If you’re ready to grow your company’s reach, capabilities and audience internationally, the United Kingdom (U.K.) is a great location to consider. It is a business-friendly destination attracting countless startups and international corporations. As one of the premier global economic powerhouses, few European countries have quite the same allure. So, what sets the United Kingdom apart when it comes to international expansion?
Let’s dive into the benefits of doing business in the U
1. Access to four regions
The United Kingdom is a large and dynamic marketplace. Currently, there are nearly 5.6 million private sector businesses in the sovereign states. Within the U.K.’s private sector, you’ll find:
- 5,590,900 businesses
- 26,972,000 employees
For this reason, more and more businesses are outsourcing employees from the U.K. Business expansion isn’t simply limited to England; you also can set up operations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each region has its own unique culture, features and advantages. Depending on your specific business, one locale may be a better fit than the others when hiring in the U.K.
Here’s a brief overview of each region to help identify the best fit for your business.
The largest and most highly populated area of the four regions, England houses the monarchy, parliament and the U.K.’s capital city of London. It’s also home to 4.9 million businesses.
Naturally, London is the fulcrum of the U.K.’s economy, hosting countless industries. It’s notable for its finances and services, fintech, creative, hotel and restaurant, and tourism sectors. Outside of London, England is primarily focused on agriculture, construction and manufacturing. In terms of manufacturing, it specializes in:
- Coal mining
The second largest of the four regions and a separate country, Scotland is a popular destination for entrepreneurs and startups, and the capital city of Edinburgh hosts scores of science and tech companies. It’s also a major hub for asset management and oil and gas extraction.
Historically, Wales has been primarily focused on coal, manufacturing, agriculture and heavy industry. In recent years, the Welsh government has proactively sought to make the country a welcoming economic locale across all industries, including:
- Life sciences
Bordering the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is the smallest of the U.K.’s regions. Northern Ireland is business-friendly, hosting more than 1,100 international companies and granting access to a skilled workforce. Its primary sectors include:
- Aerospace and defense
- Creative technology
- Financial services
- Global business services
- Life and health sciences
2. A gateway to Europe
For non-European foreign companies, especially those in Asia and North America, the U.K. is an ideal location that can grant you easy geographical access to the rest of Europe while maintaining the convenience of an English-speaking country.
The island nation is connected to mainland Europe via the underground rail network. It’s also a short boat ride or flight from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain. Not to mention, the U.K. has the largest air transport network in all of Europe.
And since it’s no longer a part of the European Union due to Brexit, both European and non-European companies alike would benefit by expanding to the U.K., especially if they wish to target its 68,000,000 citizens. That said, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement ensures that U.K. businesses across a variety of sectors can still access the EU market.
3. Ease of doing business
Compared to much of the EU, the U.K. is one of the easiest countries to conduct business in. The World Bank Group regularly ranks it as the eighth most business-friendly country in the world from a startup, regulatory and legal standpoint, with high scores on a 100-point scale across the following metrics:
- Starting a business (94.6)
- Dealing with construction permits (80.3)
- Getting electricity (96.9)
- Registering property (75.7)
- Getting credit (75)
- Protecting minority investors (84)
- Paying taxes (86.3)
- Cross border trading (93.8)
- Enforcing contracts (68.7)
- Resolving insolvency (80.3)
As Global Trade Magazine notes, the U.K. makes it simple for both newcomers and foreign nationals to get started:
“You can establish a Limited Company in Britain without jumping any additional hurdles. You don’t need VISAs, agreements of trade or anything else—and there is no requirement for a specific ID or passports. All you need is a company name, at least one director, to provide all necessary documentation (not as intimidating as it sounds) and to follow the process of registering for taxation.”
A central time zone
A common problem that multinational businesses face when managing an outsourced team is time zone gaps, which can lead to communication, productivity and resolution issues—particularly if there’s no overlap between operating hours. Large time differences can be a significant business hurdle for almost any company, but it becomes even more noticeable if responsiveness and customer service are integral aspects of your business model.
For foreign companies, the U.K. is ideally located as a central time zone. This makes it easier to conduct trading or host meetings with North and South American businesses, as well as Asian and Australian hubs. As a result, the U.K. serves as the perfect middle ground for a business that must communicate daily with its various international divisions or clients.
4. One of the world’s financial and investment centers
London is home to both the Bank of England—one of the oldest and most prestigious central banks in the world—and the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which is one of the world’s top five stock exchanges. The Global Financial Centers Index ranked London as the No. 2 city in terms of:
- Business environment
- Human capital
- Financial sector development
- Reputational qualities
In addition to established banking and insurance institutions, the U.K. has become a fintech mecca. According to Time, venture capital firms invested $4.57 billion into U.K.-based fintech companies in 2020, making it only second to the U.S. in terms of total investment. And that figure quadrupled in just the first half of 2021.
5. Access to highly skilled workers
Operating in the U.K. grants companies immediate access to a highly educated, skilled and specialized workforce. With more than 30 million adults in the labor market, it’s the second-largest talent pool in all of Europe. Additionally, the U.K.’s labor laws are more flexible than many other European countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany.
The U.K. has also has a meritocratic, points-based system for immigration. This makes it easier to attract and then hire highly skilled foreign employees, including those from both EU and non-EU countries.
6. Enterprise zones
The U.K. government has created enterprise zones (EZ) to further incentivize business expansion and investment. These are designated areas that offer tax breaks, governmental support and simplified local authority planning. As a result, EZs are ideal destinations for both new and expanding companies.
If you choose to base your business in an EZ, you can expect a number of benefits, including:
- Up to a £275,000 business rate discount over a five-year period
- Millions in tax relief if you’re investing in manufacturing plants and machinery
- 100% retention of business rate growth for Local Enterprise Partnerships
Expanding to the United Kingdom
Expansion can be a natural and necessary part of business growth. And for many companies, establishing operations in the U.K. is an easy decision. Its business-friendly and familiar work environment coupled with a strategically located financial and distribution hub make it an attractive option.
When it comes to adding talent as part of your expansion to the U.K., a knowledgeable partner like a global employer of record (EOR) can help you overcome many of the challenges, particularly navigating unfamiliar labor laws, of entering to a new foreign market.
A U.K. employer of record (EOR) can provide local HR and payroll guidance to help you ensure all your U.K. workers are hired and paid compliantly, and that they receive all the required social entitlements. The EOR handles the HR complexity—things like tax withholdings, contracts and work permits in the U.K.—freeing you to focus on the strategic initiatives to further drive business growth.