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How to start a business in Europe

Learn how to set up a business in Europe, choose the right country, the right entity and the right liaison.

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European countries have huge consumer bases – even the poorest European countries tend to be wealthier than countries in other continents. If you’re looking to expand your business internationally, Europe’s consumers could make it worth any potential difficulty.

While starting a business in Europe can be tricky, with the right knowledge and expertise, you can successfully incorporate your business and operate it in one of Europe’s 44 countries.

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What kind of documentation will I need?

To start a business in Europe, you will generally need to produce:

  • Certificates of incorporation
  • Bank reference letters
  • Passport copies
  • Resume and photos
  • Description of the scope of your business
  • Description of the purpose of your business and reason for expanding
  • Business license
  • Lease contracts of country address

The exact documentation you need may change based on the country you’ve chosen and the official you speak to. Consult your foreign liaison, and consider working with a company that helps foreign entrepreneurs create businesses in Europe.
Laws & Legal Docs for International Money Transfers to Europe

What kind of entity makes sense?

Generally, Europe does not impose any specific requirements on foreigners wishing to establish a business presence. Specific countries may have their own requirements, though.

Foreign investors looking to do business in Europe have three common entities to choose from: corporation subsidies, representative offices and branch offices.

Corporation subsidies

Forming your business into a corporation so you can expand into Europe makes sense for larger, well-established companies. You’ll find a lot of variations in European law when it comes to corporations, so make sure to look into the specifics of the country you want to expand into.

Representative office

Representative offices in Europe can be ideal for spreading the word about your company. But a representative office can’t carry out any sort of business transaction on behalf of its parent company.

Branch office

Setting up a European branch office is relatively inexpensive – plus, you can still make money (unlike a representative office) while maintaining branch independence. Your branch can be registered in whatever country it operates in but must follow the local laws of its parent company.

Startups

Startup Visas are a fantastic way to launch a business idea in Europe without already having an existing business to piggyback from. Each European country has its own requirements for its respective Startup Visa. Here are four examples to give you an idea of what to expect at minimum:

Denmark

The Start-up Denmark visa requires:

  • Your business idea must be approved by the Danish Business Authority’s panel of experts
  • You must be able to support yourself (minimum 137.076 DKK)
  • You must play an active part in running the business
United Kingdom

The UK Start-up visa requires:

  • Before you apply you need to have your business or business idea assessed by an approved body.
  • Are at least 18 years old
  • Meet the English language requirement
  • Be able to prove that you have enough personal savings to support yourself while you’re in the UK (at least £945 in your bank account for 90 consecutive days before you apply)
Sweden

The Swedish Residence Self-employment visa requires:

  • You have a valid passport
  • Demonstrate that you have considerable experience in the industry and previous experience of running your own business
  • Show you have relevant knowledge in Swedish and/or English
  • Prove that you are the person who is running the company, has executive responsibility and owns at least 50% of the company
  • Your company’s services or goods must be produced and/or sold in Sweden
  • Show that you have enough money of your own to provide for yourself and any family members for the first two years (minimum SEK 200,000)
  • Present plausible supporting documentation for your budget
  • Show that you have created customer contacts and/or a network in Sweden
  • Show that after the trial period of two years, your company’s finances are in balance
  • In most cases, you must pay a fee for the permit
Italy

The Italia Startup Visa requires:

  • Approved business plan
  • A passport
  • Proof of financial resources
  • Capital worth over $56,000

Should I hire a professional?

Hiring an expert to help guide you when establishing your business in a new country is an excellent idea. If English isn’t the country’s primary language, consider hiring a native speaker. A liaison can interact with officials on your behalf, tell you the appropriate places to register your business entity and advise you on any important local customs.

The Chamber of Commerce and US Commercial Service are solid places to search for a qualified contact.

Where do I file my information?

You’ll submit your business documentation to the Chamber of Commerce in the specific country you’re interested in, unless otherwise noted. Depending on what type of business you are starting you may have to provide various documents. It’s a good idea to follow up after filing to ensure that your paperwork is in the right place and given proper attention.

Other factors to consider

Every European country specifies different requirements for you and your business to meet before incorporating. Confirm the stipulations specific to the European country you want to expand your business into.

  • Stating your business purpose. You’ll need to draft and execute a public deed of incorporation that documents your business’s bylaws and includes your company name and address.
  • Corporate name requirements. Many European countries won’t allow two companies with the same name to operate simultaneously. Pick a name that represents your company, and register it as quickly as you can. You may also need special permissions to use certain words. For example, in Italy you need approval to use words like Italy and international in your business name.
  • Permits and licenses. You’ll need specific permits and licences from the federal, provincial or municipal governments, depending on your location, as well as the industry sector and specific activities that you plan to conduct.
  • Available resources. Certain European countries require that you provide proof that you have enough money to fund your business.
  • Hiring locals. It’s not required by every European government, but some countries require that your business create jobs for locals. For example, the UK requires that your business create two new full-time jobs for UK residents or citizens.
  • Registering with the governing business organization. Some European countries expect foreign business owners to register with the governing business organization — like a Chamber of Commerce — to incorporate their business.

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International billing and payments

Your new business will require you to make and receive international payments, which means you’ll make transactions between currencies and across borders.

You can safely and affordably manage your business payments — with lower fees and stronger exchange rates — by comparing the services of a money transfer specialist.

Use a money transfer service to manage your international business payments

Companies like WorldRemit and OFX can help you set up regular transfers to your vendors overseas.

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$0 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.913 EUR 4,566 Save your time and money with XE Money Transfer for business Go to site Show details
$1 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.904 EUR 4,520 Great rates, and fast, efficient payment processing in most currencies Go to site Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 7.00 0.91 EUR 4,541 Enjoy high maximum transfers into more than 20 currencies, while saving up to 90% over local banks. Go to site Show details
$250 1 - 2 days USD 5.00 0.909 EUR 4,538 Send money overseas and buy/sell currencies at competitive exchange rates and low fees. Go to site Show details
GBP 5,000 Same day USD 0.00 0.909 EUR 4,543 Increase business efficiency with zero transaction fees and same-day transfers. Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

Bottom line

Choose the right business entity to operate in the specific European country you’re interested in. Consider working with an organization that specializes in helping foreign businesses incorporate in the country — this will streamline your progress and help you avoid pitfalls along the way.
US Dollar to Euro exchange rate

Frequently asked questions about European businesses

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