How to start a business in UK as a non-resident?

7 months ago   •   15 min read

By Laine Redpath

The great news is that UK company formation is really relatively easy. Can foreigners set up a business in the UK? Yes, absolutely! It’s a lively, robust marketplace and the UK government wants to encourage and support business as much as possible, so the process has been made as user-friendly as possible.

Why choose the UK?

But before we answer the question: How do you set up a business in the UK as a foreigner, a good question to ask is: why to set up in the UK at all? So first, before you get into UK company formation, here are some of the real advantages of starting or taking your business to the UK:

  1. Access to the UK market: The UK has a large,  diverse population of over 66 million people. By registering your business in the UK, you can tap into this market and reach more potential customers. This greatly expands your customer base and of course then also increases your chances of making more money.
  2. Reputation and credibility: The UK has strong laws and regulations that make businesses operating there trustworthy and credible. When you register a business in the UK, it can enhance your brand's reputation, especially if you're targeting UK customers or want to form partnerships with UK-based companies.
  3. International business hub: London, the capital of the UK, is a global centre for finance and international business. By registering your business in the UK, you can take advantage of the favourable business environment there. You'll have access to funding and investment opportunities, as well as the chance to network with other businesses and entrepreneurs.
  4. Easy to do business: The UK has a relatively simple and transparent process for registering and running a business. The legal and administrative procedures are clear, and the country is supportive of entrepreneurship and innovation. Additionally, the UK has excellent infrastructure and advanced financial systems, which make it easier to conduct business operations.
  5. Tax benefits and incentives: While taxes shouldn't be the only reason to register a business, the UK offers several tax benefits and incentives that can help small business owners. These include tax reliefs, allowances, and exemptions that can reduce your overall tax burden and save you money.
  6. Brexit opportunities: Since the UK left the European Union (Brexit), there may be new opportunities for businesses outside the EU to establish a presence in the UK. The UK is actively seeking new trade agreements and partnerships worldwide. By registering a business in the UK, you can position yourself strategically to access both the UK and EU markets.
  7. Flexibility and scalability: The UK has flexible business laws that allow you to adapt and expand your business easily. You can start small and grow your operations as your business becomes more successful. The UK offers different types of business structures, such as limited companies, partnerships, and sole proprietorships, giving you the flexibility to choose the best option for your business needs.

Of course it’s not a total walk in the park to open a business anywhere. And it will require a good deal of work to maintain and run a business at a distance. There will be legal requirements to meet and new platforms and cultural norms to try and get familiar with…But given the advantages mentioned above and knowing that if you’re determined you can do anything, let’s get on to how you go about doing it.

Ready to launch your business in the UK as a non-resident? Discover the steps and requirements in our comprehensive guide.

Before you register your UK company

There’s some really useful groundwork to cover before you go through the practical process of registering your UK company. Some things to think about and some to-dos to put together in a list. Let’s take a look…

First of all, do people want what you're selling?

To set up a business in the UK you must have a good or service to offer that people want to buy. The product or service must be unique enough to distinguish you from competitors. If there is no demand for your product then it will not make sense for anyone to buy it and it will be a much bigger challenge to turn your idea into a success. You should also consider whether there is an existing market for your product or service in the UK before setting up a company here as this can save time and money later on if sales are slow at first. It's a good idea to look at how much competition there is within this sector - if there are lots of other similar companies selling similar products then yours may struggle without being able to differentiate itself from them quickly enough!

Top tip: Remember that just because something works or is desirable where you are, doen’st in any way mean that it will automatically take off in the UK. It’s a competitive place, do your research!

How to start small business in uk as a foreigner: Write your business plan

Business plans need to be completed in the UK and if you’re looking to start a small business as a foreigner, writing out a business plan will help you think through all the challenges that you might face starting a business in a foreign country. When you’re setting up a business in a foreign country, completely online, it’s well worth doing as much research and preparation as possible. A business plan will ultimately help your business idea to determine its success and its future potential.

So, having a business plan is important for several reasons when starting a UK company:

  1. It will help you clarify your business idea: A business plan helps you define and clarify your business idea and objectives. It forces you to think about the specifics of your business, such as your target market, unique selling proposition, competition, pricing strategy, and marketing plan. This can help you identify any potential weaknesses or risks and develop a strategy to overcome them.
  2. Attracts investors and lenders: If you are seeking external funding or investment for your business, a well-written business plan can help you make a convincing case for why your business is a good investment. It shows that you have thoroughly researched your market and competitors, have a clear strategy for growth and profitability, and understand the risks and challenges involved.
  3. Provides a roadmap for your business: A business plan serves as a roadmap for your business and helps you stay focused on your goals and objectives. It outlines your key milestones and targets, and helps you monitor your progress and make necessary adjustments along the way.
  4. Required by some organisations: In some cases, a business plan may be required by certain organisations, such as banks or government agencies, as part of their application process for loans, grants or other forms of support.

