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Business immigration to the UK: how to move to the UK and what type of business structure to choose?

PUBLISHED: 28 May 2021

Almost every successful entrepreneur probably thinks from time to time about how to enter the global market and set up a representative office overseas. Business immigration to the UK is an effective and fast way to realise all your ambitious plans.

Business immigration to the UK: what benefits do entrepreneurs have?

  1. You set up a company and invest in a country with a high standard of living and a strong, reliable economy. Every year, the UK takes the top position among the most attractive countries for investment.
  2. An advantageous geographical location of the British Isles at the crossroads of major trade routes, a well-developed transport infrastructure within the country and an enormous size of the sales markets are obvious benefits.
  3. UK government has made the processes of running a business, keeping accounts and further interaction with the state regulatory authorities as simple as possible.
  4. The UK taxation system is complex, but there are several legal options for tax optimisation.
  5. The rule of law prevails on the UK shores, and a judicial system, which is independent of the executive branch, handles cases impartially and brings fair verdicts.
  6. If you live in the UK, it will be easier for you to start cooperation with reliable UK banks. Moreover, you will have an access to loan facilities and your customer and supplier payments will be easier.
  7. You will be able to concentrate fully on running your business, because your family and you will be in a comfortable and safe environment, with effective, modern medicine and a highly socially responsible state.
  8. Your spouse will be able to find employment and your children will receive a quality education in one of the best educational institutions in the world.

Бизнес-иммиграция в Англию

Business in the UK: what type of visa should an entrepreneur apply for?

The UK immigration categories for businesspeople have many benefits:

  • They cover a wide range of entrepreneurs from new to experienced investors.
  • You can move to the UK with your family: your spouse and minor children.
  • The level of English language skills required for obtaining a business visa is relatively low, and future investors do not have to speak English at all.
  • After 2-5 years of permanent residence and fruitful work on in the United Kingdom, a businessman can become a permanent resident, and 5-6 years of living in the country give them the right to apply for British citizenship.
Type of visaFor whom?
UK Start-up visaA new entrepreneur with an innovative business idea who is willing to set up a business
UK Innovator visaAn experienced entrepreneur with a viable business idea and resources for its realisation
UK Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa.A co-owner of a foreign company planning to set up its representation in the UK
UK Investor visaA wealthy entrepreneur who is going to invest from £2,000,000 in the UK real economy

UK Start-up visa and Innovator visa

If you want to obtain a Start-up visa or an Innovator visa, you should get endorsement from an organisation authorised by the government. An endorsement letter is a kind of guarantee that your business idea in the UK passes three criteria: innovativeness, viability and scalability.

UK Start-up visa is valid for 2 years and it cannot be extended, so it does not lead to settlement in the UK. However, if a start-up is successful, an entrepreneur will be able to meet relevant requirements in order to apply for other categories, such as an Innovator visa.

UK Innovator visa is more suitable for experienced entrepreneurs who introduce a product or a service, which exists or does not exist in their home country, to the UK market and are willing to invest £50,000 or more to develop their company. An innovator visa is initially given for 3 years and can be extended for another 3 years unlimited number of times.

Representative of an Overseas Business Visa to the UK

If you are a co-owner of a company, hold a senior position but do not have a controlling interest in the company, a sole representative of an overseas business visa may be suitable for you.

A sole representative visa can be an excellent opportunity for a business immigration to the UK if the shareholders entrust a representative with managing a representative office in the United Kingdom. You do not need an endorsement from a third party, but you should prepare carefully in order to prove to the UK immigration authorities the following:

  • A branch office in the UK is viable and is not set up in order to obtain a visa for one of the co-owners of the parent company at virtually no cost.
  • You have relevant education, experience and skills to be a sole representative of a subsidiary with necessary powers to carry out your duties successfully.

First sole representative visa is valid for 3 years, and then it can be extended for another 2 years. After 5 years of living on the British Isles, immigrants can apply for an indefinite leave to remain.

Бизнес в Великобритании

Advantages and disadvantages of UK Start-up visa, Innovator visa, Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa

A businessman does not need to invest enormous sums of money in the British economy in order to obtain a visa in one of the listed visa categories. However, there are some limitations for entrepreneurs:

  1. Applicants must have relevant education, experience and speak at least basic English.
  2. In the UK, such businessmen have to devote all their working time to the development of the company, otherwise a company will fail and their visa will not be extended.
  3. It takes at least 5 years of living in the country before a sole representative can apply for a permanent residence permit. This period is 3 years for innovators.

The categories of entrepreneurs mentioned above need to understand details of registration of a British company, specifics of keeping accounts and principles of interaction with the UK regulatory bodies.  Although, as has already been mentioned, the British have made all business processes as simple as possible, you can do nothing without competent legal advice at the initial stage.

UK Investor visa

Although the UK economy is sufficiently developed, investors are welcome here and the government provides them with a comfortable environment for business immigration to the UK:

  1. A foreigner who is willing to invest between £2,000,000 and £10,000,000 in shares of UK-registered companies can obtain a UK Investor visa without taking an English test. They do not need to prove their education and professional skills.
  2. As an investor, a person can run a business, be employed, get an education or relax and enjoy a quiet and comfortable English life.
  3. If the investment amount is significantly higher than the required minimum amount, an entrepreneur has a chance to obtain UK permanent residence earlier than in 5 years:
  • Investment amount £2,000,000 – Permanent residence after 5 years of living in the country.
  • Investment amount £5,000,000 – Permanent residence after 3 years of living in the country.
  • Investment amount £10,000,000 – Permanent residence after 2 years of living in the country.

