Business and holiday in one

Who wouldn't swap our winter for a new working life in the sun?
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The Independent Online
WHY DO we never want to come home from holiday? Palm-fringed beaches and the golden sun floating in a clear sky seem a lot more appealing than the crush on the Northern line. So why not buy a business and stay?

Many agents who deal in businesses abroad say the number of Britons toying with the idea is growing rapidly. Adrienne Henry, of Florida Homes International, says that over the years she could count on one hand the number of business moves being sought by her clients. "But in the last few months I have lost count," she says.

Ms Henry specialises in the American sunshine state of Florida, and works with a lawyer who handles immigration, visas and so on. But what are the chances of doing business there? Britons wanting to live and work in America still require visas and these are not all that easy to prise out of the authorities.

If you have a company in the UK and can demonstrate its viability and solvency, you can obtain an "E" Visa and set up a US arm to the business. This requires a minimum investment of around $100,000 (pounds 61,000) and, the visa being attached to your existing company, you run the risk of being sent back to the UK should the enterprise fail.

A better bet seems to be the "L" Visa which, although harder to get, carries no minimum investment requirement and can, after a year, be converted to a Green Card. The advantage is that with the Green Card you can remain in the US whatever happens to the original enterprise and can seek employment.

But Florida may not appeal. With European barriers down, doing business across borders is much simpler than it used to be. Nevertheless, rules and regulations vary widely in the EU and professional advice is essential.

The company Latitudes has a commercial division to handle inquiries for businesses in France. "Experience has taught us that the one area where the British can make money is in tourism and land-related business such as equestrianism," says Richard Edds, who represents Latitudes in France. But he stresses that French bureaucracy is far worse than most imagine, and French banks are less helpful than British banks.

In France, it is worth shopping around before making a final decision. For example, if you buy a company that has not been trading for three years you could face transfer costs of 20 per cent.

The British mentality is to buy freehold property. Latitudes, however, often recommends that clients go for a leasehold business as this does not tie up as much capital and leaves money for expansion. Again, a word of caution: if the property is leasehold it is worth checking whether or not the landlord has the right to renegotiate the lease when the tenant takes over.

Trevor Bennett is an English solicitor who has acted for clients buying businesses overseas for many years and has met most of the pitfalls. "Doing business in the EU is now straightforward, but there are local idiosyncrasies that can catch people out," he says. "When buying equipment or machinery it is essential to check that there is no outstanding hire-purchase or credit sale agreement on it, otherwise the new owner is likely to find themselves having to pay or lose the equipment."

After decades of tourism and immigration, Spain is not surprisingly the first choice for most Britons seeking a life under brighter skies. Mr Bennett says most of his clients buy bars, small restaurants or fast food outlets. Buyers should guard against signing contracts through third parties and always ensure not only that the owner of the business signs the contract, but that the landlord, if there is a lease involved, is informed of the change of ownership.

So why not buy a business and begin a new life in your favourite holiday spot? Wherever you go, the experts agree on the basic points. First, you cannot do it on a shoestring: a cheap business is usually cheap for one reason. Second, stick to a business you know. If you have never worked in a bar you are in for a rude awakening. Third, take professional advice before you sign anything.

q Contacts: Florida Homes International, 01703 262888; Latitudes, 0181- 958 5485; Bennett & Co, 01625 586937.