Moving to the UK as an entrepreneur

Setting up a business is a dream for many people and in the UK the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking with record numbers of businesses being created every year.

The UK is also open for foreign entrepreneurs, allowing visa holders to relocate from overseas and invest in the local economy by launching a company.

However, to move to the UK as an entrepreneur, and to be part of the thriving start-up scene, a visa is required.

Right now, there are two options for entrepreneurs to move to the UK: the Innovator Visa and the Start-up Visa. There are similarities between the two, but also some stark differences when it comes to funding and personal circumstances.

For those interested in building a business in the UK, knowing where to start with a visa application can be confusing, but the following details should help you on your way.

Innovator Visa

Last year, the UK Visas and Immigration department introduced the Innovator Visa to replace the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa. The Innovator Visa is for people from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland that want to set up or run a business in the UK.

Funding is an essential part of the Innovator Visa with applicants required to show evidence of a minimum of £50,000 in investment funds for a new business, as well as enough money to support yourself. Plus, the business idea has to be new and innovative, with potential for growth.

So, how does the application process work?

There are two key stages to being approved for an Innovator Visa – endorsement by an approved body followed by the official immigration application. The conditions for each stage are explained below.


  • Endorsement can only be granted by an organisation that has been approved by the British government. For a full list of endorsing bodies, visit the government website here.
  • The endorsing body will assess whether the business idea meets the criteria for the visa, such as the business plan being realistic and achievable.

For the application, the following information needs to be included:

  • Official endorsement letter.
  • Proof of financial investment and/or maintenance funds for you and your family.
  • Evidence of English language skills at level B2 or above.
  • Criminal certificate for any country lived in for more than 12 months for the previous 10 years (this applies to all applicants and dependents over the age of 18).

Once granted, the Innovator Visa is valid for three years and can be extended, with the option to apply for UK settlement after five years. Family members (partners and children under 18) can also apply to join Innovator Visa holders in the country.

Start-up Visa

Let’s start with an interesting fact. London is now home to 24 start-ups for every 1,000 citizens. That’s a lot of innovation taking place in the UK’s capital, making it a sought-after destination for budding entrepreneurs.

If you are a recent graduate looking to move to the UK to establish a start-up, then a specific immigration option has been created in the form of the Start-up Visa.

While the Innovator Visa is available to anyone with an endorsed business plan and enough funding, the Start-up Visa is specifically aimed at graduates with genuine business ideas and entrepreneurial skills from outside of the EEA and Switzerland.

Like the Innovator Visa, there are certain requirements to be granted a Start-up Visa, such as showing that the idea is unique, innovative and with potential for growth. But access to a big lump sum of investment cash is not one of them.

Start-up Visa holders can also work in another job while working for their business, which is useful for graduates as they are often still establishing themselves financially after studying.

If the Start-up Visa sounds like the right one for you, here is what is needed to apply:

  • You and your business idea needs to be endorsed by a UK Higher Education Institution or an approved business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs.
  • Evidence of English language skills at level B2 or above.
  • Proof of sufficient maintenance funds to support yourself. For this visa, it means that you must have had at least £945 in your bank account for 90 consecutive days before lodging the application.
  • If any family members (partner and children under 18) join a Start-up Visa holder, they must also have maintenance funds that are separate to the initial applicant.

Once an application has been approved, the visa is valid for two years. With the Start-up Visa there isn’t an option to extend or apply for long-term settlement, but if the business is successful, applicants could then switch to an Innovator Visa.

An exciting new journey in the UK

As you can see, the Innovator and Start-up Visas are quite similar in nature. The main differences come down to personal circumstances and life stage (graduate or professional), and how much money you can access through investment.

Starting a business is an exciting journey wherever you are in the world, and if you have your sights set on the UK, the door is open. All you need is the right documentation, sufficient funding, endorsement and a successful application. Then you can make your UK business dream a reality.



Article Created By Hayley Maguire

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