If you want to start a business in New Zealand as a foreigner, you will encounter few restrictions, regulatory efficiency, monetary incentives and high transparency. The New Zealand government provides entrepreneurs with a comprehensive network of physical and technological infrastructure. From reserving your company name to incorporating it, you can set up your business online in a matter of hours. You can also apply for a visa with Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to stay in the country from six to twenty-four months while you work on your New Zealand ventures. Foreign businesses (or foreign entities) that are incorporated as companies can apply to register with the Companies Office Overseas Register. This article explains how to start a business in New Zealand as a foreigner.

Apply for an Entrepreneur Work Visa or a Residential Visa

To start a business in New Zealand as a foreigner, you need to apply for an entrepreneur work visa or a residential visa with INZ. There are two types of entrepreneur work visa, depending on the stage of your business:

  • to launch a business, you can apply for a six-month visa;
  • if your business is steadily growing, you can apply to stay in the country for another two years. 

To get a visa, your business has to satisfy a few thresholds, including: 

  • a minimum working capital of NZ$100,000;
  • a minimum of 120 points from the grading system (this depends on your business’s success and its contributions to the national economy); and
  • a clean track record (for example, no evidence of previous fraud or winding up).

If you wish to settle in the country with the purpose of running a business, you can apply for a six-month or two-year residential visa instead. However, this visa has more strict parameters compared to the entrepreneur work visa.

To increase your chances of obtaining a two-year visa, you need to meet health, character and language requirements and prove that your business is in good shape and can provide economic benefits to the country.

If you do not meet the two-year visa requirements, you can apply for a six-month one, if you can:

  • invest at least NZ$500,000; and 
  • provide at least three permanent jobs to the New Zealand citizens or residents.

Before applying for your visa, you should check these requirements on the INZ website, as they may change with government regulations. 

Choose Your Business Name and Structure 

Before you register your business, you need to choose a name and legal structure. Your business name cannot be in use or be too similar to another business name. You can conduct a quick search to determine if your desired name is available, using ONECheck or the Companies Office website if you are incorporating a company or limited partnership. ONECheck also allows you to reserve your web domain, trademark and social media usernames if they are available.

You should consider protecting your name and brand, especially if you have plans to expand your operations in the future. When you register a trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ), you can protect your words, logos, shapes, colours, sounds, smells or any combination of these.

There are many available business structures, but the most common include:

  • sole traders;
  • partnerships; or 
  • companies.  

A sole trader structure is inexpensive and easy to set up and run. However, it has financial limitations such as being liable for the debts of the business, and greater barriers to accessing funds to grow your business.

Partnership structures can be general or limited. General partnerships are also easy to set up and run, and you have greater borrowing capacity and access to capital. Like limited liability companies, limited partnerships have a separate legal personality, which limits the liability of partners. Under these structures, the business owns the assets and liabilities of the business and is responsible for any debts. 

In most instances, companies are the most complicated and expensive structure to set up, as they are subject to stricter tax and legal regulations. 

How to Register Your Overseas Company as a NZ business

Before you apply to register your overseas company on the Companies Office Overseas Register, you need to reserve your company’s name. This must be the same name you used to incorporate your company initially. Australian companies can enter their Australian Company Number (ACN) to retrieve the name from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) register. 

To apply, you will also have to provide information about your company’s incorporation and its New Zealand operations. For example, you will need to provide a certified copy of your original Certificate of Incorporation. Once you reserve your company’s name, you can register your company online and pay a fee.

Register Your Business 

You can register your business and get a New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) for free on the NZBN website. Even though this is optional, getting an NZBN has many advantages, such as interacting more seamlessly with other businesses and government agencies, such as e-invoicing.

When you incorporate a new company or limited partnership in New Zealand, you need to register with the Companies Office. You will get assigned an NZBN automatically. There is a cost associated with registering your company. 

Consider Regulations and Tax Implications  

As a foreigner, it is essential to get familiar with your legal obligations in New Zealand before you start your business. Before deciding how to structure your business, you should discuss your options with your New Zealand business structuring lawyer or accountant. Each business structure has different legal and tax implications.

Some of your essential tax obligations in New Zealand include: 

  • registering with Inland Revenue (IRD) and getting an IRD number for your business;
  • filing income tax returns and making tax payments every year;
  • making deductions from your employees’ salaries – PAYE, student loan, child support and (or) KiwiSaver and pay these to the IRD; 
  • working out whether you have to pay provisional tax during the year;
  • registering for GST if your turnover is over $60,000. 

Note that these can change with changes in government policy, so always cross-check these with the Inland Revenue website.

There are other industry-specific regulations that you may need to get familiar with as part of setting up your new business in New Zealand. These include your obligations around:

  • fair trading;
  • privacy; and
  • health and safety.

You can use business.govt.nz’s Compliance Matters tool to search for central government regulations that may apply to your business or industry.

Set Up Your Bank Accounts and Get a Lawyer and Accountant 

You can set up your business bank accounts with any registered New Zealand bank. Some of them also provide services to help you transfer your funds from overseas. 

You should seek legal and financial advice before setting up your business in New Zealand. New Zealand lawyers have to register with the New Zealand Law Society and chartered accountants with the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants. If you have a tight budget, you should compare various fixed-fee quotes before agreeing to engage a lawyer or accountant.

Key Takeaways

To start your business in New Zealand as a foreigner, you need to apply for an entrepreneur work or residential visa with INZ. The duration of your visa will depend on the stage of your business and whether you meet specific requirements. Before registering your business with the NZBN or Companies Office, you need to choose a business name and decide on a legal structure. You can conduct a quick search using ONECheck to determine if your business name is available. You should talk to a lawyer or accountant about the advantages and disadvantages of the various legal structures as they each have different legal and financial implications. Your accountant (or registered agent for tax purposes) can help you get an IRD number for your business and meet your essential tax obligations.

If you need help with deciding on a legal structure for your business or registering your overseas company in New Zealand, LegalVision’s business structuring lawyers can help. Call 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

FAQs

What entrepreneur visas are available in New Zealand?

There are two types of visa available to foreign entrepreneurs in New Zealand, a work visa and a residential visa. The duration of each depends on the stage of your business and whether you meet specific thresholds.

How do I get an entrepreneur visa for New Zealand?

You can apply for an entrepreneur work visa or a residential visa with Immigration New Zealand.

Can a foreigner start a company in New Zealand?

Yes, investors and businesses can establish, own and operate businesses in New Zealand, as long as they satisfy the entrepreneur visa requirements.

How do I register an overseas company as a NZ business?

You can register your overseas company as a New Zealand business on the Companies Office Overseas Register. To apply, you will have to reserve a name and provide information about your company’s incorporation and its New Zealand operations.

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