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5 Reasons Expats Make Great Entrepreneurs

The risks faced by starting a new life in a foreign country are strikingly similar to the risks faced when starting a new business.
5 Reasons Expats Make Great Entrepreneurs
Image credit: mother image | Getty Images

In 2004 when I set out for China and the world unknown, I never intended on starting my own business. I wanted an adventure, to travel and to see places most only dream of. My adventure became more of an education than a 25-year-old wanna-be expat could have ever imagined. I built an international network and learned to problem solve in ways I never thought possible. I grew an understanding that the American way wasn’t always the best way and got comfortable being uncomfortable. I learned to take risks.

My eight-year adventure in China led to the creation of BRIC Language Systems, which just celebrated five years in business! Being that it’s our fifth anniversary, here are five reasons why if you decide to "Go Global" you might find yourself becoming an "expatreneur."

1. You’re starting from scratch.

Moving abroad requires an appetite for risk that few possess. Creating a life from nothing in a foreign country also requires a certain degree of curiosity, a sense of adventure, and the determination to see it through to the end regardless of the outcome. You’ll need to build an entirely new social and business network, to get familiar with the unfamiliar and persevere through the most difficult of situations.

You must overcome the feelings of isolation that can consume you as an outsider. You need to keep an open mind to different ideas and adjust to new ways of doing things. All of this while keeping your emotions in check when confronted with both total failure and overwhelming success. Most of all you need to learn to read situations in a seemingly alternate universe, adapt to that universe, and make decisions that result in positive outcomes for you.

Related: How to Turn Your Hobby into a Profitable Business Venture

If this sounds familiar it is because many of these things are written about daily on this site. It is because living as an expat forces you to cultivate the skills that are shared by the most successful entrepreneurs. You are learning to be entrepreneurial in life and those skills translate directly to business.

2.) You get comfortable being uncomfortable.

I stole that line from the Navy Seals but it is one of the most necessary skills you can have in business. In starting a business, you’re taking on a huge risk. Your reputation, your money and, more often than not, other people’s money is all on the line. That requires being comfortable in an incredibly uncomfortable situation. Being able to function at a high level under that type of pressure is an essential skill for entrepreneurs. It is also one of the first skills you acquire while living and working abroad.

Whether it’s eating strange things, meeting new people, adjusting to a new culture and not knowing the language, living in a foreign country will make you uncomfortable on a daily basis. If you are not able to get comfortable with being uncomfortable you will wash out. According to a study by Rosetta Stone 75 percent of all expat relocations fail. Life as an expat forces you to learn how to be comfortable, or at least act that way, in even the most uncomfortable of situations. This is an important skill as an entrepreneur.

3.) Cross-cultural experience gives you new ideas.

Studies illustrate that living abroad in a cross-cultural environment sparks new ideas and develops a person’s ability to identify profitable entrepreneurial opportunities. Cross-cultural experiences expose you to new ways of doing things as well as products and services that you may have never known existed.

Some of these are good, others bad. The most apparent examples are food and drink. In China, they mix red wine with Coca Cola: this would fall into the realm of bad. Green tea mixed with hot whiskey falls squarely into the good category.

Related: Up and Coming U.S. Cities for Your Business (Infographic)

While living in China I had ideas that ran the gamut. Again, some good and some bad. At one point I wanted to bring chewing tobacco into a market that had none but did have a love affair with tobacco. We talked about organic juice shops for China before they existed there. We looked at cultural sensitivity training programs for Chinese traveling abroad. All it took was one good idea and now we’re in the business of language training and providing work opportunities abroad for young professionals!

4.) In emerging markets, you know the future.

If you’re from the US and move to a developing country, you might find yourself in a situation where you have “seen the future.” Products and services that exist already in the US may be either in their infancy or may not exist at all. This puts you in a unique position of knowing the solution to a need that has not yet been met. They may not even know that they have the need yet.

This leaves you with some options. The first is to import the product into the country you’re living in. The second is to develop it there, taking into account local culture and adding features that cater to that community.

5.) Expand your cross-cultural networking skills.

Networking, like taxes, is a necessary evil. It is also a skill that must be cultivated and refined. Just having thousands of contacts on LinkedIn doesn’t make you a great networker. It’s good to cast a wide net. I think that it goes without saying that the larger your network, the more opportunities you have. Great networkers stand out by finding a few of the right connections, ones that have the potential to be mutually beneficial long term, and nurturing those relationships.

Related: 4 Signs It's Time to Let Go of That Idea You Thought Was a Winner

When relocating abroad you’re forced to develop an entirely new social and business network. This essentially doubles your network. This network consists of locals from the host country and other expats from around the world. My network includes people from Australia, Ireland, UK, Italy, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Canada, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico and about 15 other countries spread across four continents. The people in my network have brought me some great opportunities, and I’d like to think that I’ve done the same for them.

Go global to find your inner entrepreneur.

The global expat community produces entrepreneurs because expats are, by their very nature, entrepreneurs. Expats are risk takers. We are forced to develop and perfect exactly the skills that starting a business requires. Working across cultures and international borders introduces new solutions to age-old problems while igniting the creative parts of our brains. Our ever expanding network puts us in touch with more people in more countries which creates more opportunities. Go global and see if you have what it takes to be an "expatreneur!"