Set up and register your business in the UK

Setting up or expanding your business in the UK is straightforward. You can choose how your company operates and there are different options to consider.

Types of business

Generally, you would choose to set up as a:

  • private limited UK company
  • an overseas branch of your existing company
  • a joint venture with a UK business

Registering your business

Business registration is commonly referred to as “incorporation” in the UK. If you’re incorporating your business, you must register it as a company with the government organisation responsible for registration of companies in the UK, Companies House.

Learn how to register your business on GOV.UK.

Check what type of business is right for you

Private limited company

A company of this type is known as a “subsidiary”.

If you want to incorporate a company as a separate legal entity in the UK, forming a private limited company is the most commonly used option. A legal entity is any company or organisation that has legal rights and responsibilities, including tax filings.


  • The process can be done online, and is quick, typically taking less than 24 hours
  • The overseas company has complete ownership and control of the subsidiary business
  • The overseas company will generally have no legal liability for the subsidiary’s debts and obligations
  • Local businesses and lenders are familiar with the business format


  • There may be substantial up-front costs if you’re acquiring an existing business
  • Decisions must be taken by the board of the subsidiary, which can add extra time and complexity
  • There is a one-time set up cost, legal and registration fees of around £1,000 every year and associated accounting costs

Time it takes

One day

UK branch of an overseas company 

This is also called a “representative office” or a “UK establishment”. A branch is not a separate legal entity. It’s simply an office or presence of the overseas company in the UK.


  • It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to establish
  • The overseas company has complete ownership and control of the local business
  • It can make decisions through its own board of directors


  • The parent company is liable for debts and obligations
  • It takes longer to register than a limited liability company. You must submit documents and information to Companies House, and these must be reviewed
  • Major decisions may have to be referred to overseas management, which can take more time

Time it takes

Around 4 weeks

Joint venture

Another business arrangement you may want to consider is a venture with a local partner. This can be structured through a company or partnership, or solely by contract.


  • Local partners are likely to have good market knowledge and existing contacts with customers, suppliers and lenders, making entry into the UK market easier
  • Local businesses and lenders are familiar with these types of arrangements


  • Your company must hand over a potentially significant degree of control to a local partner
  • There may be substantial up-front costs for advice (legal, tax, accounting) and detailed negotiations may be needed with potential partners

Time it takes

Likely to be a few weeks to a few months of research and negotiation

Other types of company incorporations 

You can also incorporate a company as a sole trader, in which you have all liability for company debts, or a partnership where you share the liability with other partners in the business.

Next steps

Register an overseas company with Companies House on GOV.UK if you want to set up a place of business in the UK.

Overall, how would you rate your experience with the Expand Your Business in the UK service today?

Very dissatisfied
Neither satisfied or dissatisfied
Very satisfied