Top 3 Asian Countries “Expat-Preneurs” Do Business In

people working

For decades companies that operate on a global level have sent expats abroad. This has allowed multi-nationals to more closely monitor their foreign subsidiaries and supply chains, and has improved global coordination. A 2011 study by Brookfield Global Relocation Services found that on average an impressive 58% of multi-nationals’ company revenues were generated abroad.

However, the past couple of years have seen the emergence of a new kind of expat – the expat entrepreneur, or “expat-preneur” for short. Entrepreneurial in nature, these expats, rather than taking the “traditional” route of corporate relocation or expanding businesses overseas, have elected to start their own businesses abroad. This trend has been facilitated by a number of factors: Technological progress, especially in the field of communications, has facilitated working on the go. Drop in at Starbucks on any given day, and you will find a number of people, equipped with notebook and Latte, working on one project or another. Another factor that has helped expats to successfully set up businesses abroad might be that being strangers to the local business culture they often manage to critically assess the needs of local markets and spot new opportunities. But perhaps the most important contributing factor to a thriving expatriate entrepreneur scene is the framework conditions that host countries provide. Here are three top Asian countries that have attracted a big number of skilled and enterprising individuals:


A business friendly environment and prudent legislation have made this Southeast Asian city state a hassle-free destination to do business in. Singaporean laws protect expat-preneurs and provide excellent tax benefits, such as the exemption of the first $100,000 profit from tax for the owners of new start-ups. Starting a business can be done in as little as 3 procedures and 2.5 days. In addition to its business-friendly environment, Singapore has taken things one step further, aiming to put in place a whole “ecosystem” for entrepreneurs, bringing together entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and incubators under one roof.

Hong Kong

Like Singapore, Hong Kong has made it fairly simple to start a business and has reduced the accompanying paperwork to an absolute minimum. It takes a mere 1.5 days and 2 procedures to start a business, and registration fees are reasonable. But aside from the business framework set in place by the government, Hong Kong provides an excellent infrastructure for starting and managing a new business. This includes a sophisticated communications infrastructure, reliable banks, and well-established networking opportunities through the many chambers that are present in the territory. Additionally, Hong Kong has seen over the past couple of years the opening of a host of virtual offices and co-working spaces which allow new start-ups and entrepreneurs to set up shop without having to bother with the city’s often prohibitively expensive commercial property prices.


While Thailand still has some way to go in terms of offering an easy business environment on par with Hong Kong and Singapore, the Thai government has recently started to relax some rules regarding ownership of a business and aims at giving foreign entrepreneurs tax and legal incentives to start a start-up in the country. But more importantly, Bangkok’s entrepreneurial scene has witnessed rapid growth during the past few years. This is due to the cities strategic location in Asia, a good communications and transport infrastructure, and capital inflows from other parts of Asia, such as Singapore, Japan and China. Low cost of living and the rise of cheap co-working spaces add to the attractiveness. Furthermore, event series over the last several years such as BarCamps and Startup Weekends have connected local and expat entrepreneurs, and sent a strong message about Thailand’s aspirations to become a start-up hub.

With Asia fast becoming the leader in the global startup scene, it is no wonder that big Asian cities are attracting no only a lot more expat workers but expat entrepreneurs. For cities that are ahead in their startup ecosystems, it is crucial that governments maintain or promote an open environment for foreigners to set up their businesses in. To some extent this requires a re-thinking of immigration policies and explaining this to the public that is often wary of immigration. In the cases of expat entrepreneurs, the arguments for a more open policy are solid: foreign entrepreneurs usually bring in skills and knowledge that are in short supply, they tend to be hard-working and thus create economic growth and additional employment. By attracting and retaining foreign business owners/entrepreneurs, receiving countries can become more competitive in the global startup scene.