You don’t need to be told that the world is a big place. If your business is gearing up for an international expansion, you’ve no doubt been reminded just how vast and diverse it really is.
This is a good thing, of course. But it does make the already-difficult business of planning an international expansion all the more challenging. It prompts a very basic question: where to begin?
There’s no single correct answer. The best international market for your firm to focus on next will depend on what it does, who it serves, its longer-term plans, and a host of other factors. If resources allow, perhaps a multi-market expansion is in the cards.
In any case, “no single correct answer” isn’t the same as “it doesn’t matter at all.” Some countries and economic areas outshine others. So whether you’re plotting a single-market tiptoe or a multi-market blitz, put these six countries at the top of your list.
India became the planet’s most populous country in 2023. For many consumer-facing businesses, that’s reason enough to make it an expansion priority.
If you need more convincing, consider India’s rapidly rising standard of living — which means its consumers will have more spending power in the future than they do today. Or its robust startup economy, which has given rise to unicorns like LeadSquared and Vendantu, and which is increasingly self-propelled by homegrown private equity firms and entrepreneurs.
Is it cliche to call Ireland a gateway to the European Union? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Ireland’s favorable tax regime and business-friendly regulations contrast with bigger Continental economies like France and Italy — much to those countries’ chagrin.
But once you’re in, you’re in, as they say. Ireland’s well-educated, English-speaking workforce is a big advantage too.
This beautiful island chain has long served as a back office for Western businesses seeking talented and relatively cheap labor. This is an artifact of the Philippines’ complex colonial history, which left deep scars but accelerated economic development and established English and Spanish fluency in urban areas.
While still predominantly service-based, the Philippines economy is today diversifying into front-office functions as well. Its burgeoning ranks of homegrown financial, legal, and logistics providers stand ready to help newly arrived businesses hit the ground running. The sense of opportunity is palpable in Manila and the surrounding capital region, where much of the country’s population lives.
Kenya is one of the fastest-growing markets on the world’s fastest-growing continent. Though not without political challenges, it’s also a model of stable — or at least predictable — governance. This means that what it lacks in breakneck population growth or mineral resources, it makes up for with a business climate favorable to multinational firms, and to homegrown startups looking to partner with those firms.
International business types have strong feelings about Norway.
The negative case harps on its small market size, high labor costs, difficult terrain, unfriendly climate, and the fact that it’s not well-integrated into the European Union and EEA blocs. Norway isn’t worth it, the argument goes.
That argument is increasingly outdated, however. Yes, Norway is expensive and remote, but once newly arrived firms surmount them, these hurdles quickly turn to assets. The country’s gargantuan, well-managed sovereign wealth supports a lavish social safety net and strong institutions that lessen the known and unknown “unknowns” that hinder long-range planning and add great uncertainty to cost and liability calculations. There’s something to the idea that predictability is worth a premium.
Before it was a hub for international finance, Singapore was a humming trading nexus that benefited from its strategic location on the Straits of Malacca, long a vital funnel for international shipping. And if your firm is in the logistics business or works closely with international logistics partners, it’s still the place to be.
The same goes for firms in financial services. Singapore’s financial industry has been the bittersweet beneficiary of growing political uncertainty in Hong Kong, long the Asia-Pacific region’s “second” financial center after Tokyo.
It’s a Big World — Choose Your Next Markets Wisely
Odds are high that at least one of these markets ticks a lot of boxes for your business. Whether you’re looking at big developed countries like the United States, or big lower-middle-income countries like India, or smaller strategic markets like Ireland or Singapore, there’s much to like on this list.
So hopefully, the choice feels a bit more manageable now. Because your business still has a great deal of work ahead of it.