E-commerce continues to grow year-on-year, with eMarketer forecasting global sales worth $6.542 trillion by 2023, accounting for 22 percent of all retail sales (up from 14.1 percent in 2019). This means 2021 could be the year to start your online business.
But where’s the ideal place to start your business from?
To find out, our group of researchers looked at 20 different categories across 99 countries. From GNI per capita and corporate tax rates to the number of social media, internet users, and co-worker spaces by each individual country, we analyzed a plethora of key areas so you don’t have to.
What did the data suggest?
That the majority of countries most suited to starting an online business are located in Europe. Joined by the US, Canada, and Singapore, these countries provide an all-around great starting point for your next business venture – but, the “perks” of these locations tend to be met with a higher corporate tax rate.
With none of the countries coming out on top across all of the categories, find out which country is most suited to your business needs and ideas below.
Our Online Business Scoring Criteria
Internet Coverage & Penetration
- Mobile Internet Speed – Average mobile internet speed in the country (Mbps).
- Broadband Internet Speed – Average broadband internet speed in the country (Mbps).
- Number of Fixed Broadband Subscriptions – Number of fixed subscriptions per 100 people.
- Internet Users – % of the population that uses the internet.
- Social Media Users – % of the population using social media.
- Secure Internet Servers – Number of secure internet servers per 1 million people.
- Online Purchases / Paying Bills Online – % of the population who use the internet for online purchases and/or paying bills.
Country Wealth and Ease of Processes
- Corporate Tax Rate
- GNI (Gross National Income) per Capita – Measured in USD.
- Individuals with a Finance Account – % of population (15+) with an account at a financial institution/mobile money service provider.
- Payment Processing Providers – Availability of 2checkout, Stripe, Paypal, Adyen, Braintree, WorldPay, and Shopify in the country.
- Economic Freedom – Focuses on 12 factors within four categories – rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and open markets.
- Number of Start-Up Procedures – The number of procedures it takes to start up a business, including obtaining permits and licenses and completing inscriptions, verifications, and notifications.
- Days Required to Start a Business – Number of days needed to complete the procedures to legally operate a business.
- Cost of Start-Up Business Procedures – The cost to register a business by the percentage of gross national income (GNI) per capita.
- Time Zones – Number of countries that share the same time zone (based on capital cities).
Access to Delivery Services & Skilled Workers
- Logistics Performance Index (LPI) – Measures six areas of the country’s logistics, including efficiency of the clearance process, quality of trade and transport-related infrastructure, ease of arranging competitively priced shipments, competence and quality of logistics services, ability to track and trace consignment, and timeliness of shipments.
- Integrated Index for Postal Development – Covers four main factors of the postal genre: how reliable, the reach it is capable of, the relevance or intensity of demand, and capacity to innovate.
- Co-work Spaces – Access to work/office spaces.
- Digital Skills – The level of digital skills within the country.
Each category was scored out of 100 (100 for the top-scoring country, 0 for the worst) and an average score created from all of the 20 categories. See our full methodology for full details.
The Top 10 Countries to Set Up an Online Business
- Denmark – At the top of the league is Denmark, which enjoys a top score for secure internet servers (over 277,000 per 1 million people) and share of individuals with a finance account (99.92%). And based on the percentage of GNI it costs to start a business, Denmark is the cheapest of our top 10 (0.2%). It also ranked second highest for how much of the population use the internet for online purchases/paying bills (88%) and is positioned near the top for total number of internet users (98%). Denmark did, however, have the second-lowest postal efficiency score in our top ten, has a very low number of co-work spaces (32), and received mid-range scores for mobile internet speeds (66.68 Mbps), social media user penetration (71%), and corporate tax rates (22%).
- Switzerland – When it comes to starting an online business, Switzerland could be the place. This is due to its top score for GNI per capita (85,500 USD), full marks for postal efficiency, access to 6 out of 7 payment processing providers, and connection with 44 other countries within the same time zone (UTC +1). Of our top 10, it also had the most broadband subscriptions (45.21% of the population). Nevertheless, Switzerland, like all of our top 10 countries, was mid-table for corporate tax rates (21.15%), social media penetration (52%), and mobile internet speeds (73.85 Mbps). It also scored below average for its number of secure internet servers (just under 96,000 per 1 million people) and is lacking in co-worker spaces (154), but this is to be expected with the country’s size.
