Article Global entity management Accounting and tax Payroll and HR Global Business Complexity Index (GBCI) Doing business in Austria Belgium Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Egypt Finland France Germany Greece Guernsey Hungary Ireland Israel Italy Kazakhstan Luxembourg Malta Mauritius Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal Qatar Romania Russia Serbia Slovakia Slovenia South Africa Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom
22 August 2023
Business complexity in EMEA: jurisdiction deep dives
TMF Group’s Global Business Complexity Index 2023 (GBCI) explores 292 different indicators relating to business complexity, to provide in-depth analysis of the global and local challenges that impact on the ease of doing business across the world.
Insights from the GBCI can help investors pick and manage their target markets with greater confidence. Those jurisdictions that are perceived to be the most complex are often among the most attractive for talent and customer opportunities. Local knowledge will help when it comes to navigating this complexity, allowing you to managing exposure to compliance risk and find your path to growth.
In this article, we take a deep dive into the EMEA region, to examine the drivers of business complexity in each jurisdiction, or conversely, what makes them simpler environments for investment or setting up operations.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 34th
Businesses incorporating and operating within Austria can face issues that create complexity, reflecting its position in the top half of the ranking, but some factors make it simpler to work in than many other jurisdictions. One driver of complexity is the opening of bank accounts, which has become increasingly cumbersome due to enhanced Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements and monitoring processes on the banks' side. Consequently, the time it takes for a company to be incorporated can now, in some cases, take longer than three weeks.
Despite this delay to incorporation time, most legislation in Austria is straightforward, simplifying the ways of working for organisations entering the jurisdiction. Furthermore, notary appointments are usually available within 24 hours and notaries typically come to the companies' premises, enabling swift processing of papers. Austria has also seen an increase in digitalisation when it comes to applications for documents, such as trade licences and commercial registers. This move towards digital, along with swift communication from authorities, saves time and makes operation more agile for organisations.
Looking forward, ESG will likely become more apparent in Austria’s business landscape, with large businesses increasingly adapting corporate strategies and policies, taking the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive into account.
Political and legal stability, combined with an increasing political willingness to reduce corporate taxes, will mean Austria is likely to remain one of the favourite European jurisdictions for foreign investment in the EU.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 13th
Belgium is one of the most complex jurisdictions in this year’s GBCI, due to the challenging processes relating to international business incorporation and operation. For instance, setting up a limited liability company in Belgium takes a number of weeks and involves a notary. Such delays can add unexpected costs for businesses as they enter the jurisdiction. There is also a local language requirement when submitting documents, which can cause challenges for non-native speakers.
Furthermore, opening a bank account within Belgium is time consuming and has become increasingly difficult. Banks can decline the opening of accounts with little to no reason and can also request face-to-face meetings, adding delays and creating complexity for foreign organisations.
Another key driver of complexity is that language requirements are strict and payroll processing is very complex. Belgium has a transparent system where the annual accounts which need to be filed annually (usually in BE GAAP) are visible to the public. Fiscal laws are changing annually and becoming more complex each year. This all creates significant challenges for foreign businesses.
Despite the complexity organisations can find in Belgium, the fiscal administration is digitalising its services towards 2025 – when all fiscal filings and documents will be available on a singular platform – which will work to simplify business processes in future.
In Belgium, banks are less and less inclined to open local bank accounts if it is simply for holding an account with them – they want to see additional services being added.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 55th
Bulgaria, which ranks 55th in this year’s GBCI, has become less complex compared to previous years. This simplicity is in part driven by the steps towards increased digitalisation for incorporation and operational processes required for businesses. For instance, an e-delivery portal makes it possible to communicate with almost all authorities in Bulgaria, signatures can be made electronically, and submissions will receive e-proofs. In some cases, tax audits are completed entirely electronically, without the need for an in-person meeting with tax officers.
When thinking about regulatory compliance, in recent years, trade registers where Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs) are reported have slightly relaxed their expectations. Despite this, some businesses in Bulgaria still face challenges with the banks themselves, who impose demanding UBO and Know Your Customer requirements. Even for well known and established global companies, there can be challenges associated with opening a bank account in Bulgaria. However, in the next 12 months, there is an expectation that EU developments and European Court decisions on UBO reporting will cause the Bulgarian banks to relax their UBO requirements.
The war in Ukraine has also added to inflationary pressures in the jurisdiction, particularly in energy costs where Bulgaria has previously heavily relied on gas supplies from Russia. However, the government is working on its gas diversification strategy which looks to decrease the risk for direct dependence on one source.
From an economic perspective, inflation is huge, but companies are still in position to provide the competitive salaries that keep employees interested in supporting their labour force. Bulgaria is working on its gas diversification, thus decreasing the risk for direct dependence from one source.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 20th
Croatia, which ranks 20th in this year’s GBCI, is relatively complex but features some simpler processes for business incorporation and operation.
In the past year, there have been multiple changes in legislation which have caused initial complexities as businesses are required to navigate the new processes. The biggest change has been (and will continue to be) the recent entrance into the EU Monetary Zone – whereby Croatia has adopted the euro – and Schengen Area, which guarantees free movement for most EU member states, as of 1 January 2023. This change has impacted other legislation in the jurisdiction, such as the Companies Act, which required the harmonisation of share capital with the euro currency. However, it is expected that once businesses are familiar with the new processes, they will operate more smoothly than before. There is also the expectation that Croatia will benefit from more investment and a better flow of workers.
Although the introduction of the euro and entrance to the Schengen Area is expected to benefit the jurisdiction, there may be some reluctance for investors due to new legislation that has been introduced. For example, an additional corporate income tax rate was introduced in 2022, along with new AML regulations.
With regards to regulatory compliance, Croatia has transposed most of the EU directives related to global compliance (UBO, DAC6 etc), therefore businesses are already familiar with these regulatory requirements. However, many businesses are struggling with anti-money laundering and Know Your Customer processes related to opening a bank account in Croatia, which can cause challenges for businesses looking to incorporate in the jurisdiction.
As a place to do business for foreign companies, Croatia is a medium complex country. Due to its recent entrance into the EU Monetary Zone and Schengen, as of 1 January 2023, it is expected that businesses will operate more smoothly than before.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 56th
Cyprus is not considered to be a complex jurisdiction for foreign companies to do business in, ranking 56th in this year’s GBCI. In recent years, Cyprus has established itself as an international business hub within the EU and the government has taken steps to become increasingly business friendly. For instance, the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation, and Digital Policy has spearheaded several actions throughout both the private and public sectors, in accordance with the Digital Strategy for Cyprus 2020-2025, which aims to attract foreign direct investment.
