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The UK is often seen as an attractive place to start a business, but there are challenges for foreign citizens. Here’s our guide on how to start a business in the UK as a foreign national.
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:
If you’re studying in the UK on a Tier 4 Student visa, you’re not eligible to start a business while studying. However there’s nothing to stop you developing your idea alongside your studies and taking advantage of the resources available at your university or college.
Browse our popular business ideas for students guide for inspiration.
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. You would have needed to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme though, and the deadline for most people to apply was 30 June 2021.
Foreign nationals can’t apply for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa anymore, as it’s been replaced by the Innovator Founder Visa.
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.
There’s a big fee to apply for the visa, too – it’s £1,036 (£1,292 if you’re extending or switching), although the fee also depends on where you apply from.
You can stay in the UK for three years on an Innovator Founder Visa and there’s no limit to the number of extensions.
Always check the UK government website for the latest information on the Innovator Founder Visa.
The Start-up Visa closed to new applications in April 2023.
This visa is similar to the Innovator Founder 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.
Check the UK government's website for any further updates on the Start-up visa.
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.
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 on the UK government website.
When you know you’re legally allowed to live and work in the UK, you can then start a business as a foreign national.
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.
Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.
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