- The Netherlands – The Netherlands is the best of our top ten for mobile internet speeds (88.13 Mbps) but is still only mid-table overall. Overall, it ranked second for postal efficiency, fifth for fixed broadband subscriptions (43.63 per 100 people), and is one of the quickest places to start up a business – just 4 days. However, despite the speed with which you can start a business, it is the second-most expensive of our top 10 for start-up costs at 4% of GNI.
- The United States – With access to 2,421 co-worker spaces, the United States is the top-scorer for this category, with 42.98 percent more spaces than second-place India (perhaps this isn’t much of a surprise when you consider its size, though). However, it is this top score, along with its top score for payment provider coverage (all seven operate here), that pushes the US into the top 5. It is mid- to top-table like the rest of the top 10 for broadband speeds, social media user penetration, secure internet servers, and corporate tax rates but is the worst of our top 10 for mobile internet speeds (53.44 Mbps), share of people with finance accounts (93%), and internet user figures (87% of the population). Equally, if you are thinking of trading globally, the US only shares its time zone with 12 other countries.
- Norway – With 89 percent of the population using the internet for online purchases and paying bills, Norway is our top-scorer in this category. It also ranked second highest for GNI per capita (82,500) and came joint top with Denmark for % of internet users by population (98%). Of the top 10, Norway did have the lowest economic freedom score which comes primarily from its high government spending and mid-range labor freedom and tax burdens. It also lacks secure internet servers and co-work spaces (this can be attributed to its small size and sparse population, however).
- Sweden – Despite not coming out on top for anything, Sweden was the best of our top 10 for digital skills and second-highest of the top 10 for its logistics performance. Sweden is also up there for how much of the population use the internet (96%), have a finance account (99.7%), and use the internet for online purchases/payments (84%). As with many of our top 10 countries, however, Sweden lacks secure internet servers and co-work spaces.
- Singapore – If you want exceptionally fast broadband speeds, head to Singapore as it enjoys an average speed of 229.42 Mbps (the only country in our study to exceed 200 Mbps). It also comes out on top for economic freedom (89.4), ranks best in our top 10 for social media user penetration (79%), and has the lowest corporate tax rate (17%) of our top 10. Starting a business is quick and easy, too, with just 2 procedures required which take around 2 days. What pulls Singapore’s score down, though, is its lack of broadband subscriptions (25.81 per 100 people) and the percentage of the population using the internet for online purchases/payments (57%). It’s also the worst of our top 10 for connections with countries in the same time zone, sharing UTC +8 with just six countries.
- Germany – At the top of the Logistics Performance Index is Germany, which also comes out toward the top for postal efficiency. It also follows a similar pattern as the other top 10 countries when it comes to broadband subscriptions, secure internet servers, GNI per capita, and the number of finance accounts, internet users, and online purchases. However, while few of our top ten scored highly for mobile and broadband speed, Germany did come out as the worst with speeds of 49.67 Mbps for mobile and 120.13 Mbps for broadband. Plus, only 45 percent of the population uses social media. Germany is also the most expensive and complicated place to start a business in our top 10, costing 6.5% of GNI and involving 9 procedures. You’re hit with the highest corporate tax rate here, too (29.89%).
- Canada – Canada’s highlights are the ease with which you can set up a business (2 days and 2 procedures) and the low costs involved (0.3% of GNI). In many of the other areas, it meets up to the scores of our other top 10 countries, only falling short with its connection to other countries within the same time zone (12), GNI per capita ($46,370 USD), and high corporate tax rate (26.8%).
- Luxembourg – Thanks to it having the third-highest GNI per capita ($73,910) and reasonable scores across a number of other areas, Luxembourg makes it into our top 10. Nevertheless, compared to our other top countries, it does fall short when it comes to postal efficiency, co-work spaces (16), logistics performance, and the number of days it takes to start up your business (17).
The Worst 10 Countries to Set Up an Online Business
Now we know some of the best places to start up an online business, where might you be best avoiding?
- Haiti – There’s little to attract the online business owner to Haiti, with its below-average scores in the vast majority of categories. It was also bottom for its number of secure internet servers (just 5 per one million people) and postal development, and ranked second-lowest for GNI per capita ($790). Equally, despite being around mid-table for the number of days (97) and procedures (12) involved in starting up a business, the cost of 179.7 percent of GNI to start up the company may be off-putting to most.
