Research and reports
Simply Business Editorial Team
19 April 2021
The UK is often seen as an attractive place to start a business, but there are challenges for foreign nationals. Here’s our guide on how to start a business in the UK as a foreigner.
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There are specific visas available for foreign nationals who want to start a UK business. And while EU citizens were previously free to live and work in the UK without a visa, Brexit means that they’re now subject to the same rules as non-EU citizens.
But it’s not impossible for foreign nationals to set up a business in the country – read about your options below.
You can get going with the following steps:
The Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020, so new rules started on 1 January 2021.
This means that people from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein who now want to start a business here will have to apply for a visa, in the same way as non-EU citizens.
The exception is if you or a close family member started living in the UK before 1 January 2021. If that’s the case, you might be able to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. This is free, but the deadline to apply is 30 June 2021.
Foreign nationals can’t apply for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa anymore, as it’s been replaced by the Innovator and Start-up visas.
You’ll usually get a decision on your visa within three weeks, if you’re applying from outside the UK.
This visa is for those who want to start an innovative business in the UK. The business needs to be different to anything else on the market, and an approved body has to endorse your idea.
Eligibility criteria are strict. You must have access to at least £50,000 in investment funds and prove where this funding came from.
You should also have enough personal savings to support yourself. You’ll be asked to prove that you’ve had at least £1,270 in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply for, extend, or switch to this visa.
You also need to be able to speak, read and write English to to level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale.
There’s a big fee to apply for the visa, too – it’s £1,021 (£1,277 if you’re extending or switching), although this reduces by £55 for foreign nationals of some countries (including France, Germany and Spain).
You can stay in the UK for three years on an Innovator visa and there’s no limit to the number of extensions.
Read more about the Innovator visa at gov.uk.
This visa is similar to the Innovator visa in that you need to have an innovative business idea that’s different to anything else on the market.
There’s no investment funding requirement, but you have to prove you’ve had at least £1,270 in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply for (or switch to) this visa.
Plus, you need to be endorsed by an authorised body that’s either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation that supports UK entrepreneurs.
You can only stay for two years and can’t extend the visa, although you may be able to switch to an Innovator visa.
The English language requirement is the same as the Innovator visa (level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale).
Fees are dramatically lower than the Innovator visa, at £363 to apply or £493 to switch, and there’s the same £55 reduction for eligible countries too.
Read more about the Start-up visa at gov.uk.
You can apply for a Global Talent visa if you’re a leader, or potential leader, in:
Your application has to be endorsed by a relevant authority with expertise in your field. While the Home Office handles this for you, how you apply depends on your field.
People on a Global Talent visa can be self-employed or directors of companies and can live and work in the UK for up to five years at a time.
Read more about the Global Talent visa at gov.uk.
This is no longer available, although those currently in the UK with this visa can apply to extend theirs.
You’ll need to be eligible and fulfil certain criteria. You should:
Read more about the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa at gov.uk.
When you know you’re legally allowed to live and work in the UK, you can then start a business as a foreigner.
We have lots of guides on our Knowledge centre that can help. Why not read:
Remember that there are wide-ranging regulations on living and working in the UK as a foreign national.
Immigration laws are strictly enforced, so make sure you keep yourself updated. You should get professional legal and financial advice if you’re not sure about anything.
Are you going to start a business in the UK as a foreign national? Let us know in the comments below.
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