Do your admin

It’s important that you do some preparation work before you sit down to complete your application to register with Companies House. This may seem like a lot at first glance but many of these steps are standard practice for setting up any business and you may have completed them already. Here are the main things you should check off your list of to-dos if you haven’t done them already:

  1. Choose a Business Structure: Depending on your business needs and future goals, you can choose to form a Limited Company (Ltd), Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), or a Sole Trader.
  2. Check Business Name Availability: Before you can register your company, you will need to check the name you’ve chosen is unique and not already in use or too similar to an existing name. You can check the availability of a company name on the UK Companies House website. You won’t be able to continue with the registration process until you’ve picked a unique name.
  3. Address in the UK: You need to have a physical address in the UK to register your business. This address will be the official address of your company and is where all correspondences will be sent. As part of wamo’s company formation service that will be available soon you can choose to have a virtual London office address included free for the first year (and €99/year after that). If your business doesn’t need a physical address to function, a virtual address is a good idea.
  4. Appoint Company Directors and a Secretary: A private limited company in the UK needs at least one director. Directors are legally responsible for running the company and making sure company accounts and reports are properly prepared. A company secretary is not always required but it can be useful to have one.
  5. Identify People with Significant Control (PSC): A PSC is someone who owns or controls more than 25% of a company’s shares or voting rights, has the right to control or remove the majority of directors, or in any way has significant influence or control of your company. You need to register these people when you register your company.
  6. Prepare Documents Agreeing How to Run Your Company (Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association): These documents are vital for the formation of your company and outline the written rules for how your company will operate.
Explore the essentials of starting a business in the UK as a non-resident and pave your way to success in the British market.

Extra help: What’s the difference between Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association?

Memorandum of Association: This is a bit like a company's passport or ID card. It tells everyone who the company is, where it's located, and what it's set up to do. It also tells us if the company's members (owners) might have to pay the company's debts. For example, if the company can't pay its debts, the memorandum tells us whether the owners may have to chip in or not. This document is a bit like the company's face to the outside world. There have been some recent changes in the UK which mean that now only the company's name, registered office, and the nature of its liability is needed. You don’t have to state the purpose or the object of your any more..

Articles of Association: This is like the company's rulebook. It tells us how the company should be run, who makes decisions, and how those decisions are made. It also tells us what should happen if there's a disagreement or a problem. This document is like the company's internal guidebook or manual.

So, in simple terms, the Memorandum of Association is the company's ID, showing who and what the company is to everyone else. The Articles of Association is the company's rulebook, showing everyone inside the company how things should work. Both are super important for running a business and must be filed when you start your company.

Now You’re Ready to Register

Once you have all your documents in place, it’s possible to register your UK company as a foreigner through Companies House. Companies House is a government agency in the United Kingdom. It’s responsible for registering and maintaining data about all companies in the UK. This is important because it gives transparency and accountability for businesses operating in the country.

Any company formed in the UK must register with Companies House. The company must provide certain information, like the company's name, its address, and details about its directors. This information is then made public for anyone to access.

Companies House also requires companies to submit annual financial statements and reports. This is to make sure you’re doing business responsibly and to allow potential investors, creditors, and others to review your company's financial health.

Here’s a quick summary of the main roles of Companies House in the UK:

  1. Registration of new companies: When a new company is formed, it needs to be registered with Companies House. This is a legal requirement.
  2. Recording changes in existing companies: Companies must report significant changes, like changes in directors or registered address, to Companies House.
  3. Receiving and storing company information: This includes annual returns, financial accounts, and details about directors and secretaries.
  4. Making company information available to the public: All the data stored by Companies House is made available to the public, which contributes to transparency in the business sector.

Depending on where you live and whether you’ve already registered a business there, you might have come across a similar establishment in your country. Most countries have a mechanism for registering and monitoring companies to ensure legal compliance and transparency. The difference between Companies House and similar entities in other countries is mostly in the specific details of what information is needed, how it's managed, and how it's made available to the public. Some countries might not have a single entity like Companies House, instead they might split the responsibilities among many different agencies. Other places might not make as much information publicly available.

It’s possible to register with Companies House online or by post.

Next steps

Once you’ve registered with Companies House, it’s just the beginning! Some immediate next steps to take are to register for Corporation Tax which you must do  within 3 months of starting to do business and to register for VAT. Note that you only need to register for VAT taxable annual turnover is more than £85,000. Depending on your business, you might need certain licences and permit to do business. You’ll need to apply for a business licence from your local council if you want to start a company or operate an existing company in the UK. You can find out what kind of licence you need by checking with the local council.

Get a business banking account

We’re not just saying this because we want you to open a wamo business account (we do!), but having a separate bank account for your business is important and even better is to have a UK account that means you can accept payment in GBP. A wamo business account gives you multiple accounts and with each account you can choose either an EU or UK IBAN meaning that you can start accepting payments in euros and pounds straight away. This is a huge advantage compared to having to deal with your local currency and the exchange rates and other fees associated with taking international payments. Most banks and alternative financial service providers like wamo will require you to have a registered UK business in order to open an account.

When you register your UK company using our Company Formation service, you’ll also get a wamo business account. Registering for our business account takes just 10 minutes. This means that by the time you get your UK company approved, you’ll also have a business banking account sorted.