- Venezuela – Venezuela appeared at the bottom for mobile internet speeds, (8.8 Mbps), economic freedoms, the number of procedures (20) and days (230) involved when starting a business, and the cost of doing so (211.8% of GNI). However, its above-average scores for finance accounts (73.49% of the population) and internet users (72% of the population), help keep it off the bottom spot.
- Uganda – Uganda ranked lowest for social media users (6% of the population), internet users (24% of the population), and GNI per capita ($780). It’s also severely lacking when it comes to secure internet servers (22 per one million people) and has poor internet speeds. However, it does appear mid-table for 59.2% of its population having finance accounts and its reasonable economic freedom, and it features in the top half of our countries for the days it takes to start a business (24) and the cost (40.5% of GNI).
- Angola – Angola was recorded as having the lowest percentage of the population who use the internet for online purchases (1%), the worst logistics performance, the lowest number of secure internet servers (15 per one million people), and the fewest digital skills among the population. It also has a low number of social media and internet users and poor internet speeds. That said, it scores full points for its access to countries in the same time zone (44) and scores well for the number of procedures (8), days (36), and cost (11.1% of GNI) of starting up a business.
- Zambia – Zambia has the highest corporate tax rate at a whopping 35% and also the joint lowest number of internet users (24%). It was also ranked second lowest for co-work spaces with only 2 recognized in the country, and, like all of the bottom 10, has poor internet speeds and penetration. But, with 14 countries within its time zone, fast start-up times (just 9 days and 7 procedures), and low start-up costs (34% of GNI), there are some perks to basing yourself in Zambia.
- Pakistan – Despite having the lowest number of finance accounts (21.29%) and low scores across the internet connection and penetration category, Pakistan does score well in start-up procedures. Out of the bottom 10, it has the second-lowest number of procedures to get started (5) and has the cheapest start-up costs (6.7% of GNI). It’s also the second-best of the bottom 10 when it comes to digital skills.
- Cambodia – Although Cambodia scores low across many categories, it does outperform the rest of the bottom 10 countries with its share of social media users (58% of the population). It also has the lowest corporate tax rate of the bottom 10 (20%), has an average number of internet users (58% of the population), is mid-range for start-up times and procedures, and is above average for low start-up costs (53.4% of GNI). However, clientele may be lacking here with low numbers of people with finance accounts (21.67% of the population) and few using the internet for shopping/payments (3.8% of the population).
- Nepal – If considering a start-up business in Nepal, you would find difficulty with time zones as no other country shares its UTC +5:45. Internet connectivity and penetration are also an issue. Nevertheless, starting up a business is easy and cost-effective here – it takes 23 days, involves 8 procedures, and costs 20.2% of the GNI.
- Bangladesh – Second-lowest for mobile speed (10.28 Mbps) and with low scores across much of the internet-related categories, Bangladesh follows a similar pattern to all of the bottom 10 countries. Its highlights, however, are that it only takes 20 days and costs 8.7% of the GNI to start up a business.
- Tajikistan – Tajikistan was recorded as having the lowest number of co-work spaces in our study with just one located in Dushanbe. It also has one of the lowest GNIs per capita ($1,030), few internet users (a mere 26% of the population), and is one of the worst for postal development. But, it does rank near the top for procedures and days to start a business – 3 and 7, respectively. Business owners can also expect their start-up costs to be around 17.5% of the GNI.
The Top Performers in Each Category
As well as the all-around top and bottom scorers, there are the countries that outshine others within each category. Even though there will be numerous factors to consider when establishing your online business, one of the following perks may sway your decision one way or another:
- Best for Mobile Internet Speed – United Arab Emirates: With average speeds of 129.61 Mbps, the UAE enjoys mobile internet that’s over 4% faster than second-place China (the only other country to exceed 100 Mbps).
- Best for Fixed Broadband – Singapore: As we’ve already seen, Singapore is the only country to exceed 200 Mbps for its fixed broadband speeds, enjoying average rates of 229.42Mbps. This is almost 20% faster than second-place Romania (188.85 Mbps).