Additional examples include Cyprus' pro-business and attractive tax regime, a legal framework based on English common law, and a simplified incorporation process further supported by a new Business Facilitation Unit for foreign owned companies.
The war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on Cyprus, particularly due to its traditional ties with both Ukraine and Russia. Many Russian-owned businesses operating in Cyprus were affected by sanctions, with many winding-down operations and terminating employees. Furthermore, the service sector providing services to Russian-owned businesses have been impacted, many of which have decided to stop working with Russian Ultimate Beneficial Owners for ethical reasons. However, others have seen opportunities to onboard these Russian clients. Conversely, many Ukrainian-owned businesses have chosen Cyprus as a safe and friendly place to relocate their operations and employees.
The country's geographical location, international orientation, common use of English in everyday life and at the level of the governmental or local authorities and amenities (including the Registrar of Companies and Tax Department) all facilitate to allow foreign businesses to set up and operate easily and safely in Cyprus.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 65th
The Czech Republic ranks 65th in this year’s GBCI, meaning it is just shy of the bottom 10 least complex jurisdictions globally. This is in part due to it being one of the most politically and economically stable markets in Central Europe.
Legislation around employees is still complex and highly regulated within the Czech Republic, and it is further expected to increase due to the upcoming regulation changes around working from home. The Czech Labour Code is looking to bring in several changes for employers during 2023, which includes changes to remote working. Although this may be beneficial to employees, it will add a layer of complexity and bureaucratic burden for employers.
Notably, over the last 12 months, there has been regulation of energy prices to protect businesses from market volatility. Also, there has been an exchange rate intervention from the Czech national bank and interest rate increases in the battle against rising inflation. In 2022 inflation reached 15.1% and, although it is predicted to decrease over the course of 2023, there is a widespread fear of recession. Another area over the last 12 months that has impacted complexity is the war in Ukraine. The Czech Republic continues to provide services to Ukraine and has therefore seen an increased demand for additional consultancy services, mainly related to issues with HR and payroll.
In the future, it is predicted that the Czech Republic will have a stable political situation with limited changes, with the only risk factors surrounding inflation and developments in the Ukraine war.
The government considered potential recession and took action to mitigate the inflation impact.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 77th
Up one place from third in 2022, Denmark is now the second simplest place to do business. Its straightforward incorporation process for businesses, coupled with political, social, and economic stability make it a very attractive jurisdiction. Denmark not only continues to implement EU regulations but is commonly the first EU country to embrace them, so new requirements are integrated fairly quickly.
As we’ve seen globally, high inflation in Denmark has impacted businesses operating here. Due to economic pressures, some businesses in Denmark have put activities such as expansion on hold or left the jurisdiction altogether, though this is a trend also seen in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Sweden and Norway. Inflationary pressures are also impacting the labour market, where some businesses are not able to find, or afford, the right employees.
Denmark is keen to observe and promote ESG requirements. In the coming year, a new regulation concerning gender equality for board directors is being introduced. Currently, ESG requirements are focused on larger companies, however, smaller companies are also putting actions in place to make them more compliant due to its importance in the country.
Denmark is a very equal country with relatively little difference between rich and poor, and a large focus on gender mix and equal rights for women and men. I think companies and people in Denmark are very conscious about ESG in general.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 30th
Egypt, ranked 30th, is a new jurisdiction to the GBCI this year. Egypt is considered a complex jurisdiction due to multiple factors. One is the number of post-incorporation steps, such as VAT registration, social insurance registration, notarising legal books, and registering at the chamber of commerce. For many of these processes, hard filings are required and submissions must be made in person, such as social insurance submissions. Furthermore, documents must be submitted in Arabic, which can be challenging for businesses without a native speaker.
However, despite the challenges, Egypt is an attractive jurisdiction in which to do business due to the market potential. Egypt is a large country, with more than 100 million people, where the population is increasing by a further two million per year. Egypt is one of the fastest growing economies in the Middle East and Africa, and therefore very attractive for foreign businesses looking to enter and operate in the region. Egypt has also taken significant steps to move invoicing online, with approximately 90% of these processes now being online.
The war in Ukraine has had a largely negative impact on Egypt, with food supply chains being disrupted due to the fact that both Ukraine and Russia are two of the largest suppliers of food for Egypt. A global inflation rate has also had an impact, resulting in the devaluation of the local currency. This has meant the structure of salaries has changed, meaning companies need to reconsider their renumeration levels. Due to this, interest rates for loans have increased. Therefore, investors in Egypt will need to navigate an economy that has been highly impacted by the geopolitical situation.
Overall certain things are becoming easier through digitalisation in Egypt, with the government focusing on developing the systems further. At the same time, new regulations are being introduced which bring additional complexity, meaning that you need to have a very good partner who can access support from the beginning.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 50th
Finland continues to be a fairly simple jurisdiction for foreign businesses to operate in and is considered an efficient, fast-paced, and transparent location to do business.
In 2022, the government announced significant tax incentives for foreign investors to conduct research and development activities in Finland. Furthermore, the government has implemented accelerated immigration procedures since June 2022 for skilled labour, which helps put Finnish innovation on a stronger and more international footing.
While the overall approach towards foreign investment in Finland is a positive one, the past few years have seen FDI screening increase significantly in terms of volume and complexity. Furthermore, Finland’s current general FDI regime has been amended multiple times since its enaction in 2012.
Other challenges that foreign businesses may face when operating in Finland include adapting to cultural differences, following very strict business rules, and a rigorous compliance environment. Additionally, processing times to incorporate companies and other registrations have become longer with what appears to be an increasing backlog at the Trade Register. Auditors and the authorities are also becoming stricter about annual legal compliance deadlines.
Funds services in Finland have been impacted by the macroeconomic situation across Europe, such as high inflation. Additionally, ESG regulations, such as EU taxonomy, are becoming stricter and more widespread in application. However, currently in Finland, investment funds and other related investment structures are not regulated on the basis of the social or environmental objectives of the fund and Finnish law does not require institutional investors and financial intermediaries to consider ESG factors when making investment decisions.
Finland holds a significant amount of skilled workforce, and therefore developed processes may be implemented on Finnish soil.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 1st
France takes the top spot in this year’s GBCI, following two years in second position. Factors making it the most complex place to do business include the focus on maintaining traditional ways of working, such as the use of the French language, and the continuation of historically stringent employee protection laws.
