Business start-ups Success Stories

How to Become a Successful Expat Entrepreneur?

Some of the most successful entrepreneurs the world has ever seen were first foreigners in a strange land. Best examples are Google’s Sergey Brin and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar. But perhaps, the ones you’re most likely familiar with are the Chinese restaurant owners from whom you get your take-out Chinese food. These entrepreneurs only bother to learn the basics of the vernacular, but for some reason, they rarely fail in growing a business with loyal customers in whatever foreign land they go.

If you’re an expat and you’re ready to ditch the life of being an employee to launch your own enterprise, there are many things about being an expat that can work to your great advantage. It’s just a matter of knowing what it is about being one that can increase your chances of success in your business venture.

Listed below are positive and useful aspects of being an expat that has worked for many, that can work towards your favor in setting yourself up as an entrepreneur in your foreign country of residence.

1.     Natural curiosity that locals have about foreigners

Locals are always fascinated by people who are different; this is a golden opportunity for you to get friendly, build a network of contacts, and share your backstory with them about why you’ve decided to launch a business in their land. If your story clearly expresses your good intentions for the community, getting the support of locals for your new business will be a breeze.

2.     A “do or die” attitude

The life of an expat is filled with challenges and those who manage to create a home in a foreign land despite obstacles can utilize the same “do or die” attitude to succeed in business. If you now live comfortably and happily in a once strange land, you can certainly use the same survival instincts to make your business fly. Develop charismatic personality traits. Be cheerful. Let your gaiety be infectious. Give it all you’ve got.

3.     The “outsider’s” perspective

When studying the market scene and understanding the conditions that affect business performance, being detached from it can provide a better understanding of the needs that must be met for success. It usually takes an outsider to see a bigger and more elaborate picture to initiate more effective solutions.
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4.     The desire to fuse personal culture with the local culture to create something new and greater

Presenting something new is always a big draw factor for enterprises because the market is constantly on the lookout for something innovative and opportunistic. Your desire to share aspects of your own culture and beautifully blend those with the local culture can serve a great advantage, especially when it comes to your processes.

Example, you value environmental responsibility and providing workers with “psychological bonuses” (e.g. work holidays, incentives) for operational efficiency. Combining this with more “traditional” local work ethics of only delivering a completely honest day’s work, will mold an entirely new culture that can benefit your enterprise in a much bigger way.

5.     Expat obstacles

All the hardships you’ve experienced are a good reference for the obstacles you can expect to come your way. The lessons you’ve learned will come into good use one way or another. You have most likely developed a strong cultural sensitivity due to the challenges you’ve experienced, so you’re less likely to commit a faux pas that could compromise your services. Tweak the lessons you have learned to suit your circumstances better.

6.     The knowledge of what works in your country of origin

Coming from a different place can benefit your journey as an entrepreneur because you have a bigger pool of knowledge resources to draw from. The business principles that work in your home country may not be practiced yet in your new home; you can bring those in and experiment with them in order to create new business tactics that may be effective in your new location.

7.     An enthusiasm for a fresh start

Although quite daunting, the idea of starting something new motivates most people to strive harder and overcome whatever limitations they possess. The excitement for a fresh start is a familiar component of the expat experience. Forgetting what you left behind and setting your sights on the prize of success before you, will definitely influence your venture as an entrepreneur.

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Being an expat can actually be a useful tool to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Use your experience and troubleshooting skills to shape your approach to building a lucrative enterprise in a foreign land.


Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.