Business Immigration to the UK for US Citizens

On May 10, 2023 | In General | By A Y & J Solicitors

For US-based entrepreneurs, the UK continues to represent a truly exciting commercial and lifestyle opportunity. US nationals looking to start their business journey overseas view the UK as having a strong and dynamic economy that is both welcoming and supportive of innovative businesses. Take the FinTech sector as an example. As of 2023, the UK is the second largest destination for FinTech investors behind the US, beating all of its European competitors. Indeed, the UK is home to Revolut, Monzo, Starling Bank, Wise, Funding Circle, Atom Bank, GoCardless, and many more, and there are 20 FinTech unicorns here. If you are a US entrepreneur planning to make the UK your home in the near future, we have rounded up all of the most important information you need to know when it comes to immigration, culture, market-entry, tax, and the support and resources available to help you.

UK Visa Options for US Entrepreneurs

The UK offers a wide range of work and business immigration visas. As a US national, if you plan to live and establish a business here, you will first need a suitable visa. Some of the most popular visas for US entrepreneurs are as follows:

  1. Innovator Founder visa: this is the most popular visa for US nationals who want to establish an innovative, unique, and viable business in the UK. Applicants must be endorsed by an approved endorsing body in the UK before applying. If successful, you and your immediate family will be able to stay for an initial period of 3 years and then, if you wish, extend your stay or apply for permanent settlement.
  2. High Potential Individual (HPI) visa: the HPI visa is open to US nationals who graduated from a top eligible university (e.g. Caltech or Harvard) in the last 5 years. Your visa will last for 2 years (or 3 years if you have a PhD). Before your visa expires, you can switch to a different type of visa (e.g. family, business, work, or study visa). As such, this visa gives you the option to come to the UK to work on your business plan before applying for an Innovator Founder visa.
  3. UK Expansion Worker visa (Global Business Mobility): The Expansion Worker visa is for employees of overseas businesses who wish to come to the UK to establish a branch or subsidiary here. This route does not provide a pathway to permanent settlement, and hence if you wish to live in the UK permanently, you will need to switch to a settlement pathway visa once in the UK.
  4. Global Talent visa: This is open to US nationals who are endorsed as a leader or potential leader in the field of academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology. Applicants can stay for up to 5 years and then apply for an extension or settle permanently. It is also possible for some Global Talent visa holders to settle after just 3 years.
  5. Self Sponsorship: Self-Sponsorship refers to an application to come and work in the UK for your own business without the need of having a UK Sponsor. This can lead to permanent residency and British citizenship for yourself and your family. If you are a USA-based successful businessperson, and you have identified a business opportunity in the UK, OR you have a great business idea and want to explore your business opportunity in the UK, and
  • You want to own the UK business
  • You want to lead, manage and maintain your UK business
  • You want to live without fear of losing the UK visa (i.e. sense of freedom)

If you are unsure which visa is best for you and your family, speak to an immigration Solicitor who can explain the options and recommend the best route for your immediate and long-term needs.

Navigating UK Business Culture for US Ex-pats

As a US national running a business in the UK, there are undoubtedly some cultural differences you will need to navigate. Some key points to note include:

  • Communication: British people are widely perceived as reserved when it comes to communication, whereas US nationals often speak in a more direct and bold manner in work settings. For this reason we advise taking time to get to know your work colleagues, building rapport and gaining their trust. British people also tend to use humour as a way of handling difficult situations and will use self-deprecation to avoid appearing boastful.
  • Appearance and dress:British people traditionally tended to be more formal in the workplace. In recent years, however, they now dress more for comfort, even in big cities such as London. If you still think of British businesspeople as wearing suits with bowler hats, briefcases, and umbrellas, you will be in for a surprise.
  • Socialising: There is still a strong tradition of socialising with business or work colleagues after work – often by going for a pint at a local pub. This is an excellent way to get to know people you are doing business with.

UK Market Entry Strategy for US Companies

Before putting your plans into action and starting up your business in the UK, it is extremely useful to create a market entry strategy. If you already have a market strategy for your existing US company, it is advisable to review this or create a new strategy based on the needs of the UK market. We recommend:

  1. Setting clear and realistic goals for your business
  2. Researching the UK for your chosen products/services – you may need to replicate this process if you plan to expand into the European Union. US market innovations tend to be further ahead of the UK, hence you may be able to bring an already-established idea and replicate it here.
  3. Considering how you will enter the market – e.g. by buying an existing business in the UK, selling online directly to customers, or using agents and distributors
  4. Assessing your needs for premises – the UK has a very different geography and transport system mix compared to the US. You may need to give strong thought to where you base yourself and any premises to ensure you can reach your client base in a cost-effective and efficient way.
  5. Finding partners in the UK, you can work with: The UK has a rich network of partners and service providers who you work with. And to get going faster, you may decide to contract out your marketing, legal, IT, and HR needs, at least until you are fully established.


UK Tax Implications for US Business Owners

You will need to pay tax in the UK if you are classed as a UK tax resident. This will be the case if:

  • you have spent 183 or more days in the UK in any tax year
  • your only home was in the UK for 91 days or more in a row
  • you have worked full-time in the UK for any period of 365 days, and at least one day was in the tax year

As a UK tax resident, you may need to pay the following:

  • Pay as you earn (PAYE) tax of between 20 and 45% on your personal income
  • Corporation tax – paid by your business on any profits made (between 19% and 30%)
  • Dividend tax – paid on any dividends you receive from your business (between 8.75% and 39.35%)

Note: As a result of the UK/USA Double Taxation Convention, US ex-pats living in the UK are protected from paying income tax twice.

Support and Resources for US Business Owners in the UK

For entrepreneurs coming from the US to the UK, there is a vast amount of resources and support available, including:

A Y & J Solicitors is a specialist immigration law firm with extensive experience with all types of visa applications. We have an in-depth understanding of immigration law and are professional and results-focused. For assistance with your visa application or any other UK immigration law concerns, please contact us on +44 20 7404 7933 or at contact us today. We’re here to help!

A Y & J Solicitors

A Y & J Solicitors is a multi-award winning, 14+ years experienced, recommended by Legal 500, boutique UK immigration law firm based in Central London. Having assisted 5000+ clients, we are well equipped to help you with our ‘In It To Win It’ approach. For your assurance and confidence, we are pleased to share our trust rating of 4.9/5 based on 1000+ reviews on Trustpilot & Google.

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