France tends to be an early adopter of international legislation, partly because of its role at the forefront of the EU. Complexity can increase as a result of the country implementing changes quickly, but in the long term it becomes more simplified and stable, with investors knowing where they stand compared to jurisdictions that may be slower at implementing global standards.
The commitment to standards in France also means that the business environment is safer, and organisations and workers alike are offered greater protection by the French government. The French government has continued to provide businesses with support during challenging times, from the Covid-19 pandemic to the high inflation rates France is currently witnessing. For example, as energy prices rocket worldwide, the French government has been offering support to cover expenses, particularly for smaller and more vulnerable businesses, providing crucial assistance during tough times.
Despite the legislative challenges, France is a highly attractive jurisdiction in which to do business, and in certain areas the government is making progress in developing more simplified processes.
While France is a business-friendly country, it can also be challenging for foreign businesses. Labour laws are particularly complex with a high protection of the employees, the regulatory environment is very strict, and the French language still remains predominant in many areas, particularly with administrations.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 25th
Previously, Germany has been climbing the complexity rankings in the GBCI. However, this year it has dropped by five places. This is likely due to the fact that there have been continuous improvements to electronic tax documents, and the introduction of the Skilled Labour Immigration Act in 2020 has eased the recruitment of skilled workers from other countries.
Currently, due to many different procedures and legal regulations, it is difficult for someone without knowledge of the German market to enter. Businesses often need to have a local partner, who speaks German and is knowledgeable about the unique systems, to help with complex processes. All service lines are being slowly digitalised, but certain tax software and payrolls need to be in line with both German law and EU regulations, which can cause delays.
Despite the delay of certain German regulations as a consequence of the pandemic, the German authorities are now accepting digital signatures for compliance, which is vital to the incorporation process, albeit under strict and formal conditions.
In the future, TMF Group experts predict that investors may become more cautious on costs and timelines when expanding into Germany, due to the insecure global geopolitical environment. Additionally, AML regulations are constantly increasing and further changes are expected in 2023. However, the German government has introduced several agenda items to improve digitalisation and to decrease the administrative burden, which will look to drive simplicity in the future.
There are continuous improvements for electronic documents, but still the administration burden is very high.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 2nd
Greece moves up from sixth place in 2022, continuing to rank very highly for the complexity of its business environment. A key factor is the number of changes in legislation that occur each year, particularly when it comes to accounting and tax.
The country is part way through a large scale digitalisation programme, which is causing issues for businesses navigating the new requirements. For instance, the implementation of MyData for accounting requires all submissions for books and balance sheets to be electronic. As is the case for wider legislative changes observed in Greece, new digitalisation requirements are demanding multiple deadlines with different credentials on different platforms, meaning businesses need time to understand and adapt to the new processes. These new processes are also draining the Greek authorities’ own resources, meaning it takes longer for them to respond to queries and book necessary appointments.
Within the next couple of years, an electronic timecard system will be implemented for employees in Greece, meaning investment will be required by businesses to implement this new way of working. It is likely that, given its digital journey and historic complexity, Greece will continue to be a challenging environment as it adapts to new requirements. However, it is expected that, in the long term, digitalisation will make things easier for business.
Greece remains a challenging environment to do business in, especially for foreign investors. We have officially entered the realm of electronic bureaucracy, with hundreds of platforms.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 61st
Guernsey, which features among the simpler jurisdictions in the GBCI, ranks 61st this year which is five places higher than it ranked in 2022. One driver for this slight change is that, although doing business in Guernsey is straightforward, there is often a disconnect between the perceptions businesses have around complexity and the reality of it. For example, the unfamiliarity with accounting and tax regimes and Guernsey’s robust regulations can cause initial operation in Guernsey to be complex. However, the Guernsey Financial Service Commission is generally communicative and keen to make the business environment understandable. In the future, Guernsey’s complexity ranking is expected to remain static due to efforts in maintaining the ability to incorporate into the jurisdiction quickly and seamlessly.
Although there haven’t been many major changes in legislation over the past year, the war in Ukraine, global inflation, and turbulence in the global markets has caused unavoidable headwinds for businesses in Guernsey.
Currently, ESG regulation in Guernsey is in its infancy, however it is widely acknowledged that it will form a key part of doing business in the future. For example, the Guernsey Green Fund enhances access to investors in the green investment space in Guernsey and aims to limit greenwashing. In 2022 the Strategy Nature Fund, which offers financial support to environmental initiatives in the jurisdiction, was launched for a second year running, demonstrating the state’s strategy of prioritising its environmental agenda.
Guernsey is a mature environment for launching funds and has well-established and effective structures for these products. The island has significant expertise in legal, regulatory, and administrative service lines.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 28th
Hungary is ranked 28th in the GBCI this year due to the geopolitical and global economic trends that have contributed to complexity. There has been very high inflation as the Hungarian currency is weak, coupled with extremely high energy prices. Consequently, companies have been faced with higher expenses, such as employee salaries and maintenance costs. Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has also contributed to the complexity, as the jurisdiction has direct financial relationships with Russia.
In the last 12 months, midyear tax law changes were introduced with immediate effect. Local professionals are required to continuously monitor changes to make sure that compliance services are up to date, increasing the complexity in Hungary. The involvement of local professionals is also often required for entity management, accounting and tax, and payroll matters due to the language barrier.
Despite these challenges, for EU-based companies where the parent entity has an EU ID, it is possible to move the company to Hungary and avoid the liquidation of the old entity, saving time and cost for EU businesses looking to incorporate and operate in Hungary. The digitalisation of accounting and tax matters also makes Hungary simpler, as this means that areas such as tax returns and registrations can be done electronically.
Looking to the future, the government expects that inflation will still stay high, at least into the autumn of 2023, but there is hope that it will start to decline before 2024. Hungary is looking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and make agreements with the EU, which aims to stabilise the Hungarian Forint. As well as this, all processes are envisioned to be simplified further for businesses to enter into the market.
Although Hungary is a complex market, further administrative simplifications are envisaged.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 57th
Ireland is one of the simpler jurisdictions globally, ranking 57th in this year’s GBCI. In recent years Ireland has been moving towards more simplified processes, for instance by focusing on digital signing of documents, following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ireland is a major centre for foreign investment and is making this a key priority in order to compete with jurisdictions such as Luxembourg for funds investments in the future. As part of the EU, Ireland must comply with all of the of the EU regulations around ESG. This can make reporting more difficult for large companies and impacts the fund and capital market industries, as both want to attract investors by being ESG compliant.
