$400k and a tropical dreamDecember 3, 2008: 9:50 AM ET
Our Caribbean experts weigh in on which island is best for an expat's bar biz.
Edd, Philadelphia, Pa.
I'm interested in starting a bar or café somewhere in the Caribbean. I have around $400,000 in startup capital and 20 years of experience managing restaurants. I am trying to find the best and easiest island on which to start my business.
By Blake Ellis, Fortune Small Business contributor
We set out to find the best locales in the Caribbean for entrepreneurs, and found a wealth of options for you.
Nerissa Golden, an entrepreneur and host of the annual Caribbean Young Entrepreneurs Symposium says that if you're looking to make an investment of more than $100,000, the best option for you is to become a naturalized citizen before establishing a company, because being a citizen will make the process much easier. Some countries, such as Saint Kitts and Nevis, offer "investment programs" that allow foreigners to receive citizenship in return for an investment in local real estate.
The first step toward picking the right spot for your business is to visit various islands to see how their economy and culture suits you. Jim Beach, executive editor of InternationalEntrpreneurship.com, rattles off a number of features potential Caribbean expats should evaluate: "Do you like the rich, celebrity filled - and maybe a little snobby - St. Bart? Or the more relaxed St Lucia? Do you like arid places for scuba diving, like Bonaire? Do you want to live with mostly American tourists as customers in Jamaica, or Europeans in Curacao?"
To find the right place for your business, you need to select a spot where you fit in and feel at home. If your café doesn't fit in with the distinctive atmosphere of the community it's in, it won't be successful. Language is also a factor: If you don't know French, you'll want to avoid one of the French-speaking islands, such as Martinique or Guadeloupe.
That said, Beach believes Curacao is the easiest place to start a business, thanks to its low crime rates and strong government protections.
"Jimmy Buffet is currently looking for someone to buy a Margaritaville franchise in Curacao, but $400,000 might not be enough to get that up and running," he says. St. Lucia and the Turks and Caicos are the trendiest places, and "certainly 'the places to be' if you want to follow all the development."
Golden says that St. Kitts, Anguilla, Antigua and St. Maarten are also good options. "They are experiencing a surge in foreign investors, and are very attractive to high-end tourists as well as other vacation travelers," she says.
However, given the size of your startup capital, Beach thinks you might want to look outside the Caribbean at a less developed area instead. He cites Costa Rica as a hot spot for entrepreneurs with modest capitals.
Michael Stamler, a spokesman for the Small Business Administration, suggests looking at the World Bank's latest "Doing Business In" report, which examines the ease of starting a business in countries all over the world. Puerto Rico ranks in the top 10 countries globally for making it easy for entrepreneurs to get off the ground: registration paperwork is quick and inexpensive. Jamaica is also a standout for startup efficiency - and none of the countries in the Caribbean have minimum capital investment requirements except Haiti.
Once you select an area, Golden advises you to contact a notary or a trust company to apply for a business license and permit of residency. That process takes between three months and a year, she says.
As you create a business plan, remember Golden's advice: "Food and parties go together in the Caribbean, so some of your capital needs to be spent on having regular nights of live music or popular DJs or international acts."
Another recommendation: "When it comes to marketing, research what is most effective on each island, because some islands are more radio-driven, so spending money on print advertising is not the best use of cash. On others with a heavy newspaper readership, print ads get you more bang for your buck."
Give us your advice: Check out recent "Ask & Answer" questions.