- Best for Fixed Broadband Subscriptions – France: Thanks to over 45 percent of the population having a fixed broadband connection, France takes the top spot here. In fact, all of the countries with subscription figures over 40 percent of the population are located in Europe. These include Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, and Malta.
- Best for Internet Users – United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait: Similar to social media users, the UAE and Kuwait come out on top along with Bahrain, with 99% of their population using the internet.
- Best for Social Media Users – United Arab Emirates/Kuwait: With 99% of the population using social media, the UAE clinches the top spot again but it is also joined by Kuwait in this category. As of January 2020, the UAE was recorded as having 9.73 million social media users and Kuwait 4.2 million.
- Best for Secure Internet Servers – Denmark: As the only country in our study to exceed 200,000 servers per one million people, Denmark is the clear winner here with over 277,000 per one million. An impressive statistic, especially considering the country’s small size.
- Best for Online Purchases/Paying Bills Online – Norway: 89% of Norwegians use the internet for online purchases or paying bills, closely followed by 88% in fellow Nordic countries, Denmark and Finland.
- Best for Low Corporate Tax Rates – United Arab Emirates and Bahrain: With corporate tax rates of 0 percent, the UAE and Bahrain offer clear benefits for many businesses. It’s worth noting that Bahrain has no taxes on income, sales, capital gains, or estates with the exception of oil and gas trades. In the UAE, each jurisdiction is able to levy corporate taxes of up to 55% on any business, but, in practice, it is mostly levied on foreign banks and petroleum companies.
- Best for GNI – Switzerland: Switzerland ranked the best for GNI per capita with a value of $85,500 in 2019, $3,000 more than second-place Norway and almost $85,000 more than bottom-placed Uganda.
- Best for Individuals with a Finance Account – Denmark: Every country within the top 20 has over 90% of its population using a financial account, but Denmark outdoes them all with a score of 99.92%.
- Best for Payment Processing Providers – A large number of countries scored full points for having access to 7/7 of the payment processing providers we researched. These were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Only Iran has zero coverage.
- Best for Economic Freedom – Singapore: Singapore enjoys great economic freedom and performs well in all of the categories covered here – property rights, judicial effectiveness, government integrity, tax burden, government spending, fiscal health, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom.
- Best for Business Start-Up Procedures – New Zealand and Georgia: With just one procedure required to register your business in New Zealand and Georgia, these two countries offer a stress-free, speedy entry into the market. This is in stark contrast to bottom-placed Venezuela where 20 procedures are needed before you can get started (hence why it takes over 7 months to get going here).
- Best for Days Required to Start a Business – New Zealand and Georgia: Thanks to there only being one procedure necessary for business start-ups, it’s no surprise that New Zealand and Georgia are also the quickest places to establish a business. Here, you could be up and running in just one day.
- Best for Cost of Start-Up Business Procedures – Ireland, UK, and Slovenia: Based on the percentage of GNI it costs to start up a business, Ireland, the UK, and Slovenia are best at just 0.1%. Unsurprisingly, with its lengthy procedures, Venezuela ranks worst in this category, costing 211.8% of GNI.
- Best for Time Zones – Most of Europe and Central Africa: The most “popular” time zone is UTC +1 and includes 44 countries worldwide, providing great multinational connections.
- Best for Logistics Performance – Germany: According to the World Bank’s Logistic Performance Index, Germany is the best in the world. It outperforms the average scores across all of the other high-income countries, boasting great infrastructure, timeliness, competence, international connections, ease of customs, and tracking and tracing.
- Best for Postal Efficiency – Switzerland: With full marks for postal efficiency, Switzerland comes out on top yet again. Measured on reliability, reach, relevance, and resilience, Switzerland has dominated the index since it began in 2017.
- Best for Co-work spaces – United States: As previously mentioned, the US boasts a far greater number of co-work spaces than any other country. With over 2,400, the opportunity to find a suitable office space and to network with fellow entrepreneurs is vast.
- Best for Digital Skills – Finland: Many online businesses rely on key skills, from basic coding to general computer skills. According to World Bank data, Finland has the most digitally skilled workers, scoring 5.83 out of 7.