If you’d like to find our more about registering a UK company, go here. And if you have any questions, we’re here to help: email or reach out to us using the Chat on our website.

Have a few more questions. We’ll try and answer them in the FAQs:

Unlock the potential of the UK market with our expert guide on starting a business as a non-resident. Navigate the process with ease.

Can I do business in UK without a visa?

It depends on the specifics of your situation and the type of business activities you plan to undertake in the UK.

If you are a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you can currently live and work in the UK without a visa. However, this may change as a result of Brexit, so it is important to check the latest regulations and requirements.

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EEA or Switzerland, you may need a visa to conduct business in the UK. There are different types of visas available depending on the nature of your business activities, such as the Standard Visitor visa or the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa.

Can a non UK citizen open a business in the UK?

Yes, a non-UK citizen can open a business in the UK. There is no legal requirement for the business owner to be a UK citizen or resident in order to start a business in the UK.

However, depending on the type of business and the legal structure chosen, there may be certain requirements or restrictions. For example, if you want to set up a limited company, you will need to appoint a director who is a UK resident, but this director does not have to be a UK citizen.

It is important to note that non-UK citizens who want to start a business in the UK may need to obtain the appropriate visas and work permits in order to work and live in the country legally. It is recommended to consult with a legal or immigration specialist to ensure that all requirements are met.

Do I need a UK address to register a company?

Yes, you will need a UK address to register a company in the UK. This address will be used as the registered office address for the company and will be publicly available on the Companies House register.

The registered office address is where official correspondence and legal notices will be sent, and it must be a physical address in the UK, such as a commercial or residential property.

You can use a third-party address service to provide a registered office address if you do not have a physical address in the UK, but you will still need to provide a correspondence address where you can receive official mail and notices.

It is important to ensure that the address you use for your registered office and correspondence address is valid and reliable, as failure to respond to official correspondence and legal notices can have serious consequences for your company.

Can a non-resident be a sole trader in the UK?

Yes, a non-resident can be a sole trader in the UK. There is no legal requirement for sole traders to be UK residents or citizens.

However, if you are a non-resident sole trader, you may need to register for tax purposes in the UK and comply with UK tax laws. This will depend on various factors, such as the nature and location of your business activities, your residency status, and any applicable tax treaties between the UK and your home country.

Can I start an online business without registering UK?

It depends on the specifics of your situation and the type of online business you plan to start. In general, if you are operating an online business in the UK, you will need to register your business with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for tax purposes, regardless of whether you have a physical presence in the UK or not.

Additionally, if you are operating an online business that involves selling goods or services to UK customers, you may need to comply with UK consumer protection laws and regulations. This could include requirements for providing clear information about your products or services, handling customer complaints and disputes, and protecting personal data in compliance with UK data protection laws.

Soon you’ll be able to register a UK with wamo in just in 2 days and get a business account too

We’ve been learning from our customers about the hassle that many business owners face when wanting to open a business banking account. We realise that by helping you reister a UK company as a foreigner, we are able to partner with you on your business journey, support you better and open a business account for you that will make it possible to take your business further, faster.

So, we’re preparing to launch a company formation service!

By the end of October, we will be offering a seamless feature that allows you to create and register a UK company easily. What's more, you can simultaneously open a business account with wamo, saving you time and effort.

wamo’s  Company Formation service will make sure that everything is correct from the beginning. Using the wamo app or web-app to register will take just 20 minutes and we’ll take care of the process from there. You’ll have your company registered with Companies House within 48 hours and your Certificate of Incorporation sent directly to you.

If you want to start a company in the UK and grow your business globally, wamo is ready to support you at every stage. As a holistic financial management platform, we’ll soon be able to  provide you with company formation and entire financial services in the UK including a virtual London office address, a  business banking account, GBP and EUR IBANs,  virtual and physical debit cards and in-person support whenever you need it.  Registering for a wamo business account takes all of 10 minutes and filling out the application forms using the wamo app is easy.

Coming soon: UK Company Formation process from start to finish for just £99.00

  • 3 months of wamo subscription-fee FREE (whichever package you choose save between £19.99 - £99.99/ month for 3 months)
  • 3 months of Shopify at $1 / month - easily get your goods or services seen on one of the world's largest online shopping platforms.

To get on the waiting list, all you need to do is Download the wamo business app from Google Play or the App Store and you’ll be added automatically!

In the meantime, get those documents in order and the business plan on point! We can’t wait to get you up and running on your UK business journey!

How can I reach wamo customer support services?
Do you have a wamo account and need support? If you want to reach wamo customer support service, read this article and reach us!
How to check company name availability in the UK?
The first step in setting up a company in the UK is choosing a company name. Find all the details about choosing a company name on the wamo blog.
Step-by-Step Company Formation in the UK as a non-resident
Do you need to establish a company in the UK even though you are a non-resident? All details about company formation in the uk are on wamo blog.
Register a Company in the UK (Comprehensive Guide)
Business owners considering establishing a company in the UK can find all the information about the process in this comprehensive article.
What is a VAT number? Does your company need one?
How to get vat number and why do you need vat number? All the details you need to know about your watt number are on the wamo blog.


Keep reading