur visa stream, you need to meet several criteria. These include:
- No character issues, including serious crimes and bankruptcies.
- Appropriate tertiary or technical qualifications.
- You can contribute to the Hong Kong economy. This contribution could be through revenue, job creation, investments, or the introduction of new skills or technologies. You’ll need to demonstrate how your business will deliver these outcomes.
The Hong Kong government’s Entrepreneur Visa website can be found here.
The EntrePass covers a number of different entrepreneur and startup visa categories. If you have recently started, or intend to start a company you may qualify. For founders, there is a significant hurdle. As a founder, you’ll need to meet one of three criteria.
- You have at least SG$100,000 in guaranteed funding from an approved investor. There are both VCs and Angel groups on the approved list.
- You are registered with a government recognised incubator or accelerator.
- You have a significant startup track record and business network.
If you have an innovative product (generally patentable) there is another pathway. This pathway also has three options.
- Registered intellectual property which gives your business a competitive advantage.
- A research collaboration with an approved Singapore institution.
- You have an outstanding track record in your area of expertise.
See the Singapore Government’s EntrePass website for more details.
The Netherlands Entrepreneur Visa
The Netherlands is a country of entrepreneurs. This focus is reflected in the fantastic entrepreneur visa offered by the Dutch government. To access the startup program of this European Union country requires three things.
- You have a great idea.
- You will work with a Dutch facilitator, mentor, accelerator, or incubator. Checkout launchcafe, ahti, xrbase, rotterdampartners, impacthub, startupbootcamp, rockstart, collider or makerversity for some examples.
- You can show funds of at least €13,000 to support yourself.
Satisfy those criteria, and you’ll get a 12-month startup visa. Importantly, this is renewable and a pathway to residency and citizenship if your business is successful. The Netherlands is a country that consistently ranks in the top 10 best places to live in the world. It has access to the markets of the EU and a well-educated population in a buzzing technical community. The Netherlands entrepreneur visa could be the perfect first step for a founder with dreams.
Ireland Startup Visa
Ireland is home to 3 out of 5 of the worlds top gaming companies (like EA and Activision). It is home to 9 out of 10 of the world’s leading technology and internet companies such as Facebook and Google. Ireland’s capital, Dublin, is home to 2000+ startups and in 2015 €300 million was raised in the city.
Why is Ireland popular with startup boards and founders? Access to fantastic government support (both financial and practical) and low corporate taxes help. Other positives are EU membership and close ties to the USA economy and investment communities. Finally, there is also a vibrant tech ecosystem and a highly-skilled international workforce to staff your company. Add in a famously welcoming country, and there is a compelling argument to be made. The cherry on the top is a well administered and flexible startup visa scheme.
The startup visa allows family members to migrate under the same visa. Importantly, the visa has no job creation targets initially (but should have the potential to create ten jobs in 3 – 4 years). Founders need to prove €50,000 of available funding for the business and have a high potential startup idea. The Ireland startup visa is a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for the founder and their family.
The Ireland government’s Startup visa page has more information.
France Entrepreneur Visa
France rolls out the red carpet for startup founders, investors and tech employees. While each category has different requirements, it is worth investigating France’s startup scene wherever you are in the startup ecosystem.
Investment in French-based startups has steadily increased from $1 billion in 2014 to $2 billion in 2015 and $2.4 billion in 2016. This flow of money reflects the fact that France is home to the fastest-growing startup ecosystem in Europe over the last five years. Indeed, today it has the highest number of Venture Capital deals in Europe. To be eligible, your innovative startup will need to partner with a French incubator or accelerator. Additionally, you’ll have enough money to support yourself for a year (around €18,000). After that the entrepreneur visa is renewable.
The French Tech Ticket is aimed at technology startups. This program has a wide range of benefits beyond just a fast track to French residency. The benefits include grant money and free office space in Paris’ top incubators.
Latvia Startup Temporary Residence permit
We’ve added this program to our list after it the conditions were reviewed. Latvia has an excellent support system for startups. It now has an agile startup visa program to match.
It is a simple process to access the startup visa of this European Union country. You need to be the founder of a company built on an innovative, scalable idea. Up to five founders of a single company can apply for the visa. You’ll need a small amount of cash in the bank, and that is it. You are eligible for a one-year temporary residence visa. The residency permit also covers your spouse and dependant children. Your visa application can be reviewed in as little as a week.
To renew the startup visa after a year, you need to meet some conditions.
You must have set up the business in Lativa. Over the year in Lativa, you have worked on, developed and grown your startup. Or, you have to have raised €30,000 from VC fund or €15,000 from an accelerator/business angel. So, demonstrate the capacity to raise capital, or traction if you are bootstrapping and you can stay.
For more details see the Latvia government’s Startup Support group.
A note for founders interested in the USA
There is currently no dedicated startup or entrepreneur visa for founders and startups. There is no direct pathway to residency and citizenship in the USA. While there are still pathways for founders, they are complex, oversubscribed and challenging to access. The International Entrepreneur Rule created by the last administration was designed to attract entrepreneurs. It would have given founders with confirmed investors 30 months to establish their companies. Unfortunately, the rule has not been activated, and it seems unlikely to be under the current administration.
There are companies like Unshackled Ventures and One Way Ventures that focus on immigrant founders. These founders should have a great idea and be interested in the USA as a home for their new company. The companies look at visa, permits, and more as well as pure investment opportunities. If you have a great idea, pitching to them may be a great move.
A move abroad may be what your startup needs to take off
You have a brilliant idea and a drive to see that idea come to life. There are governments around the world queuing up to help you make it happen. Like every part of being a founder, this decision is going to have a massive impact on the trajectory of your company. Having said that, expanding your horizons may be what you need to bring your idea to the world!
Interested in other ways to access residency abroad as a founder?
Check out our blog 14 ways to get EU Residency that you might not know about.
Do you have a regular income from another source, including your business? Even a small amount may give you the opportunity to move to another country while you bring your idea to life. See our article on Income Visas.