Actionable steps to expand business internationally

March 15, 2021

expand business internationally

You've figured out that international expansion makes strategic sense for your business and have established an ambitious plan for growth.  

But entering markets where you have no experience operating feels overwhelming and how to move forward quickly is unclear 

You’re not alone. Figuring out where to start is often the most challenging part of international expansion.  

Let’s explore some of the tactical steps you can take to put your plans into action and expand business internationally. 

Executing your plans for international business expansion 

As you begin your expansion journeyyou’ll realize there’s a long list of prioritiesIt’s helpful to categorize your action plan by assigning tasks to three main areas: 

  • Legal and regulatory compliance 
  • Taxes 
  • Accounting and reporting 

Legal and regulatory compliance  

Compliance varies significantly from country to country and is often the biggest challenge companies face when they expand business internationally.  

Most countries have a wide range of regulations at the local, state and national level, so you’ll need a firm understanding of this legal landscape before establishing an in-country presence. 

How can you confidently tackle the complexity of international complianceWork with legal and HR experts who are familiar with the ins and outs of local laws and customs and focus on the following steps.  

Decide how you’ll set up in-country  

This step is critical. When it comes to successful expansion, you’ll need to maximize business opportunity overseas while minimizing operational cost and risk. Finding the right balance starts with how you set up in new markets.  

Should you invest in a foreign entity? If so, what type of entity—representative office, branch office, subsidiary?

Each option has its own unique costs, timelines and capital requirements and will significantly impact how tax and finance infrastructure can be initiated, so thoroughly research your options.

And keep in mind, you may not need an entity to reach your expansion goals. There are other options for market entry, like hiring talent through a global employer of record (EOR).  

Do your administrative homework  

If you decide to establish a foreign entity, you ‘ll need to evaluate license, tax and permit requirements in the area you're planning to do business. In some countries, the amount of paperwork required to set up operations can come as a surprise.  

When opening a business in Brazil, for example, you’ll need 43 documents and over 13 official procedures and timelines will likely be longer than you’re used to in the U.S. Administrative offices close during the summer months, between Christmas and Carnival, causing major delays for foreign companies looking to operate there. 

Evaluate how you’ll hire and manage local talent 

Need further proof for why understanding the regulatory landscape of international markets is so important? Consider the complexity of international employment. 

International employment contracts are typically 10 to 15 pages long compared with two to three pages in the U.S. Why? Employee protections are much stronger outside of the U.S.   

To get employment right and serve the unique needs of global workersyou’ll need resources and local expertise to uphold compliance and manage the nuances of in-country laws and norms.  

Taxes 

As you expand business internationally, your tax infrastructure becomes an essential element for success. In the words of Michael PattersonPartner at Spencer Fane, “you can make a lot of money in a destination country, but if you didn’t plan it right tax-wise, it can really hurt.” 

To effectively plan out your global tax strategy you’ll likely need specialized advice from international tax consultants. 

Additionallyit will serve your business to take the following actions  

Consider how your entity will relate to the parent company  

If you decide to open a foreign branch, you’ll have a more straightforward tax process. Creating a foreign subsidiary, however, can increase international tax issues.  

On the plus side, a subsidiary protects your parent company from liability when operating overseas and can have many economic advantages. But you’ll need to understand international tax law and keep up with additional filing and reporting requirements.  

Here are some tax-related questions to work through when setting up a subsidiary: 

  • How much of the subsidiary’s stock will your parent company own? (e.g., wholly owned or affiliate) 
  • How will your parent company elect to treat the subsidiary for U.S. tax purposes? 
  • What tax implications will your shareholders incur? 

Develop a transfer pricing study 

How can you achieve tax efficiency as you operate around the world? By fully understanding the tax implications your business generates in each region. Enter the importance of a transfer pricing study.  

A transfer pricing study is a detailed economic study of your business, serviceproducts and intangibles. It serves as a planning tool for how to structure your business overseas and can protect you in case of a tax audit.  

As you work through the process, focus on areas of risk. Which transactions will have the most impact on your transfer pricing position? Track and document the entire process in your general ledger. 

Accounting and reporting  

Maintaining timely and accurate financial reports helps improve business decision-making and can differentiate you from the competition. But regulators, and possibly investors, will also need access to performance data about your business, including: 

  • Annual accounts 
  • Consolidated accounts 
  • Quarterly updates 
  • Interim financial statements 
  • Other statutory reports 

Working with international finance and accounting experts is advisable (seeing a trend here?) because they can help you uphold compliance and respond faster to market fluctuations.   

But you should also add the following actions to your to-do list. 

Re-evaluate financial systems and processes 

Consolidated reporting is a challenge for many companies that are going global. You likely need to re-evaluate financial systems and processes to integrate your new subsidiary (if needed)meet statutory reporting requirements, address changes in accounting standards (like International Financial Reporting Standards used throughout the EU) and manage the growing needs of your business 

For example, some jurisdictions require filing an audit on an annual basis to meet statutory reporting requirementsYou’ll need to adjust financial processes to accommodate the local law.   

Establish local banking relationships 

If you’re planning to make payments internationally, like payroll for in-country workers, you’ll likely need to set up a local bank account.  

It sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, it can be more of a hassle than you'd expect. Here's why: 

  • Large capital requirements may be needed
  • “Know your client” procedures can be lengthy 
  •  Finalizing an account is often done in person  

Because foreign jurisdictions often have unique banking requirements, you’ll need to establish local banking relationshipto get a feel for what’s required to set up an account and make transactions between entities.  

Find key partners to help you expand business internationally 

Whats the moral of the story here? Executing global expansion is complex but not impossible, and you don’t have to do it alone—in fact you shouldn’t do it alone. 

Strategic partnerships are a valuable resource for helping companies solve business challenges as they expand business internationally. Legal, HR, tax and accounting partners not only help you navigate uncharted waters and achieve your growth objectives more efficientlybut they also help protect you from risk of fines and legal consequences for noncompliance 

A global employer of record is a prime example of a strategic partner. They understand the ins and outs of local labor laws and norms and can protect you from noncompliance by: 

  • Creating compliant employment contracts for your workers
  • Keeping you up-to-date with changing legislation  
  • Remitting employees' salaries, taxes and benefits in accordance with local law 

If you’re looking to hire international talent, but don’t know where to start, speak with a global solutions advisor to learn if partnering with an employer of record is the right solution for reaching your expansion goals.  

Previous blog
Overcoming the challenges of international human resource management
Overcoming the challenges of international human resource management

Learn what makes managing a global workforce so challenging and how you can simplify it.

Next blog
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