Incorporation in Ireland can be a cause of complexity, as opening a bank account and Know Your Customer processes can be cumbersome for businesses and cause delays to getting up and running.
However, Ireland does remain highly attractive due to its position within the EU, especially in the context of Brexit. Businesses that may have once chosen to set up within the UK can now turn to Ireland as it offers easier access to the EU and trading opportunities within it. It is also an early adopter of global compliance regulation meaning that, although processes can be more complex in certain instances, there is great security and stability to be found in the jurisdiction.
Ireland remains a strong and competitive jurisdiction for FDI with a landscape that is second to none, with the only major economy in the EU that is primarily English speaking, providing the perfect jumping point to establish a presence within the EU market.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 63rd
Israel, ranking 63rd in this year’s GBCI, is considered a relatively simple jurisdiction for foreign businesses to incorporate and operate in. For example, foreign businesses are not required to have a local director in order to do business in Israel. In recent years, the government has prioritised digitalising key processes, such as registering tax filings. Communication with tax authorities has also been digitalised, making these interactions more efficient and simpler.
However, there are some challenging and complex elements to business operation in the jurisdiction. For example, there are many social and labour regulations in place which aim to protect employees. Social security and personal credits are less straightforward in Israel compared to other processes, which can create challenges for foreign businesses navigating these areas.
Additionally, opening a bank account can be complex in Israel, due to the banks’ compliance requirements, such as AML and FATCA regulations. This can be a lengthy process for businesses, particularly for companies owned by funds with multiple investors which might struggle to identify specific Ultimate Beneficial Owners. At the same time, a focus on transparency is welcomed by many as it reassures the safety of their investment.
Over the past year, Israel has experienced internal political instability, with five election campaigns taking place due to the difficulty in creating a coalition. The government finally formed following elections in November 2022, however, due to the political division, there are many debates and disputes that occur among politicians and the population alike.
When it comes to the country’s economy and culture, they like to call it the 'ecosystem' in Israel and the 'startup nation'. It's really around the initiation of new companies and we have one of the highest rates of startups per capita in the world.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 8th
Italy continues to feature at the complex end of the GBCI rankings, largely due to its complex regulatory system, which frequently changes and is noted for the inefficiency of some processes. Due to the frequent changes in regulation there is often room for interpretation, and a lack of understanding from the authorities’ perspective, creating challenges for businesses.
The areas of payroll and human resources are particularly complex in Italy. Employment law strongly favours employees, and it is costly for businesses to terminate underperforming staff. Businesses are guided to seek legal advice before starting the process, as trade unions are increasingly involved.
Furthermore, Italian employers are particularly impacted by the ‘great resignation’. Many companies are feeling the pressure and have had to invest in retaining employees to compensate for increased attrition. The impact of this has been higher in Italy than other jurisdictions due to its traditionally lower salaries. In years to come, there is no expectation that labour laws will be simplified, so HR and payroll complexities will persist.
Despite complexities for businesses operating in Italy, as the third-largest economy in the EU, the country has many advantages, such as its location as a major shipment hub and entry point to the European single market.
Italy has a high degree of industrialisation, with only Germany producing more in Europe. R&D investments are comparatively high and infrastructure is very well developed. Due to the high degree of innovation and the traditionally high quality of Italian goods and services, many companies have been able to achieve excellent global market positions.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 70th
Jersey maintains its place in as one of the ten simplest jurisdictions worldwide. This is driven by the small size of the jurisdiction – with a population of only 100,000 people – and the commitment and communication from legislative and industry bodies such as Jersey Finance, who take a supportive and responsive stance to business operation and incorporation. For instance, business incorporation can happen in as little as two hours – a process which can take months elsewhere.
Within Jersey, funds and PWFO industries form a significant portion of the economic environment. Investors have been able to take advantage of the weak currency (GBP), driven by the economic turmoil in the UK during 2022. Investors from APAC and jurisdictions that use stronger currencies have benefitted from the volatility. Although issues like inflation can have significant global impact, they also present opportunities for investors and businesses. Jersey is able to attract these investors due to its stable business environment and strong ecosystem of professionals.
Its status as a magnet for foreign investment has contributed to Jersey being an early adopter of ESG principles and regulations. With the rise of younger investors, who have hopes of a more sustainable and equitable future, this is a trend that is only set to continue within Jersey.
Jersey continues to evolve and become a jurisdiction of true low complexity in which to do business. With a proactive legislative, regulatory and financial services industry body, it is an easy jurisdiction through which foreign capital can be safely and securely invested.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 23rd
Kazakhstan ranks 23rd in this year’s GBCI, and is therefore considered a relatively complex jurisdiction for foreign businesses to operate in. Incorporation is more difficult for foreign than local businesses, as local representatives are required for foreign investors. Furthermore, there is additional monitoring regarding currency control and international taxation, which can cause further challenges when applying for working visas and permits.
In the past year, Kazakhstan has introduced changes to its tax code, with these changes mostly taking effect from 1 January 2023. One example is the replacement of the previous Dividend Exemption, with a preferential tax rate for foreign shareholders. Previously, foreign shareholders were exempt from dividend withholding tax if their shares in local companies had been owned for more than three years. However, this is now being replaced with a preferential tax rate of 10% (rather than 15%).
Global inflation has had an impact on Kazakhstan’s economy. The jurisdiction’s consumer price index has reached 20.3%, with the rate for food recorded as even higher at 25%. Rising inflation caused the central bank to increase interest rates to 16.75%, the highest rate for six years, which can have a negative impact on foreign businesses operating in Kazakhstan. One factor driving inflation in Kazakhstan is due to the war in Ukraine, particularly given the proximity of Kazakhstan to the conflict. However, there has also been a trend of Russian businesses relocating to Kazakhstan, which has benefitted the economy.
Doing business is a bit more difficult for foreign businesses, rather than for local. As a representative of foreign investment, there's additional monitoring from currency control, tax authorities (international taxation) and the National Bank, which can raise additional factors in working visas and permits.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 66th
This year Luxembourg has moved up nine places in the GBCI, from 57th to 66th, making it a simpler jurisdiction in which to do business than last year. This is due to its business-friendly environment which makes it attractive to foreign businesses. Luxembourg is highly regulated, has an administrative and tax friendly environment, and high investor protection. Additionally, Luxembourg is a multicultural society with a highly qualified and diverse workforce.
