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The easiest places in the world to do business

Key takeaways:

  • New Zealand is the best place to do business for the fourth year running
  • Last year, 115 economies implemented 294 business reforms
  • Regulation reforms make economies more business-friendly
  • Most improved places to do business include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, mainland China and India
  • Singapore and Hong Kong made it easier to get electricity
  • Mainland China made paying taxes and starting a business easier
  • India made trading across borders easier

There can be a lot of hurdles when starting up a business. First comes the idea, followed by motivation. Then there's funding the venture, marketing, and finding your customers. On top of that, there's the legal requirements, immigration laws and foreign business regulations, all of which will depend on the market you're setting up in.

How does one choose the ideal location for starting up a business?

group of friendly business people at table, discussing contracts

Measuring the ease of doing business

In 2003, the World Bank began analysing and comparing worldwide regulatory best practice. This information is then used to rank global economies on the ease of small and medium-size firms doing business in the private sector. Economies are scored using 41 indicators across 10 business areas on a scale of 1–100, with 1 being the most business-friendly in the rankings, and 100 being the top score for ease of business 1.

The 10 key areas of business activity are:

  • Starting a business 
  • Dealing with construction permits 
  • Getting electricity 
  • Registering property 
  • Getting credit 
  • Paying taxes 
  • Trading across borders 
  • Protecting minority investors 
  • Enforcing contracts 
  • Resolving insolvency 1

The survey's data suggests that:

[Clear] rules create an environment where new entrants with drive and innovative ideas can get started in business and where productive firms can invest, expand, and create new jobs. The objective is to encourage regulation that is efficient, transparent, and easy to implement so that businesses can thrive.

The World Bank's Doing Business (DB) annual study has since seen more than 3,500 business reforms in 186 economies. Last year, there were 294 reforms in 115 of the economies (out of 190) .2 This is good news if you're thinking of starting up a business overseas. Regulation reforms tend to make economies more business-friendly, and an uplift in entrepreneurial activity can lead to higher levels of employment, better incomes, and a boost in government revenue. 

aerial view of road snaking through green mountains

Ease of doing business ranking – who came out on top?

The 10 highest-scoring economies on the ease of doing business rankings, according to the World Bank's Doing Business 2020–Sustaining the pace of reforms report, were:

  1. New Zealand (86.8 out of 100)
  2. Singapore (86.2)
  3. Hong Kong, SAR (85.3)
  4. Denmark (85.3)
  5. Republic of Korea (84)
  6. United States (84)
  7. Georgia (83.7)
  8. United Kingdom (83.5)
  9. Norway (82.6)
  10. Sweden (82) 1

Breakdown of scores

For the fourth year in a row, New Zealand ranked first out of 190 economies for the best place in the world to do business. There's just one procedure required to register a company, and this will only take you half a day. On the other end of the Doing Business scale, it'll take you 20 procedures and 230 days to begin doing business in Venezuela. 

In Asia, Singapore once again ranked second, improving slightly on 'getting electricity' and 'dealing with construction permits'. The third-easiest economy in which to do business went to Hong Kong, SAR, with high scores for 'dealing with construction permits', 'getting electricity' and 'starting a business'. 

Denmark ranked number one in Western Europe. Its business reforms made it easier to deal with construction permits and to start a business; it became easier to pay taxes in the Republic of Korea; and positive reforms in the US made it easier to start a business, deal with construction permits, get electricity, pay taxes and enforce contracts. Like New Zealand, it's very quick to register a company in Georgia (taking just a day), and new reforms made it easier to trade across borders. 

Despite a tax reform making it slightly more difficult to do business, the UK ranked eighth overall, up one spot from last year. Norway scored well for enforcing contracts (third) and resolving insolvency (fifth). 

Sweden ranked tenth on the World Bank's ease of doing business survey, receiving top scores for the low cost and efficiency of trading across borders 1

woman holding shoebox and checking inventory on latptop

Common features of top performers

All of the top-scoring countries and regions share common indicators. These include:

  • Electronic filing systems in place for paying taxes, setting up a business, transferring property, and obtaining permits
  • A reliable supply of electricity
  • Operating with a high degree of transparency 1

In 'Getting Electricity: Understanding the benefits of wiring regulation', the World Bank states that economies that have regular testing in place for electrical systems usually have reliable access to grids and operate under protective standards. 1

Household electrification is estimated to result in an average rise of around 7% in school enrollment, 25% in employment and 30% in income. Where electricity services are deficient, firm performance is negatively impacted.

Economies with the most improvements in a business environment

Worldwide, the 10 most-improved economies, according to the Doing Business 2020 indicators, were Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Togo, Bahrain, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, mainland China, India, and Nigeria.1

These economies accounted for one-fifth of all reforms, with China and India proposing reform programmes that will continue to improve business regulations over the next few years. 

Out of these top improvers, mainland China, Nigeria and Togo made it easier to start a business; China (Beijing) and India saw improved construction permit transparency; Togo made it easier to get electricity; and Pakistan and Togo saw an increased transparency of information. 

Minority investor protections were strengthened in Bahrain, China, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; and mainland China, Jordan and Togo made it easier to pay taxes with enhanced electronic systems. 

Bahrain, mainland China, India, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia all strengthened border infrastructure, making cross-border trading easier; and Georgia and Jordan improved business regulations with electronic systems to make it easier to enforce contracts. 

tall colourful buildings in Sweden

Setting up banking for your business overseas

If you're planning to launch your business or are running a business already, consider your needs before opening a bank account. Will you meet the eligibility requirements or need a loan to start your business? What currency will you be doing business in? And what is your estimated annual turnover?

You'll find us in 64 countries and territories, including the top-10 easiest places to do business: New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Nordic region (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, and most recently, Georgia.

Before you even leave home to start your business overseas, you can open an international account with us in more than 30 countries and territories around the world.

With multiple worldwide HSBC accounts, you can use our Global View services to view, link and manage all of your eligible self-named or third-party HSBC accounts. Global Transfers then allows you to instantly transfer funds between your accounts in real time, with no transfer fees and generous daily transfer limits of up to USD200,000 in many markets.

See how you can manage your accounts through Global View and Global Transfers with a single log on.

Ready to open an overseas account?

Many countries require you to show you have enough funds to support yourself before they'll approve your visa. This is easier to do with a local bank account. Leave your details on our quick form and we'll get in touch to answer your questions and to help you open an overseas account.

1 World Bank Doing Business 2020–Sustaining the pace of reforms.

2 'Governments Worldwide Launched 294 Reforms Over the Past Year to Make Doing Business Easier'.