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    which of these countries is the best to start a company?

    Starting a company in the UK vs USA (Delaware) vs Ireland vs Portugal vs Singapore vs Estonia: comparing cost, speed and digital company formation for foreigners

    Estonia vs UK vs Ireland vs US (Delaware) vs Portugal vs Singapore: which country is the best to start a company?

    Have you been looking for the best place to start a company? There are so many different choices, and it can get overwhelming to know where to start comparing your options.

    In this article, we look at what it’s like to start a company in the UK, Delaware (USA), Portugal, Ireland, Singapore and Estonia as a foreigner. We compare these country options in terms of the costs to register a company, the time it takes to register a company, and whether you can register a business online or not.

    Deciding where to start your business: factors to consider

    When you’re deciding where the best country to start your business is, there are various factors you need to consider. Being able to easily compare these factors for each country you’re considering can help you make a more informed choice, and help you identify which factors are most important to you.

    Some of the key deciding factors on which country to start a business in, include:

    • How much it costs to register a business in each country
    • How much time it takes to register a business in each country
    • What the annual costs are of maintaining a company, especially in the first year
    • What the corporate income tax rate is
    • Whether there are any stock transfer taxes that apply
    • Whether you can register and operate your business online
    • Whether there are any special conditions that apply to starting and operating a company as a foreigner
    • How easy it is to do business in those countries
    • How easy it is to grow a business in those countries
    • What market access do you get by operating in one of those countries

    We’ll be covering all of these factors on the blog in a series of articles coming soon to the blog. 

    Comparing options: Starting a company in the UK vs USA (Delaware) vs Ireland vs Portugal vs Singapore vs Estonia

    For the first article in the series, we compare what it’s like to START a company in the UK, USA (Delaware), Ireland, Portugal, Singapore and Estonia. We specifically look at:

    • Costs to register a company
    • Time to register a company
    • Whether you can register a company online

    Starting a company in the UK

    As a foreigner registering a company in the UK, you’ll need to have a registered address for your company in the UK. A range of service providers, lawyers and accountants can provide registered company addresses for a fee. 

    Costs to register a company in the UK

    The cost to register a company in the UK is £12 (about €14), which you can pay via debit or credit card.

    Time to register a company in the UK

    To incorporate a limited company in the UK, it takes just 24 hours. You can register your limited company using the UK Companies House online. Alternatively you can use a company formation agent or third party software but that can take longer.

    Can you register a company online in the UK?

    Yes. You can register your UK limited company online, which makes it easy to start a business in the UK as a foreigner. This can be done on the UK Companies House website, which will create a Memorandum of Association automatically upon registration. You can upload your company’s Articles of Association. 

    Starting a company in Delaware, USA

    When it comes to starting a company in Delaware as a foreigner, you can open a limited liability company (known as an LLC), unless you are from Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. You will need a local agent (Delaware Registered Agent) to represent you. Your agent will act as your representative on the ground and there is no need to travel there. 

    You’ll need to have a local registered address to do so, which you can get through a Delaware Registered Agent.

    Costs to register a company in Delaware

    It costs from $90 (about €82) upwards to register an LLC in the state of Delaware. This covers the cost of filing for incorporation. You may need to pay extra to have the application expedited to the same day or 24-hours, and for getting each certified copy made. And there are different costs for registering an LLC and other types of businesses. 

    You can make a non-refundable payment online using either a Visa, MasterCard, American Express or a Discover card. 

    Time to register a company in Delaware

    The time it takes to register an LLC company in Delaware takes on average between 5 and 15 working days. 

    You need to file for certification of either formation or incorporation of your company, which takes around two weeks. But, if you are prepared to pay an additional fee, the process can be sped up and completed within a day or within 24 hours. 

    Can you register a company online in Delaware?

    Being able to register a company online is a significant advantage for foreigners not based in the USA. In Delaware, you can do this via delaware.gov. Using this website, you can pay to reserve a business name, submit your certification of incorporation or formation and pay for the necessary certification or status or “good standing”. 

    However, you can’t hire the services of a local agent using this online system, even though there is a list of available agents provided. And, you won’t be able to open a local bank account online either. Instead, you’ll need a director or a member of your LLC to present themself in person to a local bank branch (in most cases). This is to help prevent money laundering. 

    Starting a company in Ireland

    When it comes to starting a company in Ireland as a foreigner, it’s important to bear in mind that for non-EU residents, there’s a requirement that at least one director must be domiciled in the European Economic Area (EEA). There are, however, exceptions that can be used to exempt you from this requirement to have a resident director. 

    Most people opt to register a Private Company Limited by Shares (LTD), although other legal structures are available. 

    Costs to register a company in Ireland

    You’ll need to reserve a company name and have it registered in Ireland before you can start trading. This application fee is €25 - a cost that can be offset if you submit your new company application form along with the reserve name certificate. 

    To register your company in Ireland, you’ll need to pay €150 (which includes the business name registration).

    Time to register a company in Ireland

    The company registration application process in Ireland usually takes about 3 to 7 working days. 

    Can you register a company online in Ireland?

    You can register a company online in Ireland, making it a simple and easy way for businesses to be established no matter where you are located. The Irish Companies Registration Office (CRO) has an online filing system called CORE which you can use to fill in the Form A1 to apply to register your LTD company and constitution. You can also use CORE to file tax returns online or change company information such as your company address. 