Over the past year, Luxembourg has been impacted by inflation and rising oil prices which have derived from the war in Ukraine. Overall prices increased by 5-10% last year which means clients are paying more attention to costs, which can create challenges for businesses.
It is predicted that the political, social and economic framework of Luxembourg will not change in the next year. However, there will be an increase to the minimum wage in 2023, meaning that businesses will have to adjust wages in order to comply with the new legislation. An increase in wages means that foreign businesses can continue to enjoy a highly skilled workforce available in Luxembourg.
Getting tax and legal advice before setting up any fund or company is recommended as, although it is a business-friendly place, there are some complexities that one needs to be aware of.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 69th
Malta is a new entry in the ten least complex jurisdictions for 2023. It’s considered a simple jurisdiction due its business-friendly environment and attractiveness for foreign investment.
A member of the EU, Malta follows EU AML regulations, as practiced by all other member states. EU membership also means that Malta has a lot to offer investment entities, SPVs and trading companies. With a generous corporate tax rate and refunding system, Malta is viewed as a highly attractive destination for FDI.
However, for non-EU clients, DAC6 legislation can be an area of compliance which businesses can struggle with, due to their unfamiliarity with the regulation. Another aspect that creates some complexity in Malta is changing rules and regulations. For example, there are stricter rules being introduced around cross-border information sharing, which could impact Malta’s complexity in the future.
Recent geopolitical events have contributed to higher inflation rates of 5-7%. Additionally, Malta is witnessing a shortage of skilled professionals within the jurisdiction, which has driven salaries up. This has created an opportunity for foreign workers to earn more, but these costs can be challenging for businesses entering Malta.
As part of the EU, and assessing the corporate tax rate and refund system, Malta is viewed as one of the most attractive jurisdictions of choice.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 64th
Mauritius is one of the simplest jurisdictions in this year’s GBCI, just missing out on the bottom 10 most simple jurisdictions in which to do business globally. This is due to Mauritius’ ongoing efforts to make it a leader in business facilitation in Africa and to be among the most business-friendly countries in the world.
Simplicity is also seen within the compliance sector, due to its impeccable coordination among all relevant authorities to make sure that an optimum online environment is created, as part of an efficient and business friendly environment.
Although it may be a simple jurisdiction, Mauritius is still committed to consistently reviewing legal and regulatory frameworks to maintain its fight against issues such as money laundering. Additionally, complexity can be seen in areas related to employees, such as the cross jurisdictional pressure which can result in the poaching of the local human resource base, which then impacts the staff retention capacity in Mauritius as a result.
Over the next 12 months there is an anticipated election that will take place which, if there is a change of government, could add complexity due to the inevitability that legislation might change. Other than this, Mauritius has a long tradition of being a politically and socially stable jurisdiction, which makes it an attractive location for foreign businesses to operate in.
We are the gateway to Africa and make operating in Africa less complex.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 75th
The Netherlands has historically been a simple place to do business due to the flexibility ingrained in its business culture, and it finds itself back in the bottom ten (most simple) jurisdictions for 2023. Incorporation and making changes to an existing structure or company is straightforward and lacking in unnecessary formalities. For instance, companies do not need regulatory or government approvals to incorporate.
This business focus is set to continue in the Netherlands, with the government discussing making more processes digital in future, such as introducing an online portal for incorporation. This would remove the need for a notary during the incorporation process, making it even quicker for organisations to set up business.
Despite its simplicity, some businesses that previously operated in the Netherlands have turned to other locations that offer more attractive tax incentives, such as the UK and Ireland. For instance, both Shell and Unilever moved their headquarters to the UK within the past three years.
While some organisations have looked elsewhere, it’s likely that the Netherlands will remain a highly competitive jurisdiction for FDI for years to come.
When foreign businesses come to the Netherlands to start their operations, they come to a country that is very internationally orientated. Even during difficult and uncertain times with the global pandemic, high inflation and the war in Ukraine, the Netherlands has shown to be a stable and resilient country, welcoming foreign investments.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 67th
Norway ranks 67th in this year’s GBCI, meaning it is a low complexity jurisdiction. It is fairly simple to do business in Norway as authorities tend to be transparent about requirements. Additionally, its automated services allow for a smooth integration process for companies. Corporate and apostille stamps are hardly required as most corporate documents can be signed for electronically.
Over the past year, there have been proposals for changes in tax legislation that could impact investments and corporate structures. This may not make Norway more complex, but it has the potential to reduce predictability. There are some areas which can take longer and increase complexity for foreign businesses, for example when foreign nationals pay in share capital, as this requires them to open a Norwegian bank account. The process of opening a bank account for a foreign national can also be a timely process and take up to six weeks in some cases. Implementation of the Ultimate Beneficial Owner register has also increased complexity within Norway, but no more than other European countries.
As an oil and gas producer, Norway is benefitting from higher revenues due to an increased demand as a consequence of the war in Ukraine. The shortage of energy in Europe has led to increased electricity prices for everyone, including businesses. Combined with a high inflation rate, many businesses are struggling with increased costs. Nonetheless, the Norwegian economy has withstood some economic pressures, and still enjoys little to no unemployment.
Norway's stability is likely to remain a positive factor for foreign companies investing in Norway. Make sure to have proper insight to national rules and legislation and local business environment, either through your own resources or by the use of local advisors.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 12th
Poland is one of the more complex jurisdictions in this year’s GBCI, ranking just outside the top 10, at 12th out of 78 jurisdictions worldwide. Complexity comes from a number of factors, including the language barrier for foreign businesses who do not speak Polish, multiple reporting obligations and frequent legislative changes. These can all pose challenges for international businesses as they struggle to navigate demanding requirements, at a rapid pace and in a new language.
Another key driver of complexity in the jurisdiction is the war in Ukraine. Due to Poland’s geographic position, it has heavily felt the impact of the Russian invasion. For instance, there has been disruption to supply chains, inflation and an increase of Ukrainian refugees entering Poland. With the end of the conflict still far out of sight, such challenges are expected to continue in the future, impacting the ease of business incorporation and operation within the jurisdiction.
Despite this complexity, administration and reporting within the jurisdiction has been digitalised, making things more straightforward for businesses. Furthermore, although there are parliamentary elections upcoming this autumn, the ruling party is expected to continue in power. The government is aiming to create a positive investment environment and mitigate and fight against the threat of recession relating to the financial troubles caused by the war in Ukraine. Therefore, although Poland is experiencing challenges related to the geopolitical environment which may deter businesses from operating there, the government is actively looking to bolster the potential for foreign investment.
