Expatprenuers set new trend in Asian business hubs

Published:  22 Mar at 6 PM
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For expats looking to work overseas, there’s a whole new culture developing, especially in Asia, in which the focus is on informal expat start-ups rather than corporate postings with all the trimmings.

Traditionally, becoming a working expat involved relocation to an overseas subsidiary of a multinational Western company, with fixed term contracts and financial packages on hand to ease the transition. Nowadays, a new breed of ‘expatprenuers’ are journeying to the same destinations and starting up their own businesses, helped by the 21st century’s technological advances.

A major advantage for entrepreneurial start-ups in Asian countries is that expats unfamiliar with local business cultures are able to spot gaps in the market and critically assess their possibilities of success. As a result, the expatriate entrepreneur scene is expanding across Asia, especially in countries with relatively straightforward visa rules.

In spite of the expense of living in Singapore, it’s one of the most popular destinations for budding entrepreneurs. It’s a relatively hassle-free place to do business, with laws protecting start-ups and surprisingly good tax benefits, including tax exemption for the first $100,000 of profits. Starting up a business can be easily done within three days, and the city state’s ecosystem for entrepreneurial activity connects venture capitalists, new expat business and incubators under one roof.

Hong Kong’s procedures for start-ups are as fast and straightforward as Singapore’s, with paperwork kept at a minimum and reasonable registration fees. Networking opportunities, an ultra-modern communications system and reliable banks, along with various chambers of commerce and other associations tie in with co-working spaces and virtual offices to make the entire process a dream for newly arrived expats.

Thailand has recently become a hub for low-key virtual business start-ups, with expats to the fore of the development. However, unless large sums are being invested, there’s little to encourage entrepreneurial expats to go the legal route rather than working unofficially online. The visa system is far less friendly than before, and perhaps the most discouraging rule is that, for legally–registered businesses, five Thais must be employed for every one foreigner.

Given that English proficiency is rare in most of the country, Bangkok is the only place where employing locals might be beneficial to expat-owned start-ups. Conversely, for those investing serious money, the capital is strategically located and the cost of living is still comparatively low.
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