    Starting a company in Portugal

    EU citizens can open a company in Portugal, but non-EU citizens need to have a visa and a residency permit to do so. To open a ‘Sociedade por Quotas’, a private limited liability company, with at least two partners (better known as an LDA) online, foreigners will need the help of an authorised agent.

    Costs to register a company in Portugal

    Once you’ve registered your company name (which costs €75), then you can apply online to incorporate your company. That costs around €360. 

    Time to register a company in Portugal

    It takes just 1 to 2 days to register a company in Portugal, which is relatively quick.

    Can you register a company online in Portugal

    Yes. You can apply online (through an authorised agent) or in-person (if you have the requisite visa or permit) to register your Portuguese company. 

    Starting a company in Singapore

    Starting a company in Singapore is relatively quick and easy to do as a foreigner, although you may need to appoint a third party to process your company incorporation. And, when you start running your Singaporean company, at least one of the three options for doing so involves having to relocate to Singapore. 

    Costs to register a company in Singapore

    It’s relatively inexpensive to register a company in Singapore, averaging around SGD315 (about €210). Despite the low registration fee however, you may need to actually physically relocate to Singapore if you opt for the Entrepass option. Another important factor to consider is the annual running costs of operating a company which can start at around €4,000. 

    Time to register a company in Singapore

    You can register a company within 1 to 3 business days in Singapore, which is very efficient. It may, however, take up to 2 months for the entire process of receiving a company name and registering the company. 

    Before you register the company, you’ll need to reserve a company name which can take several weeks, and you’ll also then need to file a company constitution or Memorandum and Articles of Association before applying for your company registration. 

    Can you register a company online in Singapore?

    While you can register a company online in Singapore, you’ll need assistance from a local third party to do so, which comes at a cost. And you may also need to appoint a local company director or secretary.

    Starting a company in Estonia

    As an EU member state, Estonia offers business owners the opportunity to access the EU single market. By registering to become an Estonian e-resident, you will have digital access to Estonia’s business environment and can register a limited liability company (OÜ) online, and operate the business remotely from anywhere in the world. 

    Estonia is therefore a good option for non-EU citizens to be able to register and operate an EU business online. It’s also a much more seamless, low-bureaucracy business alternative for EU citizens.

    Costs to register a company

    The cost to register your private limited company or OÜ in Estonia is €265. You can pay the business registration fee online using a bank transfer, MasterCard or Visa. 

    Time to register a company

    Estonia has the fastest online registration process of all countries we compare in this guide, with an average time of 2 hours. The fastest company registration achieved is an impressive 15 minutes and 33 seconds.

    Can you register a company online in Estonia?

    Estonia has a reputation for its digital services. And this is clearly demonstrated in how easy it is to register a business and run it remotely from anywhere. In Estonia, you can register a business 100% online in just a few hours with your secure e-⁠Residency digital ID.

    Comparing options: the final verdict on the best place to start a company

    If you’ve been looking for the best place to start a company, you now have several options. The following table summarises the features for each.

    Comparing key features of starting a company across the six countries

    Can a foreigner start a company?

    Cost to register company

    Time to register company

    Online registration?

    UK

    Yes, with a registered address

    £12 (€14)

    24 hours

    Yes

    Delaware, US

    Yes, with an authorised agent

    from $90 (€82)

    5-15 working days

    Yes

    Ireland

    Yes, with at least one European director

    €150

    3-7 working days

    Yes

    Estonia (e-Residency)

    Yes

    €265

    2 hours

    Yes

    Singapore

    Yes, with visa or authorised agent

    SGD315 (€210)

    1-3 working days

    Yes

    Portugal

    Yes, with visa or authorised agent

    €360

    1-2 days

    Yes

    Can a foreigner start a company?

    UK

    Yes, with a registered address

    Delaware, US

    Yes, with an authorised agent

    Ireland

    Yes, with at least one European director

    Estonia (e-Residency)

    Yes

    Singapore

    Yes, with visa or authorised agent

    Portugal

    Yes, with visa or authorised agent

    Cost to register company

    UK

    £12 (€14)

    Delaware, US

    from $90 (€82)

    Ireland

    €150

    Estonia (e-Residency)

    €265

    Singapore

    SGD315 (€210)

    Portugal

    €360

    Time to register company

    UK

    24 hours

    Delaware, US

    5-15 working days

    Ireland

    3-7 working days

    Estonia (e-Residency)

    2 hours

    Singapore

    1-3 working days

    Portugal

    1-2 days

    Online registration?

    UK

    Yes

    Delaware, US

    Yes

    Ireland

    Yes

    Estonia (e-Residency)

    Yes

    Singapore

    Yes

    Portugal

    Yes

    It’s important to bear in mind which places offer reasonable company registration fees, how long it takes to register a company and whether you can do it online or remotely. 

    Here’s how we’ve scored these countries based on these metrics:

    • Easiest place for a foreigner to open a company: Estonia
    • Most affordable place to register a company: UK
    • Place with the fastest company registration process: Estonia
    • Which countries allow online company registration: All, although some countries require you to use an authorised agent or local director

    This article was written by guest contributor and seasoned digital nomad Andy Stofferis (www.andysto.com).