Poland is a dynamic country that continues to attract a lot of foreign investment due to its big potential and availability of talent.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 38th
Businesses incorporating and operating in Portugal encounter a mixture of complex and simple factors. For instance, while the communication with public authorities is easily done online, banks are still somewhat slow and bureaucratic when it comes to opening bank accounts.
The jurisdiction has, like many others globally, recently been facing inflation. However, the Portuguese government has been proactive in reducing the impacts, for example by limiting rent increases to a maximum of 2% despite inflation sitting at nearly 8%. Furthermore, the jurisdiction’s citizenship-by-investment Golden Visa scheme has proven to be very popular, and foreign property ownership requirements and mortgage rates are reasonable, therefore offering both investment and housing opportunities. Such measures can help attract talent to Portugal, and also retain it, by offering a good quality of life for foreign employees.
Portugal is also progressive when it comes to establishing rules and regulations that serve to drive sustainability. In 2021, the government introduced the foundations of a climate policy. This establishes targets and requirements for the design of public policies across economic sectors and levels of government. It acknowledges the climate emergency and sets the target of carbon neutrality by 2050. This is aligned with the Paris Agreement and EU ESG legislation meaning that, although businesses may face some complexity to meet sustainable requirements, these should be expected by those already doing business within Europe.
The affability of Portuguese citizens, their way of life and the openness that the country has to foreigners and to everything that comes from abroad serve to attract new investments and projects.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 58th
Qatar is considered one of the more simple and attractive jurisdictions in the Middle East, as well as being one of the fastest-growing economies in the region. There are various ways to establish a legal presence in Qatar, such as incorporating under the Companies Law and incorporating into the ‘free zones’ - namely Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), Qatar Free Zone (Airport and Seaport) and Qatar Science and Technology Park. These allow 100% foreign ownership in which entities can be registered. These free zones have tax and audit benefits and it is a fairly straightforward process to incorporate there.
Despite these benefits, there are traditional processes in place which can create challenges for foreign businesses. Many processes are required to be dealt with in person, such as acquiring a work permit, which can be time consuming particularly if multiple meetings with authorities are required.
In the past year, the economy in Qatar has benefitted from hosting the FIFA World Cup, which has created long-term business opportunities, particularly in the travel and tourism sector. Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has meant that, as a major oil producer, Qatar has increased its revenue in the oil and gas sector.
Although ESG is still relatively new in Qatar and requires more focus on the practical implementation of ESG requirements, the government is consistently seeking to improve its diversity statistics. For instance, there has been a drive to increase women’s empowerment and rights in the jurisdiction.
The government fully supports foreign investment. The regulators in Qatar are approachable and encourage open and honest conversations to assist with the investment process.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 24th
Romania is still developing as a jurisdiction. However, legislation, systems and processes are mostly in line with EU requirements, making it a relatively simple jurisdiction to navigate for businesses familiar with EU rules. There are still areas where investors face complexity, mainly due to the formalised approach of the authorities when it comes to incorporation.
Over the past year, Romania has introduced new legislation and compliance requirements, such as SAF-T, which requires companies to declare their tax and accounting information electronically through the SAF-T system. Although this is seen to be a benefit in the long-run, due to the harmonisation with digital global processes, there was poor planning and preparation in the jurisdiction causing challenges for businesses attempting to navigate the new requirements. Therefore, it is expected there will be an increase in requests for support over the next year, as more taxpayers will be required to start reporting.
The war in Ukraine has impacted Romania in multiple ways. First, due to its shared border with Ukraine, there has been an increased risk of doing business in Romania (despite Romania’s membership of the EU and NATO). Second, the war has contributed to a growing inflation rate, putting pressure on salary increases in an already limited qualified labour market. On the other hand, Romania has seen some international companies relocating away from Russia and Ukraine and investing in the jurisdiction. Furthermore, the production of green energy has large potential in Romania, which has encouraged many international players to start investing in wind and solar plants there.
Romania is a developing country, member of the EU and NATO, having natural resources and good growth potential which is making it a very good place for investment in the coming years.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 36th
Given the geopolitical climate and Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it’s unsurprising that complexity has risen for businesses operating in Russia. Multiple aspects of incorporation and operation have been impacted, such as the closure of foreign banks, the inability of foreign banks based abroad to transfer funds to Russia, and the need to obtain special permissions regarding changes within corporate structures. Such challenges place strain on organisations as it causes unnecessary delays to processes that are essential parts of day-to-day operations.
Sanctions against Russia and measures taken as counter sanctions also drive complexity due to constant legislation updates that businesses must consider. For example, additional measures have been implemented to regulate the use and movement of foreign currency. Consequently, TMF Group experts are seeing a steep decline in new foreign businesses launching in Russia.
Although complexity is undoubtedly higher in Russia than in previous years, the jurisdiction does continue to encourage simplified processes. For example, documents to register changes to state authorities can be filed electronically; the payment of all taxes can be done into a single account of a legal entity in the tax office; and new criteria has been introduced for foreign citizens investing in Russia, allowing them to obtain a residence permit more easily.
We see that the overall trend of exiting or reducing operations in Russia is being continued due to geopolitical circumstances, however there are no critical legal regulations that prevent companies from operating in Russia.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 42nd
Serbia, which ranks 42nd in this year’s GBCI, is considered a jurisdiction with medium complexity.
A new law on electronic invoicing is applicable as of 1 January 2023, which is a key step towards Serbia’s aim of being more digitalised. Although digitalisation is expected to ease processes in the long run, adjustments in electronic qualified certificates and technical systems/apps are required in order to comply with the new requirements, which will likely add complexity in the short term.
With regards to global regulatory requirements, businesses are already required to disclose Ultimate Beneficial Owner information to the authorities. However, Know Your Customer regulations are becoming more stringent, particularly as they are implemented by the banks. Furthermore, regulations regarding data safety and security are becoming more demanding in the jurisdiction, placing additional burdens on businesses.
The Serbian government has taken steps to become more business-friendly in recent years, including tax incentives for foreign businesses looking to incorporate in Serbia. Other initiatives include land given for lower prices and subventions granted from the state per employee, which makes Serbia an attractive destination for foreign businesses either looking to expand or set up in the region.
Serbia has not implemented sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, as opposed to its European neighbours. As a result, many Russian companies have moved their business and, at times, employees to Serbia. Due to sanctions being observed by the majority of international banks, Russian entities face difficulties when opening bank accounts. However, the process is much simpler in local or national Serbian banks.