An investor must speak at least basic English and pass the Life in the UK test in order to get an approval from UK immigration authorities for a settlement card. After 5-6 years of arriving in the UK (depending on the amount of investment), investors can apply for a British passport.

Виза инвестора в Великобританию

An ideal business idea for immigration to the UK

As an old joke goes, about 80% of start-ups fail in the first year, and the other 20% fail in the second year. Statistically, the real ‘survival rate’ of prospective projects ranges from 42% to 52%, depending on the region. If you want to have a successful business in the UK, your idea must be:

  • Innovative – It means that you cannot do the same thing that was introduced on the market by successful English companies. In practice, some unique features that distinguish your product or service from everything else previously available are sufficient.
  • Viable – You have education, practical experience and material resources, combined with a great understanding of the current market and consumers, in order to realise the idea.
  • Scalable– A business idea allows you to grow steadily, provide more services, produce original products, and create more jobs.

By the way, endorsing bodies pay attention at these three criteria when they decide whether to grant a letter of endorsement to future UK Innovators and Start-ups.

Experienced immigration advisers at Imperial & Legal know how difficult it can be for a new entrepreneur to find an adequate business idea in the UK oversaturated market, so they offer their help to find and obtain a letter of endorsement from a relevant body.

What kind of business should an overseas entrepreneur run in the UK?

Since the British have invested more and more resources in developing small business, the sector’s share in national GDP has risen to 50%. If you initially plan to start a small business, the following projects can be good ideas:

  • Travel agency;
  • IT-company;
  • Translation agency;
  • Cake bakery or mini-bakery;
  • Coffee shop or a small cafe;
  • Beauty parlour;
  • Small hotel.

As in any other post-industrial country, the UK has a well-developed service industry, so you need to analyse market conditions and existing offers in your area to find an undeveloped or unoccupied niche. You may have to make a few short trips to the UK yourself. On the other hand, the effort will pay off if you can pick up on a trend and formulate an unusual offer for the UK market.

The most popular example is a café of the national cuisine. It is difficult to surprise people with a sushi bar or burger place: even if your burger is made of marble beef and drizzled with Szechuan Sauce, you are likely to fail.

On the other hand, eco-friendliness and natural products are now at the top of popularity. People scrutinise labels and mass media periodically criticises mayonnaise, margarine, sweeteners, taste enhancers, carbohydrates, etc.

A café with a short menu, with healthy and unusual dishes, which are made of simple ingredients that everyone knows and understands, is likely to be in demand.

Fans of more ambitious projects should pay attention to such fields as:

  • Digital technology;
  • Healthcare and pharmacy;
  • Sustainable energy;
  • Education and creativity.

Each of these areas requires a deep insight, researching of relevant resources, professional social media communities and even consultations with recognised experts. In this way, you will not only waste your money, but you can also make good money.

For example, developers of software applications for mobile devices stayed in the shadow of multinational IT companies, while the market was gaining momentum from year to year, making fabulous profits for well-timed investors.

Immigration to the UK

Imperial & Legal’s qualified immigration advisors have experience of working with British businessmen of foreign origin. Our team has prepared three packages for entrepreneurs: Standard, Standard Plus and Imperial, which solve almost all issues arising in the process of starting a new business in the UK: from successful company registration to assistance with opening a bank account and visa support for 2 employees.

Imperial & Legal will advise you on tax optimisation, provide you with accounting services, and help you to prepare your first annual accounts to the Companies House and the HM Revenue & Customs. Book an appointment with our advisors to get more information.

FAQ about business immigration to the UK

Which business structure should be chosen for a UK company?

In order to get a comprehensive answer, you need to give more details: what activities your company carries out and where.

The most common way of running a small or medium business is through an Ltd (limited liability company). Such business structure can be operated independently of its owners, but shareholders’ liability for company’s debts is limited to their share in its share capital.

If you want to carry out real estate transactions and save on stamp duty, or if your company is only incorporated in the UK and all its activities take place abroad, a limited liability partnership or a Scottish limited partnership would be a suitable business structure.

A large business establishing an office in the UK requires a more prestigious legal form with the ability to trade shares on the stock market – a public liability company.

The types of companies listed above are not all types that English corporate law can offer in order to run a business in the UK. See our article on this subject for more details.


Why is it not always a good idea to run a company in London?

In short, there is more to Great Britain than just the capital. Yes, London is one of the world’s recognised financial centres, with plenty of opportunities for ambitious start-ups. However, it is possible that another, quieter location would be suitable for your area of activity, where you will have the opportunity to reduce prime costs of your products/services or even use tax incentives for small businesses.

The specialisation of some UK regions (for example, British IT companies are located in Bristol and Manchester, medical technology is innovated in Cambridge) is an added advantage, providing a stimulating environment for exchanging information and learning from the best experts in your chosen industry.


When can an investor get back their money invested in shares of UK companies?

Investments in the UK economy must be kept for a period until permanent residence is granted. When this status is obtained, the investor can return their investment.

This means that if an investor invests £2m, they will sell their shares and get their money back after 5 years of residency. Those investors who have invested larger amounts in the real economy and have obtained a residence permit after 2-3 years can sell their shares after that period.


How to prove seriousness of intentions when a representative office of a foreign company is opened?

According to our immigration advisers, a sole representative should demonstrate not only relevant education and work experience in a leading position, but also provide a well-drafted business plan of a future company.

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