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The 7 Most Important Tips for Businesses Looking to Startup in The Caribbean

There are 26 countries in the Caribbean, 6 official languages, a 'blue economy', and great potential for businesses to be profitable if you follow these tips

  • There are 26 countries in the Caribbean. Most are independent, but some have a dependent and independent association to European and North American nations due to colonisation
  • Barbados being one of the largest recipients of foreign investment from Canadians, who now represent 75% of the international financial community
  • 6 official languages. This includes English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Haitian Creole, and Papiamento, which is a Portuguese and Spanish-based Creole

The Caribbean is one of the world’s best tourist destinations with amazing scenery and vibrant culture. Although it’s a ‘blue economy’ driven by sustainably using its ocean resources to generate revenues, the Caribbean has great potential for businesses to be profitable. Here are our most important tips for businesses looking to startup and make a profit. 

1. Understand the country’s political status

There are 26 countries in the Caribbean. Most are independent, but some have a dependent and independent association to European and North American nations due to colonisation. Dependent association means the country is an unincorporated territory of and is partially governed by, their associated country, without being formally named a part of that country. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are unincorporated territories of the USA, so have some USA laws. 

Dependent association means the Caribbean nation is a constituent state or overseas territory which is not inside its associate’s land. Its government acts like a regional government ruled by the associate, such as Aruba is governed by the Netherlands or several islands are by the United Kingdom (UK). 

The nation’s association status impacts its business laws and foreign investment. So keep this in mind if you want to startup. Research your chose Caribbean nation’s laws and that of its associate. 

2. Know your trade agreements

Most countries are in The Caribbean Community and Commons Market (CARICOM) as full members, associates, or observers based on their political status. The associates or observes are associated with European and American countries. They have rules from their associate’s trade agreements to apply also, such as rules from The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These agreements mean Caribbean startups selling or buying goods from overseas face lower tariffs and can enter markets faster with fewer legalities and paperwork. 

Other countries are mostly in trade relations with North American countries which impacts their business environment and investment. The Canada-Caribbean Relations Agreement led to Barbados being one of the largest recipients of foreign investment from Canadians, who now represent 75% of the international financial community in Barbados. Know what agreements affect which countries to take advantage of the opportunities in Caribbean business environments. 

3. Learn the language

There are 6 official languages spoken across the 26 different countries. This includes English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Haitian Creole, and Papiamento, which is a Portuguese and Spanish-based Creole. However, on many islands, people and areas can speak more than one language. Ensure, you know the official language of your chosen country, and what languages locals speak in your desired location so that you know what to say and how to say it. In life and business, effective communication is key to getting what you want. Hire a translator or work with locals to be more effective.

4. Immerse in the culture

Colonisation across the 26 islands brought a mix of languages, and European, American, and Latino culture that is now mixed with the indigenous Caribbean culture. Depending on what region your startup or company operates within, business customs, rules, and behaviours could be like the Dutch, English, Americans, Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian and much more. Understanding cultural differences allow you to create and market products to better suit customers and partners. 

5. Build a strong local network

A network is crucial for understanding the culture, languages, and business rules. They will also help your startup acquire partners or the best quality priced products and materials. Use social media, instant messaging and phone to connect and participate in relevant community events and startup gatherings. Network your way into having your core team, co-founders, vendors, investors and other stakeholders of a robust support system to cope with any difficulties your business faces. 

If you’re a foreigner, then look to build an expat network too. The Caribbean has a high number of expats moving there as it’s their tropical dream destination.

6. Be aware of government support for businesses and startups

Caribbean governments and many international bodies have been very pro-active with allocating funds, policies, incentives, and departmental support to foster startups. The Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Trade and Industry offers grants worth up to TT$1 million. Compete Caribbean offers up to US$500,000 for ventures that advance economic development. Caribbean Export provides The Direct Assistance Grant Scheme, Break Point, and Special Projects Grant to CRIFORUM companies. There are many more available.

Associated countries also offer grants and loans to Caribbean startups or projects like the Caribbean Prosperity Fund in the UK, providing grants. So look to find these too if your country is an unincorporated territory or constituent state. Often these are only granted if projects work with or hire, individuals and institutions from Caribbean nations. 

7. Look out for extreme weather

The Caribbean region has a tropical marine climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. However, the wet seasons are prone to tropical storms like monsoon rains and hurricanes between June and November. The chances of tropical storms, especially hurricanes, are slim, but every once in a while one hits the region causing devastation that is still being felt today, such as hurricane Irma and Maria in 2017. 

Your business needs to be equipped with the right building infrastructure and insurance to protect workers if the tropical wet season is terrible. Startups or business project working towards improving resilience to climate disasters can take advantage of grants from the government and international bodies such as the part of the £300 million UK Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF), or that offered by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

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