The fact that Serbia is not in the EU needs to be taken into consideration during business planning; local legislation may differ in many fields.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 29th
Ranked 29th in this year’s GBCI, Slovakia is experiencing significant disruption and uncertainty due to the war in Ukraine. Inflation is currently at a level unseen for decades and the cost of raw materials has risen substantially, putting significant cost pressures on businesses. This is also reflected in salaries, as employees have high expectations, meaning that organisations often need to increase salaries to meet demand and retain and attract the best talent. The backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty is therefore posing challenges for businesses entering Slovakia.
However, despite the complexity caused by the war, the Slovakian Government has embraced modernisation and technology to simplify entity management for businesses. TMF experts predict that this will result in considerably less complexity in years to come, as communication with the authorities is increasingly conducted electronically via government portals.
Looking forwards, the complexity of operating in Slovakia depends on both internal and external factors. The country is holding an election in September 2023 and, if the government is defeated by the current opposition, this is likely to bring major legislative changes. Any escalation of the war in Ukraine is also likely to bring further disruption to Slovakia, given the proximity of the country to the fighting and the interconnection of the two countries’ economies.
Despite the economic difficulties caused by the war in Ukraine, Slovakia’s government is making positive strides to reduce complexity. The country has invested to facilitate simple electronic communication between companies and authorities.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 32nd
Slovenia is an economically stable jurisdiction which is actively working to create a more attractive market for businesses to operate in. The Slovenian Government has recently amended tax legislation to attract foreign direct investment, including offering a decreased VAT rate for energy consumption to help reduce operating costs. It is also using a tax policy to encourage people into the workforce, by increasing personal tax relief to grow take-home pay. A special relief was introduced for employees aged up to 29 years’ old to make sure businesses have access to ample young talent.
However, these pro-business changes are accompanied by near-constant legislative changes, resulting in increased complexity for businesses to navigate. For example, the conditions and demands to open a bank account are growing. In addition, incorporation is becoming more time consuming due to the increased amount of evidence that must be submitted to the authorities.
The reporting burden placed on businesses operating in Slovenia is also increasing. Organisations are having to allocate additional resource to measure and report on their ESG compliance. The government requires the incorporation of new non-financial information, such as environmental and social data, into financial record keeping. This growing focus on the wider societal impact of an organisation is reflected among employees, who expect employers to display corporate social responsibility.
By seeking guidance from experienced professionals in the local market, companies can navigate the complexity and make informed decisions.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 51st
South Africa is considered to be the most sophisticated economy in Africa, with its advanced banking and finance systems, progressive tax structures, and sound infrastructure. It is considered a simple jurisdiction for foreign businesses due to straightforward and efficient incorporation processes, which can be completed online and take approximately 10 working days to complete. Additionally, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) has improved its technology offering, making it easy to register companies online. These digitalised processes also contribute to the simple operational environment. For instance, all tax submissions and objections can be lodged electronically.
Despite this, there are extensive rules, regulations and local nuances in the jurisdiction which can be challenging to navigate, particularly if they have not been implemented correctly from day one, as this can result in many operational challenges, audits, and time to rectify issues. Additionally, engaging with any government institution, such as the revenue authorities, reserve banks and courts can be slow and an undefined process often results in inconsistent information and execution.
South Africa’s regulatory compliance requirements often align with international standards and best practice, meaning that foreign businesses can enjoy familiar compliance processes. Despite this, there are often internal inefficiencies which can make these processes cumbersome and frustrating for foreign investors.
South Africa has a large market potential, well developed infrastructure and a competitive domestic economy. It is one of the most industrialised, technologically advanced and diversified economies on the African continent. However, the economic stability of the country has been weakened by global pressure and investment is at a standstill due to a lack of business confidence, thereby increasing pressure on GDP and growth.”
GBCI 2023 ranking: 41st
Ranking 41st in this year’s GBCI, processes for businesses operating and incorporating in Spain can be both complex and simple. Complexity comes from numerous factors, for example the jurisdiction has seen recurring increased compliance obligations. Due to such increased obligations, businesses can face additional legal and tax fees driving both cost and complexity. Furthermore, payroll is very complex, which can be cumbersome for businesses.
During 2023, several local/national elections will take place and may result in a change of government. If the government does change, businesses may need to adapt to changing laws and legislations in the coming years. A key focus for these elections is that there is still a very high level of unemployment for young people in Spain, something that has been the case since the 2008 financial crash and compounded by recent geopolitical issues such as the war in Ukraine, inflation and Covid-19.
Despite this, some processes are simpler. For instance, businesses entering the jurisdiction can benefit from online filing as well as flexibility from Spanish authorities when it comes to both corporate and individual non-resident directors. Furthermore, the Ultimate Beneficial Owner register is currently on hold and DAC6 has a limited impact on operations within Spain. These serve to limit complexity as businesses can benefit from more international ways of working, including the ability to file documents remotely.
The war in Ukraine, inflation, Covid-19 and increasing energy prices are all having an impact in Spain and can make things more complex for businesses.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 39th
Ranking 39th in this year’s GBCI, businesses incorporating and operating within Sweden can find that certain processes are complex, and others simple. Generally, complexity has remained stable within the jurisdiction, however inflation has been having an impact. For example, prices have increased and businesses can see longer lead times for certain goods, deliveries and imports. This can drive complexity as it causes unforeseen delays and financial pressure on organisations.
Like many other jurisdictions worldwide experiencing inflation, Sweden has witnessed a downturn in the economy which has led to higher unemployment and bankruptcies. This can be challenging for businesses operating within the jurisdiction. However, Sweden’s stable business environment and focus upon digitalising and simplifying processes means it remains highly attractive for investment.
Another draw for foreign direct investment within Sweden is its place within the EU. This offers familiarity and stability for organisations already operating within Europe. Like many EU jurisdictions, Sweden will introduce ATAD 3, announced in 2021, which aims to identify tax driven ‘shell’ entities and limit tax avoidance across Europe. This will place greater requirements on businesses operating within the jurisdiction. However, as the same measure will be in place across multiple European jurisdictions, it likely won’t impact the attractiveness of Sweden for foreign direct investment. Despite Sweden’s alignment with the EU, its business culture can deviate from other markets which can cause some complexity.
The business risk in Sweden is increasing with economic downturn but this is the same situation internationally. It’s not complex to invest in Sweden and digitalisation has come very far.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 62nd
Switzerland ranks 62nd in this year’s GBCI, making it one of the simpler jurisdictions globally. It is seen as an attractive location for foreign business and used as a hub to European operations, owing to its political stability and strong currency.
