Get a good start by learning about the legal essentials of setting up your business in London.
Determine what legal form your business will take, familiarise yourself with intellectual property rights and learn how to employ people from outside the UK. 

How to choose a legal entity

The most common ways for international companies to trade in the UK are as a:

  • Limited company: a company structure owned by shareholders and run by its directors. Quick and inexpensive to set up, with a corporate tax rate of 25%.
  • Limited liability partnership: easy to set up and transparent for tax, this option can be used for an Innovator visa and a Tier 2 visa sponsor.
  • UK establishment (branch): the place of business or branch of an overseas company within the UK. Effectively, it’s a direct extension of the overseas company, officially registered at Companies House and the tax authorities to trade.

Intellectual property: the essentials

The UK has several forms of intellectual property rights (IPRs), which can protect a wide variety of different creations, including brand names, logos, inventions, designs, text and images.

Form of protection Examples of what can be protected Duration
Registered trademarks* Brand names, business names, domain names, social media handles, logos and product names. Potentially also packaging, colours, shapes and the like 10 years, but can be renewed potentially indefinitely
Rights in passing-off Brand names, domain names, social media handles, goodwill and reputation, including packaging Potentially indefinitely
Registered* and unregistered designs Packaging, the whole or part of a product, 3D shape or configuration, product shapes, graphic designs and surface decoration Generally three to 25 years depending on which form of design
Copyright and database rights Investment in databases, text (such as product descriptions), images, pictures and drawings (such as design documents, marketing materials and product packaging), films, music and software, consumer and sales details Generally 70 years from the death of the creator
Patents* Inventions (but those that are essentially a business model are harder to protect) 20 years
Confidential information Any commercially sensitive information, such as customer or supplier information, know-how, manufacturing processes and product launches Potentially indefinitely

*Registration is required for a right to arise.

Content provided by Moore Kingston Smith, Taylor Wessing and Oury Clark. This information is intended for general guidance only. You should always seek professional advice.

How to employ staff

Hire talented people through visa schemes. Non-UK nationals can come to the UK for both short and long-term jobs. Companies can also recruit recent international graduates or transfer international staff to the UK.

Employing people from outside the UK

You normally need to get a sponsor licence when hiring people from outside the UK. Check what type of licence you need and find out if your business is eligible to get a licence as an employer.  

Transferring employees to the UK within a company

Current employees of overseas companies may be able to apply for a Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility) if their licensed employer has offered them a job in a UK branch of the same organisation.

The Global Talent visa is available for people with outstanding talent or promise in science, humanities, engineering, medicine, the arts, architecture and fashion.

Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange visas (previously known as Tier 5 visa) are for employing skilled workers for a short-term period.

The Graduate route offers international students with a degree the option to live and work in the UK for up to three years.

The Standard Visitor visa is for those wanting to briefly visit the UK for a business-related activity, for example for a conference, meeting or training.

All visas and the UK’s new immigration system

View the full list of all work visas or learn more about the points-based immigration system.

How to become a visa sponsor

Find out if you need to register for a sponsor licence to employ someone from outside the UK and EU.

How to apply for British citizenship

Find out more about citizenship and living in the UK.

Get help from our expert immigration partners

Visa applications can be complex and time-consuming, but help is available. We are happy to introduce you to any of Grow London Partners, who can ease the process.

Although we try our best to make sure this information is accurate, we can’t guarantee this is always the case, including that of the third parties we link to. Please take professional advice before making any decisions.

Last updated: 3 April 2023
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