Methodology and Sources
Our research covered over 200 countries worldwide, before finally featuring a comprehensive analysis of 99 (all of the countries where full data was available). The 20 categories covered and their sources were:
- Mobile and Fixed Broadband Internet Speed – These two categories are taken from the Speedtest Global Index which compares internet speed data from around the world on a monthly basis. Data is provided from millions of tests taken by real people using Speedtest every month. https://www.speedtest.net/global-index#mobile
- Fixed Broadband Subscriptions – This refers to the fixed number of subscriptions of high-speed access to the public internet per 100 people. It includes cable modem, DSL, fiber-to-the-home/building, other fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions, satellite broadband, and terrestrial fixed wireless broadband. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.BBND.P2
- Social Media Users – The number of people using social media sites by % of the population. https://datareportal.com/
- Secure Internet Servers – This category looked at the number of secure internet servers per 1 million people. Specifically, the number of publicly-trusted TLS/SSL certificates found in the Netcraft Secure Server Survey. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.SECR.P6
- Corporate Tax Rate – % of the corporate tax rate by country. https://taxfoundation.org/publications/corporate-tax-rates-around-the-world/
- Gross National Income – GNI per capita converted into US Dollars. GNI is the sum of value added by all resident producers plus any product taxes not included in the valuation of output plus net receipts of primary income from abroad. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD
- Individuals with a Finance Account – This is the number of people who own an account at a financial institution or with a mobile money service provider by % of the population from the age 15+. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/FX.OWN.TOTL.ZS
- Internet Users – % of the population that uses the internet as of January 2020. https://datareportal.com/
- Online Purchases/Paying Bills Online – % of the population who use the internet for online purchases and/or paying bills. https://datareportal.com/
- Time Zones – The number of countries that share the same time zone as the country in question – based on capital cities. https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/?low=c
- Logistics Performance Index (LPI) – This is measured on six factors, these are:
- The efficiency of the clearance process (i.e. speed, simplicity, and predictability) by border control agencies;
- Quality of trade and transport-related infrastructure (e.g. ports, railroads, roads);
- Ease of arranging competitively priced shipments;
- Competence and quality of logistics services (e.g. transport, operators, customs brokers);
- Ability to track and trace consignments;
- Timeliness of shipments in reaching destinations within the scheduled or expected delivery time.
- Integrated Index for Postal Development – The (2IPD) focuses on four main factors of the postal service in each country: how reliable, the reach it is capable of, the relevance or intensity of demand, and resilience or capacity to innovate. https://www.upu.int/UPU/media/upu/publications/postalDevelopmentReport2019En.pdf
- Co-work spaces – “Coworker” is a website that provides you with the number of co-worker spaces by country. Countries scored on the number of these places with desks available. https://www.coworker.com/
- GCI Digital Skills – The Global Competitiveness Index addresses the level of digital skills a population has by country. To what extent does the active population possess sufficient digital skills (e.g. computer skills, basic coding, digital reading). Rated 1= not at all and 7=to a great extent. https://tcdata360.worldbank.org/indicators/h945a9708?country=BRA&indicator=41400&viz=line_chart&years=2017,2019
- Payment Processing Providers – Access to seven of the top payment service providers: 2checkout, Stripe, Paypal, Adyen, Braintree, WorldPay, and Shopify. One point for each.
- Economic Freedom – This index focuses on 12 factors which are grouped into 4 broader categories:
- Rule of Law (property rights, government integrity, judicial effectiveness)
- Government Size (government spending, tax burden, fiscal health)
- Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom)
- Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom)
- Business Start-up Procedures – The number of procedures it takes to start up a business by country, including obtaining permits and licenses and to complete all inscriptions, verifications, and notifications to start operations. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IC.REG.PROC
- Days Required to Start a Business – The number of days needed to complete the procedures to legally operate a business. If a procedure can be fast-tracked with an additional cost, the fastest procedure is used for the data provided for that country. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IC.REG.DURS
- Cost of Start-up Business Procedures – The cost to register a business by the percentage of gross national income (GNI) per capita. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IC.REG.COST.PC.ZS
For the final scores, each criterion was scored out of 100. Every country was given a point based on where it ranked between the highest-ranking and lowest-ranking countries. Countries with the best scores were given 100 points, while countries with the lowest scores were allocated zero points. All of the countries in between these two scores received a score on a percentile basis, depending on where they ranked. The final score was achieved by taking an average of the 20 categories.