Over recent years, it has become more difficult to open a bank account for foreign entities due to the increasing compliance regulations from banks under the Anti-Money Laundering Act. This act is regularly updated and modified to suit the changing environment, which has a knock-on effect on businesses that need to keep up with the changes. Other legislation that impacts complexity, especially for private wealth and family office clients, is the Financial Institutions Act (FinIA) which lays out the requirements for financial institutions’ activities.
Currently inflation is quite high in Switzerland, for example in December 2022 it was at 2.8%. However, it is still lower than most EU countries due to the strong currency. Therefore the Swiss government has not put in place any solutions for inflation. However, knowing the competency of the government during the Covid-19 pandemic, they will act fast if required. Sanctions on Russian clients are the only impacts of the war in Ukraine on the jurisdiction which, although there was added complexity for Russian Ultimate Beneficial Owners for example, businesses are understanding of the sanctions and have acted accordingly.
ESG regulation has become increasingly important in Switzerland. For instance, from January 2022 the Swiss Code of Obligations included new legislation which requires companies of public interest to publish annual reports on ESG issues. This is expected to add a layer of complexity for large and listed companies when they have to report on these measures. Besides this legislation, there are no major predictions for legislative changes within Switzerland over the next 12 months.
Switzerland is a politically and economically stable environment, highly regulated financial services industry, high-skilled workforce.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 6th
Turkey remains one of the more complex jurisdictions for foreign businesses to operate in, in part driven by the large number of legislative changes that occur each year and the relatively brief period allowed to adapt to these changes.
Over the past year, the Turkish economy has been suffering from hyperinflation and currency fluctuations, which is worse in Turkey relative to global indicators. Hyperinflation means that companies are having difficulties with price stability and are having to set their prices in a stable and convertible foreign currency. Currently there is a lack of structured fiscal and monetary policies in place to help the economy fight these challenges, making it challenging for businesses to have confidence in the market that they are operating in.
Turkey has observed an increase in global regulatory propositions in recent years. Adapting to these changes is causing complexity for businesses. Although this is causing challenges in the short term, it is expected that once providers and businesses are familiar with the new processes, it will make the jurisdiction more attractive for foreign businesses wishing to operate transparently.
Turkey will have a general election in the coming year, so some political tension is anticipated. This means that some major investments may be put on hold until there is a more stable political environment.
In an environment where Turkey offers services to multinationals, and the decision-makers are outside of Turkey, they need to be aware of frequent changes in regulation and act quickly in adapting to the required changes as the signing authority.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 17th
Currently, Ukraine is one of the more complex locations in which to do business due to the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022. The war has and continues to cause significant challenges, such as high inflation, an interrupted logistics chains, lack of manpower, black-outs and extra costs related to business continuity. These are factors which contribute to the complexity and uncertainty of doing business within the jurisdiction.
An example of how the war impacts on business operation is that tax legislation is unstable. For instance, tax reliefs that were offered during the initial war period have now been stopped, meaning businesses must adapt and keep up with the changes. The Ukrainian tax portal can also experience interruptions, so filings can be placed under risk if submitted on deadline day. This adds to complexity as it means that foreign businesses are forced to be agile and highly risk aware if wishing to continue operating within the jurisdiction.
Further complexity comes from the reliance upon paper HR documents. As more and more Ukrainian employees are now based in different locations with the aim to flee conflict, the need for paper-based documents can pose great logistical challenges.
Despite the issues businesses operating in Ukraine may face, the jurisdiction needs investment now more than ever before in order to preserve its freedom, sovereignty and respected space in the global business landscape.
Ukraine will have to be re-built, but it has solid potential – natural resources and smart energetic people ready and willing to work.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 53rd
The UAE is one of the simpler jurisdictions for doing businesses worldwide, ranking 53rd in this year’s GBCI. Processes within the UAE have become more straightforward in recent years. This is mostly linked to an increase in digitalisation and the introduction of new tax regimes, which are making positive impacts to businesses incorporating and operating within the UAE. For instance, corporation tax will be introduced in 2023. Although this does incur costs for businesses, it means that the UAE will have a much more standardised model and feel more familiar for international organisations. Income tax remains at 0%, attracting high quality talent to the UAE.
The government in the UAE has been heavily investing in digital processes. In previous years, paperwork and wet signatures were a core part of business incorporation and operation, which could take time and be complex for international organisations. Now processes are faster and more straightforward, benefitting businesses.
Furthermore, the need for a local partner to have 51% ownership of international entities, which historically created some complexity, has reduced. In a positive move for international businesses, the UAE permits 100% foreign ownership in many industries now. This change also allows those already operating in the jurisdiction, with under 51% local ownership, to transition to fully independent operations, making things simpler not only for new businesses entering the jurisdiction, but also established ones.
I believe in general the processes and procedures have made life a bit easier and also the introduction of the Monday to Friday working week has standardised the global commercial operations for companies.
GBCI 2023 ranking: 72nd
The UK has moved down the ranking this year its position in the ten simplest places to do business. In the wake of Brexit, there is a stable environment and favourable industry support from advisors and industry groups, making the jurisdiction an attractive place to do business. There are still regulations that the UK needs to finalise in the post-Brexit world, one of which relates to VAT.
Despite the simplicity, the UK’s stringent KYC checks add to the length of time it takes to open a bank account when setting up a business. The jurisdiction also introduced a new register for overseas entities which was established at the start of 2023, meaning anyone who owns real estate in the UK from an overseas territory could face high penalties for non-compliance. The war in Ukraine has been the catalyst of these changes as the UK tax authority has placed sanctions on Russian businesses and investors.
The UK experienced great political turmoil in 2022, impacting the economy alongside a high inflation rate. However, the political environment has settled somewhat and over the next 12 months the UK is expected to remain a simple place to do business. The authorities here are consistent at implementing new funds and capital markets regulations and are also keeping in line with ESG recommendations. This makes it attractive to foreign investors.
The UK remains a key international financial market that services the world, with connections to all major markets alongside a deep and broad knowledge and talent pool. The advisor and financial base of the UK is second to none for competitiveness and access.
This article is an extract from TMF Group’s latest report: The Global Business Complexity Index 2023.
Explore the GBCI rankings, analysis and global trends, to help you cut through the layers of corporate compliance complexity – download the report in full here.
To find out more about the drivers of business complexity in the jurisdictions that matter to you, why not explore our Complexity Insights Dashboard?